Greece 2018 – Samos

Day 10: Samos (Σάμος)

Unlike the rocky Mykonos and Santorini, here is Samos full of greenery.

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It is so close to Turkey that you can see it in the distance from the beach. Speaking of beaches, we headed to Kokkari beach. Also, there are numerous shops and places to eat right by the shore.

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Afterward we met up with the kung-fu master of Greece and his family while he was on vacation in Samos. Its never a bad time for some kung-fu in a Samos forest.

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He knew where to have a traditional greek lunch.

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So this is where our greek trip comes to end. Back to reality tomorrow. Goodbye Samos, and goodbye Greece.

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Greece 2018 – Heraklion Crete

Day 9: Crete (Κρήτη)

Honestly, I would’ve preferred to be on the west side of Crete around Chania where more of the beaches and hiking trails are but the main dock for big boats is in Heraklion. The main excursion here is the Knossos palace; ancient Minoan city ruins. The Minoans are the civilization before the early Greeks. This is the historical portion of the trip. I have a short attention span for museums and history stuff, so I just walk around and take photos. However, here are some photos of the ruins, and peacocks.

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Afterward, the journey through history continues at the archaeological museum. Hey, at least there was good air conditioning in the building. Here are just some of the things which I thought stood out.

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Then we were back in the center of Heraklion. You should be able to find a good gyro spot anywhere. Not too far from the center is the Fortress Roca al Mare. You can choose to walk to the fortress, or keep going all the way to the lighthouse. I just walked to the fortress.

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As with most greek islands, it gets really hot during midday in the summer, so a beach is necessary for cooling down. The closest beach to the port is Ammoudara beach. Not bad for a quick hour escape, even if an electric plant is 2 miles away (did not spot any 3 eyed fish). You can walk out surprisingly far since the depth doesnt change much; stays 4 feet for quite a distance.

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Well, that’s all the time we had for this huge island unfortunately. Like I said before, there is much more going on in the west side, but for another time. Next stop, Samos.

Greece 2018 – Santorini

Day 6: Santorini (Σαντορίνη / Θήρα)

Finally, the most famous of the Cyclades islands. Once your ship docks, look all around you. You’ll realize that you’re in the middle of the aftermath of a huge volcano; inside the caldera. Santorini looks quite different from the other islands, mostly because the towns are high above ground, like >500 steps high with nothing but a rock wall in between.

The main dock is south of the town of Fira. To get to Fira, you can take a cable car up, or walk up the zig-zag stairway on foot or by donkey. Either way, it may be too hot for walking up, but walking down is just fine.

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To start off the day, we drove to the opposite side of the island to Perissa beach which happens to be a black lava beach. What else can be expected from a volcanic island?

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I liked this beach. Its good to be in the water when it’s blazing hot outside, even in the morning.

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After 2 hours or so, we headed to Fira. So many shops, restaurants, and tourists. As the heat intensifies throughout the early afternoon, you really just want to find a restaurant with shade. But along the way, you can’t help but take photos.

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It was a crazy day in terms of the heat and the amount of tourists in Fira which seemed like walking through Times Square. Unlike the other cruise ships, our boat was one of the few that would stay the night and have another day at Santorini. Santorini should be less crowded tomorrow. Goodnight Santorini, see you again soon.

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Day 7:

We started the day off with a drive to the northernmost town called Oia. This is the town where everyone takes those photos of the marshmallow houses and juicy blue domes. I actually didn’t see much of a difference between Fira and Oia other than the blue domes being more abundant in Oia. But both towns have tourists, shops, restaurants, and views. When you lookout over any edge of town, you’ll know where the best photo spots are simply by observing where people flock for selfies. I believe that I foud most of these spots.

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It really looks unique compared to any town I’ve been too, almost like it’s a make-believe town full of cake houses with blue frosting. Again, you can choose to shop, eat at a restaurant with the a great view, or go for a scenic stroll.

That is pretty much all we had time for since our boat leaves during the middle of the day. I hear that the sunset is magical in Oia, but honestly, the sunsets look the same anywhere in my opinion.

Ok, that was fun. Next stop, Crete.

 

Greece 2018 – Milos

Day 5: Milos (Μήλος)

Milos was another personal favorite. I could easily spend a few days here.

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The day started out with the major highlight; Sarakiniko beach. You’re immediately transported to the sunny side of the moon.

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Just by wandering around, you can find the hidden area behind the main swimming area.

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I could’ve stayed here for hours but sadly the tour cut it short to like 90 minutes. We the drove to Paleochori village. After a good seafood lunch, we swam in the waters of Milos.

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Tomorrow is the one and only, Santorini.

Greece 2018 – Mykonos

Day 4: Mykonos (Μύκονος)

Onward to the Cyclades cluster of islands (there are so many). The day started early with a short walk from the pier to Stefanos beach._myk (1)_myk (2)DSCF6064DSCF6074DSCF6084DSCF6085

After getting back to the ship to shower and eat lunch, we went beach hopping. First Ornos beach.

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Then Kalafatis beach.

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Then we headed to Mykonos town for a stroll. This would be the first time that we walk through a town full of those ‘marshmallow’ houses.

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After getting stuck in the maze of narrow streets, we can arrived at the iconic windmills.

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After hours of walking around taking photos and shopping, we ate dinner at Kastros; expensive but worth it. Then we strolled by the shore line as the sun set.

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It was a simple day. Sure, we didn’t party all night at the Super Paradise beach area, but that’s ok. There is a huge night life area here in Mykonos. Another thing to mention that we did not have time for is the Dragonisi island tour, maybe next time. Next stop, Milos.

 

Greece 2018 – Athens

Day 3: Athens

It’s just an hour flight from Zakynthos back to Athens (Αθήνα). We checked in our hotel which was quite close to the Acropolis (Aκρόπολη). The roof terrace provides the first views of the city.

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We walked through the midday heat of Athens to reach the Acropolis. It’s a short hike up the hill. Before you know it, you’ll be walking on some ancient grounds. Starting from the south entrance, you first see the theater of Dionysus. Staying on the path toward the main eastern entrance, you arrive at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

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Shortly after, you walk up the last few steps into the Acropolis.

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Once you walk through it, there it is, the Parthenon (Παρθενώνας). The scaffolding has been in everybody’s photos for decades.

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To the left of the Parthenon is the temple of Athena.

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And since this is one of the highest points in Athens, it gives you a great view of the city.

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Before leaving the area, make sure to stand on Aeropagus hill. The hill and viewpoint is right before the exit. Proceeding downward into the Plaka area, you’ll pass the Romaiki Agora.

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You’ll probably be hungry after all the walking and by this point, you’re just minutes away from the Monastiraki flea market. There are many restaurants to choose from that are around the flea market.

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After lunch, you can proceed to Athenian Agora which possibly looked like this once upon a time.

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Most of these structures are just piles of stones except for the Stoa and the Hephaestus temple. The Stoa also has a small museum inside.

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And the Hephaestus temple is like a smaller version of the Parthenon, but in way better shape.

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Not too far from our hotel was a strip of restaurants by the Acropolis museum. We ate dinner at Liondis and then went to sleep.

Day 4: All aboard at Piraeus
To the west of Acropolis hill is a large park with a big hill. Inside the park, you can find Socrates prison.

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It’s a short 10-15 uphill walk to reach the monument of Philopappos. Nice views of the city from here.

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We checked out from our hotel and headed to Piraeus port to our new home for the next 7 days; a cruise ship. With many cruise ships to choose from, I chose Celestyal based on their itinerary. Celestyal covers 5 islands without a whole day at sea, can’t beat that. Mykonos, Milos, Santorini, Crete, and Samos.

The Celestyal ship is a bit smaller than the other main cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but it’s not important. What really matters is the food and the excursions. I thought that the food was excellent and the excursions were limited but ok. Overall, a good choice for exploring the Greek islands.

The next day is Mykonos!

Greece 2018 – Zakynthos

(Καλημέρα) Kalimera. This is my attempt at a 10-day vacation in Greece. With so many islands to choose from, and the mainland being so vast, how do you even begin to plan this out? After several nights of researching stuff, I came up with a hybrid approach of the touristy and the not-so-touristy.

There are the destinations that always come to mind when someone thinks of Greece such as the Acropolis and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. I figure those had to be on the itinerary. During my research, I came across other places that were equally or even more interesting to me. My 10-day summer tour only scratches the surface of Greece but I think that I managed to cover most of the main spots in my opinion. You be the judge.

Day 0: A glimpse of the Ionian islands
The international airport is in Athens. You can start your vacation here but I wanted to begin somewhere else. From Athens, you can fly to most major islands in an hour or less using airlines like Sky Express. The Ionian islands are located west of mainland Greece. The island of Zakynthos (Ζάκυνθος) is the southernmost island in the Ionian cluster and is where we would spend the next 3 nights.

As I write this post while returning home, I consider Zakynthos to be my favorite Greek island so far. It’s only an hour flight from Athens. On the island, there are several towns to stay at. I decided to stay in a hotel in Tsilivi; a touristy town full of hotels and restaurants by the shore. Tsilivi is about 15 minutes from the largest and main town of Zakynthos called Zante town. We arrived at the hotel around 7pm with enough time to change and eat a nice greek dinner before sleeping. Then food on this island is really good and so are the prices.

Day 1: Zakynthos
This day starts at 8:30 AM with a tour. Starting from the bus stops closest to your hotel, you are driven as a group to the pier and to you set sail on a large boat. You get great views.

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You sail out to sea searching for sea turtles. We spotted some.

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Then you sail beside sea caves. Zakynthos has plenty of them.

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Then of course, why not jump out of the boat and go for a swim.

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Finally, the boat sails to Marathonisi island (a.k.a. turtle island) for some beach time.

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Overall, this half day tour is well worth the 20-25 Euros. After washing out the sand and changing clothes, we headed to Zante town and the Dionysios Solomos square. Turns out that the locals have a siesta time here to; most shops were closed during the middle of the day.

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The taxi driver recommended a restaurant called Stathmos which turned out to be great for traditional Greek food. After a few meals here, you’ll soon notice that stray cats are everywhere and will watch you eat hoping for some seafood scraps. It’s tough not to give in. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to cool off at the pool.

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The hardest part of the day is deciding where to eat dinner. We ended up eating at the M-eating restaurant; really good.

Day 2: Shipwrecked at Zakynthos
The highlight of any trip to Zakynthos is Navagio shipwreck beach. I booked a tour that sails around the island and combines other activities as well. This island is larger than I thought. The first swim stop was at Oasis beach.

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Then is was over an hour of scenic sailing to get to the other side of the island.

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In the distance, you can then finally see what you’ve been waiting to see; the shipwreck beach.

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It’s incredible how this shipwreck managed to remain here for the past few decades. You can even go inside and climb on top.

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During the summer, it gets packed with visitors as you can see. Doesn’t matter, just take photos and enjoy.

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Although I didn’t have time, it is worth mentioning that you can hike up for 30 minutes or so to a viewpoint where you can look down upon the shipwreck beach.

After saying goodbye to the shipwreck, the boat proceeded to sail around the island until we approached the Keri and Agalas caves. And its time for one last swim.

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After the tour was over, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Ideal, really good one. This was our last night here and it wasn’t easy saying goodbye. I hope this isn’t my last time in the Ionian sea. There are 6 other islands (Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Kythira) to check out.

Peru 2018: Vinicunca (Rainbow mountain)

Day 8:

This was another spontaneous decision I made while in Cusco. I had no idea how tough a hike it was mostly due to the high elevation. As before, make sure to bring enough water, food, and sunscreen for a 4 hour hike.

The tour starts at 4:30 am as with most Cusco tours I’ve been on. After a long 3 hour drive toward the Ausangate mountain area, you are fed some breakfast and Coca tea. It is a really scenic drive during the last hour as you ascend and circle the mountains to the trail head. Horses, Alpacas, and Llamas everywhere.

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Once at the trail head, you are already standing at 14,189 ft (4,326 m). The total distance from the trail head to Rainbow mountain peak is more than 5 kilometers and the final elevation is 17,060 ft (5,200 m). The difficulty is similar to the 2nd day of the Salkantay trek. At this altitude, every step becomes a struggle as your lungs receive less oxygen then you’re used to and your heart rate is constantly fast. Here we go again.

The locals run an interesting business here. They are very comfortable at this altitude and can run around effortlessly while us tourists are taking a step every 2 seconds. They pass by with their horses hoping you’ll give up and pay them to take you to the top on a horse.

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One by one, people fall like flies and end up on a horse. I must’ve been asked over 10 times on my way up. There were a few times when I thought that I couldn’t get to the top and considered the horse option, but I’m too stubborn.

Halfway up, I became dizzy from altitude and had to just stop. At that point, I ate a bar and drank water, Tylenol helped I think. Remember to keep drinking water. I thought to myself, I’m not sure if I can make it, but I have to try. Just breathe, one step at a time, no pain. The hike seemed like a big blur as Ausangate mountain looks down upon us like ants. Eventually, you reach a point where you can see people on top of Rainbow mountain. But at my sluggish rate, it’s an another hour away. Imagine walking slowly (one step every 2 seconds) toward something that is an hour away. Imagine the struggle, dedication, and patience.

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The highlight of everyone’s day is finally standing on Rainbow mountain. YES!

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As with all mountains, make sure to have reserve energy for the descent.

This concludes my 8-day Peru adventure. The high altitude makes the hiking trails twice as tough but the landscape is amazing and worth the effort.

Peru has it all: scenic cities and towns, deserts, beaches, nature, jungles, Andes mountains, glaciers and lagoons, endless hiking trails, good food, nightlife, and llamas. I hope my posts inspire you to travel to Peru and experience it for yourself.

Peru 2018: CuatriMoto and Maras Salt Mines

Day 7:

After days of nonstop hiking and waking up early, it was time to have a change of pace. I finally had a full night sleep and could actually eat breakfast at the hotel. I had nothing planned for the day so I just took a quick stroll through Cusco. After 10 minutes, I wandered into a tourist company with a short list of all the last-minute activities you can reserve. I spontaneously decided to sign up for the Quasi motos. This was such a great choice.

It’s a 4-5 hour tour that starts around 1pm at Cusco center. The tour van picks you up and drives an hour into the country side. Everybody gets out of the van and onto one of the motos. Then you put on your helmet, receive a brief tutorial, and go for a test run up and down the road.

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Afterwards, we drove to a lagoon.

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We had a lot of driving time. We then drove through farmlands which seemed like Tuscany scenery. The drove through small towns avoiding dogs and other animals in the roads. Even driving through an after school crowd of Peruvian kids. All these obstacles, don’t they know it’s my first time. Eventually, you arrive at a scenic area and its photo time.

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Back on the motos, we all head to the Maras salt mines. Pictures don’t quite show how large and impressive this was.

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Guess what, back on the motos for one last drive to the van as the sun sets. This tour is a must-do and it only costs $50.

Peru 2018: Machu Picchu

Day 6:

Machu Picchu; the sacred place of Peru where 5,000 people visit per day. No visit to Peru is complete without Machu Picchu. It’s probably the most important archaeological site in Latin America, built in the 1400s.

If you’re in Cusco like I was, then your Machu Picchu day tour will start at 3:30am. The most important thing to bring is your passport; you cannot enter Machu Picchu without it. It is about a 2 hour drive to Ollantaytambo train station. The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes town is quite scenic beside the Urubamba river surrounded by the mountains. If you’re not half asleep, look outside your window (on the left side where the river is).

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This train ride is also about 2 hours. Then after all that, you’re finally at the last stop; Aguas Calientes town.

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From here, follow the crowd to the buses which transport you to uphill to the Machu Picchu entrance. A lot of transportation right. This is the bus ride that will give you you’re first glimpse of Machu Picchu. That image that you’ve seen in all the photos. Boom, you’re actually going to stand there with llamas. But, not without effort, there are big stone steps everywhere. Be prepared to climb stairs, lots of big stairs. Machu Picchu is bigger than I thought it would be. And also, it is a perfect place for photos with all the green hills in the background.

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The ruins themselves are really nice too.

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And let’s not forget the llamas.

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If you were one of the lucky ones to book months in advance, then you can go to the top of Huaynapichu; the small mountain in the background of the typical Machu Picchu photos. Only 400 people are allowed per day. As an alternative, you can climb the much higher Machu Pichu mountain. If you’re looking for the Huaynapichu description, then this post isn’t for you. I tried to reserve it, but 2 months in advance was still not good enough. So after my walk around the ruins, I proceeded to summit Machu Picchu mountain. Its pretty much the monster moutain when you turn your body 180 degrees from Huaynapichu.

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My legs never get a break. I took my time going up the endless stone steps to the top; about an hour or so. There are several viewpoints along the way. Make sure to bring enough water since it gets really hot.

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Once you’re at the top, you’re so high that the ruins look like a spec within the vast green hilly landscape.

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Descending this mountain is tough because the steps are really steep. Just take it easy on your knees.

Once you’re ready to go, keep in mind that 1000s of people will be taking the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. Get ready to wait in line for at least 30 minutes. Before you leave, make sure to put that Machu Picchu stamp on your passport right at the entrance/exit. You’ll be hungry after all those steps in the sun and Aguas Calientes has enough restaurants to serve 1000s. I walked for a few minutes until I saw the word ‘buffet’, and that is where I stuffed my face. As before, its 4 hours to Cusco. Enjoy the scenic train ride back and eat dinner a good dinner at Cusco.