The Top 6 Things to Do in Rethymno, Crete

So, Crete is another one of those places that just cannot be covered in a short time. We had 3 full days on the island, and I just wish we had had more. I mean, people spend a month on this island for vacation – contentedly. That’s how much there is to do.

But in our limited three days we had to be realistic and chose just one town to park our bags and explore.

So we chose Rethymno.

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This cute little Venetian-Greek harbor town does a great job of balancing tourism with real life. It’s full of the classic souvenir-like places, but it’s markedly cheaper than other Greek destinations (co*santorini*ugh) and you get the feeling that actual people still live here. As if maybe not every corner of this sleepy town has turned into a tourist restaurant.

To get here, take the ferry or fly to Heraklion, Crete, (some ferries travel directly to Rethymno also) and then take a local green bus (about 7.50 Euros) through the mountains to Rethymno.

And as for what to do? Read on :)

1) Check out Rethymno Beach. The main beach of Rethymno (located to the east of the harbor) is huge, sandy, well-maintained, and full of shallow, warm, clear water. Perfect for spending the whole day in! It is heavily trafficked, though, so if you’re going in the peak season, prepare for crowds and rows of umbrellas. Each beach chair costs about 4.50 Euros, and nicely places you in the shade and above the hot sand (many with little wooden paths leading to showers, etc). There are even servers who come around offering food and drink (although it is a bit pricey! We ended up bringing snacks and only buying a couple cold drinks).

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2) Walk along the harbor and check out the old lighthouse! The little harbor doesn’t offer too much, but a walk along the edge to the lighthouse takes very little time and sets you up for some pretty adorable views of the old town.

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3) Go to the fortress. The Fortezza of Rethymno is definitely a main attraction. In the 1570s, the Venetians took over the city (from the Ottomans) and started to build a European/Moorish style citidel on the highest point of the city. The Ottomans came back (oops), and took over once more, using it as housing and general living until the mid 20th century. Really, until the 1960s, there were still houses on it! Now, it continues to undergo restoration and is open to the public. My tip? Go later in the day. It’s very exposed and hot midday, but in the evening there’s a great breeze and fantastic sunset views!

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4) Eat at great restaurants like Raki Ba Raki or Taverna Kyria Maria! The food on Greece just keeps getting better and better. Kyria Maria, recommended from the one and only Lonely Planet, actually did live up to its reviews! Great food, great pricing, a pretty location, and some nice complimentary raki and watermelon to finish. But the best dining experience we had? This next one. The highlight of our entire trip was probably here, on Rethymno, at Raki Ba Raki. Recommended by a fellow hosteler, this tapas-style restaurant takes a modern twist on classic Greek dishes. Delicious food, a perfect location, and not touristy at all. This was a fabulous restaurant by any and all standards.

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5) Take a couple day trips. Having a couple days in Rethymno is perfect. It only takes a day to see the town itself, but the town is well situated to visit some of the island’s more beautiful beaches and towns, like Elafonisi Beach or Palm Beach (more on this in a later post)! Go by bus or rent a car to see all these gorgeous areas. And the views in the mountains will make the rides to and from as great as the destinations!

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6) Wander the town streets. And finally, Rethymno itself is full of adorable little pathways and perfumed overhanging flowers. A good way to pass those post-beach, pre-dinner hours is wandering around the city, getting lost in the alleys and maybe even buying a souvenir or two.

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And if that’s not enough to get you planning a trip to Crete (and Rethymno), I don’t know what is!

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P.S. Stay tuned for more Rethymno pictures, a look at where we stayed, and information on Palm Beach, as well as what to do in Heraklion :)

The Best Thing to Do on Santorini

My number one recommendation for Santorini is to…

duh-duh!

Hike from Thira to Oia.

It’s a 3 hour hike or so (especially since you’ll be taking tons of photos every 100 steps!) and covers the 11km, 7mile distance between Thira and Oia.

I’d recommend starting in the early(ish) morning in Thira and hiking towards Oia. You want to start early because the sun can get pretty brutal, although the sea breeze often makes it bearable. And because this is a hiking in the desert situation, make sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and sturdy-ish shoes! Vann and I just brought keds-like sneakers with us to Greece, and it was ok, but the path is fairly rocky and full of (sometimes scarily) loose shale at points.

And the views are the best I saw in Greece! The caldera really reveals its shape on the hike, with little towns dotted throughout, a couple lone sentinel whitewashed chapels, and even a grazing donkey or two! Plus, hiking isn’t the first thing people think of on Santorini, so the path should be pretty empty (escaping crowds is always a plus on Santorini).

Some extra tips: you might lose the direction at points in Thira – just remember to head up, not down, and always towards Oia. There are a couple places to grab food or a small drink along the path, but not many. Bring your own! If you want, here is a link that describes the hike in more detail. Also, if you do go early in the morning (we left at 8:30/9am?), you can arrive at Oia and have a leisurely brunch while everyone else is still asleep!

Below are some choice photos from the hike, in order, from Thira in the early morning to our rewarding brunch in Oia!

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The Best Place to See the Sunset on Santorini

Ok. You know that people crowd the streets of Oia and Thira to see the sunset each night?

And I mean crowd

Well, you, dear reader, can be wayyy smarter than every single one of them the next time you go to Santorini.

Who wants to jostle with crowds to stand for an hour (or sit at a super scrunched table you had to fight for!) while everyone snaps snaps snaps away at the sunset.

Kind of ruins the moment, don’t you think?

So when you, the informed tourist, goes to Santorini, check out this wine bar instead.

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Called “To Kafenio,” it’s located in Thira, but a 10 minute walk up the caldera towards Oia. It treats to you a hearty plate of Greek tapas with every glass of (quality yet normally priced) Greek wine you purchase, and most importantly, it stays delightfully uncrowded.

Just enough people discover this little gem to give everyone a table and view like this all to your own.

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From your perch you’ll see to your left the city of Thira bathed in sunset light.

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And to your right you’ll see the sun setting over the island’s edge. You’ll have a better view than everyone on the Thira steps, and your sunset will actually be secluded and romantic!

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And if you look closely, it’s possible to see allll those other tourists crowding those stairs. And once you see the city turn on its lights and the crowds go away, you can head down back into town.

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*Protip – now is a great time (after the sunset) to eat dinner. And if you’re looking for something tasty and right in Thira? Check out Mama’s House. It’s definitely an institution, but deservedly so (best Souvlaki I had that entire trip!). And afterwards, if you want a break from the Greek wines, check out the Donkey Brewery. A brewery on Santorini? Pretty cool.

The Top Two Beaches on Santorini

Santorini has some pretty awesome beaches. But chances are, if you’re in Greece as a young tourist, you’re not spending 4 days on Santorini and have time to see them all (if you are, then awesome!).

Santorini is gorgeous, but rather small and touristy and pricey – and Greece is so HUGE!

But you know you want to hit at least a beach or two in between morning hikes to Thira and sunsets at Oia. Which ones should you choose?

I’ve got you covered. The answer is….

The black beach at Kamari and the red beach at Akrotiri (also home to the awesome Pompeii like city – make it a day outing!).

The black beach at Kamari looks like this:

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Hah, so actually somehow I managed to take no photos of the beach besides this one. I don’t know why… But I found a photo for you!

 

The main draw for Kamari’s beach is the black sand (how often have you been to a black sand beach?? 1 point to the Volcanic Island!). The local green bus from Thira to Kamari is easily marked at the bus station, and costs (if I remember correctly) 1.80 Euros each way. The beach itself has a good infrastructure, with little refreshment stands and the like. Plus, the chairs are cheap – 3.50 Euros per chair. The only possible downside is that the water does get deep pretty quickly – watch out!

And now for my favorite beach on Santorini! The red beach!

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Really cool, non? With it’s secluded feel and shocking red sand, it’s more like you’ve discovered a secret hideaway (you and the 100 other people on the beach…but it’s a popular Greek island. Every beach is like that!). The bus is again about 1.80 Euros and drops you off a bit away from the beach. You’ll see boats trying to get tourists to pay for a trip over. You can do that, but it’s just as easy to walk the small hike into the beach.

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And once you’re there, there’s a small little refreshment stand wayyy at the end and it’ll cost you 4 Euros a chair. I’d recommend bringing your own snacks and water since it is a bit more rustic and doesn’t have the vendors other beaches do (but that makes it so much better, in my opinion! Bring a snack of olives and pistachios from the local grocery store, like we did!). It’s slightly less crowded than other beaches and the water is shallow for a good bit before dropping out from under you.

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These two beaches will fulfill all your ocean needs on Santorini. So remember your water and sunscreen and snacks, and head out to a beach one afternoon!

Tips For a Weekend Getaway to Asheville, North Carolina

This last weekend we spent a quick three day jaunt in Asheville, North Carolina. Often compared to Portland and other such quirky, artsy cities, Asheville has a wonderful bar and restaurant scene, is located in the middle of some of the most gorgeous national forests our nation has to offer, and is filled throughout with some of the most interesting Art Deco architecture around!

So if you’re heading up to Asheville for a bit, here are some suggestions of where to go, where to eat, and where to rest your head at night :)

To sleep: If you’re on a budget, book a room with the Asheville Hostel and Guest House. It’s a delightfully cheery, clean, simple guesthouse situated in an older home right off the main city center. You’re just one block from most of the action in Asheville! The staff is very informative, and the entire atmosphere is relaxed.

To drink part 1: There are numerous fantastic breweries in Asheville. Some of my favorites? Wicked Weed and Green Man. But I also had one of the more unusual and surprisingly delightful beers in my life at LAB (Lexington Avenue Brewery). It’s an experimental brew called the Buck Mild, and is an English Dark Mild Ale that has notes of coconut and is aged on cayenne peppers. This beer actually has a spicy aftertaste! Ok, that sounds kind of odd when I write it out, but trust me, it’s very pleasant.

To drink part 2: Another thing in vogue in Asheville is prohibition cocktails. Asheville was HUGE in the 1920s – I’m talking Thomas Wolfe and Fitzgerald HUGE – so the cocktails really took off. My favorite bar (we went there both nights) is called Top of the Monk. They specialize in cocktails and are one of those places that makes amazing, inventive drinks you can’t get enough of! Drinks you know you’ll never, in a million years, be able to replicate. And plus, they have a cute outside veranda and offer free little tapas with every drink!

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To eat: Like the drinking category, there are just too many good places to eat to do them justice in this post (I mean, while talking about drinks, I didn’t even get to mention the Sake brewery or the bar where you can hang out in an old turn of the century bank vault!) But for our meals out we finally settled on a few choice spots. For our first lunch there, we went for 12 Bones BBQ. Now this was Western NC BBQ, mind you, but for those of you who appreciate all kinds of tasty slow cooked meat, this place is clutch. Only open for lunch on the weekdays, and lines consistently out the door. For dinner we ate at a restaurant each night. The first? Suwana’s Thai Orchid. Delicious delicious Thai food that yes, does have a “Thai hot” option. I got the Phad King and would recommend it in a heartbeat! The second night we ate at Strada, a more upscale Italian place (we aren’t going to be eating much Italian in the year to come – time to stock up on the taste memories!). The wine tasted like Italy and the food was heavenly. Gorgeously balanced flavors and perfect proportions. We even had Calamari for a starter, and was it not the best Calamari I’ve had in my life? The texture was divine. Plus, there was a large Italian family right behind us at dinner. That’s how you know it’s good. AND last but not least! WHEW! For breakfast, if you’re into carb loading, head to Biscuit Head in West Asheville. Again, a line heading out the door, but biscuits and coffee and bloody marys and brunches that make every second of that wait worth it (we both had the Asheville Benedict. Again, I totally recommend it.)

WELL! Now we’re on to the “what to do between meals” part. But, I mean, is that even as important as the “what to do for your meals” part? I don’t think so.

That’s why it’s last.

To do: Go to The Biltmore (ok, we didn’t actually do this because of time and being cheap. But someday I do want to go! It looks amazing!). The Biltmore estate is the largest privately owned estate in America. It’s chateau-esque, it’s massive, and it costs $50 and 5-6 hours to visit it. This is what the best of the Roaring 20s can buy you.

Walk downtown and see the arts and architecture. Asheville has one of the most comprehensive Art Deco architecture anywhere in the US. Remember that “boom” in the 1920s mentioned in the cocktail section? Well all these 20s buildings went up, then that boom was followed by a bust so massive for the area that nothing was really updated or renovated in the city. The city is like a time capsule to the past, and full of interesting architecture you don’t get in most American cities.

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Lastly, go on a hike! The outdoors around Asheville is home to the Appalachian Trail, the Pisgah National Forest, the Great Smokey Mountains, the Linville Gorge (it’s like a forested Grand Canyon!), and the Blue Ridge Parkway. All stunning and worth a hike. We ended up doing a fairly strenuous but rewarding hike up to Looking Glass Rock. It took most of Saturday, and will definitely earn you that pasta dinner! And if you go in the winter like we did, the trails aren’t as crowded.

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So, in conclusion? Asheville ranks right up there as one of the best outdoorsy and foodie places to grab a quick vacation.

Now only if it were easier to find a good career and therefore live there…ahh, the Portland city syndrome…

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Hostel Review: Fira Backpackers Place

Santorini is expensive.

That’s to be expected, but it still takes a mental and financial toll when you start to add your costs up!

So it was really nice when we found a great hostel in the middle of Fira (Thira), Santorini that fit the bill (in every way).

Fira Backpackers Place is located a short 60 meter walk from the bus station (where every traveler coming in by ferry ends up after the bus ride up the caldera).

When we reached the quaint white and blue house, we were greeted by hostel staff and promptly checked in with all the extra maps and information about the island we could desire.

We had reserved a two person private room which, at 30 euros per person, per night, was just perfect for Santorini.

And the room was great! Sparse and clean, it stayed cool even in the hot summer sun.

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And as promised, when we looked out the door, there was a balcony!

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It came complete with a small laundry line, lounge chairs, a table, and was overlooking the 2nd half of the island, all the way to the sea in the distance.

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We couldn’t have been luckier.

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And the rest of our stay proved to be just as lovely. It was quiet at night and cool during the day. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly, and they offered amenities such as towels, a lounge area, a kitchen, a pool, and luggage storage.

Our time at Fira Backpackers Place helped to make the trip to Santorini as relaxing as it was. If you’re visiting this iconic island on a budget, make sure to park your bags here!

*For those interested, here’s the link to them on Hostelworld!*

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The Best Sunscreen For Greece

Kind of a specific topic, I realize, but I wanted to segue back into talking about Greece (it’s been so long!), aaaand really really want to talk about this sunscreen.

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We ran out of sunscreen sometime on Santorini and found ourselves looking around at expensive sunscreen and beauty shops all over Thira.

When a shop assistant told us that this was a fabulous sunscreen and a great deal (came with a bottle of after sun), we said “Hah! You can’t fool us, lady! We aren’t gullible tourists! This is expensive!”

And then, 3 shops later, we realized it was a great deal. (Talk about a sunscreen mark-up in Greece!)

Humbly we came back and said, “Um, actually, we will take that bottle…”

And it is the best sunscreen I’ve had in my entire life.

It’s great for sensitive skin*, not goopy, smells fabulous, natural ingredients, and works like a charm.

And that after sun, too! We manage to still have some of that (the sunscreen was used up in its entirety in Greece…we take sun safety seriously!). I’m holding on to that after sun until our next outdoor adventure.

I just wish I could afford to buy it all the time. sigh.

So if you have some cash to burn, or are interested in knowing what to buy when you run out of your own sunscreen in the middle of a Greek island, here’s a link to it!

And as a bonus? The best lip balm I’ve ever used in my life. Also from Greece :)

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*Meaning not people who burn very very easily (I’d go up to spf 50 for that, obviously) but for those who, like me, have skin that reacts negatively to your average sunscreen.

How Vacations Affect Your Happiness

This is kind of an old link – I can’t quite remember if I’ve ever mentioned it before on the blog or not? Regardless, I was reminded of it since we’ve just gotten back from a mini-weekend vacation to Asheville! (photos to follow in a later post)

Our trip got me thinking about how vacations affect us mentally. Why and how do they lift our spirits up?

Some researchers in Netherlands asked just that question, and the results are not what you might think…

Phuket, Thailand