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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

13 & 15

It's always bittersweet to watch your kids grow up; one day they are tiny babies that need you for everything and then you blink and they are their own person with opinions pretending they don't need you for anything. But such is life...and to me, that's what parenting is all about, trusting that whatever you teach your kids throughout their developing years, will be enough for them to get through what life will throw their way.  

The idea of having two teenagers at home was always scary to me; when I became a mom 15 years ago, I dreaded the teenage years and felt intimidated by the sole thought of it. But as time goes on and as my girls grow older, I realize that there is much to learn in this stage of life, and as scary as it may sound (and it still does!), it's a time to be cherished and enjoyed. 

In honor of their recent birthdays, I will dedicate a few words to each of my girls. 

Gaby: she turned 13 on July 16th! There is much to be said about Gaby; she is probably the sweetest out of my 3 children and also the one with the most walls around her.  She expresses her love and cares for others in a very particular way; she's affectionate on her own terms and definitely likes to have her own space but she also craves hugs and attention. 

Gaby has very specific interests; she loves history and is a fan of the English monarchy (Queen Elizabeth is her "bestie"), she knows all the details of the Marvel universe, loves singing, enjoys art (specifically painting), and almost always has a dissenting view when it comes to controversial subjects. She is humble and giving and is never afraid to sacrifice herself for others. She is observant and even though I wouldn't call her "talkative", she does have strong opinions and isn't afraid to put them out there and she isn't easily persuaded. She doesn't like being in the spotlight and rarely smiles in pictures. 

Gaby is a lover of cats, Disney, books, fantasy movies, comfy clothes, Converse shoes, Chick-fil-A, cold pizza, Greek mythology, Stranger Things and many other things that make her unique. I am so thankful to have a daughter like Gaby and I pray daily for her health, happiness and success in everything she does! I love you, Gaby! I can't believe you're a teenager! 


Olivia: she turned 15 on July 17th! I'm never short of things to say about Olivia; she's quite the daughter and definitely gives me a run for my money (both figuratively and literally)...gosh does this girl love to shop! Olivia is definitely a "crowd pleaser", a social butterfly, and the most adventurous out of my 3 children! She isn't proactively affectionate but I know she does love hugs and cuddles, even though we have to beg her for it.

She loves to be around people and is always making plans with friends and acquaintances; she loves sleeping but also can't sit still, a girl after her own mother!
Olivia enjoys traveling around the world and her destination bucket list is probably longer than mine; she knows about the lives of more celebrities than she cares to admit and loves to stalk people on social media. As opposed to Gaby, Olivia loves talking and is usually the life of the party (she's not bothered by it, either!).

Olivia is a lover of Harry Styles, fashion, music, make-up, manis and pedis, Indian food, Stranger Things, random memes, taking photos, and coming up with the next catchy caption for Instagram.  She's also famous among her friends for being the best photo editor, a hobby she enjoys very much (Lightroom is her best friend!). 
I am also thankful to have a daughter like Olivia; she has taught me so many things and I continue to pray for her health, happiness, and success!
I love you, Olivia. Keep giving me headaches!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Greece 2022: Santorini

The third stop on our trip was Santorini, the most visited island in Greece and one that had been on my bucket list for a while. For some odd reason, I always had this dream of visiting this beautiful spot, famous for the pictures of the blue domes and unforgettable sunsets; so when planning our trip to Greece, Santorini was definitely a top choice.
After spending a few days in Mykonos, I will admit that my expectations of Santorini were lowered; I was not sure what to expect and I certainly wasn't confident that a few nice photo spots would be enough for Santorini to capture my heart. 
I will start off by saying that in comparison to Mykonos, Santorini is a much calmer destination; it is known to the world as the "romance" island, great for lovers and honeymooners. 
We arrived in Santorini by ferry boat, which was very smooth and very similar to our experience when traveling to Mykonos. I had already arranged our transportation to the hotel (strongly encouraged!) so we had one less headache to deal with. 
We stayed in an area called Perissa, which is a village towards the south of the island. It is quite a bit far from Fira and Oia (the most famous spots in Santorini) but easily accessed via bus or private transport. Our hotel was called Sellada Beach Hotel, a boutique hotel located near Black Beach, a beautiful area very well suited for tourists looking to relax; I strongly recommend this area but it is important to note that it isn't as close to the capital (Fira) as some people would prefer (about 25 minutes south). 



Some of my observations about Santorini:
  • It is a volcanic island so the beaches aren't the best: if you're after a beach vacation, this is NOT the island to visit; expect to see black/red sand and rocks, and cold water.
  • Transportation is tricky: the island is very spread out but the main areas are very dense. Fira is the capital of the island and where the central bus terminal is located.  Buses to the capital run on a very loose schedule so plan ahead. Renting a car is always an option but the roads are very rough, there aren't any traffic lights on the whole island and drivers are nuts!
  • The blue domes are far: the famous blue domes aren't in the capital but in Oia, an area towards the north of the island.  Getting to Oia requires a 25-minute drive through some of the scariest roads, very close to steep cliffs and narrow paths. 
  • Oia is a great place to watch the sunset but it is VERY crowded. It seems like everyone who goes to Santorini is after the same picture and while the drive to Oia is totally worth it, you must be prepared for crazy crowds around the part of the island, especially when the sun sets. 
  • Santorini is less expensive than Mykonos, people are kinder and more fond of tourists and the pace is definitely more relaxed but be aware of CRAZY bus drivers. I was almost run over by a bus driver who basically ignored I was on the street and clipped the back of my shoe with the giant bus tire (a scary moment for sure!)
Santorini definitely did not disappoint; it is a beautiful place with breathtaking sights and an incredible vibe. I still think it would be enough to see it as a cruise stop instead of an overnight stay, but I found it way more inviting than Mykonos. We spent 2 nights on the island and it was plenty of time to explore and enjoy everything it has to offer. There are incredible catamaran tours that take you around the whole island and are totally worth the time and the cost. 
We left Santorini by plane and even though the airport is very small, it is easy to access and very organized; I liked it much better than the seaport. 

My recommendations for anyone thinking of visiting Santorini:
  • Schedule your airport/port transfer ahead of time: arriving in Santorini can be overwhelming so it's always best to have a transport plan to avoid the stress of feeling "lost".
  • Familiarize yourself with the bus routes and schedule: if you choose to move around by city bus, it is important to keep in mind that schedules aren't followed strictly and buses are scarce on weekends. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes: Santorini's streets are very steep and very uneven so comfortable walking shoes are a must. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the map of the island: like I stated before, the tourist spots are much more spread out than in Mykonos and other places in Greece. Distances are longer and therefore it takes more time to get from one spot to the other. 
All in all, Santorini definitely met my expectations. It is an amazingly beautiful place and I will forever cherish the time spent there. I hope to go back one day with the rest of my gang.  Thank you, Santorini for a wonderful time!

Some of my favorite Santorini photos:

Monday, July 11, 2022

Greece 2022: Mykonos

Our second destination (and first island) was Mykonos, certainly a "dreamy" destination and one of the most visited islands in Greece.

Out of the many Greek islands, Mykonos is known as the “party island” and it definitely lives up to its reputation; there are parties all day, every day in Mykonos so it’s a popular destination for younger, care-free crowds looking for adventure and excitement. 

MYKONOS:

We traveled to Mykonos by ferry boat and I found the experience to be less glamorous than I imagined. We used SeaJets ferries and reservations were simple and inexpensive; the ferry boats were comfortable and well maintained but it was hard not to feel like "cattle" when boarding and leaving the boat with the number of people on that port. 

Even though we had the hotel shuttle drive us from the port (the cost of the transport was 40 euros), the arrival to the island was very chaotic.  There are tons of tourist-hungry taxi drivers harassing everyone as they get off the ferry boat and most of the people at the port looked very sketchy; I am not sure that I would ever travel to a Greek island by ferry boat again but I really can’t say anything negative about the journey per se, it just wasn’t what I am used to, I guess. 

We stayed in an area called Paradise Beach at the Tropicana Hotel with easy access to the transport bus to the town but also far away from the busyness of the center. Mykonos’ beaches are on the Aegean Sea, they have mostly rough, pebbly sand and cold water so they aren’t the prettiest of beaches and I didn’t find them super attractive, especially after having visited some of the Caribbean beaches, which remain at the top of my list. 

I did enjoy my time on the island and the scenery was certainly breathtaking, but it wasn’t my favorite destination.  I found Mykonos rather boring and monotonous; not the most exciting place for me but definitely a good spot to relax and do nothing. 

My least favorite things about Mykonos:

  • The roads: streets and roads in Mykonos are horrible, most are dirt roads with no traffic lights and aggressive drivers. Going up and down those hills is terrifying and even though I did not drive on the island (thank God!), the rides to and from the hotel were my least favorite part of our stay. 
  • The bus drivers: it’s easy to move around in Mykonos by taking the city bus that transports the masses to Mykonos Town but those bus drivers are probably among the rudest people I’ve ever come across. They are clearly not fond of tourists (even though tourism is the island’s biggest money maker) and they treat everyone so poorly. Like I said, not very glamorous. 
  • The beaches: sunsets at the beach are breathtaking but the beach itself isn’t all that; the sand is rough and the water is cold and most beaches are generally overcrowded and way too commercial. I did not enjoy the beach in Mykonos at all. 
  • Things are generally expensive: in comparison to Athens, Mykonos is a very pricey destination.  A cocktail at any bar costs about 20 euros and food and tourist attractions are mostly overpriced. Most places in Mykonos Town give out the “tourist trap” vibe and it can be very overwhelming for anyone who isn’t into that (like me!).

My recommendations for anyone thinking of visiting Mykonos:

  • Again, book your port/airport transfer ahead of time: transportation in Mykonos is a huge challenge; taxis are scarce (and expensive!). The roads are rough and it isn’t a place that is easy to navigate so having someone ready to drive you to the hotel is definitely a must. Most hotels offer airport transfers for a fee.
  • Be ready to spend money! Because Mykonos is one of the most expensive islands in Greece, you need to be ready to overpay for things; an umbrella at the beach can cost up to 60 euros, 20 euros for a cocktail, 10 euros for a crepe, etc.  It isn’t cheap!
  • Be open to lots of downtime and relaxation: there isn’t much to do in Mykonos.  Besides going to the town to eat, visit souvenir shops and watch the sunset, this island isn’t the most exciting from the touristic point of view.  Yes there are parties, yes most hotels have dreamy pools and amenities that will help you relax but you won’t find much excitement on this island, generally speaking. 
  • Consider renting a car: most people who go island hopping in Greece don’t plan on renting a car, but because transportation is so scarce in Mykonos, it doesn’t hurt to explore that option.  Keep in mind that stick-shift cars are the most popular ones and you have to be a bit of a daredevil to drive on those roads!
  • Familiarize yourself with the bus stops and routes. Most people use the city bus to get around on the island and it is a fairly organized system with punctual timetables and comfortable buses.  I found this site to be very useful when figuring out bus schedules. 
While I enjoyed our time in Mykonos, it was a "one and done" kind of place for me. It is a beautiful island and we did have a wonderful time, but it is probably best as a cruise stop rather than an overnight destination. We spent 3 nights in Mykonos and it was entirely too long; by the 2nd night I wanted to leave and find a more exciting adventure. Santorini was our next stop and I will review that one in my next post! Stay tuned!

Some of my favorite photos from Mykonos:







Sunday, July 10, 2022

Greece 2022: Athens

Even though traveling is most often exciting, visiting a new country can be a daunting experience, especially when said country is so far away from home and so different from our own. 

I love traveling, it is how I like to spend my money and my time and also how I feel I can learn the most; the premise of immersing myself in other cultures and meeting people from around the world always make my heart happy. 

Recently, I had the opportunity of traveling to Greece; it was one of the countries on my destination bucket list, as well as Olivia’s, so it was the perfect spot for her celebratory “quinceaƱera” trip (for us Hispanics, girls turning 15 is a big deal!). I was happy to hear Olivia was opting for a trip instead of a big party and both the planning and execution of her dream trip were equally thrilling. 

Greece is a great place to visit, it’s a diverse country with so much history, the perfect place to learn about the world’s past or to simply go and relax on a beach at one of its many dreamy islands.  This time we chose to visit Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, three of the most popular destinations in Greece. All places had their charm and we made the best memories in each of them. 

I will recount some of my observations and recommendations for each of the places we visited in Greece.  This post is focused on Athens, the first city we visited during this amazing trip.

ATHENS:

As Greece’s capital and largest city, Athens is definitely an attractive destination even though many people would argue that “it’s only worth 2-3 days” out of your visit to this amazing country. Considering I usually favor city vacations over beach ones, this was my favorite place in Greece.  We stayed in the center of Athens a few minutes away from the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Ancient Agora. Just like most European cities, Athens is chaotic; it is fast-paced, busy, and very dense. It is generally a safe place but locals always warn tourists of pickpocketers and petty crime so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for these dangers. 

My favorite things about Athens were:

  • The history: visiting the ancient sites was incredibly satisfying. The thought of walking around places that are thousands of years old is mind-blowing as was reading about the history of the city itself. Most of the ancient sites are carefully preserved and managed, which makes for a great immersive experience for anyone who visits. My favorites were the Acropolis and the Museum of Acropolis, which features an amazing view of the Parthenon. 
  • Things are generally inexpensive: food, souvenirs, transportation, and most things are generally inexpensive in the city. Tourist sites are reasonably priced and inviting, and attraction ticket costs averaged about 10 euros or less. 
  • The ease of navigation: moving around in the city is very easy; there are tons of tour buses (Hop On/Hop Off), taxis, and metro, and the streets are very walker friendly with great signaling and easy sidewalk access. We took the City Sightseeing bus for a couple of days and were able to go around most of the city with the multiple routes offered by this bus (highly recommended); definitely a great way to see the city in a short amount of time.  

My recommendations for anyone thinking of visiting Athens:

  • Book your airport/port transfer in advance: the airport/port is fairly far from the city center so transportation to and from these spots can be very tricky.  Don’t fall for the airport taxi trap, it is so much easier to have someone waiting for you at the airport instead of scrambling to find a ride and it is most likely cheaper too!
  • Have cash in hand: many places in Athens don’t accept credit cards so I recommend withdrawing some cash from an ATM before venturing out into the city.  Avoid the airport ATM machines at all costs; their exchange rates are the least favorable and their fees are insane too. 
  • Plan your days: even though it’s fairly easy to move around in Athens, some of the points of interest are very far apart so planning your days will help you use your time more wisely and see as many things as possible.  I always use Visit-a-City as a starting point to plan my days around the cities I visit for the first time. 
  • Wear comfortable/safe shoes: I found myself tripping and slipping multiple times on the streets of Athens, especially when climbing up the stairs to the Acropolis.  The streets are cobbled and very slippery and walks are usually very steep so I recommend wearing comfortable shoes that have a good grip; it can be very dangerous to walk the streets of Athens in shoes that aren’t appropriate. Remember, comfort over fashion!
  • 3 days is more than enough: if you’re passing through Athens on your way to visit some of the Greek islands, 3 days is a good amount of time to get to know most of the city. You’ll get to visit all of Athen’s highlights in 3 days and will definitely get a taste of the Greek culture. Of course, if your interest lies in deepening your knowledge and understanding of Athens' ancient history, staying longer than 3 days is also great!

Some of my favorite photos from Athens:


I will review Mykonos and Santorini on my next post, but Athens was definitely a city to remember!