A Greece Top 10 List… top 10 tips, not top 10 things to do!

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As I sit here on the balcony of our villa in Mykonos, I have been thinking about what words of advice or suggestions/tips/ideas I would give first time visitors (like myself and my travel mates on this trip.)

Below is a somewhat random and in no particular order series of tips/ideas that we share with any interested travelers:

Rent a car:  I am sure there are plenty of folks that figure out the public transportation system on the islands (as it doesn’t seem super challenging) but the flexibility of having your own car is amazing.  If you are flying in, they are easily available to book in advance at any of the airports using a site such as travelocity.  If arriving by ferry, they appear to be readily available at each of the ferry ports.  We did not make arrangements in advance and chose to have our villa owners assist us. In one case, the car was brought to our house, in the other it was brought to the ferry port.  For us, it was probably the best €35-€37 euro we spent each day!

Consider luggage and passengers when booking a car: Like most of Europe, cars are small in Greece.  In fact, here on the islands they have to be small due to the curving tight roads.  Depending on how much luggage you are traveling with, it may be necessary to make a few trips from the car pick up point to your villa/hotel (which isn’t a huge deal as nothing is more than 30 minutes away on the islands).  The other options is to take a cab to the place you are staying and then getting a car delivered.  Trust me, the luggage situation shouldn’t be forgotten!  I know from experience.

Seasonality of the island:  We were traveling September 14-24 and have discovered we are here at the end of the season.  Some beach clubs are already closed or closing, restaurants are letting us know that today is their last day of operation, etc.   The same restaurants have also shared that in July and August you can barely get a table without a reservation (we have had no problems at all). So I suggest keeping that in mind…  if you want the crowds and hopping beach clubs and “scene”, then come in the height of summer.  This time was perfect for us.

Be patient with yourself:  There are moments in the trip that will be stressful.  (I guess that’s true on any vacation!)  Taxis, getting on and off the ferry, driving through the islands for the first time, learning the patterns in which drivers and pedestrians move.  All of these things combine to cause stress upon arrival.   But trust me- be patient, don’t stress and before you know it, it will all be second hand.  The first time we drove to our very remote villa on Mykonos down a crazy, narrow, rocky road I thought it may be the end of our friendships as we knew them!  But within a day, it was second nature and we all laughed about the stress it caused us the day before.

Be ready to spend some cash:  While there are reasonable options for lodging, car rental and some dining, in general the islands are a bit on the pricey side.  Paying to use beach chairs at one of the beach clubs, expensive beers being served, groceries designed for tourists- it starts to add up.   So just be prepared, so some research, balance your spending (we always had breakfast at the villa and usually enjoyed wine, cheese and olives at home before going out to dinner) and you will have a great time.  A frugal traveler suggestion:  there are bakeries located all over the island with cheap sandwiches, pastries, savory and sweet Greek pies…  we enjoyed several meals at the bakeries and bought a meal to take for a beach lunch that was a highlight of the trip.  And the prices are great!

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Buy a beach towel!  It sounds silly but we wish we had done it!  You will get just one or two towels per person at your hotel/villa, and you don’t want to get them sandy and all full of salt water.  You will also be spending lots of time at the beach and on the water!  So make the towel one of your souvenirs   But it day one, use it the whole trip, rinse it out if you need to, and keep going!   It will be €10-15 well spent!

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Do lots of reading in advance: Blogs, travel guides, books, online travel sites, friends recommendations   Read it all, take it all in, bookmark a few key pages for reference…

And then stop reading and just enjoy:  once you start your time on the islands, just enjoy.  You will be amazed how much of what you read will come back to you- names of beaches, process for getting a chair, where to watch sunset.  We found if we stayed obsessed with everything we read and all the recommendations we had been given, we ended up disappointed that we missed something.  At the same time, we were glad to remember that the beaches Kalafati, Elia, and Lia were all right next to each other so it would be easy to beach hop!

Make a basic plan:  We had nine days.  Six of them had something booked, such as a day long sailing charter, a visit to Akrotiri with a guide, a trip to the hot springs and volcano.  And then the other days were left open.  For us, this was the perfect approach- we had things we knew we wanted to do for sure and then we…

Let the island wash over you and just take it in!  You want more beach time.  Do it.  Shopping?  Sure!  Another sailing trip?  Why not!  Give yourself enough structure that you don’t have to worry about those things that need reservations and planning, and then let the rest just happen.  If you’re like us, you’ll end up with an unplanned trip to the lighthouse on Mykonos for sunset and have one of the most magical evenings of the whole trip.

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It’s volcano day!

Little did we know our arrival day to Santorini would be the same day as the local holiday, Volcano Day!

As you quickly learn in Santorini the entire island, the islands around it are a part of an ancient caldera. The explosion is said to have been the largest on earth at the time and maybe all time. In the center of the “circle” of islands are two more recent volcanic islands, the result of eruptions just 3700 years ago.

departing the ferry in Santorini we made our way via pre arranged taxi to our villa, rented through the HomeAway website.  Not being familiar with the island first hand, we chose the villa based on our need for three rooms, an attempt to stay within a certain price point and what was available.  Location was not a priority.

Some tips/thoughts:

Book early.  We booked about two months out, at the end of the season and our options were limited.

Location:  we were located in the Gonia section of the island, located just up from the airport.  This area afforded easy access to Fira, Oia, the beaches, etc. It also had a grocery store and bakery close (not walking distance, but close.).  While it was good for us, I can see some people wanting more of a view of the caldera (we had a wonderful view of the ocean and islands off the coast, but it was a sunrise view, not sunset.).

Rental car:  Rent a car.  You’ll need it.  It’s worth it.  We did not have one arranged in advance, but our villa management  easily helped us arrange one that was delivered to our house within about 90 minutes.  We then left the car at the house at the end of our stay and took the cab back to the airport.  It was 37€ per day and well worth it.

As for the Santorini experience- it’s pretty great.  We pretty much stuck with the highlights as we only had two full days on the island.  We went to Fira the evening of the volcano day celebration.  There was a large fireworks display that evening, which ,sent the city was very crowded.   If you HAPPEN to end up there on volcano day, either make dinner reservations well in advance or just know that you won’t have a prime seat for the festivities.  If you happen to go one of the other 364 days of the year, I would suggest reservations for sure if having a sunset view dinner is important to you.  For us, we just milled around and had a later dinner after many of the festivities were done.

Our second day, we did a three hour boat tour to the volcano and hot springs.  We chose one of the general tourist trips and it was just fine.   Clean boat, friendly staff, cold beers at the bar.  Heed the warnings on other blogs:  if you choose to hike the volcano bring a hat, sunscreen and water.  It is not that the hike to the top itself is so intense, it is just that there is no shade, no cover, and you are hiking up volcanic rock!

After our day on the water, we chose to spend the early part of the evening at our villa, relaxing in the hot tub enjoying the view and the wine, cheese and olives we purchased at the grocery.  This will probably go down as one of our favorite memories of the trip.

Our last day was spent touring the Akrotiri archeological site (hire a guide, it’s worth it!), and then lunch and an afternoon on the beach at Perrios.  Dinner was in a lovely, very Greek taverna with amazing food.  We enjoyed dinner with a combination of Americans, Europeans and locals- which seems to be pretty typical of most places.  And it makes it super comfortable.  Of course, starting the meal with a couple of shots of the Greek equivalent of grappa probably helped.

The last evening was spent in Oia.   What a great place.   Know that it is quite upscale compared to Fira, drawing in a very diverse international clientele. Although we had reservations for after sunset, we walked up to a bar that appeared to have open seats and amazingly ended up with four front row seats with the most amazing view of the sunset from right under a windmill.

As my travel mate said, “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no” and all we had to do was ask about the seats and they were ours.  Another amazing highlight of the trip.

The next day was up, pack and off the sea jets ferry to Mykonos!

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When this plane lands… in Greece!

Well…  two years without a post isn’t completely terrible, is it?  No looking back, only looking forward…

This plane has landed- in Greece!  Off on an amazing adventure with the friends I was traveling with when I started this blog in Italy. So it’s appropriate that I am using this time to start again!

I flew from LAX to Athens on Delta, brought JFK.  My travel mates, joining from the Midwest and east coast, flew through Montreal to Athens.   We booked our first night stay on Expedia before arriving, and traveled via taxi to the hotel. We had also booked our next morning ferry to santorini in advance, so it was nice to have so many details like that arranged in advance, especially since it was our first time being in Greece…

Some random thoughts about the trip, Athens, connections, etc. (not that the universe needs more blogs about traveling to Greece….  but hey- another opinion, another perspective never hurts…

Transfer from the airport to Athens/hotel: I hadn’t seen it noted anywhere that it is a flat fee for the taxi ride (assuming you haven’t made arrangements for a transfer in advance).  If I recall correctly it was €20 flat fee, which is a good deal.  I share this only because some may question if the cab driver is taking them on a “long route” to run up the meter…  he’s not, it’s just a city that is a crazy maze of streets and alleys.

Hotel: we booked three rooms in advance on Expedia.  We stayed in a place called “Be My Guest Athens” and it was perfect.  Clean, new, modern, very friendly staff.  It was only one evening but it was just what we needed.  When booking your hotel pay close attention to location.  As it happens, we lucked out on that one!  The location was literally just a few minutes walk to the acropolis and Parthenon, as well as the famous placa market area.  Within minutes of the hotel were many options for restaurants, a beer, ice cream, etc.   Really a perfect location.

After a good nights sleep we were up and out the door at 6:00 am and in a cab to the port to take our blue star ferry to santorini.  (The hotel had kindly arranged the cab the night before- just ask at the desk, they are happy to help!)  Again, just to note it is a flat fee to the port (I don’t recall how much, but it was all set.)

We arrived in plenty of time to board and get situated in the business class lounge on the ship  (Tip: spend a few more dollars and do business class.  You have a seat, it’s quiet…  it’s worth it.)

Next adventure: santorini!   More to come.

 

 

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So… what is this?

So… this isn’t a food blog (although I do love eating out and do quite a bit of it); it isn’t a travel blog (although in my past life I did do A LOT of travel, but that has now stopped); it isn’t a gay blog (although I am gay, and the name of the blog was born out me being gay and starting the process of being my true self); it isn’t a friend blog (because, quite honestly, I don’t have a lot of those right now.) So what is it? I need to start writing on a daily basis, and I think the blog will find itself. Because I am all of those things- food, travel, gay, friends, life in SoCal.

Since my last post… Life has changed completely. I’ve moved to California- which actually took place exactly one year ago from the day of this post. In that year I’ve become an executive in my company (although I am still trying to really find the perks in that), I’ve been in and out of a relationship (something that made me very happy ended up making me very sad); I’ve bought and sold a house (because of the move).

For today, because it is a happier subject, let’s focus on travel. Although my level and frequency of travel has completely changed in the last year (a very welcome change, I might add) I have spent the day looking for a house to rent in Sonoma/Wine Country in October with friends. There are so many options, search engines, etc. how does one even begin to narrow down the search? I’ve chosen to VRBO.com as I’ve had friends reccomend it. The good part is the search features. You can very quickly narrow down your search given the criteria they give you. We have some wonderful options- more money than I know we were hoping to spend, but that’s OK… If it’s the right place, it will be worth it.

These friends are the same ones that were the subject of my original posts from Italy. Appropriate that our last trip was Italy, the next trip is wine country!

For future topics: Moving, dating, eating, trying to lose weight, friends visiting… lots of stuff to capture. Now the question is will I do it?

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When this plane lands… in China…

So I didn’t think I’d ever see the day come that I would be in a Buick with 4
other people driving through the Chinese countryside at 140 km per hour.  How
fast is 140 km hour anyway?  Do I even want to know? 

Another on my list of I never thought I’d be there…  China.  We started in shanghai. Having been to Tokyo twice I found it quite similar.  We were staying in a very nice hotel
(the shangrila) so of course my experience with and exposure to the culture were
minimal.  

We are now n the road between Zigong and chengdu.  If it wasn’t for the intense pollution and haze, parts of the drive would actually be quite pretty.  But with all of the intense industry throughout the country there is an intense haze and somewhat acrid smell that just hangs n the air.  I find it quite depressing…  Thinking that much of what is driving this environmental abuse is our desire in america and the rest of the world for cheap stuff… 

We have attended two of the famous lantern festivals as a part of this
research trip.  The first was in Yu Garden in Shanghai.  Yu Garden is a type of
tourist themed shopping area combined with a traditional Chinese garden.  There
is a separate small admission price for the garden, but if you ever go to the
area it’s totally worth it.  Don’t be put off by the tourist nature of the
shopping area and leave. Go all the way to the back and experience the garden. 
During the Chinese New Year season there is a very nice installation of what are
referred to as lanterns.  In reality they are more like large, interior lit light sculptures.  Well worth the visit.

The second festival we attended was in Zigong. Although the display is large, it is actually quite tacky and not very cultural…  I would not recommend that western tourists make the trip to see this.  The town is what is referred to as a tier 3 city, meaning that there
is no real cultural value to the city…  No history, cultural sites, etc.   It is a rough city with few hotels friendly to westerners.

So back to the drive…  We’ve slowed down now.  We have two travelers with us that speak Chinese so there was a bit of a “scene” as we had them ask the driver to slow
down.  After a bit of arguing back and forth, we’ve slowed down to about 110 to
120 km hour…  How lucky is my life that I find myself in these situations?  I
truly don’t know that I could have ever imagined half of the things that my work
had allowed me to do…

So…  Should one experience china?  So far my vote is no. Due to the cultural revolution followed by the explosion of industry, etc. there just isn’t much culture left.  It’s just a rough dirty place.  Go to Tokyo.  Go to st Petersburg Russia.  Go to Barcelona and Florence and Tuscany.  But skip china.

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When this plane lands, part two…

Well- I guess we can see how that last “re-committment to the blog” went…  That was October, and it’s now January.  But now is the perfect time to refocus as so much has happened since then…

This past Friday I relocated from the east coast to the west coast for a new job.  The time since Christmas was a bit of a blur- packing some boxes (some, as it’s only a temporary relocation), making arrangements for my house, wrapping up work details…  I got to the airport Friday morning to head out here and I soon as I sat down in my seat I thought of this blog… and what my life was going to be like when this plane lands.

So what is life going to be like?  Well, first the place.  I had to select where to live based on what was available through corporate housing.  To be honest, I don’t think I could have gotten any more lucky.  I am living about 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean in a charming, Orange county, very California.  And very perfect.  I have spent a lot of time out here on business trips over the last 15 years, but I have always been up in LA/Burbank/Glendale.  While there has always been a bit of a charm and attraction to California, there was something that just didn’t click with me.   Since I had never spent any real time in Orange County or by the beach, I never knew what I was missing.  And I never knew how well it would suit me.

I have only been here a few days, but I have already done a good deal of exploring.  There have been your typical activities- shopping for groceries, running to Target for supplies, running back to Target for the supplies that you forgot…  And inbetween, I’ve had two delicious meals, as well as some really good cookies, all at local restaurants.  I’ve also had some even more delicious beers.  I haven’t fully explored the mexican goodness that I can tell is everywhere out here, but lord knows I plan on it.

Tomorrow is the first day at work, so I did a ‘test drive’ today to make sure I knew how to get there.  It took right at 30 minutes on Sunday, so will be interesting to see tomorrow.  I’m going to give myself an hour, just to be safe.

But what does this move really mean?  Will I keep up my weight loss program?  Yes.  Will I make new friends?  Yes.  Will I launch into a relationship?  I sincerly hope so.  Sure, there are lots of professional things to focus on (advance my career, etc. etc.) but what really matters are those personal things.

Get my act together, get happy and healthy, and set up myself to hit 50 at full force.

When this plane lands?  You bet, when this plane lands… it will change me.

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Recommitment to the blog…

I started with such a bang…  Posting every day of my Italian holiday.  And even one post after that!  I think the challenge is I’m not sure exactly what I want this blog to be…  what is that I want to say or have to say?

I don’t want to just make it a travel blog- there are plenty of those out there.  And I don’t want to make it dining blog- again, plenty.  Lifestyle? Is that it?  The fabulous lifestyle of a 47 year old creative professional living and working and playing in this wacky world?  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe I just need to start writing about my day.  Might be travel (I do a lot of that.)  Might be eating out (I used to do a lot of that, and still do my fair share!).  And it might be lifestyle (I think I have one of those.)

So I’m just going to jump in- what does the title “when this plane lands” mean?

In 1998 I was 34 years old.  I had spent my whole life up to that point living in the closet.  Lots of ‘girl friends’, but never a girlfriend.  And I had a unique opportunity on my horizon.  My job was giving me the opportunity to go to Europe for what was not only my first visit but also an extended work assignment that was going to have me interacting with many new people from all over the world…  and it was time to deal with who I was.

I was (and am) a gay man and it was time to be OK with it.  (Let me just say that even now, 14 years later, I’m still in that process.  But back to this story…)  It was early June, which- where I live- means a huge gathering of gay men and women from around the world.  I had never been to any of the parties or theme park visits associted with this event at that point (and still haven’t, for that matter…) but I still knew it was happening and that it was something I had avoided in my life.

So as I prepared for the trip I made a decision and as I sat on the plane I made a decision.  When this plane lands the secrecy is over.  When this plane lands I will finally deal with who I am.  When this plane lands I will be an out gay man to whomever I may cross paths with.

And with that, I settled into my business class seat (yes, first trip to Europe and I got to fly business.  I know.  Spoiled), had another glass of wine (OK, 4 more glasses of wine) and fell asleep somewhere over the Atlantic.

And when that plane landed I was in Italy.  Amazing, beautiful Italy.  And within a few hours of landing I met someone whom, although it was not a romantic relationship, did become a dear friend, confidant and the first person that I ever spoke to about men.  It was great.

That’s why this trip to Italy, all these years later, inspired me to start a blog.  And as sloppy and uninspired as this post is it’s the first time I’ve ever put this down in words.

And it feels good.  And so does Italy.  I need to go back.

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