Choo Choo! All aboard to Milan.

I’m almost to the end of my trip with a stop in Milan before I return to Rome for New Years Eve and finally Athens for my return to Doha. I always find it interesting how people will sit in your seat and insist that they prefer your seat over the one they purchased. So here we go….

Me: Sir… That’s my seat right there..

Him: I like this seat.

Me: I like the seat I paid for.

Him: Something along the lines of please sit in my seat.

Me: No thanks, I like the window. That’s why I purchased it.

Him: Moves to correct seat.

The remainder of the train ride was uneventful. Except for when his daughter peed her pants and my Clorox wipes and baby came in handy.

Ranata +2, Stranger on the train-2.

So I made it to Milano Centrale and in my mind I wanted to take public transportation to the nearest stop to the hotel. It was cold as hell exiting the station so I scraped that plan. I also was not immediately excited about what I saw. I’m not sure why other than it didn’t look like the pictures. I also failed to download the taxi app (itTaxi)and get money out of the ATM. I went back to terminal, no ATM in sight, but I downloaded app and added credit card. I had to walk a block to get the app to work. Somehow I finally got a ride to the hotel.

I arrived to the hotel with ease. The outside reminded of the brownstones in New York. Hotel San Francisco seems to be situated in a residential neighborhood. The receptionist provided me with all relevant information to check in. I went to my room which was quaint, but I had a street view. I did like the shower. Since I was cashless, I set out on the hunt for an ATM. Never in my life have I been to a city where an ATM was difficult to locate. I literally went every direction from my hotel until I found one in a plaza.

Finally with money I caught an Uber to Viveca Pizza and More. Somehow I failed to eat today, but I’m sure a missing meal here and there doesn’t hurt me. When I arrived there were four guest seated. I was a little nervous. Maybe the ratings were wrong on TheFork. However, at 7:30 this place became vibrant with music blasting and all the tables full. And people kept coming and going. I enjoyed my meal and the service was exceptional compared to some of my experiences in Rome. I had a great dinner and was full on wine as well. I headed back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation before my busy day.

Dinner for Five

Good people still exist.

Sometimes it can feel lonely in this solo travel lifestyle. While I love the idea of being able to travel where I like, create my own agenda and things of that sort, a dinner here and there to share conversation would be nice. While doing my research for this trip I found an app called Eatwith. The concept is locals invite people into their homes where they share stories over homemade cuisine. Eatwith was founded in 2012 and I’m sad that I just stumbled upon concept in tourism. So earlier this week I scrolled through the options on the app and decided I would dine with Fabio and Rocco. Not only did the menu look enticing, but the reviews were fabulous.

So I caught a cab to their place and was greeted with warm smiles, hugs and kisses on the cheeks. I was the first of three guest to arrive. While waiting I admired the artwork and holiday decorations of the flat.

They had great soundtrack of holiday music playing to set the mood. A little Mariah, “Oh Happy Day” by Lauren Hill, I even think I heard some Temptations in the mix. Koko and Myrrh arrived shortly and we began our dinner. Fabio and Rocco have a patio area off their flat that is enclosed. It’s actually a great area because in the warmer months you can open the door or add tables to extend area for larger groups. The space was intimate for the five of us.

We started with the choice of red or white wine in addition to Crostini con paté de fegatini di pollo and di olive. The olive was my favorite. This was followed up with Pasta all’ Amatriciana. This dish is similar to rigotoni with tomato sauce, bacon, percorino, cheese, garlic and wine for seasoning. I had two servings and stopped myself to save room for the secondo piatto. It was Polpette al sugo or meatballs and tomato sauce and Insalata mista. This was appetizing as well. We ended our meal with Crostata di amarene, which is a homemade cherry tart. After finishing our meal we had more wine and limoncello (quite a few cups for me).

The food was wonderful, but the best part was the organic conversation that was created with our various backgrounds. The conversation evolved from the current political climate to travel to grandmothers keeping money in their bras. It was a respectful and safe environment to have conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Myrrh and Koko talk about their recent engagement and sharing professional photos from their recent trip to Barcelona. You know I had to share mine as well. Koko is a designer and Myrrh is a stylist for celebrities.

Rocco and Fabio are equally exciting. Once again I was hit with the harsh fact that I need to know multiple languages. Rocco is limited in English and while Fabio translates for him when needed, I wanted to engage with him more. He has a sweet disposition and embracing smile. Before I knew it we had spent five hours talking, eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company.

Rocco and Fabio sent us away with a to go box of cherry tart. It was excellent with coffee the next morning. Fabio emailed me a walking tour that I will be doing today. As a local he was able to provide me with destinations off the beaten path.

I encourage you to experience Eatwith wherever your travels may lead you.

Conquering Rome

While reading about transportation options from Ciampino airport I noticed it was a little far out and taxis were running about €42. I was determined to figure out public transportation. But let me take a few steps back. There was no passport control. I can just roll up in your country like that? Maybe I will get my stamp on the way out. Did I accidentally leave airport without going through? I’ve diagnosed myself with adult ADD (I get off track easy). So for those of you headed to Rome (CIA), for €1.50 you can catch bus 520 to Cinecittà. From Cinecittà you will take the subway to Roma Termini for another €1.50. I just saved €39 that I can use elsewhere.

(Photo via Pinterest)

When I arrived at Termini I wanted to take a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver told me to walk it. Wait, you don’t want my money? So I opened Google maps and within 3 minutes I was standing in front of The Hive Hotel.

I was a little early, but the receptionist allowed me to check in and he upgraded my room. I don’t know what my other room would have looked like, but baby, I would have to say this room is pretty sweet. There is a nice wide entrance with a bench on one side and the coat rack/luggage storage on the other. When you turn the corner the coffee maker and safe are mounted in the shelving unit. There is a spacious bathroom / shower/ vanity area with space for me to cut a split if I could or wanted to. After exiting the bathroom to your right is an open area with a desk and refrigerator. There is also a shelving unit. I guess I could put up pictures of people I love if I was here long enough. On the other side is the full sized bed and maybe 60″ TV mounted in the wall. Additionally, there are plenty of outlets.

After getting settled in my room, I decided to walk the neighborhood and find some pizza and beer. Enough said. Take a look at this pizza al formaggio and Italian beer.

I went back to my room the take my hair down from the twist and relax. I’m very excited for tonight. I found this app called Eatwith. Basically people who love to cook and host will have you in their home for a traditional meal with other guest. Several courses and wine is included. I will be having dinner with Fabio, Rocco and the other guests.

Rain, Rain go away…I’m trying to see Athens on Christmas Day

I woke up this morning determined to accomplish three things:

1. Find a laundromat – I despise traveling with dirty clothes and it adds weight to your luggage.

2. Finish sightseeing the recommended places.

3. Eat lunch at Greco’s Project- I just couldn’t resist after seeing the steak at another table yesterday. Plus it’s Christmas; I’m treating myself.

I also woke up to a lot of rain. But I wasn’t boarding my flight tomorrow with dirty clothes. After checking Google I was able to find two laundromats that were possibly open. I grabbed a Beat to the first location. Sure enough it was closed. According to Google maps, the next place was in walking distance. I found it in about 5 minutes. Bingo! It was open! I went in and purchased detergent and washed two loads for €3.

(About Laundry in Athens)

Since I knew where I was, I walked back to the hotel. After dropping my items off I caught the subway to Syntagma Square. I had some funds leftover on my card from the tram. I read the map and it seemed like an easy ride. I also had the app Metro Map Lite. I could see there were only two stops. The subway was busy, but probably not as crowded on a work day. I successfully took the ride.

So guess what? It was about lunch time and I was close to Greco’s Project. I made my way over and ordered my taziki sauce and pita as well as the steak with fries and roasted vegetables. No complaints here.

I hopped aboard the bus to see Hadrian’s Arch, also referred to as the gate to city. In close proximity is Stiles Olimpiou Dios. Next I walked through the Zappeio Gardens which had many statues and is home to the old Parliament. It was raining a little,but I kept moving along.

(Hadrian’s Arch)

(Stiles Olimpiou Dios)

(Old Parliament)

(Statues in Zappeio Gardens)

The bus went by the Academy of Athens and Athens Library. I took the bus back to the hotel for a potty break. Even though I keep baby and Clorox wipes on me, I struggle with public restrooms.

(Academy of Athens)

I was still determined to see two more sites; Panathenaic Stadium and Lycabettus Hill. I took a Beat to the stadium since the hop on hop off had concluded for the evening. I need to share that there must be “beef” between traditional taxi drivers and those that work for Beat. As I am getting in the car a taxi driver starts cursing out my driver. I could tell that the taxi driver thought he just pulled up and picked me up in front of the line of taxis waiting for people. My driver shifted into park and jumped out with his iPad showing the Beat app open. They went at it for like a whole minute and then we drove off into the night. Back to the real story. The stadium was actually behind Zappeio Gardens and in walking distance, but I didn’t recognize that on the map earlier. As the sun was setting, temperature dropping I was able to see the stadium under the illuminated lights.

(Panathenaic Stadium)

Next I caught a Beat to Lycabettus Hill. My suggestion is you do this during the day. While the nighttime is beautiful and you can see Acropolis in the distance, I imagine the it would be better with light. After taking the cable car to the top, you can visit a small chapel and have communion or eat under the stars at one of the two restaurants.

(View from Lycabettus Hill)

Athens was good to me! The history, culture, architecture, food and hotel were excellent. Here I come Rome!

On the Move in Athens.

After a great night of rest I covered almost eight miles or 17,410 steps. It’s Christmas Eve here and the city is packed with people. The Stanley is close to the city or Syntagma Square where it is decorated for the holidays and very lively. Right outside the hotel is a stop for the Athens Hop on Hop off tour bus. The ticket was €16 for two days. That’s probably the best price I’ve seen.

By the way, it was the most gorgeous day. Clear skies and sunny. I boarded the bus and reviewed the map, outlining everything I would like to see. Athens dates back to the 5th century BC, so while there are modern structures in the city, you will find yourself stumbling upon ancient statues. My first stop was Syntagma Square. At this stop, if you look directly up, you can see Acropolis in the distance. This is also one of the areas that I took my pictures with Michalis. I strolled over to Hadrian’s Library. Most structures are just columns and not the actual building. After a few photos I got back on the bus to travel to Acropolis.

(Hadrian’s Library)

(Church ruins at Hadrian’s Library)

(View of Acropolis from Syntagma Square)

However, I was sidetracked and stopped at the fresh market. According to the recording on the bus, this market is very important as it sets the prices for meat products throughout Athens. I held my breath the whole time I was walking through. Also, I kept envisioning myself having an accidental fall and sliding in dead animal blood (just horrible). It was very busy; I suspect people were buying items for Christmas dinner.

(Fresh Market)

Before heading to Acropolis, I stopped through Plaka and the south slope of Acropolis. Also, you can veiw Herodes Theater from the outside. Once going in and climbing the first set of steps, I was able to view the theater from an elevated area. The theater named after Odeon of Herodes Attica was used for music concerts and had a seating capacity of 5,000. It was destroyed in 267 AD by Heruli.

(Herodes Theater)

The next structure while at Acropolis was Parthenon. It was dedicated to Athena, a Greek goddess. Documentation alluded to it being used for a treasury, church, cathedral and mosque.

(Parthenon)

The Temple of Athena Nike was also dedicated to the goddess. Nike means “victory” in Greek.

(Athena Nike)

Erechtheum or Erechtheion is a Greek temple dedicated to Athena and Posedion. It was named after Erichthonius who was Greek hero. Others suggest it was built in honor of King Erechtheus, who may be buried nearby.

(Erechtheum)

I spent about an hour just walking around. It’s also a great area to take in the views of Athens from all directions.

I went back to the Hellinic Parliament/Syntagma stop and walked through the lively square. The City of Athens had a stage set up with live music which would go into the late evening. The performer was covering Prince’s song “Kiss”. She had the whole crowd rocking with her.

As I continued along I noticed that there were multiple street performers. An older African American man that sounded like Ray Charles, a younger band with a girl singing songs similar to Joss Stone and Adele. There was a guy with no shirt dancing to 90’s music and many more. I really enjoyed the entertainment.

After all of this I was hungry. If you don’t know where to eat, go to the place that is crowded. I found an eatery called The Greco’s Project. I ordered the taziki sauce with pita bread and an Amstel beer as a starter. I don’t know which was better, the taziki or the bread. It was a perfect combination. The taziki was fresh and creamy. It had strands of cucumbers and whatever else ingredients are included. The pita bread was small and round. It also had a buttery flavor. The waiter suggested that I try the chicken kabobs with salad and french fries. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the fries because in the picture they were similar to potato chips and I thought they may have been hard. Boy, was I wrong. They were perfect and I used the leftover taziki for dipping. The salad was fresh and the chicken was savory. Just what I needed to keep moving for the day.

After my extremely late lunch (like 3), I continued walking through the shopping area. So many shops I’ve never heard of with innovative clothing designs. I also went down the side street which included more shops like a flee market style. I know it sounds crazy, but my favorite purchase was a charging case for my phone. With the amount of travel and sightseeing that I do I hate dragging along my 3 portable chargers (I might have a fear of being stranded with no battery). Now if my phone is fully charged, and I have the case and one backup I should be good.

I caught a Beat back to the hotel and had drink on the rooftop while admiring the illuminated Acropolis.

Santorini- These are the things that dreams are made of.

Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy! This is a long one.

When I was selecting where I would spend my holiday, I wanted to be somewhere that was off season. Avoiding the crowds and being able to actually take photos without people. That’s just what I got. I arrived at the port in Santorini at the bottom of a cliff. All I will say is I’m positive the guy took advantage of me because he knew I had no way of getting into town from the port. I’ll never share how much I paid. That’s another lesson learned.

I arrived at Pelican Hotel in about 15 minutes. Upon entering it had this fresh, clean smell. I was greeted by the daughter of the owner. What I loved most was the time she took to pull out a map and point out every sight I needed to see during my stay. The archeological sights, wine tastings, red and black sand beaches, restaurants and many other attractions. My head was definitely spinning trying to figure out how I would conquer this is 3 days. She was amazing at getting me settled in room 16 on the first floor. The room was quaint with an entrance that separates the bathroom and storage area from the living space. It wasn’t my favorite bathroom, but it would make due. There was a small TV mounted to the wall, desk, chair, full size bed with nightstands on both sides. Oh and plenty of outlets.

I dropped my items and went over to the restaurant next door as she suggested this place for dinner. Remember Pelican Kipos. They have a great patio area and seating for maybe 50 inside. It was decorated for the season with lights and poinsettia’s on the tables. I tried the wine tray (assortment of cheese, vegetables, meat and crackers) as an appetizer. I followed this with a Greek salad. Just know that I will never eat a Greek salad from another restaurant. It started with a bed of cucumbers, green peppers, olives, red onions and two large triangles of feta cheese. The waitress suggested I drizzle it with olive oil. As my main course I had the Four Cheese Rigitoni. I was very pleased with my meal. Before leaving they brought me a complimentary desert. No idea what it was, but I ate it all.

Friday morning the lady at the hotel suggested I change my rental car to a place right across the street where she could get me a better deal than Budget. I picked up my Skoda that reminded me of a toaster box. I took a couple of loops around the center of town to get a feel for driving. I stopped for breakfast at Graffiti Cafe. I had an omelette with cheese and veggies and a side of potatoes. The Cafe is very cute, bustling with people and good music. I asked for an iced coffee to go, but ended up with an Irish Coffee (I see how she could have mixed those up, but you gave me an alcoholic beverage to go!).

After leaving there I stopped for gas and then headed out to search for some of the sights. Michalis (seems to be a common name) at the rental car place adviced me that GPS is not really a thing in Santorini. However, I was able to get Google Maps to work.

I somehow found my way to the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum. I’ve never been to a wine museum. It’s supposedly one of the top ten in the world. I would say that it’s quite interesting. They have preserved many artifacts that document the history of the winery. I went on the self-guided tour with an audio box describing all 23 scenes. Afterwards I went back up to begin tasting. I had five wines; one white, two reds and two dessert. By far I am a dessert wine, rosé, or sweet red and white type of drinker. I really enjoyed the two dessert wines and listening to the process from vine to bottle. They were so delicious and it was suggested that they are best served over chocolate or vanilla ice cream due to their thickness. I wrapped up my session and actually went back to the hotel to read and write.

I really wanted to dry a different restaurant but Pelican Kipos had me wrapped around their fingers. Plus it was next door to the hotel. So I got ready and walked over. I went for the wine plate again as an appetizer. As much as I wanted the Greek salad I skipped it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat my main course. I love me some pasta, so I tried the Basil Pesto dish. Once again it did not disappoint. The rigitoni was smoothered in pesto sauce and topped with parmesean. Marie the host came over to check on me and said she wanted to share some of the best wine with me on the house. It was delicious with strong aromas of tobacco and vanilla from the oak barrel. Bon Appétit!

I got up Saturday morning ready to concur the streets of Santorini. So I started out on the curvy road to Oia. I wish I could tell you which direction it was from the center of Fira, but I can’t. Believe it or not, but I’m terrified of large bodies of water and heights. I will still jump on an airplane, boat, ferry or cable car in the sky to anywhere. For me it’s being able to say I keep conquering this fear.

(Imagine from Pinterest)

I finally arrived in Oia in one piece and nerves intact. Oia is a cliff town sitting on the edge of the Aegean Sea. The buildings are consistently white or cream colored with some blue domes. There seems to be a lot of construction and renovation taking place. Also because it is on the side of a cliff, the villas seem to be built into the rock as the foundation. Additionally, I believe the only way you can reach the villas is by donkey. Overall it’s a beautiful location with astonishing views. It was very quiet, with a few tourist walking the cobblestone alleyways. I happen to pass two African American women that were very happy to see me; as I was likewise. We greeted each other in passing. Let me pause here and say that I have met some amazing people during my travels. I strolled for an hour or so capturing the beauty of quiet Oia.

When I left I decided just to drive since I had plenty of daytime left and was informed that you can’t get lost since there are three main roads. I saw signs for the airport and Kamari which is the black sand beach. I drove through the airport just for a view. For those of you familiar with the airport in Rock Hill, SC, it seemed smaller than that with one runway. I looped it in about one minute. I continued on the road and realized I was heading in the direction of the wine museum which is also the road to the black sand beach. I arrived at the black sand beach and walked around for a little while capturing some photos. This place is breathtaking in general. It’s beautiful to see the sky meet the ocean.

My next stop was Santos Wine Winery. When I entered the winery I recognized the two ladies from Oia who were now joined by a gentleman. I took my seat and the daughter came over and greeted me. She welcomed me to sit with them. She acknowledged that I was a solo traveler and may not want to. However, I think it’s important in my solo travels that I connect with people.

We made introductions and then quickly found out that we had all attended HBCU’s in North Carolina. They are from the Raleigh area and reside in Italy and the daughter lives in Chicago with her husband. Although our time was brief, I enjoyed their authenticity of engaging with me. We made dinner plans for later that evening. I’m betting you’re wondering if we went to Pelican Kipos. Keeping reading…

Santo Winery sits on the edge of a cliff with panoramic views of the Aegean Sea, Fira and Oia. I went with six tastings; four whites, one red and one dessert. I also added a Rosé champagne because it was so pretty and sparkling. The cheese, olives and bread with this red tomatoe based dipping sauce was perfect. I see myself returning here in the future.

After leaving there I continued on my journey to locate the red beach. I followed the signs until I arrived at the end of a road with a small white and blue chapel. I was looking for red sand, but only saw red rocks. Once again it was a magnificent sight.

On the way back I stopped to capture a photo of the area referred to as the Caldera. It is a half-moon shaped bay with a view I could stare at for days. At this spot, I gave thanks to God for allowing me to travel and see places that some only dream of visiting someday.

I headed back to my hotel to rest before dinner. We plans to meet around 8 and I reserved a table for the four of us. We met at the restaurant and ordered drinks while we perused the menu. I eventually choose the Lamb and Potatoes in a ceramic pot. My goodness… First of all I don’t think I’ve tried lamb outside of a gyro. What is wrong with me?! This was a nice sized portion and the meat just fell off the bone. T.J. (the husband) and I had the lamb. Jamie had mussels, which would have never been enough for me. Krys (the daughter) had the fried cod. I really enjoyed my time with them. We talked about everything from travel to getting parents up to speed with technology while living abroad. I hope to run into them somewhere in the future.

Self care Sunday…. I got up and did some under eye patches to make me feel refreshed. I got dressed and went next door to have breakfast and a mimosa. Afterwards I walked around for some time and then returned to my hotel to get ready for my ride to the port.

I boarded the ferry with ease and picked up my room key. I could have taken a flight, but I really enjoyed my time of the ferry. I was in business class so it was comfortable. It gave me an opportunity to write and read the magazines that have been sitting on my coffee table since arriving in Doha.

I arrived safe and sound at Pireaus Port. I opened my Beat app to get a taxi. One of the taxi drivers walked up to me and quoted $25 to get to The Stanley. I looked at him sideways, showed him my Beat quote and walked over to my $11 taxi. I can’t knock his hustle. I am comfortably in my room at The Stanley and I will include more about it in my next blog. Let’s just say I’m fine with the bathroom and the bed is cozy.

Athens – Round One

I arrived in Athens late Tuesday night. I scheduled my pickup from the airport through Welcome. This is similar to a service that I used in Cartagena. They come into the arrivals hall with a sign so you know it’s your ride. My driver was friendly and gave me a hug welcoming to Athens. He grabbed my bags and took me to the car. In the car was a nice clothe bag with their logo and a bottle of water.

He took me straight to Tropical Hotel and I checked in with ease. This last year I would say that I’ve been traveling extensively. During this time I’ve been using Booking.com to secure my hotels. My rule of thumb has been a 7.0 or higher rating and reading the most recent reviews. For the most part the reviews have been accurate and I’m satisfied. The best part is you can sort reviews based on solo travel vs. families. That gives me an idea of how someone like me experienced the accommodation.

The one thing I have learned about European travel is if says the bathroom is small…then it’s smaller. The room was suitable and clean. The best part was the ocean view from the balcony. I also choose this hotel as a landing spot for its proximity to the Port of Pireaus. After a good night’s sleep I headed out Wednesday morning to explore Glyfáda. This was a recommendation from my driver.

Glyfáda is a neighborhood with plenty of shopping and eateries. Somehow I ended up in Mark’s and Spencers purchasing a dress for my photo shoot later that evening. I walked around Glyfáda for a while, capturing a few pictures and trying to figure out how to get a ticket for the tram. I finally found a store that sold the pass. I got on the tram and rode it to the last stop taking in the scenary. The best part of this vacation is time. I have time to explore with no set agenda. I rode until I found an area with plenty of food options. I had fries and a gyro. The taziki sauce was to die for. I got back on the tram and headed to hotel. However, I got on the wrong one and ended up getting off and reserving a Beat (taxi) to take me back.

I got up and dressed myself for a night photo shoot with Michalis. I found him on Airbnb experiences. With everything going on in the world it can be a little scary at times booking excursions and experiences online. However, I did follow him on Instagram @Michalis_m prior to just to vet him and the photos. I met him at the Hellinic Parliament in central Athens. We met prior to the changing of the guards so it was special to see that. Afterwards we started the photo shoot. He even brought a Santa hat to help me get in the spirit. He took a few pictures in front of the parliament and then we strolled over to Syntagma Square.

Michalis is great behind the camera for the simple fact that he makes the person in front of the camera feel comfortable. I’ve always looked at photos and wondered how the photographer was able to get a certain pose, and now I know. The funniest part for me was when he says to look off into space and he takes the pictures. Obviously I’m no model, but I definitely have a different respect for them now. We had a lovely time walking around finding areas with the perfect light or backdrop. Some many different places. In front of flowers, Christmas lights, graffiti, restaurants and Acropolis at night. We walked the winding streets of Athens for two hours taking fancy pictures and it was a little bit of a tour as well.

In the middle of the photo shoot this guy named Bradley started singing, which brought a smile to my face for the perfect picture. He was an odd character by the way. He proceeded to share with me how much he loved black culture, music, etc. Bradley was familiar with Charlotte and Charleston. He even went as far as to tell me he feels African American. I kindly reminded him that he wasn’t. It’s always weird to me when Caucasian people share with you that they want to be African American. Just know this life is not easy, but I would have it no other way.

(Weird and odd Bradley)

Michalis and I continued our hunt for the perfect photos. We wrapped up our evening over food, drinks and shisha overlooking Acropolis. We reviewed the pictures which I thought looked amazing even without editing. I am currently in Santorini, but I will be returning to Athens in a few days to get my sightseeing in along with a ride on the hop on hop off tour.