Archive for European Travel

First Impressions: Tarifa

We have been to Europe 5 times and have traveled through numerous countries. In this series, I want to share our first impressions of the cities we have visited.

Tarifa

Tarifa is a small town on the southern tip of Spain. Most people probably haven’t heard of it, but it is a great place to stay if you want to visit Gibraltar and/or Tangier. There isn’t a lot to do there, compared to other Spanish cities, but it has a kind of “edge-of-the-world” feel to it, especially when you’re able to see the coast of Africa in the distance and the point at which the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of cool restaurants there and they have some things worth seeing, like St. Matthew’s Church, as well as a beach, though it is really windy there. Actually, it is supposed to be the windsurfing capital of the world! The views in Tarifa are also pretty amazing!

 

Our first impressions?

Worldly. Windy. Crossroads.

 

 

International Travel Tips

A lot of people are booking trips for spring break or summer or maybe even both! If you are travelling outside the country this year, these are some things you should consider before leaving…

  • 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 your passport and all the credit cards 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 you will 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, and some may not allow you to use them at all. 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. Also, check for any travel tips or warnings for the country you will be visiting.
  • Know where the US Embassy is located in the country you are traveling in 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.

Another thing I always encourage is to do a little research about where you will be travelling. Not everywhere you may visit is the same as your hometown. Lots of things could be different, such as food, pricing, language,and the overall culture of the people. It helps to learn a little of the language; most locals really appreciate the effort, even if you know very little. The best advice I can give is to expect things to be somewhat different and be open to something new.

 

Something to Look Forward To

With all the crazy snow we’re having around here, I am so ready for some nicer weather! I’ve been trying to catch up/get ahead with my travel planning so I’ve been researching tons of places in the Caribbean, which makes me wish we were planning a spring break trip, too. I’ve also been working on a lot of European trips, so I ended up spending one late night with a cup of coffee and a map of Europe pulled up on my screen…which can be dangerous in our house!

So of course, I’ve come up with a possible itinerary that looks like this:

Amsterdam (4 nights)

Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges (3 nights staying in Brussels or Ghent)

Paris (4 nights)

London (4 nights)

We have not been to Amsterdam or Brussels and it has been over 10 years since we have visited London and Paris, but the kids have never been. Felix is oblivious and has been requesting to go back to Greece to check on all the cats we saw last year, but Anya seems pretty excited about going somewhere else in Europe, especially Paris.

This is still pretty iffy and it may not work out but we have been looking at possible accommodations in each of those cities and just brainstorming ideas for things we’d like to do. I’ve also been playing around with different dates and flight combinations trying to figure out the least expensive way to get there and back.

Here’s hoping it all works out…After the crazy 2 and a half weeks I’ve had, I need something fun to look forward to!

Greece 2017: Day 15

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the rest of our trip!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

Day 12 – Rhodes

Day 13 – Athens (Rhodes to Athens)

Day 14 – Athens (Aegina)

Greece: Day 12 (Rhodes)

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.

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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.

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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.

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That evening, we got some dinner and headed back to the apartment to get packed up to fly back to Athens the following morning.

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Check out our other adventures in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Day 11 – Rhodes

 

Greece 2017: Day 11 (Rhodes)

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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

See what else we did in Greece:

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

Day 6 – Nafplio

Day 7 – Nafplio

Day 8 – Nafplio to Rhodes

Day 9 – Rhodes

Day 10 – Rhodes (Lindos)

Greece 2017: Day 6

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

See what else we were up to in Greece!

Day 1 – Athens

Day 2 – Athens

Day 3 – Athens

Day 4 – Corinth, Mycaenae, Epidavros, Nafplio

Day 5 – Nafplio

 

Greek Food

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.

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2. Gyros

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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7. Octopus

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!

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8. Pita

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.

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9. Honey 

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!

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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.

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11. Baklava

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.

 

Oh, how I miss the food in Greece!

 

 

 

 

Things to Consider When Leaving the Country

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!

Need Help Planning a Trip?

They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!

I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.

Here’s why.

We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.

So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.

Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:

1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about. Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.

 

2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.

3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.

4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.

6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.

All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at RachelM@MyAmbassadorTravel.com. I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!

 

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