Day 3: Our Last Day – Eating and Relaxing in Amsterdam

img_0749.jpg

After our very full and delightful day in Brussels, our late train, and perhaps even the jet lag finally hitting us, we slept-in quite soundly on the morning of our last day.

Surprised and blessed with another day of good weather (cool, but less rainy than forecasted), we wanted to enjoy being out in the city as much as possible- soaking in the beautiful buildings, toying with the idea of renting bikes, catching a few of the sights we had left on our list… and eating.

 

Our first stop for the day was the Van Gogh museum.  Having purchased our tickets in advance (I would definitely recommend doing this! We saved a tremendous amount of time, and it made our visit much more enjoyable!), we were able to arrive at the museum during our designated timeframe, and essentially walk right in.  As Rabbit stood in line to check our coats, I was able to quickly obtain our audio tour devices.  The audio tour was a definite highlight of the museum.  The paintings were beautiful and at times very moving, but the ability to hear the story of both Van Gogh, and his artwork while moving through the open, chronologically arranged galleries was really wonderful and enriching.  The opportunity to watch his style evolve and take in the beautiful details of his works- from The Potato Eaters to Almond Blossoms to Sunflowers to Roots, and everything in between.. was truly remarkable.  The audioguides also allowed you to dial in to specific exhibits to learn more- meaning that when we were not particularly interested in a particular room, or wished to avoid a crowd, we skipped over those exhibit numbers, and took the tour at our own pace.  The morning at the museum was one of my highlights of the trip- enabling me to get my fix of local history, and enjoy some beautiful art.  (Pssst… friendly spoiler alert: A bit to Rabbit’s disappointment, Starry Night is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC – though that just means we have more to enjoy closer to home!)

After our museum stroll, we had surprisingly worked up an appetite.  During our previous sightseeing day, we had noticed that Amsterdammers seem to have a love of burgers… as fate would have it, so do we.  So, we set out to find the best burger in the city…  after a bit of a struggle with Google maps, and some on-the-fly research through google, trip advisor, and some other random travel blogs… we set our course for “Burger Bar”.  The location we found looked very intriguing… and smelled delicious.  A glass storefront opened to a simple space filled with a large natural wood community table, flanked by interesting side high-top seating, all leading up to an immense billboard-like menu at the back, with an open kitchen/grill as the focal point.  The possibilities were seemingly endless- able to choose your bun style, protein type (varieties of premium beef, wagyu, Angus, vegetarian, or chicken), cheese, and mouthwatering toppings… I knew that we were in the right place.

This burger (above, right) was one of the best things I have ever eaten.  Delicious. I’d go back in a heartbeat, just for the architecture, and this burger. It. was. that. good.

Next, we strolled the city a bit more… deciding that although we were unable to secure tickets for a tour, we wanted to visit the Anne Frank House museum.  Even if it was only for the opportunity to get a glimpse of the exterior, soak in the feeling of her neighborhood and the incredible history of the area and it’s people, the trip to the area around her home and the Prinsengracht was something I am so glad that we did. For me, the experience of being at her former home, and acknowledging the weight and importance of the history of the neighborhood was very sobering.  The neighborhood felt unlike the other parts of the city that we had explored, and had many new beautiful buildings and row homes to enjoy.

Our final stop for the day was to Pancakes Amsterdam, located just near the Anne Frank museum.  We had learned about the small chain during a travel video we watched at home during planning, and I had been very anxious to taste what made their pancakes special.  Pancakes being a go-to favorite weekend breakfast at home, I wanted to see how these differed from what I am accustomed to mixing up.  They certainly did not disappoint! The menu offered 30 different pancakes- from poffertjes (I had the raspberry!), American pancakes (we skipped these), and crepe-like Dutch pancakes (Rabbit had the apple and cheese).  Yum!! It was the perfect light-dinner that we had been hoping for, comforting, familiar, and new at the same time- it was a great way to end our day out, and send us back to the hotel to pack.

Amsterdam was a beautiful, tasty, and remarkable city! Though considered a major metropolis, the pace was slower than what we are accustomed to at home, and we were able to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds, and experiences that the city had to offer.  Extensive, yet easy to utilize mass transportation throughout the city made it easy for us to navigate the area, and the friendly locals made us feel right at home. I can definitely see why so many people love coming to the “Venice of the North” – and I would be very open to coming back… and maybe even braving the bike lane!

 

Day 2: Side Trip to Brussels

IMG_0665
Amsterdam Centraal Station

On our second full day away, we made an amazing day trip to Brussels. In keeping with our goal to visit as many destinations as possible, it was important for us to make a side trip.  Just a two-hour train ride away, Brussels was a perfect spot!

Having scoped out the train station, and picked up our tickets the day before, we were able to relax a bit in the morning, and grab some breakfast before our early morning train.  We took the extra time to explore the train station a bit while waiting for our train- Amsterdam Centraal Station is beautiful.  High ceilings of glass and open air made it far more enjoyable than the train stations I am used to in the Northeast, and it was a gorgeous place in its own right.

The train was immaculate, comfortable, and very relaxing. (So much so that I was lulled to sleep, and admittedly missed most of the ride).

Two hours later, we arrived in a station that felt quite different.  Still open and simple, it felt more city-like and more utilitarian.  After finding our way to the bathroom for a quick pit stop (remember to have change or small bills to pay for the toilet!!) We were on our way to explore the city.

Unsure about how easy it would be to find our way, and how long it would take to see and taste all that was on our list, we scheduled ourselves for a pretty late train back to Amsterdam, leaving us a whole 9 hours in Brussels.  Admittedly, we did not see an extensive portion of the city, but thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

On our list of sights were the Grand Place and the Manneken de Pis – both within walking distance of each other and the train station, allowing us to set off in one general direction to see what we could see.  I had not done any advance planning for the day, and left the agenda to Rabbit, who had wanted to visit Brussels during a prior trip but was unable to get a train ticket! (Tip: reserve Thalys or other train tickets in advance, as soon as you can because they do sell out!)  The goal was not to pack the day, but more to experience it, take in what we could, and enjoy.  Given that we were visiting in March, we were unable to see the beautiful flowers and related warm-weather sights, but knew that we would still find the beauty of the city.

Not really knowing what to expect (other than the statue of the little boy peeing…), it was a really beautiful surprise.  On our way to the area surrounding the Grand Place, you could feel the history, life, and age of the city- it really filled me with awe to take it in and realize that the city had been around in some form for over 1400 years, (settled in 580) and there we were. I felt connected to the city somehow, and very comfortable as we strolled along.  Given that Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, it is somewhat what you would expect from a major city, similar in tempo to Philadelphia, I think…

Faithfully following Google maps, we made our way towards the Grand Place, and after turning the corner from a rather unsuspecting side street, we were welcomed into the most incredibly stunning and beautiful square I have ever set foot in.

IMG_0688

Destroyed by fire in 1695, and rebuilt during the following four years, the square is absolutely captivating… gold-leafed buildings, imposing facades, ornate details, and a sense of mystery surrounded us, and I was left speechless.

After taking our picture from as many angles as we could think of, and staring at the buildings for a solid 10 minutes – which seemed to be about the average amongst the other tourists as well – we explored the Town Hall (which is the one remaining medieval building in the square.. and my favorite).

Next, we found ourselves a spot at one of the outdoor cafes, and enjoyed some lunch – the mussels were delicious!! Here, we found the most intimate shared mens/women’s room in all of what we have seen of Europe, and attempted to stay warm while dodging the raindrops.

After lunch, we strolled to some of the other buildings in the square, finding several chocolate shops (Neuhaus and Mary’s being our favorites), and an indoor mall area (Galleries Royal Saint-Hubert) with some interesting shops – including a great bookstore! – before making our way to see the Manneken de Pis and grab our first Belgian waffle! I could have happily eaten waffles all day! The yeast dough, and bits of caramelized sugar baked right in… perfection.  I am determined to find some appropriate sugar so that I can attempt to recreate them here at home. (Though I have found a restaurant who serves authentic waffles nearby!).

We strolled the city a bit more before making our way (gravitating back) to the Grand Place to spend some time in Rabbit’s favorite building – the King’s House, which is now the Museum of the City of Brussels.  I would highly recommend including the museum as part of your visit to the city- beautiful paintings, artifacts, the city’s story, and an exhibit dedicated to the Manneken and his many costumes – added to the incredible sight and experience of the building itself.

IMG_0739
King’s House (Museum of the City of Brussels)

Next, we made our way to another cafe in the square for some dinner and to experience the Grand Place through sunset, soaking in the beauty of the buildings in the evening glow, and watching it transform as the nighttime lights came on… the Grand Place is one of the most beautiful places I have been – and certainly the most romantic. It was such a great trip, and a welcoming city! I hope to make it back to see more of Belgium someday.

After more pictures (its hard to say goodbye to a perfect view!), and gaining our energy for the walk back to the train, we made it back to the station in time to grab a light second dinner, and climb aboard our train back to Amsterdam, and another full day just around the corner!

IMG_5235

Day 1: Sightseeing in Amsterdam

img_5205-e1529985246710.jpg

After a solid night’s sleep, and some strong coffee to fight the jet lag (I made friends with the hotel’s cappuccino machine!), we started off on a full day of exploring the city!

We had an idea of what we wanted to see, but mostly set out with our bus passes, good appetites, the curiosity and desire to see everything we could, and plans to take in an evening canal boat ride.  We walked about 9 miles during the day, and really enjoyed every step.

A few words of wisdom for those who set off to explore Amsterdam:

  • As per our research, the weather really does change throughout the day… we started with a drizzly rainy, cloudy day, had some great periods of blue skies and perfect breeze, and ended with a cool and drizzly night. Definitely dress in layers, prepared to take it all on!
  • Be aware of the bicycles! No kidding, there really are over 100,000 bikes in the city, and they definitely have the right of way. Both Rabbit and I had our near-misses, and we heard a few tourists yelp as they had theirs. The bike lanes are much more intimidating than the car lanes, with motorbikes and bicycles sharing the lanes and moving in many directions. Look in every direction before attempting to cross!
IMG_0559
Parking garage for bicycles! There were bikes throughout the city.

We knew that we wanted to at least see the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums while we were in town, but the weather changed from rain to bright and sunny, so we snagged advance tickets for Van Gogh, and took advantage of the sunshine by walking the city.

Amsterdam is a very clean and beautiful city (other than the red-light district, perhaps), filled with friendly locals and tourists – most, if not all, of whom speak English- making it very enjoyable and easy to navigate and enjoy everything Amsterdam has to offer.

IMG_5209

We passed through a canal-side street of market stalls selling tulips, souvenirs, and local wares, and a row of old shops, including the Amsterdam Cheese Store (a must stop!! try the coconut cheese – it is amazing!).  It was at one market stand that we got to taste our first stroopwaffel… WOW! Freshly made thin, tender, cinnamon infused waffles brought together with a wonderfully gooey layer of caramel… one of my new favorite foods!

We strolled through an open market in a beautiful town square, and perused through a local bookstore – and a few other local shops, letting us get a real taste of the city.  The buildings of the city are so beautiful and inviting- it was difficult to resist the temptation to walk into every building, take photos of every archway and facade, and explore every corner. It helped that there was an unexpected power outage in the city, which closed about half of the city’s shops and restaurants.

After our adventures we found a perfect spot for lunch, enjoying the outdoor deck of a cafe, overlooking a gorgeous view of a canals and an amazing row of crooked canal homes.  The menu was full of delicious things to try, including the long-awaited bitterballen!

Bitterballen are deliciously bad-for-you, fried balls of diced meat (beef and/or veal), swimming in a rich, comfort-food worthy, delicious mac-and-cheese like roux. Served with coarse mustard, and REALLY hot inside, they are an incredibly decadent must-try Amsterdam bite. (…now my mouth is watering and I’m wondering how I can make them at home).

After enjoying the sights and tastes of our lunch, and attempting to warm up under the cozy fleece blankets on the patio, we set off to explore again, this time headed towards the Rembrandt museum.  The museum, which is housed within Rembrandt’s actual home, includes rooms of artifacts the artist and his students, pieces of his original furniture and belongings, and a chance to interact with his studio.  Moving through the space alongside the audio tour provided a great chance to learn some history, enjoy the surroundings and be immersed into the artists’ home.

Next, we headed back towards the Centraal Station, and the ticket counters for the canal boat tours.  Due to the research I did in advance, and their prime location, we decided to go with Stromma tours.  As luck would have it, the rain started to drizzle as the sun was setting, and our (dry, warm, enclosed) boat pulled away from the dock! The tour guide provided a great narrative of the city’s history and descriptions of the buildings, as we coasted through the waters, taking in the beautiful city illuminated by the white lights on the canal’s bridges, and streetlights.  It was a perfect, romantic, relaxing way to finish our day’s tour of Amsterdam.

IMG_0629

After grabbing some dinner at one of the Argentinian steakhouses in town, we headed back to the hotel to relax and prepare for our day-trip to Brussels – coming on day 2!

 

Away We Go! : Amsterdam and Brussels

 

IMG_0543

…Another title for this trip could be… “Amsterdam and Brussels: The trip that almost wasn’t!”.

This past March, we were both thrilled to plan a trip to Amsterdam! This time, we snagged train tickets for a quick day trip to Brussels- something that had been on Rabbit’s list for a while, and we were both very excited for.

IMG_5184
View from our window during de-icing.. the storm started to slow down a bit!

Then… a nor’easter came. A real, two-feet-of-snow, state-of-emergency type nor’easter, coupled with power outages, zero visibility, hazardous roads, and – of course- cancelled flights. Determined to make it, we packed our bags and started our very snowy trek to Newark Airport, hoping to be able to take off.  Upon arriving at the airport, we learned that pretty much every flight had been delayed or cancelled due to the weather conditions – except ours. Lesson learned: fly an Icelandic airline during the winter months- they can take off in anything.  Somewhat shocked at our good fortune, we heard the pilots commenting before boarding that this storm was pretty run-of-the-mill for them (insert huge sigh of relief here).  We did have some delay due to the de-icing process (which per the pilots was far less organized than it is for them at home), but took off and had one of the smoothest flights of all time.

After racing through the Keflavik airport to switch planes, we landed safely, happily, and a bit exhausted in Amsterdam!

 

Whereas we relied upon taxis and (mostly failed) Ubers in Athens, this time we decided to utilize the public transit system the city had to offer.  Upon doing our initial research, we learned that the city is only a brief train ride away from the airport (which is also the train station), and that a bus line could bring us directly to our hotel, just outside the main city.  Though very hesitant, I finally got Rabbit to agree to give it a go, and we purchase transit passes for the duration of our stay. The trip was surprisingly even easier than anticipated, and the passes were one of the best parts of our stay in Amsterdam!


After finding our way to the hotel, and taking a much-needed nap, we used the bus to get back into the city where we took to the streets in search of dinner, and an opportunity to explore.

While in the hotel, the tourism channel had been sharing information about various places – one in particular, Blauw – a highly rated and reviewed Indonesian restaurant – had caught my eye.  Though we didn’t pay particular attention to where we were going within the city, we followed the traffic, and figured that we’d stumble upon something good.  We ended up in the Red Light District (more on that later), and when we stumbled upon a sign saying “Blauw”, we hungrily jumped at the opportunity.

…Where we ended up was far different than the publicized Blauw, and even more incredible than we could have hoped for.  We had stumbled into Blauw aan de wal, and simply and honestly, the best meal I have ever eaten.

Housed on a side street, the quiet and un-assuming building was a complete surprise.  The intimate dining room itself, with exposed beams, brick walls, and candlelight had ambiance like no other.  Greeted by our waiter at the door, we received a quick run-down of the menu/plan for our meal. Our choice was simply the number of courses, (which were explained to us after we asked). The menu was set, but we were able to easily request a simple modification to one dish that was happily received.  Everything was incredible.  Our 4-course menu for the evening included: razor clams with pearl couscous, sous-vide octopus (Rabbit’s favorite bite of the whole trip!); beef with bone marrow mashed potatoes; and a chocolate mousse for dessert.

Three months later, I am still in complete awe of the composition, presentation, and flavors of our meal- the entire experience was absolutely wonderful.  Though we were lucky enough to snag the last walk-in table of the evening, I would highly recommend making reservations if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam. It is the most perfect spot for a date-night or special meal that I could imagine.

After our meal and experience was complete, we returned to the streets to see what we could.  Outside of the Red Light District the city was pretty quiet, so we tucked in – and away from the drizzly rainy night – to prepare for a full day ahead of sightseeing.

-Gabby

Ahead in Day 1: walking the city, a canal boat tour, and yummy eats!

 

 

 

Day 5: Kalispera Athens!

img_0125.jpg
Changing of the Guard in Syntagma Square

Our last day in Greece was a full, but relaxing day spent strolling the city to enjoy our favorite places to say goodbye, and taking in some new sights.

First on the list was getting to Syntagma Square to witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the Hellenic Parliament (Old Royal Palace).  The tomb was unveiled in 1932, and serves as a monument to Greek soldiers who have lost their lives in various conflicts throughout history, through to WWI.  The ceremony was a nice way to honor the people we had come to visit and enjoy, and to get a glimpse of some not-so-ancient history.  The soldiers were impressive, and after learning that their shoes weigh 3 kilos, I am even more impressed by their ability to remain composed while moving through the ceremony’s kicks and controlled movements while maintaining such perfect composure.

After the ceremony, we took our time strolling the streets near the Ancient Agora, stopping to have lunch and to enjoy the street vendors who had set up for the day.  Of course, stopping to grab a few last-minute souvenirs for our family (and some gelato), we made sure to soak in all of the fresh air and beautiful sights the city had to offer before catching our flight.

Boarding the plane was a little bittersweet!! I have to say that my first international trip was a tremendous success – full of wonderful moments and memories, delicious food, and very friendly people. We both agreed that we would love to come back to Greece to explore the islands someday in the warmer weather – and I hope that we are able to make it back.

 

Efharisto!

-Gabby

Day 4: Day Trip to Istanbul

img_0123.jpg
Beautiful view of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque

It has been too long since my last post, (I blame school) but I am happy to finally share the stories of the rest of our trip to Athens and Istanbul!

…I warn you, this is a long one; we packed the day full!! (for lessons learned, and quick favorites, scroll to the end)…

The fourth day of our trip we spent on a whirlwind trip to Istanbul – though it was an incredible day, and we saw most things on our lists, we both agree that we would like to go back for a longer trip if we ever find ourselves back in that corner of the world.

We started with a quick flight from Athens to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.  It was a little plane, but the staff was incredible and the flight was smooth – I honestly fell sound asleep and even missed the snacks! (Unlike me, though I’m starting to have a pattern of falling asleep on mass transit…)

The airport in Istanbul was quite a different experience from the smaller and slower airport in Athens- we were immediately greeted in Istanbul by lines of car services, tour groups, and others trying to get our attention… we did end up registering for a car service to take us to our first stop (which ended up being our rendezvous point), but the jury is still out as to whether or not that really was the best way to go. We had a clean car, safe drivers, and a pleasant experience… but perhaps paid a bit more than we could have.

IMG_0083

Our first stop in Istanbul was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, built in 1616. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and one which I will never forget.  I have been in many different places of worship, but this was my first trip to a Mosque.  I was humbled to be taking in the beautiful building, the history of the place, the feeling of the religion, and the reverence in the air all at once.  I think if we had more time, I would have liked to find a quiet place to sit and just soak it all in.  It was a very peaceful, yet captivating visit – remembering brings a smile to my face. (*Please note, out of respect, all visitors adhere to an appropriate dress code – head coverings and material to cover legs is available for use for women during their visit; all visitors are asked to remove their shoes while inside; and visiting hours are adjusted to allow for prayer times).

IMG_0087

Our second stop, just a short walk across an open square, was the Hagia Sofia.  Built sometime around 532-537, it has served as both a church and mosque, and is now open to the public as a museum.  The line to purchase tickets was a little daunting- particularly in the cold weather- but after getting a snack from the vendor outside, and chatting about the plans for the day, time passed quickly. (I definitely recommend trying some simit while you are in Turkey- simple sesame covered savory pastry – ours were filled with Nutella- they are the perfect little snack. Not too sweet, but definitely satisfying!).  I am still not sure which was more spectacular- the view of the outside of Hagia Sophia which we enjoyed while in line, or the many views that we enjoyed as we walked through! Stone corridors, massive doorways, marble worn from years of visitors, prayer, and now admiration for this incredible place. I am so glad that we were able to make it here and take it all in!!

Next, we took a short walk to the nearby strip of sidewalk cafes and shops to find some lunch. As per our experience so far in Greece, the service was a bit slow- for the first time, I actually witness Rabbit become impatient as we waited- he was anxious to continue sightseeing!

IMG_0113

After lunch, we stumbled upon our first Hafiz Mustafa location, and were totally enticed by the beauty of the desserts on display.  After purchasing two boxes to take home as souvenirs (they vacuum pack in the store for you, at no cost), along with some loose tea in a souvenir tin- we continued on our way through the streets of little shops and sights.  [The baklava, by the way, kept really well through our journey home and was delicious! Light, not too sweet, filled with pistachios- I thoroughly enjoyed it!]…

We walked the stone streets passed the Basilica Cistern and through the entryway to the Topkapi Palace Museum before catching a cab to take us towards Istiklal Street, and the other sights on our list.  We did not visit the inside of the Palace, due to the long lines for tickets, but the grounds were beautiful. (If we go back someday in warmer weather, I would like to go back and really see the palace).

We successfully hailed a cab somewhere to take us to Istiklal street, which is across the water (I believe the Bosphorus strait) from where we began our day… it was then that we really got a good look at the city as a whole- getting to see the modern city sights near the bridges, in contrast to the incredible history we began the day taking in.

I have walked busy streets, I have spent hours in Times Square, I have fought crowds in Philly, New York, Boston, and a few other major cities… I’ve been to Disney in the middle of summer when everyone in the world seems to be on summer vacation seeing Mickey… but I have never seen and experienced something like Istiklal Street.  It was an amazing (and slightly overwhelming) mix of old and new, a massive mix of people, music, language, architecture, shops, foods… everything.  Rabbit commented that he had never known me to be as quiet as I was when we walked down the street- it was almost impossible to take it all in! (I have noticed that I have no photos, either!). Although slightly exhausting, it was completely worth it, and something that I would revisit in a well-rested heartbeat.
Galata Tower

We meandered down the street, past Galata Tower and through to another, less bustling area of restaurants and shops. We stumbled upon an interesting steakhouse, and had a restful and delicious lunch, enjoying the heat of being inside, and a chance to talk and process the sights of the day!  The service was wonderful, everyone was very attentive (even insisting upon taking my steak back a second time to make sure that it was perfect), and delighted that we had come to visit their beautiful city.

After lunch/early dinner, we strolled a bit through Taksim Square and the remaining streets in the area before hailing a cab back towards the Blue Mosque. The view of the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia at sunset was an unforgettably peaceful and beautiful site to behold… I might have 15 pictures just trying to capture it.

We successfully found, and met up with our hired driver at our rendezvous spot, and embarked on our trip back to the airport.  Thankfully, we had been a bit early to meet him; traffic heading back to the airport was intense- the main road was even shut down for a period due to a diplomatic visit, or official motorcade of some kind. After enjoying the airport for a little bit, we had another great flight back to Athens, and somehow stayed more-or-less awake until we reached our hotel!

This side trip was a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see amazing places, meet the friendly and delightful people of Turkey, taste some delicious food, and get some exercise (about 8 miles walking…); and it taught me a few travel lessons:

  • First, we have decided to try to limit our “second city” trips to places we can reach by car or train on future trips- although the flight was great, the time and stress added due to the airport experience, etc. was something that we’d prefer to do without for a day trip. (That being said… it depends on what the second city is!).
  • Second, I learned the importance of preparation… this day was planned entirely by Rabbit, who did an incredible job putting together our must-see list, and accounting for the logistics of it all, however, I wish that I had done some more prep in advance for myself, accounting for the historical background of the places we were seeing, etc. to enhance my understanding of the sights such as the Palace, the tower, et al.
  • Third, plan ahead for transportation! We had looked into it and saw that Uber, taxis, etc. were all available, but didn’t have it priced and planned ahead of time. In the heat of the moment, tired, and concerned with getting our day started, we likely overpaid for our transportation – our less than reliable Uber experiences in Athens made us question it here, also.
  • Most wonderfully… this trip reinforced that I could and would go anywhere with Rabbit. Taking on an itinerary such as this one with just any travel companion could have been disastrous… but, once again, he proved to be my perfect match, and my home away from home.

This was an incredibly long post, and I’m sure I’ve lost some of you by now, so here’s a quick recap:

  • Favorite Sight: Blue Mosque
  • Favorite Bite: simit – with Nutella
  • Favorite Moment: sunset in Sultanahmet square

Any questions, comments, feedback?? Please share!! We’d love to hear what you think!

-Gabby

 

 

Day 3 : Athens and Best.Sunset.Ever.

IMG_0035
One of the views on the way up Mount Lycabettus

Our second full day in Athens began at a leisurely pace.  Having had a very busy day of sightseeing, and a late night (thanks to some delayed sleep phase and odd jet lag finally catching up with us), we didn’t really start our day until about noon.

Our only two real goals for the day were to visit the Olympic stadium, and complete the widely recommended sunset hike up Mount Lycabettus. Thankfully, the two aren’t very far apart, and we were able to navigate somewhat easily from one to the other by foot… we initially had planned on grabbing an Uber to take us through town, but after an unexpected road closure, some kind of police activity, and being dumped by our Uber driver, we decided to just go for it.

Deciding to wing it despite our tired feet from the previous day, was one of the best things we did. The neighborhood around Mount Lycabettus was very different from where we had been spending our time, and we had the opportunity to duck into a mini-mart for some much needed snacks (and “souvenir” Greek chocolate bars for later).

img_0002.jpg
Panathenaic Stadium (“The” Olympic Stadium)

I am a bit ashamed to admit that when planning the trip, the Panathenaic Stadium hadn’t even been on my radar… it wasn’t until the end of our first full day in Athens when Rabbit suggested it as a must-do, that I had an “a-ha” moment and added it to the list.

I am so glad that we made it!! Especially in an Olympic year (though this year is the winter games), it was incredible to be where it all began.  Rabbit took to the stairs of the stadium as a personal challenge- which are far bigger than what I think we would normally think of for stadium seats- but you could see that there was something invigorating about doing it there.  We also took turns running short sprints on the track in the middle – we didn’t win any medals, but it was a very memorable experience!!

IMG_0038
View looking up Mount Lycabettus, from about halfway up!

After a few bumps in transportation, and our little side-trip for snacks, we made it to Mount Lycabettus!! Unlike my planning for the stadium, this hike was one of my must-do’s from the minute I began planning.  All of the blogs and stories I read in preparation, along with the guidebook I purchased, simply stated the sunset hike as something that had to be done, and I was in.

The entrance to the trail doesn’t have much marking, but thankfully, Google Maps had saved the day and brought us right to one of the paths. Faced with the choice of dirt/rock trail vs. stairs, we opted for the trail initially… don’t be fooled! This isn’t the leisurely, romantic stroll you may have been thinking- though it truly was one of the best things we did during our trip!! (There is a lift on the opposite side of the hill for those who aren’t able to hike, or if you’re not on the kind of date that it’s ok to break a sweat).

IMG_0031
Stairs on the way up!

Several times along the way, we had to stop and look around… the views from the trail seemed somewhat even more remarkable than those from the Acropolis, and just got more and more beautiful as the sun got lower in the sky.

At the top of the mountain, there is a small bell tower, a chapel, and a restaurant (near the lift entrance). After catching the beginning of the sunset, we grabbed a table at the restaurant for a late-lunch/early dinner (the Greek salad was delicious!!) and continued enjoyment of one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen.

IMG_0061

As the sun was going down, we started our descent, and ended up finding a different side-trail than the one we came up on, which took us through some different streets in Kolonaki. The neighborhood was very pretty, had a younger crowd, and had some very good-looking restaurants… however, we both agreed that it seemed too much like a neighborhood we could stumble upon in New York or Philadelphia (near home), and found our way back to the area around Parliament and Monastiraki.

Here, we checked another to-do list item off our lists, and grabbed a souvlaki from one of the small cafes that opened into the street. We were able to sit outside and share our second dinner and enjoy more people watching! The souvlaki was delicious, and it was a great way to wind down the evening.

img_0080-e1518932420466.jpg
…my mouth is actually watering a little just thinking about these bites!

We called it a night pretty early in preparation for our early morning flight, and busy day planned the next day in Istanbul!

– Gabby