The worst day of vacation is always the day before you leave to go home. Of course, we always want to enjoy every second of our vacation, but it’s hard not to think about having to go home the next day.
We spent that last day walking around Athens. We did a little shopping at some local stands and got to see the Olympic stadium. We didn’t pay to go in but were able to get some shots of it from the outside.
I also had to take some pictures of the police vehicle outside Exarcheia in case of riots.
We spent the afternoon walking around the National Archaeological Museum, which was the perfect way to spend the last day. The museum houses lots of artifacts from all over Greece, including some of the sites we visited while we were in Greece, so it was really neat to have seen all the sites first and then view some of the pieces that came from some of them.
Unfortunately, the kids were kind of over it, so we gave them old cameras and a phone so they could take pictures. At one point, Eric found a series of selfies with funny faces that Anya took of herself!
We were so sad to leave Greece, but we had so many great experiences and learned a lot about Greece and Greek culture. We still miss the food!
One of the nights we spent in Jamaica, we left the resort. I hired a private driver who drove us first to Rose Hall. For years, we have wanted to tour Rose Hall, especially at night, because it is said to be haunted by Annie Palmer, the “White Witch” of Rose Hall. She was raised mostly in Haiti, and when her parents passed away, she was cared for by a Haitian nanny who was said to have schooled her in voodoo. Upon returning to Jamaica, she married the owner of the plantation. She later murdered him, as well as two other husbands and numerous slave lovers. It’s a very interesting story that makes for a creepy feeling while you’re in the house!
The night tour was a little bit history and a little bit “haunted house.” Actors were dressed in period costumes and jumped out during integral parts of the story being told, which served to both scare us and bring the story to life. I would have liked a little more history and a little less theatrics, but it was still fun. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but it was a beautiful house. If you are ever in Montego Bay, it is worth a visit. If you’re too afraid to go at night, you can always go during the day.
The highlight of the evening, though, was our visit to the Luminous Lagoon. We were the only ones there at the time, so we pretty much got a private tour. They took us out on a boat and explained that the micro-organisms in the water, called dinoflagellates, gave off a glow when moving. You can even see it in the back of the boat as it raced through the water.
The guide filled a bucket with the water and dumped some of it on the floor of the boat, and it just lit up the floor. It was so cool. At one point, we all got to get in the water. It was weird because it was partially river water and partially ocean water, so there were hot and cold patches, and if you touched the bottom, you could feel the mud. It was kind of gross in that way, but totally worth it to get to experience the glow of the dinoflagellates firsthand. We swam around and watched the water light up around us as we tread water and swam. Luckily, there was a photographer on the boat who took pictures for us while we enjoyed our swim. Once we got back in the boat, if I touched or moved my swimsuit, it was just enough movement to make my swimming suit glow!
There are only a few parts of the world where you can swim with the dinoflagellates, and Jamaica is one of them. This is definitely one of the coolest things we have ever done, and I’m glad we got to check it off our bucket list!
On our last full day in Rhodes, we did a few things that were left on our list. One of them was the submarine tour. Basically, the boat takes you further out from shore and then you go downstairs where there are windows looking into the ocean, and you get to the see the fish swimming around. There was also a diver who was swimming around and showing us things in the water. It was cool, but I’m not sure we would do it again, just because it was expensive and not a very long tour.
In the afternoon, we did a wall tour, which was an opportunity to walk on top of some of the old medieval city walls and see the view of the city. One cool thing about Rhodes Town is that these walls are still standing, so it still has that medieval look. If you are ever visiting Rhodes, though, and you want to do the wall tour, you will want to plan a little ahead, because the hours for this are very limited. It isn’t a guided tour, but they only allow people during certain hours on certain days.
Afterwards, we found some lunch, and Felix was still looking around for Ginger, the pregnant cat we saw outside our apartment the first night we were there. The kids were obsessed with finding her because they were worried she was too pregnant to get food anywhere and they were worried about her. Just in case you wanted to know, we never saw her again, but every once in a while, the kids still say “I wonder how Ginger is doing” or “I guess Ginger had her babies.”
A few days prior, we had met a British family staying in a nearby apartment who had told us about some tunnels in the moat. They gave us a general idea of where they were, so we decided to go check them out. We walked around the moat for a bit until we found what she was referring to: tunnels built into the moat. There were so many of them and they went back so far that you could see where people had attached string to the walls so they could find their way back out. We had brought a flashlight and it was a good thing, because if you went too far in, it was pitch black! We explored a little in a few of these but didn’t linger because Anya was freaking out. She kept asking if we could leave, so finally we did, but about 15 minutes later, she said “That was really cool. I wish we could have explored more.” Sometimes I don’t know about that girl! The weird thing about these tunnels is that I could never find any information about them and what they were used for.
That evening, we got some dinner and headed back to the apartment to get packed up to fly back to Athens the following morning.
We purposely planned a day to spend at the beach in Rhodes. We figured the kids would appreciate getting to play, and we wouldn’t mind a day to take it easy at this point in our trip.
We had found this amazing bakery in town, so we grabbed breakfast there and then raced to the bus stop to take the bus to Fahlraki, a local beach town. There were several options for beaches near Rhodes, but based on recommendations given to us on Tripadvisor, we opted for this beach, as it seemed family-oriented and had food options for lunch.
I spent most of the day reading on the beach and the kids alternated between playing in the water and digging in the sand. Toward the end of the day, Felix bent over and threw sand up his back for five whole minutes. Silly boy.
At lunch, we opted to grab some food from the restaurant we had rented beach chairs from. We were disappointed in how much we paid and the portion sizes, but you live and learn!
After we finished up at the beach, we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus back to Rhodes town. After cleaning up, we had gyros for dinner and hung out around town.
Even though we didn’t do much that day, it was nice to have some time to enjoy the beach. When taking long trips like this, we definitely recommend building a day like this into your itinerary!
….to use a travel agent and purchase travel insurance, it is now. Now that Hurricane Irma has dissipated, we can sit back and assess the situation and what could have been.
Can you imagine being on an island in the Caribbean, knowing that a hurricane is headed your way in less than a week? Your flight is cancelled and you have limited internet and phone access. This could be a terrifying situation, but if you booked through a travel agent, you may have someone who might be able to help you. It may not always be the case that an agent can get someone out of a sticky situation such as this one, but wouldn’t you want to have someone who would be around to at least try to get you off the island?
I was fortunate that I didn’t have anyone in a situation like this when Hurricane Irma began her voyage through the Caribbean, but I did spend several hours on hold with Disney to reschedule an upcoming trip that was affected by her arrival. While this isn’t quite as big of a deal as being stuck in the hurricane itself, it was nice for my client to have someone else to deal with waiting on the phone all morning instead of having to do it herself.
When it comes to travel insurance, some people like to gawk at the price and choose the least expensive option, if purchasing any at all. Yes, most of the time you probably won’t have to file a claim, but it happens. In fact, it probably happened for a lot of people this week. Imagine the same scenario I described above in which you are stuck on a Caribbean island staring a hurricane directly in the eye. Even if your airline hasn’t cancelled your flight, you may want to leave on an earlier one to be sure you are off the island when it hits. This means you might have to be ok with forfieting what you already paid for the flight you no longer want to take AND pay for a last-minute flight that leaves earlier. Depending on how much your policy pays out for claims, you may end up spending all your claim money (maybe even more!) just to get home, so it might be worth it to make sure your policy pays out more than 100% of your trip cost for trip interruption benefits.
No, travel insurance doesn’t cover everything, but it covers some of the things you might encounter, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to have some sort of medical insurance when you leave the country; you may not have as much coverage (or any coverage at all) as you think through your primary medical insurance plan outside the United States. Also, all travel insurance policies are different, so be sure to read the fine print and ask any questions necessary.
What I have taken from the situations of the past week has been how important it is to have some sort of coverage to fall back on, as well as how important it could be to have someone standing in your corner when this kind of thing goes down. Just something to consider for your next trip…
Our first full day in Nafplio began with a fabulous breakfast at our pension. We filled up on ham and cheese toasts, boiled eggs, bread and jam, Greek yogurt with fresh honey and figs, and of course, coffee. I miss this breakfast just talking about it!
Then, we decided to walk the 999 steps up to Palamidi Castle. We told the kids we would give them a penny for every step they walked up to the castle without complaining. They both made it, but unfortunately, Anya lost about half her euros on the way down due to whining. It was a long way up and it was hot, but we took breaks and it was worth it once we got to the top. There were some amazing views and we explored what was left of the old Venetian castle, including an old prison cell and some different lookout points. We had to be careful, though, because the drop-off points weren’t always clearly marked so we didn’t let the kids get too far away.
Upon coming down from the top, we decided to head to one of the local beaches. Eric went back to the room to get our swimming suits while I waited with the kids. We walked just a few minutes and got to the beach. It was a pebbly beach but with some really amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It wasn’t a very big beach, there were a lot of younger people ,and it gave off a bit of a party vibe, but I’m glad we went anyway, if even just for the views. The kids got in the water for a bit and then we changed clothes and went on our way.
We took one of the paths to get to the main port area and this offered more gorgeous views on the way.
Once we got to the marina area, we started a self-guided tour I found in my Rick Steves guidebook. It took us all around the little town and pointed out some important spots, including a gelato shop run by local Italians. Toward the end of the tour, we took a detour to the playground so the kids could play. Anya fell on her face and her mouth was bleeding, so Eric had to run somewhere quickly to get ice. It’s always something!
We went back to the room to rest and then headed out for another Greek dinner. It was worth it to spend the day hanging around Nafplio and soaking in the Greek culture. There didn’t seem to be as many Americans here, as this is a popular spot for Greeks to get away for the weekend.
I’m taking a break from recounting our days to talk about all the amazing food we had on our trip. This is the first time we’ve been to Europe and stayed in one country the entire time, so we had a chance to sample lots of different things. Here are a few of them…
1. Greek Yogurt
I have never been a huge yogurt fan, but I am a believer now. The Greek yogurt in Greece is amazingly creamy. When we were in Nafplio, we had it every morning for breakfast, sometimes with dates and other times with honey. I especially liked it with honey, because the honey there is phenomenal. We had some Greek yogurt at the airport that was so creamy, it could have been frozen yogurt.
This was probably my favorite thing in Greece. The gyros came with chicken or pork – your choice, and there was usually cucumber, tomatoes, and either potatoes or french fries stuffed in the top, all topped with just a little tatziki. We’ve made gyros here a few times, but it’s just not the same when the meat isn’t coming off a rotisserie. Sometimes, though, I think we actually got chicken souvlaki sandwiches when we ordered gyros, which were also good, but with grilled chicken instead of the meat from the rotisserie. You could also order a gyro plate that came with the meat, pita bread, and potatoes all separated out, but I preferred it as a sandwich.
3. Chicken Souvlaki
You could get chicken souvlaki in a sandwich (wrapped in pita, almost like a gyro), or you could get a chicken souvlaki plate that almost always came with potatoes or french fries. This worked out well because our kids are picky but they would eat grilled chicken.
4. Moussaka and Pastitsio
These dishes are like the Greek versions of pasta. Pastitsio is ground beef, pasta, and bechamel sauce, while moussaka is very similar but includes eggplant and/or potato with bechamel sauce.
5. Saganaki and other cheese dishes
Saganaki, pictured on the right, is basically a fried cheese, though this one also includes nuts and honey drizzled on the top. The picture on the left was a roasted feta dish with onions and peppers on it. It was one of the best things we had in Greece.
6. Greek salad
One thing we noticed about the difference between Greek salads in the US and Greek salads in Greece is that the real thing doesn’t typically have lettuce. It is literally sliced cucumbers, hunks of tomatoes, and chunks of onion, preferably red onion. Of course, this combination is drizzled with olive oil and often topped with a big hunk of feta cheese and sprinkled with black olives. So delicious!
So we only had this once but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. This is grilled octopus and it was actually pretty good. Even Anya tried it and she approved!
Pita is the Greek’s choice of bread, which is fine by me. It comes plain, with garlic, sprinkled with olive oil, sprinkled with cheese, etc. Also, if you order a sandwich, you will more than likely get it wrapped in pita.
I don’t know what makes Greek honey so good, but it is absolutely amazing. I put honey in my Greek yogurt whenever we had it, and a lot of times it was included in the desserts. Apparently, it is typical to get free dessert at Greek restaurants (I think we paid for dessert maybe once when we ate at a restaurant). Sometimes dessert would be something like sliced apples drizzled with honey. Who would have thought something so simple would have tasted so good!
10. Stuffed vegetables
I don’t know if this is really a “thing” in Greece, but there were lots of stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes on the menus in Greece. I had this dish several times, mostly when I needed a break from gyros.
I actually loved the baklava, even though it’s so not something I thought I would really like. Again, honey is involved in this along with yummy phyllo dough. Anya even decided to have that as her cake on her birthday.
When we travel overseas, as we’re getting ready to do, there are a few things we always try to do.
Make sure you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left on it. Many countries will not allow entry if your passport expires within 6 months of your visit.
Make copies or take a picture of all the credit cards and your passport you will be traveling with. If some or all of these documents are lost or stolen, you will be able to contact your credit card company and still have your passport information. Take a copy with you and leave a copy here with a family member.
Call the credit card company and the bank before leaving so that they are aware you will be using your card out of the country. Some banks and credit card companies must unlock your cards before they can be used. This is very important to avoid being locked out of your account. Also, be sure that you know your PIN numbers on your debit cards and know the maximum amount of money your bank allows you to take out per day.
Register your trip with the US State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/. This lets the State Department know where you will be and when. The State Department will also send you notifications if there is a travel warning in the area you are traveling.
Know where the US Embassy is located in the country in which you are traveling in case something happens and you need to get there.
Bring a charger adapter, if necessary. Some countries require different chargers.
Be sure to purchase travel insurance, as your medical insurance likely does not cover you while out of the country. Bring copies of your travel insurance cards.
If you plan to drive while there, be sure to obtain an international driver’s license. This can be done at AAA.
Check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have service in the country you are visiting and inquire about any international charges for use of your phone in that country.
Traveling outside the United States can be exciting and a great experience; it may just take a little extra planning, but it is totally worth it!
On Wednesday, we did a whale watching tour. I had never been whale watching so I was excited, because I thought our chances of seeing a whale were good. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, much to our dismay. However, the tour was pretty exciting because we saw lots of other things, including a group of sea otters playing in the water and lots and lots of dolphins. In fact, one group of dolphins was really large and they were all swimming alongside us in the boat. But the highlight of our trip was the great white shark we saw that wasn’t all that far from the beach. It was apparently sleeping at the time so we got a really good look at it. We also learned that the people on the beach weren’t in much danger…according to the expert on the boat, at least. That being said, I’m not sure I would have been swimming in the water near the beach if I knew what was there not too far away from me! So while we were disappointed about not seeing a whale, I figured there will be other whale watching tours in my future, but the chances of seeing a great white shark in real life while on a boat was pretty slim.
On a side note, a few weeks after we got back, Eric looked up sharks in Santa Cruz just to see if they had seen the shark again and we found out there was a helicopter shooting footage of it from the air, and when we looked a little closer, we noticed that it was filming the day we were on the boat and you could see us on the boat!
As I’ve mentioned before, we are planning a trip to Greece this summer, and we are taking our kids. Some people are shocked to hear that they are coming along because they are so small. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t always take our kids everywhere. We have taken a few trips to places like Jamaica, Mexico, and Costa Rica and have left them here, so Eric and I could spend time together on our own. However, they have gone to Europe with us every time we have gone since they have been born. This trip to Greece will be Anya’s 3rd trip to Europe and Felix’s 2nd trip. We are really lucky in that neither of our children have serious medical issues or anything that would keep us from being able to take them out of the country, and we are very grateful that we have been able to set aside money in order to take them places like this. It would probably be easier not to take them to Europe, but our motto has always been that they can throw a fit here at home or they can throw a fit wherever we happen to be.
My hope is that our travels will help our children to learn about other cultures and how people live in other places. The world is bigger than the street we live on. It is bigger than the city we live in. And it is definitely bigger than the state, and even the country, we live in. There is nothing wrong with choosing to stay in your own country for vacations, and I can completely respect that. It can get very expensive to travel out of the country (especially in some locations), and it can be a real pain to have to figure out car seat situations and how to keep kids busy in museums. But it is when you leave your own country and fly to a different one that you really see that the world is about more than just you. It really puts things into perspective in that your life is a small part of a much, much bigger picture. When you get off a plane in a different country where the language, culture, and food are all different, it makes you realize that there is so much more to the world than the box we live in. It makes you appreciate the freedoms we do have here in America, but it also shows you that, at the end of the day, we are all just people trying to live in this world.
Yes, there are some not-so-nice people in the world, and these people have done some really horrible things to innocent people. I would be lying if I said that some of the things I see on the news don’t make me nervous to travel. But I also know that these sorts of things also happen here in America, and there have even been some crazy things happening in my own city. I remind myself periodically that I am not really any less safe in another country than I am in my own, assuming I am smart about my decisions about when and where to go.
So yes, there are bad people, but most people living in other countries don’t fall into that category. The only thing we really know about people from other countries is that there are some not-so-nice people, what the government officials in that country stand for, and what the media would like us to know about particular place, which is not even usually the full truth. But those groups of people are not the majority of the people living in those places. The majority of the people in these countries are just like us. I really enjoy being on the metro and/or the buses in other countries and watching how people living there do everyday things, like get to work and go grocery shopping. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to work, provide for our families, give our kids a good education, and take our kids to the park every once in awhile. Yes, we might go about these things in a different way, but ultimately, we all want pretty much the same things. Yes, there are some unfriendly people in other countries just like there are unfriendly people here in the US, but for the most part, we have always been met with smiles and a genuine willingness to help when we look like we could use directions or any kind of help. In fact, most people are pretty proud of their country and they want nothing more than to tell you all about it.
I hope that our travels will help to raise two intelligent, accepting, and open-minded American children. White children. Children some would call privileged. I want them to know that we do not all look or speak the same, but that we are all people, and we are all worthy of respect, no matter how we look or what language we speak. I want them to feel comfortable in unfamiliar places and be able to navigate their way around any city even if the street names are in another language. I want them to learn as much as they can about the world and the people in the world, and traveling is the best way to do just that.
This is not to say that kids can’t be taught these very same things without traveling, because that is certainly possible, but as long as we can save enough money to afford to travel with our children, we plan to keep doing just that.