Wanderlust 2017: Jewel Box

We were heading back to Germany and I was extremely excited. At this point, I was loving my trip. I thought to myself about how I could easily travel forever – and would love to any day.

Our next destination was Berlin, but first, we were going to take a couple hour break in Dresden, Germany. Similar to the stops in Siena and the Tyrol Region, we had enough time to walk around the city at a fast pace and grab a bite to eat.

So, we obviously ate. We were hours out from Berlin and traveling makes you hungry (literally and figuratively).

But then we saw some sites in the historical city. According to Wikipedia (we didn’t have a tour guide and honestly, this was a city I had never heard of since I never paid attention in history class…oops), Dresden is the capital city of the royal residence for Electors and Kings of Saxoy. The city is known as the Jewel Box because of baroque and rococo city centre – something I can honestly say is gorgeous. Dresden was bombed near the end of World War II and 25,000 people died – mainly civilians.

Here are some pictures from the city – genieBen!

 

Wanderlust 2017: Czech Yo’self Before You Wreck Yo’self

I totally wrecked myself in Prague. Since I had already visited this city, I had decided that I was going to lay low, rest up knowing it’s about the halfway point of the trip, and take it slow. I did no such thing.

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The first night in Prague, we went out to an Ice Pub near the Charles Bridge. I may have drank too much, including a shot of absinthe that knocked me on my ass. I may have also danced my life away until 4AM, but first, let me set the stage.

We, as a group, left the hotel to hop on the Metro and walk over to the club. It was downpouring and windy, we were dressed all cute, we were heading to bar made of ice.

Imagine this, a group of about 15 people running in the streets of Prague while it downpours and lightening hits all around us. Also imagine how drenched not only my shoes, but my entire everything was at the time. I was so irritated because it was one of the only times I actually put some effort into my hair – can’t win them all (also, I’m 100 percent aware of how much of a first world problem that really is).

We get on the Metro and ( still driving home the idea that) we are SOAKED we get to the club – or the “disco” as the Europeans say – they hand us mini jackets, then we head into a room made of ice. We get drinks that are in ice glasses. Hair starts to freeze, shoes start to stick to the ground, but it was so much fun.

Once we warmed up by drinking and moving around, we were ready to dance the night away. The bar has five different floors, all of which have a different theme. We ended up on the R&B and Hip Hop floor, which did not play either type of music, but more of current pop. The drinks started to flow, the dancing started unfold, the evening brought together a fun group of people, sweating away and constantly unsticking wet and sweaty clothes from their bodies. I had a blast.

Medieval Times

The next day I was pretty useless as you can imagine. We ran out and grabbed Chinese food, then I napped again. But I had scheduled to attend a Medieval Times-esq. dinner with some of the people in the group at u Pavouka. I’m so happy I had.

We showed up to a dusty basement decorated like a scene from Game of Thrones. We paid $55 for unlimited wine and beer and a five course meal. They brought out breads, appetizers, pork, soup, everything that you’d expect from this time. There was a fire breather, a lady with a snake (ew), pirates who randomly fought over only God knows what, and ladies who swing fire around while belly dancing.

We drank in excess (again), we laughed all night, and we enjoyed the show.

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So, no, I wasn’t the best tourist this time around. I missed the history. I never went back out to Old Town. I didn’t even get a magnet (something I collect from each location I go to), but it was one of the best times I’ve had with the group. I was also excited to have two totally different, yet satisfying experiences in Prague.

Once again, Prague, I love you. I’ll never forget you. And something tells me, I’ll be back again for round three.

Wanderlust 2017: Castle On The Hill

Leaving Austria, we took a few hours to explore the Neuschwanstein Castle in Hohenschwagau, Germany. The castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, however he died only a couple years after it was finished, so he never had the opportunity to get comfy in the home he funded completely.

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This is the castle that inspired the design for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was extremely breathtaking and so much fun to experience since I grew up watching Disney as often as possible (and still do to this day).

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When you arrive to the little town below the castle, you have these amazing views  of the surrounding mountains and great hiking grounds. We did decide to hike up rather than take transportation up, since at this point in the trip a lot of us felt as if we were a bit stressed with the amount of travel we had experienced during the first leg of our trip. It was a great way to clear our heads, break a little sweat, and get some fresh air.

When you get up to the top, you are stunned by the beauty of your surroundings. The castle was gorgeous and the weather was perfect.

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Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of the castle, but you can check out the website to see the nineteenth century Romanesque Revival art and architecture. Our guide explained to us that Neuschwanstein Castle translates to Swanstone Castle, which made sense since King Ludwig II was known as the Swan King.

The interior had a ton of gorgeous woodwork – including swan designs and structures everywhere, but the part that stood out was the King’s throne room. The ceilings, floors, and walls were all decorated with biblical figures and stories. I remember standing in the throne room and realizing how much of an impact religion had been to the leaders of Europe’s past – something I find to be very different from what we experience in the United States.

After our tour, we hiked back down the hill, grabbed some schnitzel, and had a couple steins of beer. All in all, it was a great day trip on our way to Munich!

Wanderlust 2017: The Mountains Are Calling, So I Must Go

We had officially left Italy and were on our way to Germany! But first, we were going to spend an entire day traveling and stopping around the Tyrol Region in southwest Austria. This was the most exhausting day we had had since the inception the trip, but once we got to the area, it was worth lack of sleep.

Once we parked, half of the group went white water rafting – I normally would’ve been tempted, but I imagined my Austrian experience as one where I sit on top of a mountain in the Alps and drank an iced cold beer. AND I DID JUST THAT. We took a gondola up the mountain, and it was the steepest incline I had ever been on. Normally, I would’ve been freaking out about the angle and altitude, but there was something very relaxing about the experience.

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Once we got to the top, we found cows, goats, and a restaurant overlooking the Alps. Naturally, I spent a good amount of time with them since I prefer animals to people. At the top, we took in every angle, every which way the sun hit the mountains, the breeze, and the serenity that are the Alps. It was nothing short of immaculate.

Our next step was Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol Region, which populates around 120,000 people. The town was out of a fairy tale. Cobblestone streets, quaint restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops, and once again, a sense of calmness. There were other tourists, but it was unlike the bigger cities we had visited – it seemed we had all been taken aback by it’s beauty.

We didn’t have much time in Innsbruck, so we sat down, had a beer, then ran over to Cafe Saucher Wein to get their world famous original recipe chocolate cake – it was DELICIOUS! The original cake was made in Vienna, but each morning, cakes are sent over to the Innsbruck location.

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We got back on the bus and started to drive up a mountain, at a very steep angle too might I add, and we arrived at our motel. It was nestled into the mountains in a little town with three restaurants, two of which were closed by the time we got there. I was pooped, so I made a couple phone calls, enjoyed some wine, chatted with the roomies, then hit they hay. I knew we had a short time in this beautiful area, but I also knew I needed to listen to my body and get some rest.

I recommend visiting the Tyrol Region if you are a skier or a lover of the outdoors. The Alps in Austria put the Adirondacks in New York to shame. The mountains are great for hikes and camping, the rivers are great for rafting and fishing, and the fresh air is great for your inner peace.

Wanderlust 2017: Romeo, Take Me Somewhere We Can Be Alone

While leaving Venice, we took a two hour break in the beautiful city of Verona, Italy. Verona is exactly the type of city I would want to live in. It’s small, there’s a good amount of shade and sunshine, it’s not too busy, but at the same time, it has everything you could ever need.

We took a quick walking tour past the Arena di Verona, which was a Roman amphitheater built in the first century. Soon, we arrived at the Piazza Bra Square herbs water fountain park and the shops of Verona. When I saw how quiet and quaint this little town was, I fell in love.

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We then ended up at Juliet’s Home. Stories say that if you touch her right breast, you will be lucky with love. I won’t lie, I totally felt her up with no shame. There’s no harm in looking out for yourself.

After visiting Juliet’s home, I strolled through the streets of Verona and saw some beautiful architecture. The trip was very short, but I loved the energy, literary history, and scenery. In hindsight, I should have grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir while sitting at Piazza Bra Square – then again, it was 10AM. I think that would’ve made Verona perfect.

I wish we could have stayed for at least 24 hours to see more of the area – possibly even longer. I have found that Northern Italy is more my speed and I plan on coming back to spend some time in the Alps region.

Wanderlust 2017: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Venice

After leaving Florence and Cinque Terre, we knew that we were going to one of the most iconic locations in Italy: Venice! Our time in Venice was short and jammed packed with things to do.

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The City

To get to the city of Venice, you must take a water taxi, which if you ask me was a lot of fun. Any time I get a chance to be out on the water, I genuinely enjoy myself. When you dock, you see this beautiful city highlighted by bodies of water.

 

We walked through Piazza San Marco to the gorgeous Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco.

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The cathedral is one of the most famous examples of Italo-Byzanine architecture, and I can honestly say, has some of the most beautiful architecture on the exterior and gorgeous paintings in the interior. We did a quick tour of the church, where unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos, walked around the piazza, stared at the clock tower, and still couldn’t believe that this little island in Northern Italy existed – it was something out of a fairy tale.

The Canals

The canals are everywhere and there is not getting away from them – not that you want to. Every street has a bridge or has a dead end where the canals flow.

We had the opportunity to take a gondola ride around the Venetian canals. Getting on the Gondola, you feel as if you’re going to eat it and fall into the gross water (yes, I said it, the canal water is totally disgusting). Luckily, the drivers know how to distribute weight properly when everyone gets on the boat.

The ride was fun, but mildly underwhelming. It took about 20 minutes, they didn’t sing to us, and it kind of felt as if we were going in circles. Going under the bridges next to the tight-knit neighborhoods was interesting, but not exactly how I imagined it would be.

Would I do this again? Probably not, but I recommend doing it once to say you did it.

The Vineyard

This was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Venice. We drove out to the middle of the country to Vignaluna Vineyards. This is a family-owned vineyard that produces delicious wine manually. What does that mean? No big machines – no mass production – no unnecessarily added chemicals.

We took a quick tour of the vineyard, then we headed inside for wine tasting and dinner.

We tested five wines: a Prosecco, Moscato, Rosato, Chardonnay, and Raboso, all of which were amazing. My favorite was definitely the Prosecco, but that’s not much of a surprise.

Food was constantly being shoved down our throats as we tested the wine; everything was made fresh in the kitchen by one of the family members. You can see here, once again, my love for pasta:

Well, that’s it folks. The second to last stop in Italy has been documented (Verona will be last) and soon I will tell the tales of when we moved north through Germany, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, France, and Spain! Ciao!

Wanderlust 2017: Tuscan Leather Smelling Like a Brick

Yes, once again, more Drake lyrics. I can’t be tamed…

After leaving Rome, I was ready for a smaller city, and Florence, Italy was the perfect solution. We had three days slated to be in Florence and I was going to take full advantage of this city. I had heard a lot about Florence because a lot of people I studied with at Marist College spent a semester abroad there, but I had no idea it would a place where I wish I had done the same.

THE CITY

Busy, busy, busy, but beautiful. When I say busy, I in no way am comparing it to Rome. It felt busy because there was always something going on. There were always people looking around at the beautiful architecture, statues, painting, small streets, and shops. The city buzzed at all hours.

And it was hot. Luckily, there are enough shaded areas, but when in the direct sunlight, you start to feel the burn.

My favorite part of the city was definitely Piazza della Signoria. There, you can find the Loggia dei Lanzi where a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, a statue of Perseus and the Head of Medusa, and many other mythical and historical figures are displayed. When you walk down the Uffizi Gallery towards the river, there are statues of the most important philosophical, mathematical, social, and governmental figures to have made an impact on Italy.

And the river! Oh my. Talk about a beautiful view. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was the only bridge to not be destroyed during World War II. When you look down upon the Arno River and the quay, you see a couple restaurants that have been built in to the hills along the river, with outdoor areas where people were enjoying life.

This city is where you start to see the true relaxed European culture that’s mentioned when people return from a trip abroad. It’s quite inspiring, if I do say so. We as American are constantly on the go, driven by money and status, and we so often forget that life is so much more than climbing the financial ladder. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip – people don’t take themselves too seriously (for the most part).

THE FOOD

As previously mentioned in my post about Rome, I went hard in the paint eating pasta, pasta, pasta! I tried a carbonara that was perfectly al dente and out of this world – I’m day dreaming about it now.

My favorite place to get my grub on was the Mercato Centrale food and goods market. On my “Treat Yo’ Self” night, I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a big ole steak, and a tiramisu that was out of this world. I’m a huge Delmonico’s tiramisu fan and it put it to shame (so much so that I texted my mother about how we had been living a lie).

Finally, the pizza was delicious. Their personal pizzas were basically the size of the average eight-cut from the US, sans NYC. I tried a few different kinds, but mainly with proscuitto as a topper. Cured meat is EVERYWHERE in Italy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE HOSTEL

We stayed at the Plus Florence CB Hostel. The place had a pool, bar, rooftop, restaurant, laundry, and good sized rooms. Since the inception of our trip, this was the best place we had stayed. This place was so great that I plan on using Plus hostels on my future European Adventures.

After three days in Florence, I was sad to leave, but also extremely excited to continue our trek to Northern Italy. If you have a chance to see Florence, go for it; splurge! The city is wonderful and you’ll love the culture. Caio!

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Wanderlust 2017: When In Rome…

After an amazing week in Greece, it was hard to believe that I would spending the next nine or so days traveling through Italy. The first stop you ask? ROME!

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Going into this trip, I knew it would be tourist central – something that I am used to since I lived and worked in New York City for more than half a decade – and jammed packed with people from all different walks of life. However, I don’t think you can be completely prepared for this type of tourism. In NYC, we move FAST. In Rome, they move glacially slow. It was definitely a transition period for me, and prepared me for the rest of Italy.

…Experience the History Like the Romans Do

We had the pleasure of touring the Roman Colosseum and Roman Forum. This structure is immaculate and the second you walk in, you start to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. You can almost hear the crowds, picture men and women sitting separately wearing white robes, waiting to be entertained.

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I did have a sad moment at the Colosseum. Turns out that when they brought the animals from other parts of Europe and the Middle East to fight against, they were starved and locked in pitch dark dungeons, so they never really had a fighting chance for their lives. I got over it very quickly, but it made me very upset.

Also, our tour guide told us that the Romans were not nearly as civilized as we seemed to have thought. Their main entertainment was going to the Colosseum to see death. They also held plays where instead of acting out deaths, they would legitimately kill the actors to get the full effect for their audience. They were quite barbaric.

We also went over to the Trevi Fountain, where if you throw three coins into the fountain, you wish (1) to return to Rome, (2) have a new love interest soon, and (3) get married at some point. I don’t buy into these silly stories, but just to be safe, I may have thrown three coins in the fountain. Here, you can see it was an extremely enthusiastic moment in my life:

We also went over to Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona. Once again, gorgeous fountain, super crowded. But worth stopping over. I did get a chance to see it around 10am when the square was clear, and it was definitely worth seeing again.

The fountains were gorgeous. The city overall was gorgeous.

…Go to the Vatican Like the Romans Do

Those who now me know that I was raised Catholic, but have chosen to live a life sans religion – personal choice; I respect everyone’s beliefs. This however did not stop me from going to Vatican City.

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Vatican City lies in the middle of Rome, but is considered it’s own country – sorry boys, but that wall isn’t really fooling anyone. Also, if you go there, DO NOT get your passport stamped. When you get it stamped, you void your passport.

Anyways, the Vatican was beautiful. The city is perfectly maintained, the architecture has been created with such attention to detail, and the gardens are perfectly kept.

…Eat Like the Romans Do

As previously mentioned in the Athens post, I was no longer on a traveling adventure, but simply a food tour, and Rome did no disappoint. I chose to have pasta for every single meal except breakfast, and gelato at least once a day. And to be honest, the only reason I hadn’t eaten pasta for breakfast is because our hotel fed us each morning and I wasn’t about to turn down free food.

Let me put it this way, every pasta I tasted was delicious and above basically every pasta (I will say Ferarri’s in Schenectady does make a mean pasta and can hang with Italian-made pasta) I had ever tried. I found that the reason why the pasta is so delicious is because they keep the ingredients minimal and natural. They let meats and sauces marinade for a long time, they slow cook everything, and most of all, they put so much love into their food.

I decided to have “Terah Time” where I treated myself to a delicious meal alone at Ristorante Romantica – yes, I took myself there without realizing the name of the place until I had already eaten half of my meal. This is something that is completely necessary to maintain my sanity while traveling the same 30 people for a period of 35 days. I stopped over a quaint bistro, had a glass of the house white, ate an excessive amount of pasta in a creamy red sauce with salmon, then finished off with some Italian lemon cake. I was happy as a clam for treating myself.

…Make Pasta Like the Romans Do

One of the trip “add-ons” was a pasta making class in the middle of Rome through EF College Break. We taxied over to a fourth floor walk up and soon found ourselves sitting in a circle and testing olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited.

We then had a glass of Prosecco then headed to the rooftop terrace. There, we found a kitchen, then a shaded area with tables setup with cutting boards, flour, eggs, and everything else you would need to making pasta from scratch. The instructors were wonderful, the process of making pasta was easy, and most importantly, the food turned out to be delicious.

I had taken a pasta making class before at Brooklyn Kitchen, but it didn’t compare to being under the Italian sun, sipping bubbly, preparing a meal, then sitting down as a group and appreciating our hard work and our instructor’s skills. We ended with an espresso to get us through the rest of the day, since we were stuffed full.

Moral of the story, take a pasta making class at some point while staying in Italy – you will not regret it.

…Travel Like the Romans Do

Upon our departure, it was quite bittersweet. I was excited to leave the busy city to head to Florence, but I was sad to leave a place filled with such history. I would definitely go back for a couple days while touring Italy. My main gripe was how busy it was, but then again, it is summer and people take time off to travel (I’ll get over it).

Not Giving a Fuck is Easier Than You Think

My dear friend, Stella, who most of you know from our short stint of eating out and writing about our meals in the Dine n’ Dash section, sent me this awesome link of a Ted Talk called “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. This adds to my recent post, Routine is the Enemy of Time and how important it is to live your life the way you want.

Rather than me breaking it down for you, take the 12 minutes to watch the video. I cannot stress enough that everything she says is completely true and will help you live a happier and healthier life.

Enjoy!

Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!