Athens, Greece: A Favorite Vacation Destination

Since I studied in Athens in the summer of 2008, it has always held a special place in my heart. There, among ancient ruins, incredible food, and friendly locals, I found a destination that would quickly rise to being one of my most favorite places in the world.

Whenever a friend tells me they’re planning a trip to Greece, I become so excited for them, hoping they’ll fall in love with the country the way I did. Hoping their experience will be just as enlightening and unforgettable. Then, I proceed to give them all of the information they need (there’s lot of things to do in Athens! )to ensure it’s an amazing trip.

This is what I tell them:

Give Athens a chance.

Athens is chaotic, scorching hot in the summer, and congested with people. Go anyway. Take your time exploring the city, and you’ll unearth an Athens that speaks to its grandiose past. A city that manages to effortlessly balance modernity without forgetting its rich ancient history. Explore posh Kolonaki, chill Monostiraki and hip Gazi.

Eat your heart out.

The Mediterranean diet is said to be on of the healthiest in the world, and within the Med, Greek cuisine tops all for healthiest, and dare I say, most delicious. I’ve never eaten at a restaurant I didn’t like in Athens, nor had I plate I turned my nose up at—the food is seriously that good! Some favorite include:

Café Abysinia | www.avissinia.gr | Kynnétou 7, Platía Avyssinías

Go here for a modern interpretation of traditional Greek cooking.

Palia Taverna Tou Psarra | www.psaras-taverna.gr | Erekthéos 16 at Erotókritou

Set in an old restored mansion, this is a classic Greek taverna, known for it’s large array of mezédhes (like Greek tapas!) and seafood.

Chocolat Café | Apostólou Pávlou, 27

A glamorous, pricey café with stunning view of the Acropolis from its rooftop terrace. Order the strawberry cheesecake and thank me later. ;)

Don’t leave without experiencing Greek nightlife.

Whether you drink or not, party or not, a trip to Greece isn’t complete until you’ve stayed out until the wee hours of the morning taking sips of ouzo with locals. From daytime beach clubs, to chic bars, and traditional Greek cafés, Athens offers something for everyone and every (legal) age.

Don’t let the riots of recent years scare you off.

Every time I’ve been to Greece (now 3 times), there have been riots. As evidenced from the photo above, I’ve even sought them out (sorry, Mom!) as the inquiring journalist in me wanted to see if they were being accurately portrayed in the media. However, I didn’t go to the heart of where car-bombs were being set off, rather I found out where a peaceful protest was and watched from a safe distance there.

With Greece being as unstable as it is economically, the riots won’t be going away anytime soon. Avoid them and you’ll be fine, and the Greek people will welcome you with open arms to their country, thankful that you didn’t let the media keep you from visiting their beautiful country.

Read up on your history before coming to Athens.

You’re about to be surrounded by so much history, it’s mind-boggling. Enjoy the experience for all it’s worth by reading up on your Ancient Greek history a bit before coming out to the ruins, and appreciate it all that much more.

Escape the city!

You didn’t know Athens has beaches? Well, it does. It’s officially a city that has it all, so take advantage and head down the coast or hop a ferry to one of the islands. This is an absolute must.

Have you ever been to Athens, Greece? What are your tips?

Guest Post: What NOT to Do in Paris

I have to say that I struggled to write this – Paris is an exceptional city and it’s hard to put a foot wrong there. However, like any place that is so popular with tourists there are traps to avoid and some lesser-known attractions which don’t occur to the everyday traveller. Here’s a helpful list of things not to be done in Paris:

© zhijie zhuang

1. Don’t be frightened of venturing out of the centre of Paris

Some of the best attractions in France are outside of the centre, away from the loveliness of the River Seine. Among them is the unmissable Palace of Versailles. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is huge and has many things to see and do including the spellbinding Hall of Mirrors. Experience the best of French opulence.

2. Avoid the Gare du Nord train station in Paris

The central and premier train station of Paris is so packed that it will make London rush hour look like a movie theatre showing a Mel Gibson film. The escalators here often malfunction meaning you have to carry heavy bags and there is always the threat of pickpockets. Don’t do it unless absolutely necessary.

3. Don’t believe the stereotype – not all French people in Paris are rude

Stereotypes do often have some basis in truth and it surely adds to the appeal of the French that they are perfectly happy in their own country without caring whether anyone visits. But I have also had some fantastic friendly service in both hotels and restaurants in France; so give them the benefit of the doubt.

4. Don’t waste time seeing the Mona Lisa painting in Paris

Everyone will tell you this – in real life the Mona Lisa is overrated and not really worth all the fuss. You have to queue for absolutely ages to see it and it is quite small which means that much of the visual effect is lost.

On the other hand, the Louvre museum is full of amazing artworks and the building itself is a masterpiece, so use your time wisely. If you want to beat the crowds try the Carrousel entrance to the Louvre which is off of the Rue de Rivoli as it is usually less busy than just standing in line in front of the main Pyramid.

 

© Lukas Gojda

5. The Moulin Rouge in Paris might not be the most savoury place to visit

The Moulin Rouge may be one of the iconic nightclubs in Paris and the world, but people who become entranced with movies may forget that it built up a reputation as a den of iniquity for a reason. Women on their own may want to avoid walking around here late at night – however it is no worse than comparable places in comparable cities.

6. Don’t miss the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysees

It is a magnificent sight, but unfortunately the sparkle gets shut off at 11pm on the dot. Therefore, you need to get there before enjoying your other evening plans.

© Sergey Borisov

7. Don’t leave Paris without experiencing the view from the Eiffel Tower

Yes, it is expensive and the lines are long, but the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower (especially at sunset) is one that you will remember forever.  Many visitors to Paris believe that the experience at the Eiffel Tower is one of the highlights of their travels. Avoid the queues and save heaps of time by pre-purchasing your tickets online.

This guest post is by Ben from offtoeurope.com, a website that focuses on travel to Europe. Ben loves to travel and has visited over 200 destinations in 46 countries. Some of his favourite places to visit include Istanbul, Melbourne, Whistler, Dubai, San Sebastian, New York City, Rome, Tokyo, Mykonos, Niseko, Tallinn, Damascus, Boulder, Prague, Macau, Queenstown and Paris. You can follow offtoeurope.com on Twitter @offtoeurope or become a fan on Facebook.

Guest Post: The Five Greatest Challenges of Immersing Yourself in Spain

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. You can find out more about his adventures living in Spain at myspanishadventure.com.


Judging by the mountain pile of English speaking bloggers, travellers and teachers who head out to Spain to live, work and travel every year, one thing appears certain: Spain is a pretty easy place to get to grips with.

So when I first surfaced here in Cáceres, Extremadura over a month ago, I thought it would be simple: I’d just rock up and slip right into that sweet ass lifestyle that all these expat bloggers have been talking about right? Wrong.

 The truth is quite the opposite. Adjustment has been a grand struggle. That gloriously eroticised image of Spain as the capital of food, fun and fiestas? It’s not without its challenges.

Are my biggest five anywhere close to yours?

Number 1: La Comida Española

Before I moved out here lots of people had warned me: Spain loves its meat. They weren’t wrong. From juicy chunks of chorizo, to sumptuous little croquettes of chicken or pork, everywhere you turn in this country someone, somewhere, is devouring animal flesh. Especially here in Extremadura; the land of jamón!

For a vegetarian like me? Not ideal. Even eating out at restaurants (a single vegetarian one in a city of 120,000), dining in cafés or simply shopping in a neighbourhood store can all be challenges unto themselves. Not just because it’s difficult to find healthy, meat-free, options – there’s only so many tapas de vegetales (coleslaw) I can take – but also because the general understanding of Spanish people toward the principles of this lifestyle is one firmly rooted in the dark ages.

Now it probably wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t feel like I was offending people. I can still easily get by on fruit, vegetables, salad and lentils from the supermarkets. But when going out with a group of hungry Spaniards (as is the cultural tradition) and las tapas are on the way, how then am I supposed to excuse myself without feeling that small pang of embarrassment?

That “tiny taste of tostada con jamón?” No I won’t make an exception. This whole not-eating-meat thing I’ve got going on here? It’s for life.

Number 2: El Idioma

As any student of Spanish will know, the two verb forms of “to be” in Spanish; “ser” and “estar”, are likely to bring our English speaking brains to a quick and timely death. Mine is on this verge.

Earlier this month my Spanish housemates were asking me about a fellow teacher, Tim, who they were acquainted with. Unbeknown to my housemates, Tim had just fallen sick a few days before, so when it came time to respond to their question I fell into the old two-verb trap. The error? A case of the wrong one: “el es malo”, meaning, quite literally, “he’s evil”.

Yet Tim isn’t the devil incarnate. Nor should he never be trusted nor seen again. But to my housemates, a usually quite hospitable bunch, he isn’t exactly flavour of the month. A wide berth has grown.

My mistake of mixing the two verbs? It’s already sealed the reputation of one young guy. I wonder how many more are to follow?

Number 3: La Mentalidad

Being British there are some things you simply just take for granted. Queuing is one of them, service is another. Our efficiency and commitment toward these things is sometimes even a great source of pride.

Here in Cáceres however, walking into a tienda (a small corner shop) or a supermarket is something akin to entering battle. Not only do you have to meander desperately around crazed old ladies bombing towards you with baguette spears, but then you have to wait a good 10 minutes while the conversation between the cashier and the customer in front comes to a slow and painful end.

This devil-may-care attitude? It’s the same with the table service in any restaurant or café where you have to flag down a waiter, much like I imagine an air traffic controller does when bringing in a Boeing 747 to Heathrow.  Want any kind of food or drink? Allow yourself a good hour. Ask for the bill well in advance too.

In fact, the next time I’m eating out and in a rush, I think I’m just going to have to leg it. This mentality invites every opportunity for a dine-and-dash.

 Number 4: La Calle

Imagine every conceivable obstacle known to man travelling down a street when all you want is a bag of sugar? That’s my daily reality.

Stepping outside of my apartment into what, at first, appears a quiet neighbourhood street is always a bit of an adventure. Not only do the cars come the wrong way to the one I’m expecting (damn the rest of the world driving on the right), but they come bloody fast too.

Yet the cars aren’t the half of it. When there aren’t any of those to contend with – I live in the old part of town so it gets a little quieter during the day – then there’s the Mexican kids booting footballs at me. When they’re taking a break? It’s the drunks’ turn to accost me for what tiny amount of suelto I may have.

Suddenly that bag of sugar or that carton (yes, carton, it’s hard to get chilled here) of milk turns into one of life’s big challenges. A lot more hectic than journeying down to your streets cosy little cornershop!

Number 5: La Marcha

Spain was supposed to rejuvenate my sense of youth and freedom yet I’ve never felt so old as I do now. Partying until 6am in the morning, as a Spanish lifestyle rule, is ruining me. My body? A shade of it’s former caña-starved self.

 Don’t get me wrong. The nightlife in this part of Spain is great. There’s always stuff to do, the bars are friendly and the people too, but their stamina? Unbelievable. Spanish people are like well-oiled partying machines, never resting, yet eternally fresh.

 Us Brits on the other hand are more accustomed to a beer or two at 8pm in a good ol’ British pub, home for a movie afterward and finding ourselves tucked up in a nice warm bed by the early hours.

Here in Spain nights out don’t even get started until way past my normal bedtime.  To join them I have to put up with being a weary, yawny, little mess. Those old British sleeping habits? They need to change!

What challenges did you face upon moving to Spain?