Cruising Around The Aegean Sea

I never considered taking a cruise before. I envisioned them as either too family-friendly with kids running around, screaming, being in the way or full of old, entitled people, playing bingo and white washing the culture in all of their destinations.

I was mostly wrong.

As part of my trip to Greece through a group tour company, we ended our stay in the country by taking a cruise around several of the islands:

Mykonos

What do you notice first? The gorgeous, white buildings that backdrop the harbor, providing a beautiful contrast to the vibrant blues and purples of window shutters and flowers. The pleasantly arranged seafood platters at each restaurant that tries to ensnare you from your first step off the boat. Or do you go straight for the maze of walking streets that take you from one bougie store to the next, juxtaposing your life into that of a Kardashian’s for but a few moments.

We meandered through some back alleys to bypass some of the busier sections, but ended up behind homes of the local workers and business owners, subject to the law forcing them to keep their homes the white and azure blue you picture when thinking of Greece.

I split a delicious seafood feast with a friend, enjoying calamari, clams, and more, while escaping the 95-degree weather for a bit. We were on a tight schedule and had to be near the ship for boarding to the next destination.

Samos

The next stop for the cruise ship was actually Kusadasi, a beach resort town in Turkey. For reasons I’m still not positive on, no U.S. citizens were allowed to disembark the boat for this stop. I’m guessing it was related to Turkey’s involvement with Qatar or the 2016 coup d’état attempt. Still not sure, but it cost me an evening in the country. Luckily, I had purchased the all-inclusive drink plan right after boarding, so I explored the ship seeing which bar had the heaviest pour.

The next morning, we ventured onto the island of Samos. The Archaeological Museum of Pythagorion had a great collection of statues, busts, and trinkets from the island’s past. Just south, near the port, is the Tower of Lykourgos Logothetis, a residence/defense tower used by the island’s leader during the Greek War of Independence.

I was once a beer drinker.

We continued along the beach and followed a trail made by a Jeep to a restaurant, the Pegasus Tavern. The owners were beyond hospitable, immediately letting us sit wherever and provided excellent service. The combination of a tall lager and the shade from the grape vines helped fight off the heat until we got closer to boarding time.

When our group all met back up at the port, our tour director, Ally, gifted me a bottle of wine for my birthday which was a few days prior. I didn’t open this until we were back in the U.S. The label was all in Greek, so I had no idea what to expect. Not my favorite, to be honest. Some Google and reverse-image searches later and it turns out it was church communion wine.

Patmos

My favorite thing about the Greek islands is how each one has its own personality. Mykonos was about luxury and partying, Samos shared its history and had easy-shopping. Patmos was a laid-back beach island. We had arrived mid-afternoon, but hardly any shops were open, so we easily strolled to a stretch of beach recommended by Ally.

The beach itself was nice. It was completely empty except for us, leaving plenty of room to lay out our towels on the sand. There was a short border of rocks and shells as you entered the water before coming out to sand. The water was surprisingly cold until you mustered up the courage to dip all the way in.

We were soon joined on the beach by the happiest labradoodle who ran circles around us in the sand, leaving only to go pee in the ocean. “Max,” called a man approaching from one of the buildings behind the beach. In decent English, the man explained who he and his dog were and how he ran a beachside business here. He grabbed some folding chairs for us to use so we didn’t have to lay in the sand.

The man continued down the beach until he reached a speed boat, apparently his. He came and offered some thrilling water activities to us. For some reason, I did not participate, but two of my friends did, strapping onto an inflatable raft that he began to drag behind his boat. It was really funny watching them bounce around on the waves as he whipped them around at high speeds over the water. I always regret missing the experiences more than paying the cost to do them.

A short while later, we returned to the ship and stayed up a little too late waiting for last call.

Crete
Crete offers a big city without the hustle and bustle.

This was an early, early wake-up call. Between the lack of sleep and the lingering hangover, a good portion of me wanted to stay in bed all day. But, we’re here. We have to at least visit.

Most of our group felt the same way about skipping this island, opting to sleep in while two of us ventured onto the biggest island in Greece. It was a full-on city, but rather empty. We easily walked around, snapping pictures of some of the cooler buildings (most of it looked like any other city – office buildings and apartment complexes.) I would love to get a chance to come back and visit the Knossos Palace.

I grabbed a gyro for an early lunch and we returned to the ship.

Santorini

After a much needed mid-day nap, lots of water, and some reawakening, I was prepared for the afternoon destination – the beautiful island of Santorini.

Formed around the caldera of an ancient volcano, the cities sit at the top of a cliff that can be reached via cable car or stairs. The way up offers a gorgeous view and when you reach the top, no words can describe it.

We wandered into the town, stopping in shops looking for the perfect souvenir to reflect on our journey here. There was plenty of jewelry to try on, a sex shop that welcomed our middle-school aged boy maturity, and a wall art shop that I stopped in to grab a Crazy Donkey brewery t-shirt. I was half-tempted to lose myself in the alleys, hiding from the inevitability that I would have to leave this perfect paradise in just a couple hours.

The hunger hit us quickly and we found a rooftop restaurant to stop into. I ordered some bread, another calamari dish, and a carafe of the house white. I thought one of the five other people with me would have had a glass, but nope… I got to had to drink the whole thing to myself.

This trip was before I took an interest in photography, opting for the “live in the moment” style of travel, but I really wish I had taken some more pictures to look through. The important moments are easy to remember, but its the small intricate details that really let you delve into a memory.

As we approached the cable car station to ride back down, we noticed the line was extraordinarily long and we had a brief window to get back to the ship. We decided to take the 800+ stairs down the face of the cliff instead, a tiring walk when you’re finishing a long day.

Don’t ride the mules.

I cannot wait to go back and explore the islands again, on my own, to really get a chance to take them in at my pace. I got to witness their beauty, now I want to go back and see what they really offer.

Me contemplating how long until I get to come back to the Greek islands.

How To Explore Prague In A Day

Prague is one of the most walkable cities that I have ever been to. It’s winding, cobblestone streets leading towards Old Town Square are dotted with shops, pubs, restaurants, and more. You can easily pass people without the awkward struggle of waiting for them to make space for you or jumping out of the way for the inconsiderate brute who thinks the sidewalk was made for them and them only. If you know me, you know I hate being stuck behind slow walkers.

Our hotel, U Zlatého stromu, was right beside Charles Bridge and offered a great start to the day’s journey. The bridge has two towers on either side and for about $4USD, you can climb to the top for an epic view. Going down the stairs takes you to a little exhibit of items found around the bridge, from old tools to cellphones. The bridge itself is decorated with 30 statues, mostly of saints, that have been replaced with replicas over the years. Grab a picture with them as you stroll around pop-up vendors selling art and souvenirs.

Once you arrive on the Lesser Quarter, you can quickly find the Lennon Wall. Named for John, not Vladimir, the wall quickly popped up with symbols of freedom and western culture shortly after John’s assassination in 1980. It was used to protest the communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia. Each time we passed by, we found a busker performing “Imagine” that is impossible not to sing along with in your head.

The John Lennon Wall.

Climb the steps to the north until you arrive at Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world. The most prominent structure here is the St. Vitus Cathedral, where you’ll find an incredibly long line to get in. The good thing is, you don’t need to wait in line to take a picture of the outside. Spend some time wandering around the grounds where you can find all kinds of history surrounding Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire. Statues, medieval-era buildings, one of the most fascinating things about Prague is how untouched it was during the World Wars, leaving many structures still intact, a feat that much of Europe can’t also claim.

As we descended down from the castle, we stopped by the oldest tavern in the city for a beer, and made our way towards Petřín Hill. It’s a doozy of a walk, but you can take a tram to the top if you need a little assistance. At the top, you’ll find it covered with parks and gardens. My favorite spots, however, were the Lookout Tower (it looks like a mini-Eiffel Tower), the Hunger Wall (a 14th century defense wall for the Lesser Town), and the Štefánik’s Observatory (an astronomical observatory used mainly to popularize astronomy.) Take your time here, you have a chance to slow down and take in a great view of the city, while meandering through beautiful gardens.

The city of 100 spires.

We ventured back down, towards the Charles Bridge. Just north is the Jewish Quarter, where you’ll find one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe. Continuing down the pedestrian-only street, you’ll come across Old Town Square. This is the perfect place to relax with a beer and food. Even the tourist trap restaurants aren’t bad, but a quick dive into some online recommendations and you can find plenty of food and drink options for under 200CZK (~$10USD.)

The gothic architecture is great to see, as well as several museums, but the biggest draw here is the Astronomical Clock. Operating since at least 1410 (with a brief lapse in 2018 for repairs), the clock has several animated figures that put on a show each hour. It’s an overstimulating experience, but it’s one you can’t miss if you’re in Prague.

From here, depending on the time of day, you can take it easy and enjoy some food and drink for the rest of the night, or you can continue on to Wensiclas Square. We chose the former, enjoying some goulash in a restaurant above a bank as I practiced my Czech with our server. It was just the most basic of phrases, but she was very happy with the effort insisting I was an exchange student, at the least, to have spent the time learning some vocabulary. I assured her it was just because I’m a fan of the city.

Below here is a shopping district where you’ll find some international brands like H&M and Zara, but you can skip that and make your way back towards the river. By now, your feet will probably be tired, but you have to make it down to the Dancing House, a pair of office buildings that stick out from the typical Baroque and Gothic buildings you’ve seen around the city.

Fred and Ginger – The Dancing House.

We took an easy stroll back up the river until we reached the Charles Bridge and our hotel. One last beer while I finished the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and we’ll call that a perfect day in Prague.

Where Beer Is Cheaper Than Water

Jedno privo, prosim. One beer, please.

Roughly 100km northeast from the birthplace of the pilsner, Prague is home to beer that is literally cheaper than water. And it’s good beer, too.

We enjoyed beers at the oldest pub in the city.

The Czech Republic consumes near 192 liters per capita every year. That’s nearly double the next closest nation, Austria (107 liters per capita), and far more than the US (73 liters per capita.) The Czech people love their beer.

You’ll find a fairly liberal atmosphere surrounding the drinking culture here. It’s not unheard of to order one or two small beers with your lunch and knock a few more back after dinner, and it doesn’t stop there – the nightlife is never ending. I stayed in an incredible hotel a stone’s throw from the Charles Bridge, but it was right beside a night club and across the street from another bar. There was partying and commotion all the way until sunrise.

Though the tap water is safe to drink in this central European country, don’t expect it to automatically come with your meal. We found a carafe or .3L bottle of water to be around 40Kč or $2 USD. Being one of the most walkable cities that I have ever been to, it’s a good idea to stay hydrated while exploring.

Pure happiness.

After visiting the Prague Castle and Petřín hill, we passed by U krále Brabantského – the oldest tavern in the city. It has an awesome, medieval aesthetic inside and offers shows on certain nights (we didn’t get to see.) Now my mom definitely isn’t a beer drinker, but we ordered a couple and she enjoyed them just as much as I did. One of the things that may shock you is the large head of foam on top of the drink. You’re still getting the .5L of beer, but the foam provides a different taste and a little complexity.

There’s even a pour called the mlíko that’s basically all foam, meant to be drank all at once for a sweet, dessert-style drink. I never had one, but I’ve seen sources say you get it for half-price.

Near our hotel was a long, indoor passage, called a pasáž, which is essentially a small mall. It’s a great way to get around the city. You get to avoid any inclement weather and pick up a sweet beer stein souvenir. Some of the bigger ones, like Lucerna pasáž, have pubs inside where you can pick up a .5L for 35-38Kč (~$1.75USD.) That’s more to drink for a lower price than water. All around Old Town Square, you’ll see green Pilsner Urquell awnings. It’s the most popular beer in the country and quite delicious. It’s nice to stop to people watch for a drink and continue on.

The birthplace of the pilsner, Plzeň, is about 100km southwest of Prague.

In the past decade, some public officials have attempted to enforce regulations that will make pubs sell a non-alcoholic beverage at a cheaper price than beer. This is been in an effort to curb underage drinking and the negative effects thereof. Business owners and the public have fought back and, at least during my first visit in 2017, have been doing quite well.

Make sure to add one of my favorite cities in the world to your travel bucket list and enjoy the beer. Na zdraví.

What Happens When You Lose Luggage?

Flying into Rome was great. I was on my first trip to Europe, having spent a few days in Paris and explored one of my favorite cities in the world, Brussels, just a few hours prior. We arrived at Leonardo Di Vinci airport (FCO) and approached the luggage turnstile. My sister’s bag came through then my mom’s. Then we waited. And waited. Mine did not. We went to the service desk to inquire and start a missing bag claim.

“What did it look like?” “How big was it?” “What color?”

Uhh… normal look, average size, grey. Pretty much zero distinguishing characteristics.

During this time, our shuttle car left and we had to figure out a new way to our hotel. Luckily, we figured out you can an express train from the airport to Roma Termini, the central train station in Rome, in about 30 minutes. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel and after our first slice of Italian pizza at a restaurant down the street, we went to grab some Zzz’s.

Now, the past couple days spent in Paris were very temperate summer days. Comfortable and normal. I had put on some jeans and a thick, long sleeve shirt for the flight over (I always get cold on airplanes.) Rome wanted to be different. We woke up and were met outside with 38°C (roughly 100°F) and being that I only had the same clothes from the flight, I had no choice but to venture out in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. If you know me, you know that I love the heat. I would much rather melt to the ground than shiver in the cold, but this was unbearable.

My sister and I apparently had matching sunglasses

Despite being incredibly hungry, I slipped into every shop I could, looking for a change of clothes to purchase. Nobody had shorts, but I was at least able to find boxers and socks and two soccer (sorry, football) jerseys – an AC Milan Stephan El Shaarawy shirt and a Juventus Andrea Pirlo shirt (this one would give me a funny story a few years later). Most of my outfit needs were taken care of now, but I would sweat it out in those same pair of jeans for the next few days. The only source of respite would be the innumerable water fountains that dot the city. They were lifesavers.

Two months later, I get a text from my mom while I’m at work. Somebody had dropped off my luggage at her house. It had been left at the Charles de Gaulle airport before our flight.

Now, I pretty much only travel out of a carry-on bag (I use a 46L bag). You can get around just about anywhere for three weeks or less in one. Plus, you don’t have to wait at the turnstile for your bags and you have the peace of mind that everything is with you. It’s been working so far.