2 days in Athens, Greece – fall in love with the ancient city!

Athens has always held a special allure, and we jumped at the opportunity to visit it!

Though we spent a week in Athens, the primary reason for the visit was work, so there were some evenings for play. Putting all the hours together we actually spent exploring the city, as is our theme, 48 hours in Athens might be sufficient to give a good taste of the city, though Athens, or Greece, will definitely leave you wanting much more time!

What blew us away right from the beginning was how old everything was! To be able to see and touch structures from 2000 and 1500 B.C. was absolutely amazing!

An approximate 2 day itinerary could be:

Day 1: Begin the day like the Athenians, with a frappe!


Take a walking tour. We went for the free walking tour organized by Athens Free Tour and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the rain decided to really come down right as we were beginning so the route was altered slightly to give us more shelter, but as in most cities, the walking tour was a great way to get a general idea of the city and figure out where things were. They have 2 tours everyday, one at 9.45am and the other at 5pm.

The tour starts from Hadrian’s arch, which is right outside the temple of Olympian Zeus, so if you can get there early, use the time to explore inside the Olympieion.

Tip: Buy the multi-site, combination ticket. When in Athens, you cannot not go into at least 3-4 of the ancient sites, if not all of them! This ticket, for 30 EUR allows entry into: Hadrian’s library, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, Olympieion (temple of Olympian Zeus), and most importantly, the Acropolis and the North and South slopes, and it absolutely worth it.

Now that you have an approximate idea of where things are, if you can resist it, dont go to the Acropolis just yet.

Grab a gyro for lunch, on the go like the Athenians, or take some time to cool off and rest your feet before the next round of walking.

Use the rest of the day to explore inside Hadrian’s library and the Ancient Agora, and you still have the energy, the Roman Agora. Hadrian’s library is possibly the oldest library ever and some tablets that survived can still be seen! The Ancient Agora is a tiny city in itself and houses the best preserved Greek temple. We definitely recommend visiting both sites.

 

Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora
Stoa of Zeus in the Ancient Agora
Odeon of Agrippa at the Ancient Agora
Gate at Roman Agora
Tower of the Winds at Roman Agora
Hadrian’s Library
Stone tablets at Hadrian’s Library

Dinner can be in the Monastiraki area. The deeper into the alleys you go, the more local the restaurants feel, though there are tourists everywhere. Rule of thumb could be cost of moussaka (not more than 8-10EUR) or a glass or ouzo (not more than 2-4EUR). Read more about all the delicious food in Greece here.

Day 2: Acropolis!

Go to the Acropolis museum first. Its a great way to hear the story about the Acropolis and Parthenon and see the real pieces they have preserved. Start from the top floor and make your way down, it felt like a more complete story doing it this way. Also the floor is glass, so maybe dont wear a skirt!

Now that you know all the history and have seen what the separate pieces look like, time to ascend to the Parthenon. (The hill with all the structures is called the Acropolis and the big temple on the top is the Parthenon).

You can get official guided tours, we didn’t, but I’m sure the stories would’ve been quite interesting. Climb up the Acropolis, soak in the views and feel the awe of being surrounded by stones that are more than 2000 years old!

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

If you havent had your fill of views, try to get to the top of Lycabettus (also known as Lycabettos, Lykabettos or Lykavittos) in time for sunset. The light guilds all the ancient structures, making them look even more impressive than they already do!

With more time in the country, definitely try to visit one (or many) of the islands. We only had a couple of days, so chose to visit Hydra (Idra) which was closer to the mainland than most, and really enjoyed our time! Read more about it in the post on Idra (coming soon).

To us, Athens felt so much like home- the warmth of the people, the summer heat, the traffic, the organized chaos- we loved every minute!

2 days in Florence

Florence city is an open air art museum, every corner has an interesting piazza with spectacular art, and every street has work from a budding artist. While there are enough museums to fill up more than a week, 2 days gave us a great feel for the city. With 48 hours to explore, here is an itinerary we’d recommend:

Day 1:

Take a free walking tour (or 2): Walking tours are a great way to get to know the lay of the land, and the stories help remember landmarks that would otherwise be overlooked. We went on the Renaissance (11am-1pm) and Medici (2-4pm) tours offered by Florence free tours. While together they took up a large part of the day, by the end, we could walk around the city confidently without getting completely lost, and knew where the major landmarks were. A great self-guided tour can be found here, though we found that it was more fun to have a guide to tell us stories.

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Cathedral Santa Maria Novella
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Basilica Santa Croce

Piazzale Michelangelo: Now that you know the city, get a spectacular aerial view of it. The walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo is not too tough, and though it does involve a few steps, the panoramic view from the top is worth it! With a chilled beer in hand, gaze upon the city you have just gotten to know. The rose garden on the way down is worth wandering into too, remember to stop and smell the roses!IMG_2100.JPG

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Rose Garden at Piazzale Michaelangelo

End the day with one or a few glasses of Tuscan wine at Senorvino and dinner at one of the exciting restaurants along Via di Santo Spirito.

Day 2: Museum day

While visiting museums isn’t always on everyone’s list, you can’t go to Florence and not visit at least one museum. Most museums are closed on Monday, so plan accordingly. With a wide variety to choose from, we picked,

Uffizi – The Louvre of Florence it houses masterpieces by maestros like Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others. Since we did not have the foresight to buy advance tickets, we joined the line as early at 8.30am and still had to wait for about 2 hours. Advance tickets can be purchased online, or from the ticket counters at the Uffizi or the Pitti Palace, for 4 EUR more, and are definitely worth it, especially on a weekend or during peak tourist season. Get the audio tour, or a guided tour, it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. With its vast collection, allot at least 3 hours to the museum and prepare to be amazed!

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The endless line at the Uffizi
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The 7 virtues- Botticelli
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Madonna and child- Raphael
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Medusa- Caravaggio

Accademia– Besides the famous David, which itself makes the visit worth the time, the museum also houses great art pieces and displays the history of music. The line was shorter, it took only half an hour to get in, and an hour and a half was about enough to look around.

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Florence cathedral aka Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or simply the Duomo was on our list too, but the lines were impossibly long. Again, advance tickets can be bought. IMG_2312.JPG

With more than half the day spent inside museums, spend the evening sipping a Spritz or with a delicious gelato, people-watching at Piazza dela Signoria or on Ponte Vecchio, watching the sun set on the Arno.

Ponte Vecchio

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If you have had your fill of the ubiquitous pizzerias, find a local trattoria and try one of the local dishes- read more here.

Florence by night is less impressive than one would imagine, but it does get cooler and there are fewer people, so admiring the spectacular architecture is easier by night.

Finally remember to meet il Porcellino, the Florentine boar, and rub its snout to ensure your return to the birthplace of Italian Renaissance, the capital region of Tuscany, the city that itself is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem! IMG_2665.JPG

48 hours in (and around) Amsterdam 

Amsterdam during Easter is super busy, in 2017, 1 million tourists were said to have visited the city, which is more than the total population of the city itself!

As with most cities nowadays, the best way to get a good feel for the city is to take a free walking tour. We took the one by Sandeman’s and our guide Kendra was great!

Some of the highlights in and around the city, for us, were:

Walking the canals. There are 4 main canals in Amsterdam, the Singel, Herengracht (Lord’s canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor’s canal) and Prinsengracht (Prince’s canal). Although in the beginning all the streets lining the canals look exactly the same, walking around is a good way to get more comfortable with the layout of the city. And of course, it is really pretty too! 1.JPG
Visit to the Rijksmuseum. April showers in Amsterdam weren’t always fun but made for a great excuse to spend an entire morning taking in the wonders in the Rijksmuseum. Since Amsterdam was so busy, the lines to enter all the museums were hours long. Buying tickets online in advance and starting fairly early in the morning, helped a lot and allowed us to spend the time inside the museum, instead of waiting in line outside. The collection is very impressive and stories on the audio tour in the museum app made it even more interesting. 2.JPGPaying homage to Anne Frank. The line to enter the museum was 3 hours long on every day of the Easter weekend and advance tickets were sold out, so we couldn’t make it inside. But it remains on the list and will be one of the important reasons to go back one day. The Anne Frank house helps to humanize the war and is a good place to pause and reflect on the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on each other.

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Visit to Keukenhof for the tulips. Yes, it probably is one of the most touristy things to do, but in spring, when the tulips are in full bloom, it is worth every minute! The combination bus + park entrance ticket, saved time and money and it was fairly painless to get there. No photographs could do justice to the magnificent sights, the endless rows of tulips and the myriad hues in the park, but we did try! 4.JPG5.JPG

Day trip to Den Haag. Only about an hour away from the Keukenhof gardens, the Hague makes for a short fun trip- including, of course, a visit to the iconic Peace Palace. 6.JPG

Local food and drink. A big part of most of our trips is sampling the local fare. Dutch food and drink was delicious and did not disappoint in the least! Read all about our food tour in our post here.

Amsterdam’s alter ego. The other side of Amsterdam, the red light district and coffee shops definitely add to the character (or strangeness) of the city and need not be avoided like the plague! While there aren’t any photographs to document it (not for a lack of trying, photography here is strongly discouraged and often isn’t allowed), walking through the streets lined by windows with women showcasing their wares (themselves) and littered with smoke-filled coffee shops definitely makes for an interesting experience.

Cycling everywhere. True to their reputation, the cities in the Netherlands have wide bike lanes, making cycling a convenient mode of transport, but the locals do not like to be interrupted on their commute so, as a tourist, only do it only if you can ride!

24 hours in Salzburg: ♪ lets start from the very beginning! ♪  

Salzburg is a great big, small city.

One of the best ways to explore the city is by a bike tour. We took the Sound of Music bike tour from Fräulein Maria. Fun! It was a great way to see the sights and a real treat for the genuine fans of the film.

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In the evening, we tried the local beer served and delivered the way the monks originally did, at the Augustiner brewery. It was hard to find the place but once we did, large beer halls and a beer fountain greeted us. 

Also tried a pretzel from the original pretzel stand in the old town- huge but delicious!

24 hours were just about enough to explore the quaint little town and get our fill of the beautiful city of the Sound of Music!

Off the beaten path in Barcelona: La Merce 2016

This an annual festival, local to Catalonia, that celebrates Virgin Mary, the merciful, for which people from all over Catalonia and rest of Spain visit Barcelona. You can imagine the crowd if you add the regular number of tourists that visit from around the world!

We were lucky to be in Barcelona during the time, since it exposed us to a side of the city we may not have ever seen. Besides the tourists, who throng to Barcelona, the streets was full of locals and others from the surrounding areas, all out on a holiday, which led to an amplified atmosphere of festivity and fun- extremely helpful when on holiday yourself, and highly contagious!

Due to the festival, there were events going on at every big square. There were music concerts, folk music and dancing, parades and sporting contests. 

There was a parade of the Giants where famous local characters were paraded around the square with music. The size and scale was impressive.

One peculiar contest was making of the Castell by castellers. It is a human pyramid or ‘castle’ and the skill lies in how high you can go or how complex your castle is. It was amazing to see the kids were participating in this and our local guide told us that every village had a team and representatives and they took great pride in participating and winning this contest. You can see them prepping by adding belts for waist and back protection. The bystanders also participate by supporting the lowest ring of the castle.

One of the main stages had folk dancing, which looked nothing like the graceful Flamenco that one would normally associate with Spain, but a lot like line dancing!

In the night, there were fireworks by the beach, which were attended by more people than we thought possible! The trains was filled to busting and local police directed the human traffic at the metro stations, to make sure people weren’t knocked off the platforms in their rush to get to the scene of the action.

They also had late night free music concerts which we missed unfortunately, being too jet lagged to keep our eyes open.

All together the festival gave us more insight into the local culture and rituals. An interesting experience and highly recommended!

Intrepid travelers: road tripping in Morocco!

Our first real adventure in the continent of Africa and we coundn’t be more excited for it!

After a hectic 24 hours in Barcelona, we flew to Marrakesh on Ryanair, at 7.30am to make the most of our first there in the new country. At $45/seat, it was a steal! A quick 2 hour flight later (Morocco is 1 hour behind Spain), we were in Africa! Disembarking from the plane, directly onto the runway (!) we could walk right up to the terminal building.1.JPG

The heat was almost tangible as it settled on us, giving us a taste of what the next few days would be like. The Riyad (hotel) had arranged for someone to pick up us- which is recommended, since with the number of people offering taxis right outside, you’re never sure where you will be taken and how much it’ll end up costing you once you get there!

We spent the day in Marrakesh, the experience was an assault to all senses- it was hot, loud, smelly, bright and colorful – and reminded us strongly of home! The people did not leave you alone for a moment- there was always someone to sell us something or direct us to the next tourist spot, or just to ask if we were from India and say Namaste! More about Marrakesh here.
The next morning, we were driven back to the airport where we picked up our car for the next 3 days. While extremely cheap (we paid no more than $200 for 3 days), the car came with no frills, at all. The doors and windows were manual and there was no air-conditioning or GPS. Google maps also doesn’t let you download Morocco road maps offline, so this was going to be an extremely interesting few days. Also as we discovered very soon, while in theory all the roads are named or numbered on the map, there are almost no numbers on the road itself! Most of them are labeled with the next big city, so thats something to watch for as well. Finally, while we were happily using T mobile all over Europe, it isn’t free in Morocco, so no turn-by-turn navigation. Undaunted, we decided to drive around the country for the next 3 days! On the bright side, the roads in Morocco are good and well maintained, so it wasn’t a bumpy ride.

First stop- Ozoud Falls. They are the most photographed falls in the country and make a nice day trip from Marrakesh. Getting out of the city proved to be quite a task, there was the manual car to get used to, rules of the roundabouts to learn and lots of motorcyclists to avoid. Our brave and fearless driver rose nobly to the challenge and we left the city and reached Ozoud with no unpleasant events.2.jpg

The falls themselves are quite pretty and fairly touristy. We chose to look at them from the top only, instead of hiking to the bottom and taking Morocco’s version of the “Maid of the Mist” tour, since, as always, we were pressed for time. Lunch was delicious, in a small local restaurant. Read more about our food and drink in Morocco in our blog here.

Our next aim was to get to Fez, in one piece, and hopefully before nightfall. Our fairly smooth journey was interrupted just once, when we were pulled over by the local traffic police, for crossing a solid white line to overtake the slow car holding up our progress. While blogs from other tourists had warned us that the police tended to focus more on tourists, actually being pulled over was a completely different experience. We spoke no Arabic and only enough French to ask if they spoke English, so communication was minimum. They asked for our passports and the papers of the car (which we understood) and we sat with bated breath, awaiting our fate. This is one of the few times when the Indian passport has worked in our advantage- since on realizing that we were “Hindi” (the Arabic word for Indian), they disdainfully let us go, warning us not to do it again. I’m not sure how different things would’ve been, if we had had American or European passports, but I’m very glad we didn’t have to find out! Of course, we have no photos from our brief brush with the law, but I’m sure if we did, our faces would be quite a sight to behold!

Getting to Fez took us across the High Atlas mountains with spectacular views of verdant valleys and sandy brown mountains.3.JPG

By nightfall we were close enough fortunately and had only a long stretch on the well lit A-road (motorway with toll) so reached Fez in good spirits, around 9pm. The airbnb we had for the night was supposed to be a palace that was being restored by the current owner and finding it was another interesting task! When we finally did, it was at the end of a single lane, extremely windy road that would’ve been impossible to navigate without our host. After all the effort, it was totally worth it- the place was indeed a palace and we had an entire wing (the red palace) to ourselves! That night and the next day were an adventure of their own- read about it here.4.JPG

Chefchaouen, which is Berber for “look at the horns” since the mountain tops around the city look like goats’ horns, was the next destination and was a 4 hour drive away, so we left around 3pm from Fez, again to attempt to make it there before it got dark. The road leading out from Fez was a 1.5-lane state road, which meant when a vehicle approached us, the smaller of the two would have to drive onto the verge to let the other pass. This made for 1-2 unnerving hours of driving for our brave and fearless driver, but he manfully drove on. This time we cross the Riff mountains and saw vast stretches of darker mountains with taller darker trees- quite beautiful to behold.5c.JPG

We also had some interference from the local wildlife, but nothing much to worry about!5.JPG

Our first sighting of Chefchaouen, disappointingly did not show an entirely blue city, but it was pretty nevertheless, nestled in the middle of towering mountains.6.JPG

In the evening, exploring the old city gave us our fill of blue-ness of Chefchaouen.7.JPG

Our final long drive was to Tangier airport, and was the least picturesque of the drives. A great breakfast of the local goat’s cheese and bread made up for it a little!

The roads, as we had seen so far, were quite good, with long stretches of highway that allowed us to reach our destination well on time. Tangier airport was a surprise- it was so windy that it was quite difficult to stand up straight, handling any luggage was another challenge altogether! Here, we returned the car, bid good bye to our faithful companion of the past 3 days and took a cab to the port to get on the ferry to Algeciras.8.JPG

This is where the next brief adventure began, since halfway to the port, we realized that the one we were headed to, wasn’t the one we needed. The boat to Algeciras was to depart from Tangier Med and that was 50km away from Tangier city, which was where we were! Our cab driver, fortunately (and after promising a payment of 40 Eur) agreed to take us there- thus our road trip continued!

The drive from Tangier to Tangier Med was along the coast and gorgeous!9.JPG

Relieved, and a little wrung out from all the adrenaline, we boarded the ferry to leave Africa and continue our explorations on the next continent!10.JPG

Morocco- you were beautiful, unexplored, unexpected, raw, exciting, exhausting, overwhelming and we loved every single minute!

2 days in Regensburg- there’s more to Bavaria than just Munich

Regensburg is a beautiful town in Northern Bavaria, approximately one hour from Munich. It makes for a great day trip from Munich or even spend a couple of days walking and exploring the history and beer. The medieval town is on the banks of the River Danube (or Donau as the Germans refer to it) and is known as a popular university town in Germany.

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The historic old town of Regensburg, also known as Stadtamhof, is a UNESCO heritage site. To reach it, walk  towards the Danube and cross the historic old stone bridge which was under restoration when we visited. The walk along the river is just beautiful. The old town is lined with colorful buildings and cobbled streets and also makes for a great walkimg_6875img_6882-1

Along the Danube eat at the oldest sausage stand in the world, the famous Wurstkuchl (check out their homepage). On a warm summer’s day sit outdoors, grab a beer and enjoy people watching along the river along with views of the grand church. Thank you to my colleague Agnes, that showed me this place, because it was inexpensive and great tasting.

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St. Peter Cathedral or ‘Dom’ is the bishops church and dominates the skyline with its German Gothic architecture. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the church this time but hope to do so on a future visit. Nonetheless, you cannot miss this massive structure. It is visible from most places around town and looks even better at night when it is lit up.

Folks from Regensburg are also very proud of their beer, like most of Bavaria 🙂 We had dinner at the Hofbrauhaus in Regenesburg. Definitely recommended

 

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