Athens, Day 2

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In my last post about Athens, I mentioned we easily explored as independent travelers here.

That said, if you’re only here a day or two like we were, an organized tour of the major ancient sites is a great idea.

Alternative Athens offers excellent walking tours to historic sites, street art around the city, and local foodie haunts. We did the 4 hour city highlight tour, covering 5 major sites and teaching us everything we needed to know about Greek mythology and ruins.

I highly recommend this company. Our guide was informative and lovely, and the company was accommodating. Originally no tours were scheduled the day we wanted, but they ran one because of our interest.

This tour cost about 46 euros per person and we each also bought a combination pass for 30 euros, which let us access many historic sites over 5 days, including the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetary.

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After our tour, one of the highlights of the day and the whole trip was seeing the changing of the guards.

This takes place every day every hour on the hour in front of the Parliament Building. It’s really easy to find… just head to nearby Syntagma Square by metro or bus.
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You’ll wait in a huge crowd facing the tall handsome guards (yes, there is a height and weight requirement) and a few minutes before the ceremony, they’ll let you take pictures next to the guard.

Strictly no touching though!On Sundays, there is a special ceremony at 11 am, involving all the guards and is apparently a sight to behold.

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Finally, one of my all time favorite ways of discovering a city is just wandering the streets, narrow alleys, and off the beaten paths. Athens has dozens of charming chapels to admire and peek inside as well as so many interesting little shops.

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Greece Trip- Athens, Day 1

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View of Acropolis from the Plaka Hotel

Hey ya’ll, we just back from a 10 day trip to Greece!

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Over 10 days, we visited Athens and islands Santorini and Mykonos. There’s so much to say, but today is about some of our experiences from Athens.

Our first day, we checked into The Plaka Hotel and explored the city center. Our hotel was perfectly located and had this amazing view of the ruins above.

Walking around the area, I loved looking inside all the small local shops and restaurants in the market district. We saw multiple butchers, spice shops, curio shops, and loofah and soap stores!

We went for a great lunch at a restaurant inside a butcher shop called Karamanlidika, and started our love affair with Greek food. It’s so simple but fresh and tasty.

We ordered a spinach salad, eggplant and zucchini, and greek sausages with yogurt. And Sean, who doesn’t generally go for yogurt in the states, actually enjoyed the authentic Greek version.

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Yogurt with spiced carrots

For our first meal in Greece, this place knocked it out of the park and it turned out to be one of our favorite dining experiences in Athens.

Before going to Greece, we watched a documentary about modern Greece and learned about an anonymous subversive street artist who paints murals on the sides of building all over town. Most of his art is a social commentary on the financial crisis in Greece and criticism of Greek government.

Walking around town, we were able to find some of the murals easily.

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We were so hot (90 degrees every day!) and jetlagged, but we managed to explore a little bit in the Acropolis area.

Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world, and it was fun thinking about how this square facing the Acropolis has likely been a social gathering place for over two thousand years, and it still is!

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After a few hours, we went back to our hotel to enjoy the rooftop patio as the sun went down.

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Have you been to Athens? What are your impressions?

 

 

 



Favorite Meals in Cancun

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During our travels, we tend to focus on eating as part of the overall experience.

Usually, we research a few restaurants ahead of time nearby places we know we’ll be visiting, not wanting to leave good food to chance.(Thanks, Trip Advisor!)

Often really great places can be found going just a little bit off the beaten path.

But we’re spontaneous too if we see something that looks good, fun, or interesting.There’s more to say about this at the end.

Like all our trips, Cancun had some really nice food. Here’s a peek at some of our favorites. (You can see my post about favorite meals in Ireland here.)

The signature green bean soup at La Habichuela IMG_1624

Green chili enchiladas at Piknik

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Churros at Parque Las Palapas Night Market

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Chilaquiles at Sanborns

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Gazpacho and chicken tacos at Rooster Café on Isla Mujeres

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Spanish bocadillo and fruit salad at Rooster Café on Isla Mujeres IMG_7510

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Everything we ate above was delicious and we suffered no ill effects from it.

Unfortunately, we did have one negative food experience on the last night of our trip, which I take full responsibility for. I knew the risk I was taking and I did it anyway. Sean was against the idea the whole time…

Crispy Haus, it was called. It was a food truck with a 1950s theme.

“Everything Crispy, Crunchy, and Crusty” was its motto and we passed it every time we walked from our airbnb to the bus station in the center of Cancun.

They played 1950s music and the waitresses wore pink uniforms. It just looked like it could be a fun experience, but I know, I know! Nothing good could from a food truck with “crusty” in the motto…

We ordered fries, a chicken burger, and a chocolate milkshake.

The fries and burger were okay, but that milkshake.

Let’s just say I don’t think it was made from ice cream or milk or even chocolate.

I don’t know what it was.

Sean did not drink any of it, and sure enough, a few hours later, I was wishing that I hadn’t either.


Beautiful Beach at Tulum

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The beach at Tulum is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

On the last day on our Cancun vacation, we took the bus to Tulum, an ancient Mayan site on a cliff overlooking one dreamy aquamarine beach.

If you find yourself in the Yucatan Peninsula, you must go here! And wear a bathing suit because you will want to jump in.

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You can probably tell from the photos that it was blazing hot, but it was fun walking around the stone paths, walls, and archways. The vegetation is so interesting and there were plenty of iguanas to entertain us.

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There are so many tourists here as you might imagine, so get there early to avoid the crowds.

Our reward after walking around the site was that crystalline beach below!

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Many tour companies offer day trips to Tulum (about a 2 hour ride from the hotel zone)

But those tours are pricey (over a $100 US), and you can easily just take a bus on your own.

We picked up a bus from the main bus station in Cancun city center for about $8 a person. There are buses that leave at least once an hour and they make a few stops on the way. You can even reserve your seats ahead of time.

Actually, the bus was really comfortable and not an ordeal by any means. Because we showed up last minute for an early bus, Sean and I weren’t able to get seats next to each other. I sat next to a Hemingway man character who kept me entertained the whole ride. Seriously the guy had a long white beard and had traveled all over the world. It was fun listening to his stories.

When you finally arrive to Tulum, just take a taxi from the bus station to the entrance of the ruins, where you pay admission fee and you can hire a guide.


Cenotes Tour in Cancun

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Here’s Sean zip-lining into a cenote in Mexico last March during our trip to Cancun.

(Yes, its the middle of summer, and I’m just now wrapping up this trip from months ago. There’s lots more to come too as I get caught up…)

Anyway, one of the best things we did there was take a Cenotes tour that visited 4 different ones in Cancun. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that form when limestone collapses, exposing the groundwater underneath. In Cancun, many of them are inside caves or in the middle of the jungle, so they are all unique from each other.

While you can drive around and find some of them yourself, many of the public ones are very overrun with people. Some are located on private property though which restricts your access. While Sean and I normally steer away from tours, we booked this one from Xenotes Maya Tours, and it was totally worth it.

Don’t you just wanna jump in? That water was so refreshing, but cold!

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On this tour, we visited 4 cenotes and got to enjoy them in different ways including swimming, kayaking, zip-lining, and rappelling.

For the first one, we repelled down into it. It was pretty fun to go from bright light outside to this dark underwater cave…

Once we were inside and swimming around, the tour guide shone the light in the ceiling and we saw dozens of bats. Creepy! And I didn’t even know they were there until he showed us!

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The zipline approach was fun too. They let you do it however you wanted- sitting on the stomach, head first, spinning, one foot in the harness. This particular cenote had the strangest warm and cold currents running through it, but I loved the lily pads right there next to us.

 

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All the cenotes here were naturally formed, but because the land was private property, the owner developed facilities around them to make them more people friendly and easier to access. That’s why you see stone paths, and thatched roofs, etc. To preserve the natural environment though, you are not allowed to wear your shoes or sunscreen.

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As stated earlier, we usually don’t enjoy tours very much, but we highly recommend this tour company.

Overall, it was well-organized and a good experience. The only downside is that they try to sell you an expensive (over $100) photograph package at the end (We laughed at the price, but I thin we were the only people on our tour who didn’t buy the pictures!) If you want your own photos, I recommend you take a water camera or a GoPro (like we did).


Isla Mujeres

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Our second day in Cancun, we headed to Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the coast accessible by ferry. Can you believe the color of the ocean?

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It was an easy 15 min ride over and once we disembarked and made it through the gauntlet of people trying to rent us hotels, scooters, and time shares, we discovered some really charming and colorful streets.

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We had the most delicious meal of our trip in Isla Mujeres at the Rooster Cafe. I had gazpacho and tacos, while Sean had a sandwich with sausage, peppers,and cheese. I’m still thinking about my soup!

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After lunch, we made friends with this little guy just hanging out on the street.

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Everything was going great… nice weather, nice meal, nice doggy.

And then we rented some bikes to ride to the tip of the island about 5 miles away. There was a nature preserve and a sculpture garden I really wanted to see.

That’s when things started to go bad.

We got our bikes and off we went. The ride was fairly easy, but we had to share the road with cars, motorbikes, trucks, and everyone else heading that way.

About 45 minutes into our ride and nearly to the tip of the island, Sean stopped. I was way ahead and didn’t even realize he wasn’t behind me for the longest time. Then I cycled back to him to find out the problem.

Turns out his bike just stopped working. Chain was attached, nothing looked obviously broken, but it just wouldn’t go forward.

So, what choice did we have but to abort our plan and head back into town? I rode ahead to see if I could get some help and Sean started walking his bike back. Not fun, guys. 

I ended up convincing a taxi driver to hang our bikes out of the trunk of his car and drive us back into town. When we took the bikes back to the rental place, the guy who ran this business accused us of breaking his bike!

Yeah, we broke your bike by riding it, dude. 

I stood there and argued with him for a good 20 minutes and finally we had to walk away. There was some yelling (from me) and head ducking in shame (from him) but he refused to give us a refund for renting a crappy bike, the taxi ride back into town, time lost, whatever. It was not pretty!

Heads up: Don’t ever rent bikes in Isla Mujeres from Omar!

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We ended up venting with a few bottles of Dos Equis on the beach and all was good again before taking the ferry back to Cancun for the day.