2016

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January

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February

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March

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April

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May

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June

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July

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August

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September

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October

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November

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December

What an incredible year I’ve had!  Looking back at each month made me realize how unbelievable it’s all been.  It also made me realize how quickly time is going by.  How has it already been another year?  How?

Here’s to hoping for an amazing 2017 for us all!

Athens, Abbreviated

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We couldn’t visit Greece without at least spending a little time in Athens, however short.  We spent our first and last night of our trip in Greece at a nice little hotel near the city center so we could walk around and see a few things in our limited time there.

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Unfortunately, the Acropolis was always closed while we were there (seriously…their hours are ridiculous), so we didn’t get to go in and see the Parthenon, but we did manage to see a few of the ruins from a distance.

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The streets leading into the main square are bustling and chaotic (like you’d expect in just about any city), but once you get in by the Acropolis, the city is full of charming little streets, almost all of which are lined with twinkling string lights.  Honestly, my favorite thing about Athens was simply strolling through the seats to see what we would find there.

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In the streets of Athens after some complimentary wine

 We scored some amazing food, wine, and gelato both nights we were there, so we were pretty much on Cloud 9.  Also, maybe it was just my imagination, but I could really feel an ancient sense of wonder as I walked around.  It was interesting to try to picture what Ancient Greek civilization might have been like, especially in Athens.

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There were probably fewer taxis.

We didn’t fully do this city justice, but I’m glad we at least had a taste.  We’ve already both agreed that Athens will have to be a city we go back to and do properly sometime.

Strolling the Naxian Coast

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When we decided we were going to Naxos, one of the things I was most looking forward to was spending some time on the beach!  Having come from landlocked Kansas and after a long, cold, and dreary winter, I was more than ready for some sun and sand.

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Creepy-cool abandoned building on St. George

Naxos is famous for its numerous beautiful beaches, some of which have been ranked as among Europe’s most beautiful.  We were lucky to get to experience lots of sunny, warm weather so that we could fully enjoy laying out in the sand and walking along the coast.  It wasn’t quite warm enough to swim, but just being able to be outside without a jacket was good enough for me!

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After a delicious Greek breakfast at our hotel, we got up and around as early as possible to start our long walk down the coast to see as many different beaches as we could.  The first beach we visited was Saint George Beach because it just so happened to be right in front of our hotel.  It was not the prettiest of the beaches, but it was still pretty darn gorgeous as you can (hopefully) tell from the photo.  The water was crystal clear and the sand formed soft waves underneath it.  It was an incredibly shallow beach.  I could walk out really far and still the water was below my knees.  It was kind of surreal.

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Agios Prokopios

The next beach we came across was Agios Prokopios, which was a slightly more refined beach, with lighter sand and bluer water.  We decided to stop for a bit at this beach when a small dog (who had already been following us for over an hour) randomly latched onto my husbands leg and started eating his shorts.  That thing would not let go for anything.  We finally got tired of it and went into a restaurant hoping it would eventually go away.  It even came inside the restaurant after him several times.  Finally, it latched onto another family who also happened to have a dog so we could enjoy some peace and quiet and relax.

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Agia Anna

After lunch, we stopped at Agia Anna, which was my favorite of the three.  It had several interesting rock formation in addition to the lovely turquoise waters.  We hung out there the longest.

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We had originally planned to move onto Plaka, but we saw the dreaded dog over there waiting at the other end of the beach again, so we decided to save ourselves the headache and just backtrack through the other beaches.  It had been some time since we’d been on any kind of beach vacation, so it was a wonderful and relaxing change of pace.

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We spent the whole day hiking, walking through water, and stopping in between to lay in the sand.  It was just enough to build up a pretty big appetite for some delicious Greek food and exactly what we needed to get through this last term before a long summer break.

Food, Booze, and Hospitality: The Off-Season in Naxos

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I had a great time in Santorini, but it really took me by surprise when I fell head-over-heels for the lesser-known island of Naxos.  The largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos is best known for its incredible beaches…but there’s a whole lot more to it than that.  From the moment I laid eyes on the iconic view of Portara (all that remains of an ancient temple of Apollo) I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

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I was immediately blown away by the kindness and hospitality of the people in Naxos. Never in my life had I received such a warm welcome as I did at our hotel, Kymata Hotel.  I cannot talk that place up enough.  They offered to pick us up at the port for free, and as soon as we arrived, everyone at the reception got up to greet us and thrust huge, homemade loukoumis (the Greek equivalent of a Turkish Delight) into our hands, along with a shot of Raki!  It was amazing.  I should also mention that it is conveniently located right on St. George Beach and has an incredible breakfast buffet.  If you’re staying in Naxos, this is where you should be!

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The adventure didn’t end there.  We soon learned that in addition to having incredible people and beautiful beaches, Naxos is also home to a fantastic food scene.  All of the best Greek food we ate on our entire trip was in Naxos.

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Dakos:  the most incredible dish of the trip!

 The best part?  Every single restaurant was eager to give us something to try on the house, whether it was a dessert, glass of wine, or an appetizer.

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Incredibly delicious honey-cinnamon Raki

We trudged back to our hotel every night with full stomachs and happy hearts.

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Another highlight for us on this wonderful island was our day trip into the tiny mountain village of Halki.  The bus ride through the mountains was nothing short of extraordinary and the postcard-perfect views of the village were only made more amazing by the tantalizing scent of spring flowers.

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We stopped by the local citron distillery, which has been a specialty of the village for centuries.  The citrus-flavored liquor was delicious and we couldn’t resist buying a bottle to take home with us.

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Before heading back to the main part of the island, we stopped for a nice lunch at a beautiful little cafe.

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One of many Greek salads on the trip

With each moment, I just kept falling more and more in love with the place.  My heart was already heavy on our last night there at the thought of leaving.

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If you are planning a trip to the Greek Islands, especially if you are going to the nearby Santorini, please do yourself a favor and check out Naxos!  It’s a short ferry ride away and was my favorite part of our trip to Greece.  It may not have the poetic views of Santorini, but it is plenty beautiful and has a soulfulness that Santorini simply doesn’t.  I really hope to return someday.

Santorini’s Volcanic Beaches

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We spent a total of three days in Santorini, one of which was dedicated to the epic Fira Trail hike, which left us wondering:  what else is there in Santorini?

We looked around at our options and decided to check out some of Santorini’s beaches.  Since Santorini is a volcanic island, the beaches are not what you’d expect.  Most of them are pebble beaches as opposed to sand beaches and are black or red as opposed to golden or white.

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We first checked out Perissa beach towards the southern part of the island, which was a black pebble beach.  It was definitely not warm enough to swim, but the pebbles were warm enough that we could walk barefoot and small enough that it wasn’t too terribly painful to do so.

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As an added  bonus, the beach was practically deserted, so we had lots of space to spread out and explore.  There were also a few restaurants, bars, and shops open, so I had a nice vegan pizza, some wine, and bought myself an awesome hat that was pretty much attached to my head the rest of the trip.  It made for a relaxing evening, which was much needed after two flights in less than 24 hours.

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I was slightly more impressed with the Red Beach on the southern tip of the island, near the ruins of Akrotiri.  The contrast of the red volcanic cliffs and the clear, turquoise waters really did it for me.

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This beach also has the nice little perk of requiring a small hike to access it, which is always a positive for me.

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A little yoga on the rocks

There were a couple touristy restaurants open, so we sampled some interesting fig wine.

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Sadly, the ancient ruins of Akrotiri (which was the agenda item we were most looking forward to on that part of the island) were closed, so we had to settle for exploring the area around it.

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Twisted olive trees and wild daisies

Santorini is a very interesting and geographically diverse island, though it surprises me when people suggest itineraries of 5-7 days there because it is so tiny and mostly very touristy.  Perhaps it’s just me.  Still, our time in Santorini was lovely and relaxing, with views and weather that were hard to beat.  I’d certainly recommend it if you’re looking for a nice sample of the Greek Islands, although I would strongly suggest avoiding the high season so you can enjoy the views without the crowds.

Epic Views on the Fira Trail

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Greece was so, so good.

It was one of those places that had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and when it was finally becoming a reality, it was so hard to decide where to go and what to do since there is just so much.

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Scored a window seat on the way to the island!

Santorini was one of the first places that jumped out at me – I mean, who can resist when beautiful photos of it are plastered all over the internet?  I had to see for myself what all the hype was about.

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I’ll be honest:  it’s a tourist trap and a half.  Hardly anything on the island screams authenticity (for example, all the restaurants named “Authentic Greek Restaurant” with all English menus).  Still, there is one thing in Santorini that is an absolute must for any wanderluster:   hiking the cliff-side passage from Fira (the island’s main hub) to the picturesque village of Oia to watch the sun set.  It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life to date and I’m pretty sure it will always stay that way.

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After grabbing a few provisions at the local Carre Four, we headed up to the Caldera in Fira to begin our epic journey.  The well-marked cobblestone path took us through blinding white tunnels and winding stairways, wrapped around many a restaurant and holiday home, as well as several of those lovely churches with the bright blue domes.

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To our left, the bright blue waters of the Aegean sparkled in the sunlight.

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As we moved farther along the trail, the white washed villages became fewer and farther between and jagged, volcanic cliffs began to take their place.

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We were about three quarters of the way there when we decided to stop and enjoy our picnic lunch, chock full of Greek olives, pistachios, crusty bread, and a delicious herbed tomato dip.  We even found a tiny, picnic-sized bottle of wine!

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We had originally planned on waiting to eat until we reached Oia, but I’m so glad we didn’t because that picnic was hands down one of the best experiences of my life!  There was something so amazing, and dare I say spiritual, about being there on the edge of a cliff together with no one else in sight enjoying a fabulous lunch and spectacular views.

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It took us roughly four hours (it normally takes three, but we took our time with our lunch stop) to reach the pristine town of Oia, obviously well-kept to meet the tourist demand.  It was late afternoon and the sun was at its highest point of the day, so we knew we had a little time before the larger groups of tourists came through.  Luckily, it was still the shoulder season, so it wasn’t nearly as packed as it will be in a couple of months.

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We stopped at a cliff-side cafe for a little coffee and some water and were pleased to see that it wasn’t as terribly overpriced as we were expecting.  As a side note, there was the most adorable family next to us with some very sophisticated children who were raving about the quality of the Greek salad they were eating.

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Finally, we were ready to make our way to the famed lookout spot to check out one of the most renowned views in the world.  Pictures, of course, will never fully do it justice.

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I was feeling on top of the world!  We stayed for about two hours, simply gazing at the incredible sight in front of us, listening to some lovely Greek street music, and talking about what a marvelous adventure it all was.  A truly magical and unforgettable journey.