Where Are YOU Going? – Kimberly P. in Greece

Monday, September 17th, 2012 | Posted under Greece, Reader Inspired, Where Are YOU Going?

It’s fine to read about my travels, but I like to hear where other people are going. I mentioned the “Where Are YOU Going?” Series awhile back, and I’m happy to feature my first feature. Please welcome Kimberly P. in her own words. I am currently in awe of her. 🙂 

 

Looking for an international adventure but not quite ready for a solo trip, traveling with an organized group was an ideal choice for me. After a few Internet searches and a conversation, I decided to travel to Greece with Fleace Weaver of BlackGirlTravel.com and 26 other women of color. There are pros and cons to such trips, but overall I think it was a fantastic experience. I had a great time and have new travel-minded friends. So here’s what went down…

Athens

The group trip was May 16-24, 2012 covering Athens and two Greek Islands – Mykonos and Santorini.  I arrived ahead of the group and made arrangements to stay at the Polis Grand Hotel, an economy hotel. The rest of the group arrived later and we checked into our standard hotel, the Titania Hotel. Athens is a city with an interesting mix of ruins and modern urban living. After a welcome lunch, we were off on a tour of the city by private coach with Greek guides. Highlights included the Acropolis, the Greek Parliament House (changing of the guards takes place every hour), the Parnanethen Stadium (home of the Olympic Games), and the shopping neighborhood of Plaka.

 

Acropolis

The Acropolis

Acropolis View

 Acropolis

Acropolis Closeup

Acropolis

Parnathen Stadium

Mykonos

Next stop was the Greek island Mykonos by a 5-hr ferry operated by Blue Star Ferries.  These ferries are huge and are used to transporting people, cars, semi-trucks, etc. I was amazed at the flurry of activity that took place at each island stop.  Also the views of the different islands were breathtaking.  Amazing how these towns were built on cliffs off the water.

Blue Star Ferry Mykonos

 

Interior of Blue Star Ferries

Interior of Blue Star Ferries

View from Blue Star Ferry

View from ferry

Sunsetting in Mykonos

A Mykonos Sunset

In Mykonos we stayed at the Royal Myconian, which was about a 20-minute (and 20 euro ride) from Chora (town). While the resort was lovely, we were experiencing cooler weather and even rain. I hadn’t bothered to check the weather ahead of time (epic fail), and I assumed it would be lovely weather EVERYDAY. I didn’t even pack a jacket (where they do that at?).

Royal Myconian Lobby

Royal Myconian Lobby

Royal Myconian Bedroom

Royal Myconian Bedroom

The principal town of Mykonos is beautiful with whitewashed buildings, windmills, and winding pedestrian walkways lined with restaurants, galleries, and quaint local shops as well as worldwide brands such as Diesel, Lacoste, Sephora, and Swatch.  Some other big attractions include Little Venice, Petros the Pelican (town mascot), and the Paraportiani Church.  Mykonos is also known for its nightlife with a good variety of clubs and bars that stay open until the wee hours of the morning.

Paraportiani Church

At Paraportiani Church

Santorini

Third stop was Santorini on the Flying Cat 4 operated by Hellenic Seaways.  We stayed at the El Greco in the popular town Fira.  The location was great since the hotel was about a 10-minute walk to all the action (restaurants, shopping, grocery store, etc.).  The hotel was also only a 15-minute cab ride or a 45-minute ride by public bus to a couple of black “sand” beaches. I used quotations, because it is not the grains of sand found on some American or Caribbean beaches; instead, it was varying sizes of rocks.  We laid out at both Perissa and Kamari (the nicer beach of the two), which were separated by a huge rock called Mesa Vouno.  (Tip: Till about 6pm a local 20-passenger boat runs regularly between the two beaches).

El Greco Hotel Santorini Sign

 

Bedroom in El Greco Hotel Santorini

Bedroom in El Greco

El Greco Outdoor Lounge

El Greco Outdoor Lounge

Black Sand Beach  Santorini

Black Sand Beach

Kamarai Beach

Kamari Beach

Posing at Kaamaira Beach

In Fira, you do the famous donkey rides up the 350+ stairs from the old harbor up to town for 5 euros.  The donkeys are obviously professionals since they take the flights daily, but their fast pace along with how close they got to the edge was a tad scary. It was definitely an experience and I was nervous for a bit, but I made it without incident.  If you’re not up for riding donkeys you can experience the journey by cable car  (3 euros).

Donkey Ride

Donkey Ride

At the Cablecar -

On the Cable Car

By far my favorite place of the entire trip was the village of Oia. Again with the classic whitewashed structures, blue domed chapels, breathtaking views and sunsets, and the most chic (and expensive) hotels. If you’re looking for an ultra romantic place, then consider Oia. It was among one of the most picturesque places I could ever imagine. We had a wonderful sunset reception that will always be memorable.

Setting Sun in Oia

A Santorini View

 

In the end, I’m so glad I was able to take this trip. While not having control over the trip details was a little challenging for a planner like myself, overall there was a good balance of structured activities and free time.  I think the most significant factor for me was the company.  I met some wonderful, beautiful, brown women who are excelling in varying industries all across the globe.  The conversations covered the gamut of subjects from relationships to careers, to dreams and of course travel. I must admit that they were a pretty inspiring bunch. Plus, rolling with your own 28-person crew ensured every venue was going to be fun!

 

Are you jealous of Kimberly’s trip? I am. I’ve never been to Greece. If you’d like to participate in the “Where are YOU Going?” series, please click on the contact form and say hi. 

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Where Are YOU Going?

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 | Posted under Reader Inspired, Travel General

Can you believe it’s March? I can’t! Eeek!!
Hey, all!
I hope your week has gone well and that you had a extra special day on Leap Day.
I was thinking the other day about the fact that I love sharing my travels with you all, but I also know that I would love to hear about where you all are going. Then I thought, “Why don’t I feature the folks who are a part of the TAO community and where they are going?
So, that’s what I’d like to do. I’m going to call this feature – Where are YOU Going? My goal is to feature at least 10 of you by the the end of 2012. I know that it’s a lofty goal, but I hope you’ll help me.
Here are the ground rules:
1. You’ve got to leave your city or town. I don’t care if your trip is to another part of your state or province, but you must leave home. Your trip does not have to be international. It’s lovely if it is, but there are lovely places to visit in the countries where we live. Domestic travel is still travel!
2. Timing. This can be a trip that you’ve taken or one that you are going on this year. If you have already taken your trip, then it must have been not be earlier than 2011. Why? I want some of the information I’m requesting to be current.
3. You don’t have to be a blogger. If you are, that’s great. I will definitely include a link to your blog. However, please don’t feel like you have to be one to be featured. I’d like to feature any and everyone who’s interested.
4. I’ll need the following information:
Destination
Accommodation(s)
When did/When will you travel there?
What were your favorite sights?/What sights are you looking forward to?
What and where was your favorite meal or food to eat at your destination?/ What food are looking forward to trying there?
3 tips that you would give to anyone planning to a trip to this destination
A picture of the destination that you took (if you’re in the pic, all the better, but no worries if you don’t want to be)
-You can write as little or as much as you want
-If there is a piece of information that I’ve requested that you don’t want to share, just let me know.
That’s it. So will you help me? Pretty please?! If you’re interested, just e-mail me at my contact e-mail here on the blog (Click on the contact tab above). I can’t wait to feature you all!
So…Where are YOU going?
Happy Weekend!

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You Asked for It – Dueling Travel Personalities

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 | Posted under Reader Inspired, Travel General, Travel Tips

Here’s another reader-inspired post, and this one comes from Megan of Notes from the Bench. She asked the following:
Do you have any advice for traveling with someone who has a completely different vacation style?

I’ve only really traveled with two individuals that happen to be great travel companions for me: my BFF and Husband J. They both are relatively active sightseers like me. My BFF is way better for beach-ier locations since we both can read a book and lounge for the day rather easily. Husband J cannot do the beach for long without some exploring thrown in. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have had great experiences with both of them.

What can I say about this issue, but that all parties need to COMPROMISE. I know that is sort of a no-brainer; but really what can you do but that? Here are some things that I think you’ll need to think about when traveling with someone who envisions traveling very differently from you:
1. Pick a place that has something for everyone – If you’re a beach bum, and your travel companion(s) love active sightseeing or adventure activities, sitting on the beach in Anguilla for a week is probably not going to fly with them (no pun intended). Pick a destination that’s going to square well with all of your individual interests. Maybe instead of Anguilla, try somewhere like Belize or Costa Rica, which offers pretty beaches but also everything from zip lining to ancient Mayan ruins. Now if you have a particular destination in mind, then…..
Luckily, there were places to take Husband J in Antigua. He gets antsy at the beach.

2. Do activities that you’ll both enjoy AND be willing to expand your idea of funThe key to travel is flexibility. That means that if you’re traveling with a group or another individual, then you may need to do an activity or see a sight or two that may not be a priority for you. Adjusting your expectations will be key. Even if the activity is not up your alley, you may find the experience something that you didn’t think you would enjoy. Surprises are fun, and traveling is about being open to new experiences anyway.
3. Communicate – I feel as if I’m giving relationship advice here, but if you’re not having a good time, tell your travel partner(s) in the nicest way possible. Depending on the type of relationship you have with said person(s), honesty is still better than stewing and being a sourpuss. Most adults I know appreciate knowing if their companions are having just as much fun as they are. One of the main reasons you’re not traveling solo is probably because you want to experience this place TOGETHER. Talking it out while you’re there will only help make the trip better.
At Niagara Falls

4. Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself. Are you the hard charging walk all day type while your travel partner(s) want to take a nap or lounge at a cafe for an afternoon? Depending on where you’re traveling, feel free to once in awhile take a break from each other for an hour or two. It’s okay. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. 🙂

This isn’t an exhaustive list or really that earth shattering, but I hope this sheds some light on this issue. You could also just travel solo, which has its own rewards. 🙂
Have you ever gone on a trip with someone who liked to travel very differently from you? How was it? What did you do to make the trip more enjoyable for everyone involved?

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My Travel ABCs

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 | Posted under Reader Inspired, Travel General

I got called out on Twitter the other day. Naomi of Kansan Girl Chronicles threw down the gauntlet and asked some of her favorite travel bloggers to write about their ABCs of travel. I couldn’t resist since she wrote that I’m one of her favorite travel bloggers. Aww shucks, Naomi! 🙂 Since I don’t back down from a challenge, I present to you my ABCs of travel.
A: Age you went on your first international trip – Well, that would be the age of three when I moved here to the U.S., so I am just going to say that my first real trip was when I was 15 and went to Italy on a high school trip. I also went to Mexico later that year for a summer abroad program.
B. Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and when: I guess I’m going to have to say the pint of Guinness I had at the Guinness Storehouse. While not necessarily my favorite, it is definitely the most flavorful.

C. Cuisine (favorite): Oy. Not again. 🙁 I’m going to just say Korean for now. This was hard the first time around when I had to talk about this during the Travel Challenge.
D. Destinations – Favorite and least favorite and why:
Ooohh…favorite. Well, you can consult my favorites post for that. Least favorite? Wow! I hadn’t thought about that. This will be hard to say, but I guess I am going to say Las Vegas. I happened to have some fabulous company on the trip, but I was a little underwhelmed overall. Perhaps if I had gone during my fun, single girl 20s, then I would have appreciated it a little more? Internationally, I guess it would be Ireland. Gasp! But Terri, you write about Ireland all the time?! I do. While I thought it was a beautiful place, I just wasn’t into it as much as other places I’ve visited. I wasn’t a fan of much of the food, and at times, it felt like I hadn’t left the U.S. (does that make sense?)
E. Event that you experienced that made you say “Wow” : The cofradias, or public marches during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain. Eeery, beautiful and thought provoking.

A cofradia
F. Favorite mode of transportation: Trains and subways. I like taking trains when I can because they take you through parts of the country that you might not usually see. Also I like rapid underground transit because I like to see how people go about their everyday commutes. It makes for great people watching.
G. Greatest Feeling While Traveling: Experiencing a gorgeous setting; connecting with people that I would not meet otherwise.
H. Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Namibia. The dessert in Namibia. Also, my first day in Paris was the end of the heatwave there in 2003. That was HOT!
I. Incredible Service Experience and Where: I have to shout out the Samaya Seminyak in Bali. I don’t know if it’s just that the Balinese are nice or if the staff at the Samaya are trained so well. They would do little things that just made you think that they were completely and totally interested in your comfort at whatever moment. I have yet to experience such attentive service at a hotel as I did there.
Beach chairs at the Samaya. We would get complimentary water and fresh fruit here every day.
J. Journey that took the longest. Another Bali mention. Getting to Southeast Asia from the East Coast of the U.S. is a major trek. Having never been to Asia before, I knew that it would take a long time, but YIKES! About 5 hours to Vancouver with a short stop there, 12 1/2 hours to Hong Kong with a two hour layover there, then another 4 1/2 hours to Bali. It took more than a day to get there.
K. Keepsakes from your travels: Postcards. I can’t leave without them. I try to send one, but I usually keep the majority of them for myself. I’m a postcard hoarder.
L. Let down sight, why and where: I guess that would be “Hollywood”? Having spent most of my life until my early 20’s on the U.S. East Coast, when I finally made it to Los Angeles, California, I was hoping to see the “Hollywood” that’s portrayed in TV and movies. I went to Hollywood Boulevard, and I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. Don’t let TV ever substitute for visiting the real place. 🙂
M. Moment where you fell in love with travel: At age 15, somewhere on a pyramid in Chichen Itza in Mexico.
I actually climbed up this pyramid. It’s a lot harder to do than it looks.
N. Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Hmmm….it’s not like I’ve stayed at the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton, but I will add another shout out for Bali and say that I really loved the Komaneka Bisma. You can read about our time there here.
O. Obsession — what are you obsessed with taking pictures of when you travel? These days? I would say it’s food. If it’s not food, then I will say that it’s striking architecture of some sort.
A lamb dish at Imbat in Sultanhamet, Istanbul, Turkey.

P. Passport Stamps – How many and from where? Oh my! I don’t think I have my oldest passport, so I can’t give an accurate number. If you want to see how many countries, I’ve visited you can check out the travel map section. I guess I would say a minimum of 30 (not countries! Just stamps! We get return stamps when reentering the U.S., so I’m including those).
Q. Quirkiest attraction and where: Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a lot smaller than you’d expect. 🙂
R. Recommended sight, event or experience: Hmmm…I’m going to mention something new and say the Hermanus Whale Festival in Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa. You don’t need to get out on a boat to see the whales jump. You can stand on the shoreline. There were moments where I felt the whales were showing off for us humans. Plus, there are kitschy parades and lots of entertainment.
There’s no need for binoculars to see the whales!

S. Splurge; something you have no problem forking money over for while traveling: Yes, that would be food (Are you noticing a pattern here?). No doubt. I try to go to at least one high end restaurant while away these days. I like to see how people splurge on food in other countries. 🙂
T. Touristy thing you’ve done: I like touristy stuff! Visiting the museums in Paris would be my answer. I was one of those people craning my neck to see the Mona Lisa over the crowds standing in front of it at the Louvre.
V. Visas; how many and for where? Okay, this is a little easier to remember. I’ll say six. Before even leaving, I had to get a visa for Brazil. This was also the case with Italy and Mexico because I was not a U.S. citizen yet and traveling on my Antiguan passport then (It’s much easier to travel on a U.S. passport than an Antiguan one. Just sayin’.). There are also visas you can get on arrival at the airport or at the border. I’ve gotten those in Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Zimbabwe. I had to obtain a special U.S. Treasury Department license for Cuba.
W. Wine; best glass of wine while traveling and where: Napa Valley, California. It’s hard to get a bad glass of wine there. Husband J and I fell in love with Arger-Martucci, a small boutique winery. We also liked Robert Sinskey.
X. eXcellent view and from where? From the top of a balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey for sure.
Y. Years spent traveling – Let’s say almost 20. 🙂
Z. Zealous sports fans and where? I could not believe the fans at the Flamengo soccer game I attended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They went crazy for at least an hour before the game even started. I wish I could have videotaped it.
Thanks for the challenge, Naomi!

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You Asked For It – My Travel Style

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 | Posted under Reader Inspired, Travel General

Remember when I asked you all to ask me questions? Well, I didn’t forget them. I loved them so much that I’ll be making many of them actual posts in a series I’ll call You Asked for It. By the way, this isn’t a one time thing, but rather feel free to comment on that post again, or I’ll ask again soon. By the way, I read and appreciate all of your comments. I really do.
Anyhoo, reader Daphne asked a great question of me: What’s my travel style? To be fair, my travel style has changed over the years. Since I think in lists, here are some aspects of travel, and how I view them.
Flights – I’m pretty much like everyone in the world. I appreciate a good, cheap airfare. While I find domestic travel akin to being herded like cattle, I do find that you can still get relatively decent service in coach on many international carriers. I’ve already told Husband J that I want to fly first class on a long-haul flight some day. I’ll be holding him to that.
Accommodations – Here’s where I think I’ve had the biggest change since I’ve started travelling. If you met me ten years ago, I’d say that I stayed in small family-owned pension/hotels or hostels. The goal was for the place to be a little on the cheap and just comfortable enough but far from luxurious. I didn’t care so much about feeling pampered in any way, but rather I was interested in a basic, clean and safe place to sleep.
Movin’ on up. Bed at the Argos Hotel in Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey
Oh my how things have changed! I can’t roll like that anymore. I think the biggest change is because I travel with Husband J now. I have a hard time telling my husband that we are going to be somewhere with no sheets (hostel in Paris), you have to wear shower shoes, and bring your own soap (same hostel in Paris). 🙂 I’m being a little dramatic, but I’m just too old now to not enjoy where I’m staying. Also one of the benefits of being married is having more income to draw upon, which means that we can spend a little more. We don’t do the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton, but our accommodations have some nice bathrooms (now pretty much a prerequisite for me).
Bathroom at the Komaneka Bisma, our hotel in Ubud, Bali


When traveling abroad, I tend not to stay in chain hotels. I usually search for and try to patronize hotels that are owned by residents or natives of that country. I try to support hotels that are incorporating sustainable designs or practices (or at least advertise that they do), or are charitable and contribute to the community. I also like to stay somewhere with a little bit of a distinctive feel particularly in decor or archictecture. At the same time, I am conscious of price and value (hence no Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton). I don’t see why you can’t have comfort, a little luxury with some socially conscious ideals in the mix and not pay an arm and a leg. I promise I will talk about money soon. Promise!
View from the balcony at the Komaneka Bisma


Sightseeing – As you can probably tell from our most recent trip to Turkey, I don’t want to just sit in the hotel or a cafe all day. Even if it’s traveling domestically, I like to see what makes a place unique. I do like museums but ONLY art ones. Archaeology museums actually bore me. I love walking, wandering and people watching, too. Sometimes I feel a twinge of sadness if I don’t get to see something that I’ve wanted to. I act as if I may never return to a place (which in many cases has been true), and so I try to take in as much of my surroundings as I can.
Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


I don’t schedule my days to a tee. I have a general idea of what I want to see and try to make sure that I see it that day. I build in rest and some hanging out at a cafe, in the hotel room or somewhere fun. Down time is key, and it’s perfect time to read that book I brought with me. I love reading on trips!
I’m not necessarily into nature, but I do appreciate it. I don’t think I could do a whole trip that was purely nature focused, but who knows? Maybe that’s something that I need to try.
At the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland


ShoppingI’m not a big shopper. Unless I am shopping for handmade items or crafts that are particular to that country, are less expensive in that country, and just as good or better quality than what I can get at home, then maybe I’ll buy something. I tend to get small items for a small group of people to bring home, but I barely shop for myself unless it falls into the group described above. The only place where I might let loose with some good old fashioned shopping is London because I love the clothes and fashion there. Europe gets everything two years before we do in the U.S. Really!
Food – Bring it! 🙂 No really, I like a mix of both low-end and high end places and as local as possible. If I want a good burger or pizza, I’ll just stay at home. It’s rare that I order anything like that when I am travelling. I’d rather be sick of the local food at the end of the trip than have dishes that resemble food that I can eat at home. My perfect food day would be a full breakfast, a lunch at a non-touristy place and/or a street food snack, and then a nice dinner somewhere that’s a little more upscale but still highlights local flavors. I will say that I have had a meal or two at McDonald’s abroad. They’re actually a little better in other countries! 🙂


So that’s it! My travel style in a nutshell. What’s yours? I’d love to hear it!

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