Dazzling Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, or as it is known, the “Pearl of the Adriatic” is simply breathtaking, and according to playwright George Bernard Shaw “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik”. I agree with him. While I have had the pleasure of visiting magnificent places along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, and the Greek Islands, Dubrovnik was simply a place that was still on my bucket list, and I just had to check it off.  After seeing so many glorious photos of this sleepy, medieval town (a UNESCO Heritage site since 1979), I just knew a visit to Croatia was a necessity.  Luckily I was blessed with the opportunity of visiting Dubrovnik recently and it certainly lived up to its reputation, how could it not…beaches, cliff diving, ancient medieval town, beautiful terracotta roof tiles, great food, fantastic nightlife and add a bit of romance. And one of the things I also really enjoyed about this place was that even though we visited during the peak of the summer in August and yes, there were hundreds of tourists everywhere….I could still feel the difference, it’s not quite as spoiled as some of the other destinations like Venice or Mykonos, which was pleasantly surprising.  Entering the city through Pile Gate, there’s still the feeling that not too much has changed.

Beautiful Dubrovnik!

Beautiful Dubrovnik.

More beautiful Dubrovnik!

More beautiful views…

But first I must brag a bit about our hotel, the Hilton Imperial…wow!  Since I am all about the views on my trips, I had researched that certain properties in Dubrovnik offered amazing views of the old town and city walls. After looking into a few, we decided on the Hilton and splurged on a suite which guaranteed the coveted Old Town views, and it did not disappoint…here is what we saw while peeking out our windows:

View out of our suite window.

View out of our suite window.

More views from our room...

More views from our room…

Hilton Imperial Hotel

Hilton Imperial Hotel

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View of our hotel from the city walls (that’s how close we were).

In addition to the views, the hotel offered a delicious buffet breakfast and a number of different amenities, along with a fantastic location just a few steps away from the historic entrance at Pile Gate. There are also plenty of buses and taxis available right outside the hotel, making it easy to get round town and to the nearby beaches.

Dubrovnik’s picturesque city wall surrounds this gorgeous city perched above the Adriatic Sea. Tourists flock here to parade down the old town’s shiny streets, which again, in the height of the summer, can get quite crowded.  But in my opinion, walking the city walls, cannot be missed.  While walking the full perimeter atop the old city walls, (and no, you don’t have to walk the entire perimeter), you will be rewarded with the most amazing views.  Perched up above all the orange rooftops and church spires, you can circle the city and gaze down on it while you take in the ocean and surrounding islands.

The steep stair you must climb to go up to the city walls.

The steep stairs you must climb to go up to the city walls.

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Onofrio Fountain, one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

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The views from the walls.

More beautiful views…

For a fantastic panoramic view of this walled city, take the funicular up Mount Srd to the Napoleonic Fort Imperial, which overlooks the entire city. Scrub surfaced Mount Srd, stands 400 meters above Dubrovnik. It can be also be reached by car (15 minutes) or on foot (90 minutes walk). If you decide to visit the mountain, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views over the city.

Taking the funicular up ...

Taking the funicular up …

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The views of the old town are amazing!

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Our daughter enjoying the views on the way back down.

As with most popular European cities, Dubrovnik has its fair share of traditional tacky tourist shops, as my husband likes to call them, along the main drag but don’t be discouraged.  You can also find some places  selling beautiful embroidered tablecloths and linen, Dalmatian wines, spirits (known as rajika), and delicious preserves and dried fruit, all beautifully packaged.  Oh and the old city is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about traffic as you wander through the marble-paved streets.

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Some of the beautiful linens sold in some shops, all embroidered by hand.

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, Prijeko 6

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, located at Prijeko 6

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Sugar coated lemon and orange peels are sold in certain shops, and packaged in cute souvenir bags.

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My daughter loved these pretty ceramic figurines.

And of course in the 100 degree weather we were experiencing, a long day at the beach accompanied by a sunset cruise, is a must. We chose to visit Banje Beach, because of its location, with beautiful views of the walls of the old town and Lokrum Island which is nearby.  I will say, as much as I enjoyed the beach with the crystal clear, cool water, I wish I would have brought some water shoes, as the beaches here are full of large stones and pebbles and by the time we left our feet were hurting quite a bit.  There is a 2-hour sunset cruise along the Dubrovnik coast where you’ll need your camera to capture the most glorious sunsets while in your own private boat. See the city walls from the sea as well as various reefs, the lighthouse and Lokrum Island. In addition to this cruise, there are many other boat excursions leaving from the harbor, also offering terrific views of the coast.

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Famous Banje Beach with views of the old town in the background.

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Hubby and daughter enjoying the crystal clear and cool water…

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Getting ready to board the submarine ride…

Here we go...

Here we go…

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Views from the sub…

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More views…

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View of Banje Beach from the sub.

While there are many good restaurants in town to choose from (although for the more popular ones make sure you have reservations), fresh yummy seafood can be had almost anywhere.  Take a look at this, right by the harbor:

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Ready for a late lunch!

Fried sardines.

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Fried calamari

And last but not least Dubrovnik is home to several locations used in filming the hit TV show Game of Thrones, which I know nothing about (gasp).  Take a three-hour tour around the Dubrovnik old town to see where most of the filming took place. Upgrading your tour will include an extra one and a half hour trip to Trsteno Arboretum.

Here are a few more photos of our trip for your enjoyment.

Rooftops of Dubrovnik

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Near Pile Gate entrance.

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One of the many side street cafes.

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The famous Clock Tower.

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St. Blaise with its monumental stairway at center, and the Gothic column of Roland right in front.

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The beautiful Venetian looking Sponza Palace.

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Having some of the best pizza at Domenica Pizzeria…yum!

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Enjoying some crepes and gelato at Dubrovka Cafe, which also offers amazing views.

Have you visited dazzling Dubrovnik?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…

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Radiant Rhodes

Rhodes, (Rodos) is one of the most beautiful of the Greek Islands.  Situated in the gorgeous Aegean Sea and the largest of the Dodecanese islands, it’s actually closer to Turkey than it is to mainland Greece.  We have traveled to Greece several times, primarily to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, and somehow had never made it to Rhodes, until last summer.  And boy am I glad we finally made it.

To begin with, out hotel was magnificent. Rhodes was the last segment of our 17 day trip and we were exhausted from so much sightseeing, not to mention the August heat.  After extensive research (like we typically do), we decided to stay at the Atrium Platinum Hotel in Rhodes Town. This place was gorgeous from the moment you walk through the lobby and we had the luck of getting upgraded to an Executive Family Suite which had a sea view and a personal pool on the balcony! The room itself was super spacious and our daughter had her own bedroom and bathroom. The beds were so comfortable we had a hard time leaving the room after our nap. The breakfast buffet in the mornings offered everything you could possibly imagine, my hubby’s favorite being the crepe station with all sorts of toppings, especially melted white chocolate! However, if you’re planning on having dinner in the restaurant, men have to wear a jacket and pants (no shorts), and since we packed light for this island trip, we couldn’t have dinner there.  Not a big deal for us though, we rarely have dinner at our hotels, as we love to explore and find recommended places in town. And the hotel’s main pool is amazing.  My daughter never wanted to leave.  Also worth mentioning is the mini-mart by the pool, selling everything from food and suntan lotions to souvenirs. Extremely convenient and less expensive than ordering from the poolside café, which took 30 minutes to bring us cold drinks.  And if the beach is more your thing, just cross the street and enjoy the water. Take a look at this:

The pool at the Atrium Platinum

The pool at the Atrium Platinum

The Atrium Platinum Hotel

The Atrium Platinum Hotel

Crepes with white and milk chocolate.

Crepes with white and milk chocolate.

Our daughter enjoying the heated private pool on our balcony.

Our daughter enjoying the heated private pool on our balcony.

The Old Medieval Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest continuously inhabited medieval town in Europe. To wander through the town is a unique experience for all to enjoy, since it’s mostly a pedestrian area, with streets full of shops and restaurants. Although the back streets are mostly residential, particularly in the Jewish Quarter.  The town is surrounded by medieval walls with several gates as entry points, most folks enter through Marine Gate, the main entrance to the town from the harbor. Inside of these walls are roughly 200 streets or lanes that simply have no name. However, in my opinion, getting lost and wandering around the streets is half the fun.  It reminds me of the winding streets of Mykonos, which also have no rhyme or reason.

The entrance through Marine Gate.

The largest shopping streets appear to be Orffeos, Socratous and Aristotelous.  Orffeos Street is a wide road with tourist shops and restaurants near the Gate of Saint Anthony, which connects with Socratous Street, the main shopping street of the old town. This becomes Aristotelous Street when you get to Ippokratous Square, the main square in front of Marine Gate, which surrounds a modest Castellania fountain, and is framed by the old Chadrevan mosque on the west and the Palace of the Castellan on the east. All around, coffee shops and restaurants are bustling with tourists hanging around, eating ice cream, sipping drinks and snapping a million photographs.

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Shopping on Orffeos Street

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More shopping streets

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Shops on Socratous Street with the Suleiman Mosque in the background.

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My daughter not knowing where to go next?

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Beautiful ceramic hand painted crosses

After touring the sites of the old town, you might want to walk around the walls, which is a remarkable example of a fully intact medieval structure, although it can be viewed from just walking around the outside. Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment:

The d’Amboise Gate

The d’Amboise Gate

The beautiful Suleiman Mosque, located on top of the town's hill at the end of Socratous street.

Beautiful Suleiman Mosque, located on the town’s hill at the end of Socratous street.

Ippokratous Square, the main commercial hub of the old town.

Gorgeous ceramic pottery sold at various stores.

Gorgeous ceramic pottery sold at various stores.

St. Catherine’s Gate

The beautiful fountain on Ippokratous Square

Beautiful building behind us.

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Another view of the shops.

A view of the harbor from St. Catherine’s gate.

A view of one of the island's beaches.

A view of one of the island’s beaches.

View of the Acropolis of Rhodes from the taxi.

I would also strongly recommend if time permits, to take a day trip to Lindos and to also visit the nearby island of Symi. Unfortunately we ran out of time, but both places are high on our bucket list when we return to Rhodes. And don’t worry about driving if you aren’t renting a car, there are plenty of bus and ferry excursions available.

Have you been to Rhodes or any of the other Greek islands?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…My Signature

Pasteis de Belem

My family and I recently visited the gorgeous Portuguese capital city of Lisbon on our summer vacation.  I promise a full post on this stunning place very soon, but today I would like to share one of our favorite memories from this trip….the cream custards found all over the city, the famous pasteis de nata.   Let me start off by saying that we all love sweets in my family, but oh my….the moment I tasted these warm custard mini pies…I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Being Cuban, I have had my share of pasteles in my life, but I guarantee you, these were something quite different.

The yummy pasteis de nata

The yummy pasteis de nata

Pasteis de nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts, are everywhere. All the cafes and bakeries have them, and in both of the hotels where we stayed at, they were a staple in the breakfast buffet.  It is a common sight to see the locals enjoying their pasteis with their cafe in the morning. However, if you are looking for the absolute best ones in town (even considered the best by the Portuguese themselves, as our taxi driver was telling us), you must pick up some pasteis at Pasteis de Belem, a bakery in nearby Belem that’s been making these treats since 1837 when monks from the neighboring Mosteiro dos Jeronimos started selling them as a means of making money (their history is quite interesting and can be found on their website). The cafe is usually bustling with tons of tourists just waiting in line (yes there is a line outside most of the time, but it moves rather quickly), to order their delectable pasteis. Once I tasted these, I understood what makes them so famous. While most of the other pasteis throughout the city were also delicious, (they truly are sold everywhere), these were simply perfect. The flakiness and crispiness of the crust combined with the smooth, warm and creamy egg flavored custard was just divine. Oh and if you first look at them and think you got a burned one, do not worry, the tops are slightly burned so the sugar caramelizes. Some folks like to sprinkle cinnamon or powdered sugar on top, but I just ate my plain, I truly wanted to savor the flavor of these heavenly tarts everyone was talking about.

The lines of tourists and locals outside ...

The lines of tourists and locals outside of Pasteis de Belem in Lisboa…

All I can say is thank goodness we walked for miles everyday in Lisbon, because we were eating these pasteis on a daily basis, and boy are we glad we experienced that slice of heaven.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Have you ever tasted the famous Portuguese pasteis de nata?  I would love to know your thoughts.

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Amazing Athens

With so much going on in Greece right now, I can’t help but have Athens on my mind.  Athens is the first European city my husband and I ever visited together at the start of our incredible honeymoon trip.  It will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s the reason my husband fell in love with Europe (lucky for me).  Through the years I have heard some negative comments about Athens but I have to say that my hubby and I really love it there and I can’t wait to go back for a visit.  A visit to Greece is magical, and perfect for a summer vacation. It’s warm, cheap(er), the people are friendly, the food is yummy (click here for my Greek food post), plenty of history and monuments for all tastes and the islands are stunning. Here are my top 5 things to see and experience when visiting this beautiful, historical city:

Stay at Plaka Hotel in Plaka (Kapnikareas 7, Athens)
If you’re familiar with some of my other travel posts, you will remember that I always like to choose hotels that and comfortable and very conveniently located. The Plaka Hotel is situated steps from Plaka, centrally located near Syntagma Square and a short walk from the Monastiraki metro station. However, if you’re looking for luxury, this is not the place for you.  It’s a 3-star, no frills, clean and comfortable hotel…and quite affordable by European standards.  If you’re only passing through Athens for a few days on your way to the islands, it’s perfect. There are plenty of nice hotels throughout the city, on our honeymoon we stayed at the Hilton, which was beautiful, but far from the city center.  Everytime we’ve been back, we have stayed at the Plaka.  Take a look at the panoramic views of the city from its top-floor rooms and rooftop terrace:

Rooftop view from Hotel Plaka

Rooftop view from Hotel Plaka

Outside of the Plaka Hotel

Outside of the Plaka Hotel

Our clean and cozy room...

Our clean and cozy room…

Strolling through Plaka
Plaka, the oldest neighborhood (and in my opinion) the most charming and beautiful, in central Athens. I love to wander and get lost through its labyrinth of streets (mostly closed to traffic) and whitewashed Neoclassical architecture.  We spent hours on each trip strolling along the narrow, cobbled streets visiting sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops and the random historical monument crammed in between, as is the case in many older European cities.  And of course, enjoying the stunning views of the Acropolis perched high above the city, through every side street. You will find some very interesting shops selling beautiful 18 karat gold Byzantine designed jewelry as well as Greek designed pottery throughout Plaka.  One shop I think is worth a visit is Golden Studio (142 Adrianou Street, http://www.jewelrygreek.com) selling some very nice jewelry.  I also loved various pottery shops such as Fotini (41 Nikodimou Street), and if time permits, stop by Forget Me Not (100 Adrianou Street), where you will find some amazing items for sale, most made in Greece by local artists.

Typical shopping street in Plaka

Typical shopping street in Plaka

One of the many shops selling Greek Byzantine Orthodox icons

One of the many shops selling Greek Byzantine Orthodox icons

Forget Me Not in Plaka

Forget Me Not in Plaka

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Store selling pottery with typical Greek designs

Monastiraki Flea Market
Shopping in Athens is a favorite pastime for tourists and Athenians and one of the best places to buy just about anything is the Monastiraki flea market. Literally meaning “little monastery” Monastiraki is named for the Pantánassa church monastery located in the center of the neighborhood’s square.  I should clarify, it’s only a flea market on Sundays when some of the stores close and people sell old toys, antique furniture pieces, records, all types of items…reminding me very much of El Rastro flea market in Madrid, where one can find just about anything, if you’re willing to rummage through the stalls.  Most of the shops are pretty similar to the souvenir ships you will find in the islands, with items made in Greece, as well as China.

Monastiraki Square, photo courtesy of www.visitgreece.gr

Monastiraki Square, photo courtesy of http://www.visitgreece.gr

Monasteraki, photo courtesy of y Giulia Blocal

Monastiraki, photo courtesy of Giulia Blocal

Also not to be missed in Monastiraki, is the beautiful Mitrópoli (Metropolitan Cathedral), an important Greek Orthodox cathedral and the largest church in Athens. The Mitrópoli is the seat of the Bishop of Athens and an important spiritual center of Greek Orthodoxy. It remains a major city landmark and the site of official ceremonies like coronations and important weddings and funerals. Look at this gorgeous church:

Athens Cathedral

Athens Cathedral

Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south portico

Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south portico

Lykavittos Hill
For a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Athens, hike to the top of Lykavittos Hill behind the posh Kolanaki neighborhood. It’s a great spot for taking pictures, but can be a hot, sweaty climb during the day, so if you’re not up to the hike in the summer heat, the easiest way to reach the top of the Lykavittos is by funicular, which departs approximately every thirty minutes at Aristippou and Ploutarchou streets. The observation platform offers some of the most amazing views of Athens.  The view reaches as far as Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, provided the sky is clear. Some of the landmarks that are clearly visible from here include the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Parliament Building. There is aslo a café at the top, so you can enjoy the view while taking a break. The view is also quite spectacular at night, when the Acropolis and many other major sights in Athens are illuminated.

View of Athens from Lyvitaccus Hill

View of Athens from Lykavittos Hill

Visit the Acropolis
Athens is of course home to the epic World Heritage Site of the Acropolis and its monuments, the most important ancient site in the Western world and must-see in Athens.  This magnificent temple is a great place to learn about the history of Athens, while also getting a magnificent view of the city and the nearby ruins. The Parthenon is a monumental beauty built in homage to Athena, the goddess of wisdom (whom the people of Athens consider their patron). During the summer, the place is swarming with tourists and sadly, the Parthenon is always under construction, but the views are breathtaking.

The Parthenon, source unknown.

The Parthenon, source unknown.

View of Athens from the Acropolis...breathtaking!

View of Athens from the Acropolis…breathtaking!

The Erechtheion is a  beautiful temple built on the most sacred part of the Acropolis, where Poseidon is said to have struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree, a gift to the city of Athens. The Erechtheion’s signature feature are the Caryatids, six maiden columns that support the weight of the south porch’s roof on their heads.  I love this structure, it’s my favorite on the Acropolis.

My favorite structure.

My favorite structure.

Another view...

Another view…

Feel free to ask any Athenian for recommendations, Athenians love to help tourists and share their city.  When we were much younger my husband and I wanted to experience a real Athenian club where the locals went (we had heard they were some of the best in Europe).  We decided to ask a very friendly shopkeeper, whom we had just bought some jewelry from, and she told us exactly where to go.  Needless to say, it was one of the best nights of our lives (and not a tourist in sight).

Here are a few more photos of beautiful Athens!

The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is a Greek Orthodox church and one of the oldest churches in Athens

The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is a Greek Orthodox church and one of the oldest churches in Athens

Photo Courtesy of Matt Barrett.

Monastiraki Flea Market.  Photo Courtesy of Matt Barrett.

One of our favorite restaurants, Yopia

One of our favorite restaurants, Yopia

View of Athens

View of Athens

The famous Flea Market

The famous Flea Market

Another magnificent view of Athens

Have you been to Athens?  I’d love to know what you enjoyed most.

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Mythical Mykonos

Mykonos…I discovered this beautiful island many years ago on my honeymoon to the Greek Islands and instantly fell in love with it (here’s my blog post on Santorini). While one of the most visited and popular of the Greek islands, it is sometimes viewed by many as a cosmopolitan, pleasure-seeking playground similar to Ibiza or St. Tropez, well-known for beautiful beaches, luxurious resorts and wild nightlife. But to me, Mykonos is much more than that…

The beautiful Mykonos harbor and the town in the background

The beautiful Mykonos harbor and the town in the background

At first glance the island is simply a beautiful series of whitewashed houses with the iconic blue window shutters that give it such a charm that is completely all its own. It is the most expensive island in the Cyclades, but not one to be missed with its winding little streets that one can get lost in, overlooking its beautiful harbor.

I’ve been back to Mykonos a few more times since our honeymoon, and I can tell you it has definitely changed through the years. Long gone are many of the mom and pop, charming souvenir stores, where you would find handmade items created by the store owners.  Most have been replaced with posh, expensive designer boutiques and the likes of Louis Vuitton. Also, many of the restaurants that we remembered from prior trips have been closed and reopened under new management.  And while I miss the old Mykonos, the island still has a unique charm of its own, and remains a destination that will keep luring you back for years to come (as it has with me).

hHe narrow streets of Mykonos Town

The narrow streets of Mykonos Town

On this last trip, our daughter came along, her first time visiting Greece, so we had to change things up a bit.  We usually stay in hotels that are in town so that we’re close to everything and to also avoid the hassle of having to take taxis or buses into town at night, which can be quite difficult, especially during the crowds of July and August. However, many town hotels are not very family oriented and lack amenities such as pools and larger family style rooms.  While the beach towns have gorgeous large resorts, they are also prohibitively expensive (>500 euros a night).  This was also the first time we visited Mykonos during August, and that makes a big difference. The island was extremely overcrowded and finding a taxi was near to impossible. The buses at night were running late (we waited over 40 minutes standing in the heat for a bus one night) and also very crowded. In the past we’ve stayed at Hotel Kouros, Hotel Rohari and Hotel Belvedere, all excellent choices right near town.  This time we decided on the Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Beach, also a fine choice.  I recommend this property if you don’t want to blow your budget and you’re looking for a family hotel. It has a great pool, comfortable rooms and a pretty decent poolside restaurant, serving buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, this hotel is not near Mykonos town. Thankfully, the staff was very accommodating and friendly and was able to reserve a taxi in advance to go into town in the evenings.  Be warned, this is a very pricey solution, but in my opinion, well worth it.

Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Bay

Yiannaki Hotel in Ornos Beach

Mykonos is a small island with many things to keep tourists busy. There are some small museums, plenty of beaches, tons of shops and cafes, and boat trips to other nearby islands. But truth be told, living in Miami, my husband and I rarely spend our days at the beach when we visit.  We like to explore.  We typically rent a jeep and drive around the island, making various stops.  The remainder of our time is spent walking through the main town and soaking in the island lifestyle.  There are many restaurants to choose from, but we always make a stop at Nikos Taverna (Ag. Ioanninou, Agias Monis Square).  It’s well-known and loved by both locals and tourists alike. Popular and very busy, Nikos is a landmark.  You can sit indoors, although I suggest you sit in the outdoor patio were you can feel the lively authentic ambiance of this island, especially in the evenings.

Nikos Taverna in the evening.  Photo Courtesy of Gary Black Photography

Nikos Taverna in the evening. Photo Courtesy of Gary Black Photography

If you would like to splurge a bit, try La Maison de Katrin (Gerasimou & Nikou Streets) offering the best of both Greek and French cuisine.  Worth the search through the Dilou quarter of Mykonos, with its outdoor tables on a narrow street, (as is most of Mykonos),  while the lovely interior features Cycladic arches and whitewash.

Chez Katrin

Chez Katrin

And of course, if you’re traveling with an Italian food fanatic, like my daughter, you can also find numerous Italian places, like Pasta Fresca Barkia (15 Kouzi Georgouli), where they make homemade fresh pasta while you watch.  Walking down the narrow street and seeing all the pasta outside of the restaurant, there was no way we were going to escape eating here one night.  The food was OK, but it’s probably a place your kids will love.

Pasta Fesca Barkia

Pasta Fresca Barkia

Climb the hill to visit Mykonos’ windmills, the icons of the island. They sadly don’t actually function anymore, but they’re still very pretty and the views out over the town from here are scenic. They also happen to be the most popular place to catch the sunset. Prepare for crowds if you plan to go, head over there early to get a good spot.

The famous windmills

The famous windmills

Little Venice is another popular spot in Mykonos. With the houses on the water, it’s a nice place to spend some time eating a meal or having a drink. During the late afternoon, lots of people file in, and you can also catch a great view of the windmills.  In the evenings, the bars are really crowded, as well as the nearby clubs, such as Scandinavian Bar & Disco.

LIttle Venice

Little Venice

The church of Panagia Paraportiani, near the Kastro area, is a Byzantine church, which dates back to 1425. There are over 400 churches to see across the island, but this is considered the highlight of them all. It is composed of 5 chapels, only one of which is open to visitors. Definitely something you don’t want to miss.

Church of Panagia Pariportiani

Church of Panagia Paraportiani

And last but not least, make sure you meet Petros the Pelican, the island’s beloved mascot, a gorgeous, light pink, real life Pelican. The original pelican died in the late 80s, however a few years back there were three living on the island, and now there’s just one again (the others have sadly died).  Everyone loves to find Petros and snap photos with him. And although he’s usually not hard to find, we did have a difficult time spotting him on this last trip, only seeing him turn the corner while sitting at Nikos, having a late meal. Of course, our daughter was so disappointed in not being able to see him up close and personal, after so many stories she’d heard from us, that we decided to actually ask some locals, where was the best place to find him.  They told us he was probably a bit “stressed” with the heat and the crowds, and was purposely staying away.  I never knew pelicans could get stressed, but who knows?

Hubby hanging out with Petros

Hubby hanging out with Petros

Have you been to Mykonos?  If you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?  Here are a few more photos from our various trips to Mykonos.  Enjoy!

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Beautiful Mykonos

Beautiful Mykonos

Petros...photo source unknown, found on Pinterest...

Petros…photo source unknown, found on Pinterest…

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Narrow street leading from Nikos Taverna to the harbor

Petting my favorite mascot…

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Hubby and I by the windmills with Little Venice in the background

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Small blue church at the port

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Typical Greek scenery

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Loved this saying, just had to photograph it!

The windmills

The windmills

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Cafe near Paraportiani Church

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The famous blue domes

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Clothing shop selling cute Greek sandals for little girls

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Another typical shopping street

Rohari

At Hotel Rohari

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One of the many beaches in Mykonos

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Beautiful Petros relaxing

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Super Paradise Beach

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Hubby petting Petros

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Hotel Belvedere

Typical cafe

Typical cafe

Visions of Venice

Experiencing Venice is like falling in love at first sight. To many, Paris is considered the most beautiful city in the world. To me, Venice is. All of the beautiful architecture, the canals, the gondolas, I just find it amazing (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage property).  Since my first visit when I was fifteen, I always found this enchanting city to be very unique.  I love that you can walk everywhere, no need to rent a car.  But make sure you hop on the vaporetto (water bus) which gives you a wide angle view of Venice’s beauty that you just can’t get by walking around.  I also love to wander and get lost through all of the winding, narrow cobblestone streets, and the further you venture away from Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the quainter the neighborhoods become, San Polo being my favorite.  San Polo is a quarter of artists and artisans, with narrow streets and tiny “campos” or squares.  But what I love is that people actually live here in the tiny apartments above the many shops and restaurants, giving you a real neighborhood feel. Make the most of your time exploring through tiny alleys, across endless bridges, and make sure to just take it all in, while stopping for a coffee or gelato along the way.

Places to Stay We typically fly into Venice and take a water taxi from the airport.  I really like staying close to St. Mark’s square, as the location is very convenient.  This last time we stayed at the Residence Corte Grimani and were very pleased.  We stayed in a one bedroom apartment (which for Venice is huge) for the three of us, and our daughter was thrilled to learn she had her own bathroom. Situated steps from St. Mark’s, the property is very comfortable and we had amazing canal views from our windows.  I highly recommend this hotel if you’re traveling with children. Other nice hotels where we’ve stayed in the past are the Cavaletto and the Bonvecchiati, both very near to St. Mark’s also.  Important to note, it’s good to find a hotel that has water taxi or water bus access, so that you don’t have to carry all of your luggage through the cobblestone streets.

Residence Corte Grimani

Residence Corte Grimani Hotel, fantastic location…

View from our apartment window...priceless!

View from our apartment window…priceless!

Churches  As with most major Italian cities, Venice has many gorgeous churches to visit.  My favorite of course is Basilica di San Marco, one of my favorite churches in all of Europe and one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the word. Words cannot describe this amazingly beautiful sanctuary, it’s truly a must see.  Another church I love in Venice is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, with its prominent position at the tip of Dorsoduro, where the Grand Canal merges with St. Mark’s Basin.

Basilica di San Marco

Basilica di San Marco

La Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Gondola Rides We visited at the peak of the high season in August, it was extremely busy and the crowds were everywhere.  Though I have to admit, as much as I love my gondola rides, the tourist crowds were making us feel like we were in a Disney World queue. But a gondola is just one of those things that a visitor to this lovely city should experience. Venice is all about the water. I definitely recommend visiting in May or September instead.  But this was our daughter’s first trip to Venice, so of course we had to take her on a gondola, which she loved.

Gondola rides...

Gondola rides…

Food Finding delicious eateries in Venice is not a problem.  There are tons of great restaurants to choose from, yummy gelato places (Venchi being out favorite), and many pizza and fast food spots to get a quick meal, throughout the entire city.  I had not been to Venice in many years prior to this visit last summer, and I was pleasantly surprised to not see any Starbucks, Burger Kings and only one McDonald’s further out in the Cannaregio neighborhood.  Some of our favorite restaurants which we frequent on every visit are Antico Martini, Le Bistrot de Venise and Trattoria Da Mamo.  And if you’re looking for a quick bite and don’t have time for a sit down meal, you have to try Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta To Go (Calle de la Casseleria, 5324 in Castello). The pasta comes in a little white takeaway box with a fork and napkins, and it’s up to you to find a place to enjoy it.  The pasta is really fresh, made when you order it, and very reasonably priced for Venice.

Dal Moro's Fesh Pasta to go

Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to go…

Another great place is Acqua & Mais (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo) a Venetian take-away delicatessen where you can taste the seafood directly from the Rialto market. The specialties include the “scartosso” real Venetian mixed fried fish served in a paper cone so that you can enjoy it while strolling through the streets of Venice.  Windows allow a full view of the cooks while preparing the food and prices are again very reasonable for Venice.

Acqua & Mais  fresh seafood to go...

Acqua & Mais fresh seafood to go…

Paper Shops As many of you know, my love of stationery products comes alive when I’m visiting Europe, in particular, Italy.  Venice has many gorgeous little shops selling handcrafted marbled paper, embossed stamps and beautiful pencils and notebooks.  The most common one you will find is Il Papiro, this is a chain with various locations throughout Italy, several within Venice, and even shops in Palm Beach and New York.  But there are a few others to look out for as well.  I really wanted to visit, Legatoria Piazzesi, (Campiello de la Feltrina near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2511), Italy’s oldest paper shop, which has been making books and paper since 1951.  Unfortunately, it was closed during our stay, and apparently it’s closed a lot from reviews I have found on the internet.  The collages in the window were beautiful and I read somewhere that the artist says that they are portraits of the tourists she sees walking by her shop! I would have loved to buy one, maybe next time (because of course, they will be a next time).

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy...

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy…

Another great paper shop we stumbled upon was Il Pavone, di Pelosin Paolo (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo).  This paper store had an incredible assortment of beautifully marbled paper in all sorts of color combinations and patterns, as well as swirls of colors on notebooks, pencils, frames, decorative boxes, stationery and even sheets of wrapping paper! But perhaps the best part of our visit was when the shop owner led my daughter and I to the tiny back room for a quick tour of his workshop where he hand paints every item he sells in this adorable store.  Of course we made a few purchases…

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

La Ricerca (Ponte delle Ostreghe near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2431) is another beautiful little paper shop selling leather-bound photo albums, address books, pencil pouches, you name it (by now you’re probably wondering how many of these places did we shop at).  And according to Fodor’s, new products are introduced often so that no two visits to the store are ever the same.

Glass Last but certainly not least, I love all the tiny glass shops in Venice.  No matter which street you turn on you will encounter at least a few on each block, selling various glass items such as these:

Beautiful glass sold all over Venice…

More beautiful glass...

More beautiful glass miniatures..

One store that has some beautiful glass items, and very special hand painted Christmas ornaments is Eredi Giovanni Pagnacco, right off St. Mark’s square, definitely worth a visit.

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments...

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments…

You can also visit some glass workshops and watch demonstrations if you’re interested. Vecchia Murano Glass Factory, in the heart of Venice, just a few yards from Piazza San Marco, is one of the lagoon’s biggest and most famous artistic glass factories. You can visit the store which sells all types of glass items and some very pretty glass jewelry, and skip the glass making demonstration.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

However, I recommend you visit the island of Murano if you’re looking for a specific piece.  Day trips to Murano and Burano are great if time permits.

Here are a few more photos of our trips for your enjoyment:

One of the many gondola stations.

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The beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica

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Another gondola station with Santa Maria della Salute in the background…

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, with its unique staircase…

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On the Ponte dell’Accademia

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The beautiful wooden Ponte dell’Accademia, linking Dorsoduro to San Marco.

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Beautiful gondolas

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One of Venice’s many bridges…

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More gondolas…

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Near the Rialto Bridge…

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Photo taken from the water taxi…

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The beautiful clock tower on St. Mark’s Square…

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The Doge’s Palace

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Gondoliers waiting for their next customers…

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Beautiful buildings in San Polo…

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The beautiful Rialto Bridge…

The beautiful Doge's Palace and the pink lamps...

The beautiful Doge’s Palace and the pink lamps…

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark's while having some gelato...

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark’s while having some gelato…

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Carolina loving the gondolas…

St. Mark’s Basilica

Us on the sqaure

Hubby and I on St. Mark’s Square…

Have you been to Venice?  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Stunning Santorini

I fell in love with my favorite place in the world, the island of Santorini in Greece, when I was 14 years old and I watched the movie Summer Lovers.  Right there and then, I decided that this idyllic island would (hopefully) be my honeymoon destination (regardless of where my future husband would want to visit).  Well, 14 years later, my wish came true. When my husband and I were planning our wedding and he suggested Hawaii as a place to honeymoon, I very sweetly suggested the Greek Islands instead, and the rest as they say, is history.  Our honeymoon included a few days in Athens and also in Mykonos (click here for my Mykonos blog post).  Santorini went above and beyond all of my expectations, it is simply breathtaking.  It is so beautiful, that most of the photos and postcards that you will see of Greece, will typically be of Santorini…it is the most photographed of the Greek Islands. And trust me, the postcards don’t do it justice!  Luckily I have had the opportunity to visit Santorini many more times, and I always leave with the feeling that I can’t wait to visit again!

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

There are so many things to see and do on this special island that this blog post could go on for days…LOL!  So, I have decided to round-up my Top 5 experiences on all of my visits!

Fira. Fira is the largest town on Santorini, and is also the first town many travelers experience, as Santorini’s ferry and cruise ports are located in Fira.  While most of the pictures you will see are of the town of Oia, I actually prefer to stay in Fira, the island’s capital. Fira also has a thriving night life, something for everyone, clubs, bars, restaurants, and shops stay open past midnight.  Nothing like walking around at 11PM having some gelato, and feeling like it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I love places that stay open late when I’m on vacation.  I also find that there is a larger selection of hotels to choose from in Fira, extending to Firostefani and Imerovigli, the two towns immediately north of Fira.  This past summer we stayed at the Adamis Majesty Suites, which we loved, a spacious cave house with a perfect location, and million dollar views!  Fira also boasts great shopping with many boutiques and local designer shops. Make sure to visit some of the gold and jewelry stores, with amazingly beautiful 18 karat gold jewelry, showcasing the very distinctive Greek designs.  Also not to be missed are the delicious restaurants Fira has to offer.  Sphinx and Archipelagos among my favorites, and if you’re looking for amazing gelato and homemade Greek desserts and pastries, make sure to stop in at Zotos Cafe & Bakery, on the main pedestrian path.

A view of Fira

A view of Fira

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

Delicious homemade Greek pastries at Zotos Cafe

A Visit to Oia.  Having said this, the village of Oia, located on the northwestern end of Santorini, is magical. I always like to visit during the day and also in the evenings.  Oia is special (fun fact: the house that the Summer Lovers characters lived in is located in Oia, not Fira).  Oia is a sleepier, quieter version of Fira. Here you’ll find those red cliffs, white windmills, and blue-domed churches from the postcards.  It’s famous for its sunsets and great for honeymooners.  You can find smaller art galleries and many unique shops in Oia. Oia is a short bus ride away from Fira, a must see.

Beautiful Oia

Beautiful Oia

Summer Lovers house...

Summer Lovers house…

Breakfast with a View.  Many of the hotels in Fira and Oia have rooms with a view to the caldera.  There are many other areas in Santorini where you can stay as well, such as Perissa or Kamari, if you prefer to stay near the beach.  But in my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like opening up your window and seeing the beautiful blue waters and the gorgeous views of the caldera and the cliffside town.  Many of the hotels will serve you breakfast on the terrace outside of your room, so you can enjoy these views, while having your meal.  My husband always says that he could spend an entire day just sitting in a café or in one of the hotel balconies, overlooking the caldera and taking in this view. Absolutely magnificent!

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Breakfast on our terrace, priceless.

Dinner at Sunset.  Similar to the views in the morning, Santorini is famous for its gorgeous sunsets.  Fira and Oia both have plenty of cafes and restaurants that advertise their sunsets. Many people flock to the old Kasteli (Castle) of Agios Nikolaos in Oia, which has become the most desired spot for sunset watching.  It can also get pretty crowded, so get there early to claim a spot.  You can also catch the sunset with no obstructions, by walking the northwest end of the village above the steps leading down to Amoudi and find a place to park yourself.   While most folks prefer to watch the sunset in Oia, I have also seen the sunsets in Fira, and they are just as amazing. And watching the sunset while enjoying your dinner with a glass of wine is an experience all on its own!

Our daughter taking in the view...

Our daughter taking in the view…

The beautiful sunset...

The beautiful sunset…

The crowds forming to watch the sunset...

The crowds forming to watch the sunset…

Blue Domes Everywhere.  And then of course…there are the numerous, beautiful, blue domed churches that the island is famously known for.  Almost everywhere you look, in every town throughout the island you can’t miss these brilliant, blue domes!  Most of these churches are open during the day, stop in and take a look, they are just as beautiful inside as well.  One of my favorites is the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the center of Fira.

Dome Collage

The many domes of Santorini!

Some more fun things to do while visiting Santorini:

  • Visit Akrotiri, the ancient and fascinating archaeological site.
  • Spend a day at one of the beaches, Perissa and Red Beach are my favorites.
  • Take a donkey ride or cable car from the port up to town.
  • Rent a scooter or ATV and spend the day cruising the island.
  • Relax with a kissing fish spa pedicure (yes folks I tried this and actually liked it).
  • Visit one of the island’s wineries, Boutari is my favorite.
  • Visit the traditional village of Megalochori.
  • Visit the Argyros Mansion in the town of Messaria.
  • Take a boat ride out to the volcano, Santorini should be viewed from the water.
  • And for those of you traveling with small kids, you can always spend an afternoon at the Perissa Water Park, although it’s just a very large pool with a few water slides!

Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment:

Our hotel this year...Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

Our hotel this year…Adamis Majesty Suites, perfect location!

The largest church of Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

The largest church in Santorini, the Orthodox Cathedral located at the center of Fira.

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

Hubby and daughter taking off on their ATV adventure!

One of their stops...Red Beach!

One of their stops…Red Beach!

Beautiful shop in Oia.

Beautiful shop in Oia.

More of Oia...

Oia…

Fira at midnight...

Fira at midnight…

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

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More of Oia

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose...

The colorful ceramics sold on the island, hard to choose…but of course I purchased a few…

Strolling through Fira

Strolling through Fira

Is Santorini on your travel bucket list?  If it’s not, it should be.  Have you visited this gorgeous island, I would love to know what you thought of it…

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