Here and There

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Greece

Greece has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a young girl captivated by Greek mythology. Our trip to Greece was amazing and the beautiful country will always hold a special place in my heart because it is where my fiancé asked me to marry him.

We flew to Athens immediately following our time in Slovenia. In hindsight, because the countries are so close together, we wish we would have rented a car and driven down the coast of Slovenia, Croatia, and Greece. Maybe next time!

Athens

When asking other people what they thought of Greece, many people said that they weren’t very fond of Athens. However, when my fiancé and I arrived late in the evening, we were happily surprised to be greeted with a lively city square. We quickly checked into our hostel and went back into the city to grab a bite to eat.

We stayed at Students and Travellers Inn while in Athens. This hostel was not the best hostel we had stayed in, but it had a great location in the city. It was okay to stay in for the two nights we were there.

While in Athens, we had a lot of fun just walking around the city. There is so much to see and a lot of fun little shops. We also visited the Acropolis. However, on the day that we went it just happened to be “free museum day” or something in Athens, so there were A LOT of people. It was kind of stressful, but I would assume it isn’t normally like that.

BE CAREFUL!

I have been fairly lucky and have not had any major travel hiccups on any of my trips. However, in Athens I almost had my wallet stolen. My fiancé and I were approached by two women selling roses. We politely declined, but the women were getting very forceful and getting very close to us. This is when my fiancé noticed one of the women reaching into my purse. Luckily he called her out and she quickly ran away. Lesson learned to not use an open satchel-like purse while traveling. It is much too easy for someone to reach in, especially when you are not paying attention taking in a new city.

Santorini

We flew via Volotea from Athens to Santorini. We considered taking the ferry, as it was slightly cheaper, but finally decided to save time by flying. Upon landing, we were picked up by our hostel, Villa Manos. This hostel was really more like a hotel and probably the nicest “hostel” I have ever stayed in. The prices were very reasonable, probably because it was so new and it was kind of in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at 9 am, so we couldn’t check into our hostel quite yet. So, we ended up doing a day tour organized by our hostel. I think the bus tour was around $50 per person and it brought us to many worthwhile sites. The first stop was Akrotiri, an archeological excavation of an ancient Greek city destroyed by a volcanic eruption. We stopped at a few viewpoints and then went lunch at the black sand beach. After lunch we went to a winery where we did a tasting. Our last stop was the city of Oia. This is the more high end part of the island, probably because it has the best view. Everyone flocks here are the end the day to catch the sunset, which was truly breathtaking. However, I must say that I am glad that we weren’t staying in Oia as the vast number of people and small alleys were quite stressful.


As you may have been able to tell, we normally stay in hostels while traveling. This is because they are usually much cheaper and we normally are so busy we pretty much only sleep there. However, because it was Greece, we decided to splurge a little while in Santorini. Using our credit card rewards, we booked three nights at the Avant Garde hotel (pictured above). This was a very small, luxury hotel with incredible views. It is located on a quieter part of the island which we really enjoyed.

Last Thoughts on Greece

Greece definitely lived up to my expectations. However, I do wish we would have been able to explore some of the other islands.

RATINGS

OVERALL: 8

FOOD: 6

FRIENDLINESS: 7

LODGINGS: 8

SCENERY: 8

ACTIVITIES: 4

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Slovenia

I’m going to be totally honest and admit that I didn’t really know anything about Slovenia prior to my travels there. I’m not even entirely sure why my fiancé and I had decided to go, but we did and it far exceeded my expectations. 

LAKE BLED

We flew into Ljubljana, the country’s capital city, late at night and took about a 40 minute cab to our hostel near the city of Bled, as there is no Uber in Slovenia. When booking our trip, I was surprised at how few hostels there were in this town as it is a popular tourist destination. However, we found a quaint hostel called Garden House Bled. The workers here were very kind and helpful and allowed us to check in late using a code. 

The main reason we went to Lake Bled was because we were going to climb Mt. Triglav. Unfortunately, when we arrived to Slovenia it was uncharacteristically cold and Triglav had poor weather conditions, so our guide ended up cancelling on us. This left us with a few extra days in Bled that we had to fill. 

The first day we rented bikes and biked a few miles to Vintgar Gorge. This is a park and does have a small entrance fee. Upon entrance you walk around the beautiful turquoise gorge on a  wooden walkway. 

We also hiked up to Bled Castle one evening. The Castle is perched up on a cliff overlooking Lake Bled. Besides the amazing view from the top, there is also a museum, restaurant, and honey shop to check out.  

The final activity we did while in Bled was a day tour of some of the most popular natural attractions in northern Slovenia. This tour was called the 7 Alpine Wonders and we booked it through Altitude Activities. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about Slovenian history and culture. Due to the surprisingly cold weather, most of our stops didn’t have a lot of tourists and there was a dusting of snow which made the experience much more private and magical. I would imagine that in the summertime it gets much busier. Our stops included two waterfalls, the Soca River, two lakes and a short trip to Italy. I truly did not expect these beautiful water features surrounded by majestic mountains. 

Ljubliana

Following our time in Bled, we took the bus back to Ljubljana. This was obviously much cheaper than taking a car back. In Ljubljana, we stayed at AdHoc Hostel. This hostel had a great location, but was unfortunately under some pretty major construction during our stay. They gave us a discounted rate, but it would have been nice to have been informed of this prior to our booking. Ljubliana is a beautiful city with a canal running through the middle. We only had one day in Ljubljana, and we pretty much just walked around without a plan and had a great time. We visited the Ljubljana Castle, shopped, and ate a lot of food. We indulged in pizza, ice cream, and some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. 

Last Thoughts on Slovenia

If Slovenia isn’t on your bucket list, it should be, especially if you love to hike. This small country has a lot of pride and beautiful scenery to take in. 

RATINGS

OVERALL: 7

FOOD: 4

FRIENDLINESS: 7

LODGINGS: 7

SCENERY: 9

ACTIVITIES: 4

Colombia

Colombia was intimidating and challenging but oh so worth it all.

This was one of the only trips that I did not plan. I ended up going last minute with my boyfriend (now fiancé) and four other guys. Looking back, I can’t believe I thought it was okay to crash this boys trip, but I think they were all very glad I was with because I was the only one who spoke any Spanish. Colombia, or at least the are we were in, was not easy to navigate if you didn’t speak any Spanish. Although this would be potentially disastrous to some, I loved this! This is still one of my favorite countries because it challenged me so to use my Spanish skills and it was fun being somewhere that wasn’t so touristy.

We flew into Cartagena during the height of the Zika epidemic. So, our flights were insanely cheap at 0. We had grand plans of flying to Medellin or Bogota for a few days, but we really enjoyed the coast and ended up staying there for our nine day trip. Once we landed in Cartagena, we took the city bus to Santa Marta. From there, we found a guy to drive us the extra ways to Taganga, a small coastal village.

Taganga

Taganga was such a dream. This is probably one of my favorite little villages and will always hold a special place in my heart. We stayed at the most charming little hostel called Casa Morninga. I honestly can not find this hostel on Hostel World, but I really hope it is still in business. The rooftop terrace was truly one of a kind.

Besides our amazing hostel, there was just such a sense of peace in this town. We ate at a little restaurant on the beach for nearly every meal. Our whole group decided to go scuba diving, one of my favorite hobbies. I wish we had been able to spend more time here, but there was more to see.

Tayrona National Park

We made a stop at Tayrona national park one day on our way to Palomino. This is kind of like an eco-park. We were able to rent some horses to ride into the park and hung out at a little inlet all day. There were concessions and lots of families here. The views were stunning.

Palomino

Our next stop was the small surf town of Palomino. Unfortunately, the ocean was a little too ruff for us to actually surf, but we still had a great time. We met some random guys that drove us up into the rainforest and dropped us off near the river with some tubes. It was totally sketchy, but made for a great memory. We stayed at the Tiki Hut Hostel which was the most expensive place we stayed in in Colombia, but it was worth it.

Minca

We fully intended on staying the night in Minca, but we found that there wasn’t too much to do here. But please don’t skip it! There were beautiful views and it seemed to be a wonderful place to stay and really relax away from more touristy destinations. We watched the sunset here and then found someone to give us a ride back to Cartagena where we would finish our trip.

Cartagena

Certainly one of my favorite cities, Cartagena is an unexpectedly bright and vibrant colonial style city. There is a big wall that separates it from the ocean, carriages roaming the street, and a new burst of color around every corner. We stayed at Viajero Cartagena Hostel. This was an excellent hostel with great night life and dancing lessons!

While in Cartagena, we took a couple of day trips. One to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. This is where you can bathe in a big mud bath. It was definitely a unique experience as you are guided into the mud baths by some local workers and they massage you as you float in the mud. Afterwards you are treated to a very thorough wash down.

Our other day trip was to Playa Blanca. The oceanfront right outside Cartagena isn’t the most ideal, so we sought out nicer beachfront. Playa Blanca has cabanas, restaurants, jet ski rentals, and much more. Definitely worth the trip!

The coast of Colombia was beautiful and full of adventure. I do hope to make it back one day and visit more of the country.

Peru

If I could pick one word to describe Peru, it would be diverse. Throughout our nine day journey we biked down mountains, trekked through the rainforest, visited a desert oasis, and tried our hand at surfing.

Cusco

The charming city of Cusco was our first stop in Peru. We arrived on what was Thanksgiving (here in the U.S.). After getting settled in our hostel, we quickly found a cute little restaurant and had a little Thanksgiving meal which featured Alpaca instead of Turkey. We only had one full day in Cusco before departing on our trek to Machu Picchu. I truly wished that we had allotted more time in Cusco as it is probably one of my favorite cities I’ve been to.

Machu Picchu Treck

Before setting off on our trip, we had booked a four day three night trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu. There are certainly longer treks that give you a more rugged hiking experience, but we were very pleased with the one we chose given our time constraints and activities it offered. You can also book these treks when you get there, often for cheaper pricing. Also, beware of the time of year you go. Going from May to October pretty much guarantees you access to the hiking trails, but outside of those months are fairly rainy and parts of the trail may close.

We booked the Jungle Inca Trail trek through Karikuy Tours. We paid around 0 per person for this. It included all meals, all lodging, transportation, and activities. Below I’ve broken down a more detailed itinerary then is found on their website.

Day 1

On the first day we were picked up in a van and started off into the mountains. This ride was a little sketchy as we were going very fast, zigzagging through the mountains. Once we got to the top, we were each given a mountain bike, helmet, and padding. Then they told us to start off down the mountain. I was a little scared, but oh my goodness this was probably one of the coolest things of my life. Zooming down the mountain, not able to talk to anyone or take any pictures was such a special experience. The view of the mountains and valley was breathtaking. After we reached the bottom, we packed up back in our van and headed for Santa Maria. Here we went white water rafting before heading to our hostel for dinner and bed. Our lodgings were less then ideal, but we didn’t care because we had such a beautiful day.

Day 2

This was the first day of hiking along part of the Inca trail. They gave us the option of keeping our bags in the van that would meet us at the end of our hike, but we chose to keep ours to get the full “backpacking” experience. But boy was I regretting that decision after the first half hour. We hiked up into the mountains for I don’t even know how long. We stopped at a little hut that had some animals we got to play with, but continued on. After a full day of hiking we finally arrived at the hot springs that our van was waiting for us at. We had to pay a bit extra if we wanted to go into the springs, but after a long day of vigorous activity we all treated ourselves. Afterwards, we drove to Santa Theresa, a small town where we ate dinner. Our group was really fun and we all decided to go out that night to the local discoteca.

Day 3

Our third day started off with our zip lining excursion, which was really fun. The lines ran from one side of the river to the over. After zip lining we began the final leg of our trek. We mostly walked along railroad tracks on our own into the town of Aguas Calientes where we would be staying the night before waking up very early to head up to Machu Picchu.

Day 4

Machu Picchu day!!! We got up very early, like 4 am I think to get started. Zack woke up early to start hiking with one of the other guys from our group. I unfortunately had severely swollen ankles from hiking with my backpack, so I opted to take the bus. When we finally got up to the ruins, it was unreal. It looked just like I had imagined it. We had a guided tour included with our tour and then time to explore afterwards. We were really glad that our tour guide told us to get there early because the place filled up very quickly and we were able to get some good photos without too many people crowding the ruins. We actually didn’t stay too long, and hiked back down the mountain.

We chose not to spend another night in Aguas Calientes, and instead we took the train back to Cusco. The next morning we flew back to Lima to explore the coast.

Lima

The capital of Peru has different districts that have their own personality. We chose two to visit: Barranco and Miraflores. We stayed at the Barranco’s Backpackers Inn and The Healing Dog Hostel. While in Lima we tried surfing for the first time! And we also did a day trip with Peru Hop. This was a very long day, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our bus picked us up and first brought us to the Ballestas Islands, which is also known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”. This was a speed boat tour where we saw lots of sea birds and sea lions. After this, we drove to Huacachina, a desert oasis. Here we had lunch and then got to ride on the dune buggy and went sandboarding. I did not expect to be doing this in Peru, but it was so much fun!

Although each country we have visited has taught me so much and provided unforgettable experiences, Peru, as of now, has to be my favorite. It was such an unexpected surprise how diverse the landscapes we visited were and we really got out of our comfort zone with a lot of the activities we did. If you are looking for adventure and amazing sights, please make your next destination Peru!

Morocco

Morocco was definitely a culture shock. This was our last stop on our May 2019 trip after Greece. We flew into Marrakech and quickly found our driver who we had found through our hostel. We planned to visit the coastal town of Essaouira for a few days before returning to Marrakech and flying home to the states.

Essaouira

Our hostel, Hotel Riad Al Zahia, was at the center of the “old town” in the Medina. One of the workers was kind enough to come pick us up from where our driver dropped us off and led us through the maze that is the Medina to our hostel. We were caught a little bit off guard because the streets were pretty empty when we first arrived and even when we went out after checking into our hotel, it was difficult to find food and there was still nobody out and about. I’m not going to lie, we were a little spooked not to see many people in this town and we were contemplating leaving. However, the next morning we learned that we were visiting Morocco during Ramadan. I felt so dumb and selfish for not doing my research ahead of time. For those of you who aren’t aware, Ramadan is a month in which Muslims do not eat or drink (among other things) from dawn until sunset. This explained why there were few restaurants open, as the sun was still up. Several Moroccans that we spoke with told us that we should try to participate in Ramadan even if we weren’t Muslim as it is a very eye opening experience.

After learning more about Ramadan and the traditions of the Muslims in Essaouira, we opened our eyes to just how beautiful and different this ocean city is. It appears that most people take day trips to the city, but we really enjoyed staying here for multiple days. I think my favorite activity was riding horses on the beach. You will find horses and camels to ride if you just walk down to the beach, but we booked through our hostel to ensure safety and to make sure we were supporting people who took good care of their animals. The ranch that we booked through was called Ranch de Diabat. We did a two hour ride which included galloping on the beach and walking through some of the native scrubland.

One thing to note about Essaouira is that it is EXTREMELY windy. But, if you are into extreme sports this is a great feature. Kite surfing is very popular along the beach. My fiancé took lessons through Explora. One thing to note about kite surfing is that it takes time to be able to get out on the water on your own. I think my fiancé spent 3 hours learning how to direct his kite on land and then 3 hours practicing in the water. It was very physically demanding, but lots of fun!

Marrakech

After a few days on the coast, we arranged another ride back to Marrakech. Once we arrived, boy did we miss windy Essaouira. Marrakech is HOT. Very hot. I gained some real respect for the women who wear traditional Islamic clothing in 100°F, especially during Ramadan with no food or water.

While in Marrakech we stayed at Dar Rocmarra. This was a beautiful riad, but it was very difficult to find.

While in Marrakech we did a lot of walking. We explored the market and bought a lot of souvenirs for our family and friends. Although it is a beautiful city, I definitely wouldn’t spend more than a few days here.

One of my favorite things about Morocco was all of the cats. They are EVERYWHERE! These little guys lived in the alley on the way to our riad in Marrakech. The people of Morocco seem to enjoy them too, as many leave out scraps and milk for them.

Last Thoughts on Morocco

Morocco is probably the country where I have felt the most out of my element, but I loved it. Definitely do your research on the customs, especially if you will be visiting during Ramadan.

RATINGS

OVERALL: 7

FOOD: 5

FRIENDLINESS: 7

LODGINGS: 7

SCENERY: 7

ACTIVITIES: 4