Our guest post today comes from Bernard Sury of GuruWalk, who writes about his family trip to Greece.
A Family Trip to Greece
Planning to have a family trip to Greece soon? What a brilliant idea! I honestly had one of my best family trips in Greece.
Expecting the Belgian summer to be as rainy as it is in winter, my parents, my sister and I were looking for a sunny destination combining culture and leisure. After considering Croatia, my mother’s love of Greek food tipped the balance in favor of Greece.
But where to go in Greece? Getting lost on small island, in busy Athens, or in the countryside? Well, there were as many options as there are sunny days in Greece.
Passionate about Greek mythology and history since I studied it in high school, going to Greece without seeing the Acropolis would have been unimaginable. Flights were also cheap to Athens, so we decided to spend some time in the city. However, as any capital city in the world can prejudice your view of what the rest of the country actually is, we were looking for adding another destination on our travel in Greece. My sister had heard friends’ amazing stories about Crete, like hiking in the Samaria Gorge which is Europe’s longest, and swimming in some of the most crystalline water of the Mediterranean Sea. The choice was made.
We left Brussels late on a July afternoon. After leaving the luggage at the hotel, our first goal was to have the best dinner the Greek capital could offer us. After doing some internet research we found Lithos not so far from the hotel, and had a delicious moussaka.
The next day, our first trip was to see the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowd. This visit was wonderful. We remembered all the stories we had learned at school, seeing the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins, including the Parthenon and the famous Caryatids. We learned that the Parthenon survived for a long time in a good shape until Greek people decided to store gunpowder there, which caused an explosion in 1687. The view of Athens from the top is stunning.
The Parthenon and its tourists (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
After a quick lunch, the weather was becoming very heavy and warm. We decided to spend the afternoon at the Acropolis Museum, one of the most important archeological museums in Greece. The museum was modern, contrasting with the ancient pieces within. It is a great complement to a visit of the Acropolis itself.
Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
On our third day, we decided to spend some hours doing a Free Walking Tour of Athens to get to know more about the history of Greece, but also to learn about its current situation. It was very interesting and entertaining and we had the opportunity to ask many questions to the local guide. We also had the chance to see the changing of the guards at the Greek parliament (only on Sunday at 11am!).
Changing of the guards in front of the parliament building. (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
In the afternoon, we had to pack again and take off for Heraklion, Crete. We took a plane and in less than one hour we landed on the Greek island. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our rental car and drove to our rental apartment in Panormos. To get there, you will take the local highway, which is basically one main road crossing all Crete. Arriving at Panormos, the contrast with Athens was striking. Panormos is small village – touristy but still authentic, and even if tourists filled the streets, it was not as crowded as Athens. There is not much to see but it is a good spot to see the surroundings of the city.
The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
The next day, we headed to Rethymnon and visited the ruins of the Venetian Fortezza. This was the fortress or citadel of the city and was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Well restored few decades ago, the site is worth a visit for its beautiful vistas of the sea and some ancient buildings such as the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (the site was indeed also occupied by the Ottomans).The site is huge and you can easily spend hours strolling through it. My sister and I loved playing in these well-preserved ruins.
The author’s family at the top of Venetian Fortezza (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
Lost in a maze of ruins (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
We went back to Rethymnon city and had an amazing lunch with a view of the marina and some traditional live music. Both in Athens and Crete, it is very easy to find a good restaurant mainly because there are so many! In Crete, you usually pay 10 euros for lunch or dinner, so we tried a lot of local restaurants. Most of the time, you will even receive some fresh fruit for dessert, perfect with the hot weather. As a sign of Cretan hospitality, you will always receive a typical and strong digestive alcoholic shot after eating dinner. However my mom always politely refused it as she was driving.
Live music by the Marina (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
The next two days were for “chilling” at two of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. If I did not know I was in Crete, I’d have thought I was in the Caribbean, as the water was of an unreal perfect turquoise.
The first beach stop was Elafonissi. There are no words to describe how heavenly this place is. However, it was very, very, very crowded. It would be awesome to enjoy it in September or October when there are fewer tourists.
The second beach was Balos. It takes hours to go by car and once you arrive, you are in the mountains, so you still need to walk about 40 minutes down to the beach. You can also go on a day trip by ferry and if I were to return, that is exactly what I would do. Nevertheless, the view from the mountain is beautiful.
Look at that gorgeous blue water! The beach at Balos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)
Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything was perfect: the weather, the natural and cultural activities, the delicious food, the local people… It was a trip to paradise and I would love to go back.
What was your most memorable experience?
I love to travel back in time and learn more about the ancient Greek lifestyle. I was studying ancient Greek language at school for 5 years and experiencing all these places and imagining the history there was very strong. But also, the Caribbean-style beaches of Crete were breathtaking.
What do you wish you had known before you left?
I knew that water was not drinkable and that we always had to drink bottled water. Once in Crete, we were at the restaurant and received an open bottle of water. We thought that the waiter just opened it before serving it to us, but it was in reality tap water. The day after, I was quite sick. But thankfully it did not last long. But now, I would never accept a bottle of water I did not open myself at the restaurant. Even better, drink wine!
Details and budget:
For the budget, the most expensive purchases are the plane tickets (300 euros from Belgium), the rental car with gasoline (250 euros) and hotels (350 – 500 euros), But activities (6 – 15 euros) and restaurants (10 – 15 euros) are quite cheap.
About the author:
Bernard Sury of GuruWalk
An avid traveler, Bernard is always organizing his next trip, with friends, family or alone. Addicted to sunny weather, he has mostly traveled in the warm destination such as Southern Europe, South America or South-East Asia. Fluent in Spanish, English and French he has lived in 4 different places in the 4 last years. Back from South America, he learned more about his own city, Brussels, and even became a Greeter and a Free Tour Guide for some months. His passion for traveling brought him to be expat in Spain working for the international community platform for Free Tours Guruwalk.
I love those sleek rays with their impossibly cheery grins. I dream of gliding across the sea floor with such grace.
And staying in one of those dreamy overwater bungalows on a Pacific island is one of my #travelgoals.
Now there’s an eco-friendly resort, Baros Maldives, that really could not have chosen a more attractive combination of features for the manta ray and bungalow lover. The five-star resort has taken a proactive approach in luring guests beyond the beach with its Manta Ray and Coral Reef Rehabilitation programs. Working alongside the resort’s Marine and Diving Center, Baros Maldives encourages its guests to not only embrace and enjoy the lush tropical paradise but to also give back to the underwater creatures that make it such a natural beauty.
Manta Ray Surveying & Adoption System:Baros Maldives has a Manta Ray program that invites guests to photograph the underwater gentle giants at the resort and then follow along on their migration even when they return home. A diver who photographs a Manta Ray not seen before is offered the opportunity to give it a name and “adopt” it, which means the diver will receive regular reports on the Manta’s whereabouts and habits. Guests who re-visit the resort have a good chance to have a reunion with a Manta Ray they have seen on their dives in previous years. The best times to visit are from May to November and from January to April, when sightings are frequent.
Coral Reef Rehabilitation Program: Guests are also able to aid in a coral conservation initiative by sponsoring a coral frame through Baros Maldives’ Reef Rehabilitation Program. In addition to sponsoring a frame, guests learn about the coral propagation process and are escorted in a swim to the house reef, where they collect broken coral fragments and reattach them to specially designed structures. These provide a stable substrate elevated from the sandy seafloor. The coral frames not only give artificial reef-structure corals a chance to grow, but also creates new homes for various marine animals. Additionally, the Baros Maldives marine biologists keep participants up-to-date by e-mail every six months about the growth of the corals as they develop on the table.
If you are interested in learning more about Baros Resort, comment below or send me an email.
A few weeks before we were scheduled to go to the Outer Banks for vacation, my sister sent me a news story about a mile-long island made of shells that appeared this year at the tip of Cape Hatteras, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We grew up shelling on Florida beaches and we have a special sisterly bond over searching for our favorite shells, whether perfect scallops or shapely corals or holey whelks. We could spend hours searching the sands. So of course we were going.
I was searching on Instagram for posts about the island, and came across some stunning drone footage on the Twitter account @loflandcody. The two brothers of Cygy Media normally film cars in Richmond, Virginia, but while in the Outer Banks they put their drone to work. They were kind enough to let me borrow their footage for use here.
How to get to Shelly Island
Shelly Island is at the southern tip of Hatteras Island, near the lighthouse. To get there drive from Buxton down the road toward the lighthouse, and follow it until the end. Look for Ramp 44, which leads to the point. If you plan to drive out to the point, you will need a beach driving permit (available ) and four wheel drive vehicle. If you don’t have a 4×4, you can park by Ramp 44 and walk to the point, but it’s not a very pleasant walk, what with all the trucks driving along the same mile-long beach.
To get to Shelly Island, from the point, you’ll need to cross a shallow channel. Time your crossing for low tide to avoid the strong currents that come with high tide. If you’re going with children, be sure they wear life vests. The channel and currents change with the weather, tides, and currents.
Please note: Islands like this can change quickly due to weather and currents. This information may be totally irrelevant by the time you read it.
Some of the links in this post have been sponsored by Skyscanner.
Want to know what the best Florida beach for you is? What beaches do you think of when you think of Florida? Miami is the first one for just about everyone, but what you think of next might betray your age.
If you think Fort Lauderdale, you were probably a college kid in the 70s or early 80s, when spring breakers headed there by the thousands, but before the city passed laws trying to cut down on the mayhem spring breakers brought to the city.
If you think Daytona, you might be a child of the 80s or 90s. The restrictions in Fort Lauderdale pushed the crowds north to Daytona, where the invading hordes grew even bigger. Spring break was so big in Daytona that MTV moved their entire broadcast operation there for several years in a row.
If you think Panama City Beach, you are younger still. The current “home” for spring breakers in Florida welcomes even more people than either Daytona or Fort Lauderdale ever did. While those cities have embraced a more family friendly vibe, Panama City now welcomes more than 500,000 college students every year for spring break festivities.
But we are beyond that kind of spring break, aren’t we, readers? And frankly, I don’t care how old you are. I’m going to tell you about some Florida beaches that offer more than just cheap hotel rooms and lax ID-checkers so we can all go have some grown-up fun in Florida!
There’s a beach for just about every type of person in Florida. Even if you’re an “anywhere but a beach” type person, I think I might even have one for you.
If you love searching for treasures on the beach…
Photo Credit: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel/www.FortMyersSanibel.com
The beaches of Fort Meyers and Sanibel offer some of the best shelling you can find anywhere in the world. Bring your water shoes, because those shells are hard on the feet, but bring a bag for collecting some of the loveliest specimens you can find in the US.
The island of Sanibel offers laid back luxury, but you can also find less expensive places to rent if you plan far in advance. You can often find Fort Myers hotel deals if Sanibel is booked.
If you love having a beach to yourself…
Photo Credit: Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Office
Florida’s panhandle is home to white powder beaches and gentle green/blue surf, but Navarre Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore may be the most extreme examples. And because the beaches are protected as a National Seashore, the only thing missing is something you won’t miss: hordes of people.
The barrier island offers miles of unspoiled beaches, a quiet but busy fishing pier, and a marine park and sea turtle conservation center. If you like a natural setting, this is the Florida beach for you.
If you are all about the surfing…
Photo Credit: New Smyrna Beach Area CVB
The Atlantic Coast beaches are where you’ll find the surf… most of the time. For the most consistent surf, head to New Smyrna Beach, where rock ledges off the coast create reliable surf breaks at the Ponce Inlet.
Where there’s surf, there are surfers, and New Smyrna Beach is full of them, giving the town a classic surf city vibe. If you’re new to the sport, head to one of the local surf shops – which are frequented more by actual surfers than by tourists looking for t-shirts – for lessons and board rentals.
If you prefer to watch, you might enjoy Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill which is all about surfing. They show surfing videos from around the world on their video screens, and display surfboards on the ceiling.They pay homage to surf locales around the world with their global menu, too.
If you like to mix a little culture with your beach time…
Photo Credit: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Imagine strolling along the beach in the morning, and taking in world-class collections of art in the afternoon, and going to the symphony in the evening. Yes, you can do that in Miami, but over on the Gulf Coast, there’s a beach with gentler waves calling your name. Just across the bay from Tampa, St. Pete Beach is home to some of the nicest beaches in the country. But for culture vultures, the city of St. Petersburg a short drive inland offers the Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Mahaffey Theater, home of the Florida Orchestra. And for foodies, the 20,000 square foot Locale Market offers regional produce.
The legendary Don CeSar beachfront hotel is a classic of old Florida style that has recently been renovated.
If you just really love Miami…
I mean, Miami is still pretty nice. There are some great places to stay in Miami, too. But if you want to find the best Florida beach for you, dig a little deeper to find the perfect match.
Thanks to our guest author Karen Schwarz of Essaymom.net for sending us this story about her family’s trip to Lewes, Delaware.
Rain at the Beach: Lewes, Delaware
There’s no getting around it: rain at the beach puts parents on the spot. They have to manufacture fun and pass the soggy hours as if precipitation were the ideal weather for a seashore visit.
A recent rainy weekend in the seaside town of Lewes, Delaware, put us to the test. Lewes is a tiny town (pop 3,000), and is the northernmost beach community on the Delaware shore. Its neighbor, Rehoboth, has the traditional beach boardwalk with wash-off tattoo shops, french fry stands, and block after block of bikini dealers. Lewes, on the other hand, cleaves to its history, dating back to 1631.
There are lovely beaches to explore in Lewes, but if you’re there on a rainy day, they will hold little to no attraction for you or your kids. But if you know how to spin a yarn you can lead your kids across the centuries, and have a great time.
Pirates! Death! Destruction!
Head out Savannah road which dead ends at the beach. (And, oh yeah, there’s a Dairy Queen there). Picture 32 Dutch settlers coming ashore here in 1631 to hunt whales, only to be massacred by a local tribe a year later.
Next, tell your kids to imagine bloodthirsty pirates like Captain Kidd and Blueskin sailing past Lewes, terrifying the townspeople who had heard stories of their violent ways.
Turn back towards the pretty town and imagine it engulfed in flames. British soldiers burned it to the ground in 1664, just a year after the Dutch had come back and built a settlement.
Flowers! Safety! Security!
Now take a quick walk to Zwaanendael Park, where kids can roam free among gorgeous flowerbeds and visit the 18th Century cabin known as the Fisher-Martin House. On your way there, ask them to picture a single candle burning in the top floor windows of these old houses. That was the sign for runaway slaves that they would be safe and cared for there.
Get in the car for the six-minute drive to Herring Point in Henlopen State Park. Kids can explore Battery Herring, built in World War II to protect the coast from German subs that never arrived.
Battery Herring, Cape Henlopen State Park
Quirky and Fun!
More cool stuff in Lewes: There’s a pirate’s treasure chest in the Maritime Museum, a creepy merman in the Zwaanendael Museum, and half a dozen enormous cannons (suitable for climbing) in Memorial Park that were used to defend the town from the British ships that pummeled the town with 800 projectiles for 22 hours during the War of 1812.
Ice Cream! Coffee! Puzzles!
Need a break? There’s King’s homemade ice cream, Nectar’s for lattes and smoothies and a really great puzzle shop on Front Street for some hard-earned quiet time out of the rain.
After leaving the Buena Finca in Saripiqui, R and I decided to cross from Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola-Guabito border crossing. We felt that this border crossing had some advantages. First, given its remote location in Costa Rica, far from the Pan-American highway, we hoped it would be quicker than crossing at one of the other two available crossings. Second, it would put us in a corner of Panama that is only accessible by one road, which we likely would not have traveled at all if we entered Panama on the Pan-American which provides a more direct route to Panama City and the Canal Zone. Finally, it would require us to travel to the Caribbean coast, which we’ve not been able to do so far in eight months of driving Mexico and Central America.
The trip through the lowlands of Costa Rica took us through banana plantations grown under the Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte flags. Thousands of banana bunches had bags hung around them to keep off the birds and presumably to hasten the process so they can be cut and exported. Bananas are like a delicious but worthless currency and we haven’t purchased one in months because the places we’ve been have had a bunch hanging from the rafters and you can walk by and help yourself.
This wild toucan helped itself to the plantains that hung at the Buena Finca
Rows and rows of banana plants for as far as the eye can see. At one point, this area of Costa Rica was all owned by the U.S. corporation United Fruit Company.
Follow that truck!
One of the things we’ve enjoyed is the ability to scavenge from the fruit-bearing trees that grow everywhere – tamarindo, orange, guaba, lime, water apple, star fruit, coconuts, and mangoes – and often have a pile of rotting fruit underneath.
Mangoes are delicious and free mangoes are even better! Here, R gathers the sweet fruit from where it has fallen, unloved, along the side of the road.
I got this Star Fruit before it hit the ground. These fruit get their name because when cut, the pieces resemble stars.
We set foot on the palm fringed, black sand shores of Cahuita, Costa Rica, 514 years after Columbus, but the indigenous tribes he encountered remain. Now, however, they are sprinkled liberally with descendants of the Africans and Caribbean Islanders who were brought to the mainland to work the banana plantations. Given this blend of cultures, the coast has a different look and vibe to it than the rest of Costa Rica and plays to a Bob Marley soundtrack.
Water droplets on the camera lens smudged this shot, but I think you get the idea.
It was here that the pre-trip contact lens fitting I had finally paid off. We snorkeled Cahuita National Park and one of the last living reefs in Costa Rica and I was actually able to see the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors.
J and I prepare to plunge into the icy waters of the Caribbean in search of fish.
J was very excited to be snorkeling. Here, he points to a major discovery.
R confirms it is nothing more dangerous than a reef shark
We survived our three-hour snorkeling tour unscathed. Coconut, noticeably absent from this photo, was the only casualty.
After coming in under our daily budget for two weeks running while at the Buena Finca we had a little extra cash in our pockets so at our next stop down the coast we decided to travel like we are on vacation and Puerto Viejo is the perfect place for a gringo tourist to blow a wad of cash. We splurged for a room at a small hotel with a beautiful garden, went to a sushi buffet, and paid to have our laundry done. We also went to a jaguar rescue center where there are no jaguars, but lots of other jungle animals waiting to heal and be released to the wild. The monkeys were having a blast and I’ve got it narrowed down to coming back as either a spider monkey or Mick Jagger in my next life.
Baby sloths, even ones that have been electrocuted by hanging on wires, are cute!
But monkeys are cuter! This fellow was a baby and had a crib all to himself. He looks a bit frightened, but put monkeys together and they wrestle, swing, and seem to have no worries at all.
Costa Rica doesn’t have seasons (actually, it does, the dry season and the rainy season, but both are hot and humid) but it does have times of day when it is possible to be outside and not have sweat droplets form behind your ears. As I sat on the beach in Puerto Viejo center watching the day wind down while a cool ocean breeze blew the mosquitoes and worries away, I regretted our small, stuffy room and wished we were camped in Wesley at water’s edge. We haven’t done much wild camping (or any), mostly because we don’t have a toilet, but this would have been the place to squeeze our cheeks together and tempt fate.
Locals try their hand at catching dinner at the end of a hot day in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Sunken barge or fishing pier?
With our plan to cross to Panama the next day in mind, I reflected on the time we spent in Costa Rica. We didn’t expect to like it much, (mostly because of the cost, and it’s true we didn’t like spending $40 every time we went to the grocery for milk, eggs, and canned tuna) but we did end up having a great experience.
Yes, the natural beauty, whitewater, beaches, and other ways to spend your cash that it offers helped us make some memories, but whenever we talk about Costa Rica now it will always be defined by the time we spent with Tom and Esteban, Tom’s family, and the other good folks we met at the Buena Casa. Whether we ever see them again or not, we’ll still have that time together to remember.
But, now, Panama beckons. There are other adventures to have.
We won’t be the first American adventurers in Panama, or the last. But we will be adventurers in Panama!