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

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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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My Favorite Greek Dishes

You never hear much about Greek food.  It’s not as popular as Italian (my favorite), Chinese or Mexican, but I sure do love it.  While traveling through Greece, I have definitely fallen in love with some favorite dishes and also watched my husband eat some questionable ones (octopus).  And while we have a few Greek restaurants here in Miami, I haven’t found any to be as authentic as the food in Greece.  Here are my top 10 favorite Greek dishes:

Galaktoboureko This has to be my favorite Greek dessert (yes, let’s start with the desserts, why not), and it’s actually not very easy to find.  Everytime I’m in Greece I specifically browse the menus of most recommended places, and I have only come across this heavenly treat in a small cafe in Oia.  Galaktoboureko, is a divine combination of creamy custard and flaky phyllo dough that is baked to golden perfection then drenched with a lemon and orange infused syrup.  I used to work with a Greek friend who told me her mother makes it from scratch.  I never tried making this, as to me the recipe seems a bit above my experience level…LOL.   But if you are brave enough to try, make sure to eat it the same day, as the custard tends to harden once it’s refrigerated.

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Galaktoboureko

Loukoumades Continuing with desserts, my husband loves these little bite-sized sweet honey puffs, essentially the Greek version of donut holes, which are deep fried to golden and crispy perfection. Loukoumades are traditionally served soaked in hot honey syrup, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with chopped walnuts or toasted sesame seeds.  I’ve also seen them accompanied with a scoop of ice cream.  Either way, delicious!

Loukoumades

Loukoumades

Halvas Yet another dessert (I promise I will get to the food soon). A semonlina, almond, cinnamon based dessert, which I ended up liking more than what I had anticipated.  There are two different sweets called halvas in Greece. One is wet pudding made of semolina powder, olive oil and sugar.  The other type is very similar to a nougat made of sugar and sesame powder, similar to Spanish turron.  I was also served halvas ice cream one night…amazing!

Halvas

Halvas

Fried Feta with Honey and Sesame Seeds Many of you that know me know of my love affair with cheese, ANY type of cheese!  But I really love feta cheese and usually have loads of it when I’m in Greece.  However, this fried feta covered in sesame seeds and honey is on another level.  The sweet and salty combination of flavors is absolutely delicious!

Fried feta with honey and sesame seeds

Fried feta with honey and sesame seeds

Tzatziki This yummy Greek sauce is always served with grilled meats or as a dip. Tzatziki is made of strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and dill, mint, or parsley… always served cold.

Tzatzik

Tzatziki

Dolmadakia Typically served as an appetizer or side dish, dolmadakia is a favorite dish throughout Greece. Grape leaves, stuffed with long-grain rice and herbs like thyme, dill, and fennel.  My husband loves these, definitely something to try!

Dolmadakia

Dolmadakia

Greek Salad Famous all over the world, but the Greeks make them best! Crunchy cucumber, juicy ripe tomato, olives, red onion and a giant slab of feta on top, covered with olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. It’s an absolute staple with every meal.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Gyros Yes, these are the ones typically found in your local state fair or neighborhood festivals, but boy are they yummy!  Pita bread, grilled meat, fresh salad, sauce (usually tzatziki), and many times they also include french fries inside.  Depending on the restaurant, they may also be served as a platter with the pita bread on the side.  Either way, I love them.

Gyros served with fries

Gyros served with fries

Spanakopita These are Greek pastries, filled with spinach and feta cheese folded in layers of phyllo dough. Most of the time, you will see them folded into triangles, but it can also be made as a pie or in a pita. Cheese pies of all types are very popular all over Greece.  I usually eat these as an appetizer or a snack, but they can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

Pastitsio Also referred to as Greek Lasagna, Pastitsio, is made of luscious layers of juicy minced beef, cooked in a tomato based sauce, with pasta and creamy béchamel sauce, all baked together until golden perfection.. simply irresistible!  This is one of my favorite dishes in Greece, I always make sure to have it at least once on every trip.

Pastitsio

Pastitsio

Have you tried Greek food, and if you have what are your favorite dishes?  I’m curious…

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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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