April 2015

Reasons to travel in winter

So far Mike and I have spent two months in Europe in winter and I can honestly say that we love it. So I decided I would put together a short list of reasons of why we love to travel in the winter and why you should consider it too!

Off peak prices

I have managed to score some incredibly good prices - particularly for hotels - because we were travelling in the off peak season. On top of this we have received room upgrades - both where they told us they were doing it and others where we got a really nice room without them explicitly telling us it was an upgrade. In both cases we weren’t charged anything extra. We have also gotten more affordable tickets to museums, planes and trains just because we were travelling in the off peak.

Christmas cheer

I love Christmas in Australia but there is something so magical about Christmas in Europe. It's a lot more relaxed, potentially because Europeans have had thousands of years of celebrating Christmas (and before that - the solstice) behind them. Plus it's nice to see the traditions of Christmas in their natural habitat instead of entirely out of place like it is in Australia. Christmas markets, mulled wine and even fresh Christmas trees make a lot more sense when it’s ten degrees then the thirty degrees in Australia.

Smaller crowds

I would love to say no crowds at all but...well Florence and Rome were still pretty busy in winter so don't get too excited. However the day we visited the Athenian agora we were the only ones there and it was just so peaceful.

Even when you can't get no crowds you do get less crowds and in places like Venice that can make all the difference. You get to experience what the locals experience which makes for a far more pleasant trip.

A different vibe

I can't really say this with certainty (having never traveled in summer) but I feel like people are more relaxed in winter. It's the holidays for them too and I feel like they have more time to share what makes their home amazing. We met so many lovely, friendly, passionate people on our travels - and having worked in the service industry since forever I know that when it is busy you do not have time to stop and chat and give that personal love.

The weather

I adore the winter in Europe - it's so crisp and glorious - even when it's minus 3 and you are wearing all your clothes at once. I have no doubt if I lived in Europe and had to deal with winter all the time I would feel different but I live in Australia so snow will always be a novelty to me.


Travel Guide: Crete

One thing we tried out on this trip was a mini trip within the trip - after two days in Athens we flew to Crete with carry on only (leaving our larger luggage in the capable hands of the Plaka Hotel) for two days. I was SO nervous about this part of the trip - and naturally all that worry was for nothing because it went completely smoothly - the only scary bit was landing in Crete because one of the engines blew something as we were coming in.

Since we were in Crete for only two days - and one of those days it snowed of all things - this will be a short entry. I will say that two days was not long enough on any of the Greek Islands - and we will definitely be returning one day.

Travel Guide: Crete // Miss Sweet Nothings

Where to go

Palace of Knossos

Mike and I actually only really went to Crete for one reason - to see the Palace at Knossos. Or, to be more accurate, I really wanted to see the Palace and I somehow convinced Mike we should do it. In reality (and I only found this out once we were there and walking around) Mike had no idea about the culture of the Minoans - which almost literally blew my mind given we are both giant history nerds.

If - like my husband - you haven't heard about the Minoan culture please go and read up on it as it is fascinating. Equally as interesting is the history of the discovery of the Palace itself in the last century and its "reconstruction" by the archaeologists of the time. 

Oh, and we saw peacocks which was pretty crazy.

Travel Guide: Crete // Miss Sweet Nothings

Archaelogical Museum of Heraklion

After seeing the Palace Mike and I went to the museum in Heraklion - it really was incredible to see how intricate this culture was, and how much of a mystery it is - even now. Seeing the Phaistos Disc was a highlight - but I think personally the two biggest highlights was seeing Mike's wonder at this civilisation he knew nothing about before he came there and the sweet little kitten who wanted to come into the museum to get out of the cold (cats were a bit of a theme on this trip apparently).


Travel Guide: Athens

Mike and I went to Greece with really no expectations - a lot of our friends who had been admitted they didn't like it - so we really went in thinking if nothing else, we could just hang out in our hotel room and relax.

We found Athens to be fun and lively and the Greek people are some of the nicest, kindest and sweetest people we have ever met. I have such fond memories of our time in Athens and I encourage everyone to visit if you can.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

What to visit?

Acropolis

The day we went up to the Acropolis it was rainy and freezing cold but it was still so incredible to make the trek up to the top. My favourite part was the Erechtheion, in high school my classics teacher spoke highly of the beauty of the columns (which are Greek maidens) because it is able to support the roof without making the women's neck look stocky. I was able to admire the originals up close in the Acropolis Museum and I can absolutely understand why he found them so captivating. 

The rain did put us off a little because some areas felt a little dangerous with how slippery it was, so I would love to go back when it's sunny.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

Athenian Agora

The Agora was the centre of all life in Athens - much like the Forum in Rome. Unlike the Forum though the Agora has been allowed to return to nature - which in many ways just makes it more beautiful; all the trees and bushes slowly enveloping the birth place of democracy and philosophy. We went to the agora on the same day as the Acropolis and because it was cold and wet we had the place almost to ourselves. It was so peaceful - and I feel so lucky to have experienced it the way we did. Although there are downsides to travelling over winter - there is also something to be said for having the Athenian Agora to yourself!

Acropolis Museum

This museum is frankly pure genius. As well as telling the tale of Athenian history it also houses the originals of all of the frescos and many of the statues of the Acropolis. Not content with that - they have replicated the main temple of the Acropolis to scale inside the museum, to ensure you get the full impact of the frescos as they appear on top of the mountain. The floor on the bottom level is see through to allow you to see the archaeological dig that is occurring under the museum.

National Archaeological Museum

Honestly, by the time we made it here we were a bit over museums so I didn't feel like I really enjoyed it the way I enjoyed the Acropolis Museum. By far the most incredible thng to see was the Antikythera mechanism. It's considered the "first computer" and for a history nerd like me it has always been a source of fascination. It didn't occur to me that it would be housed in the museum - but I was so excited once I realised it was. It's so much smaller than I imagined, but also 20 times more intricate. Truly, it is an incredible thing to see.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

 Where to eat

First let me say, food in Athens is amazing. . Now I'm not talking fancy food here - everywhere we ate made simple and incredibly hearty food. On top of this the Greek hospitality came out in spades. Everywhere we went people were so friendly and keen to help you have a good time. Free bread (normally with tapenade) and water (unheard of in Italy) was the norm. Plus on multiple occasions they would bring out an after dinner shot (I know it's called raki on Crete - and we took to calling it raki in Athens and they knew what we meant). It ranged in flavour/strength from paint stripper to warm cinnamon spice and it was such a fun way to end the night.

A word of warning - although Greece follows the same smoking regulations as the rest of the EU they take a pretty...liberal approach to them. Essentially if you aren't a smoker and you don't want to marinate in cigarette smoke I do encourage you to sit outside (weather permitting of course).

Efcharis

This was definitely our favourite restaurant in Athens - the portions were hearty and so insanely delicious - and to top it off - crazy affordable. They also have a fantastic drinks range - I recommend Mythos beer or sangria. I think my favourite thing about Efcharis was the atmosphere. Like most Athenian restaurants they had a spruiker out the front encouraging people to come in - and we really enjoyed watching him work his magic.

They also had live music playing, on our last night in Greece we went there and sat inside. Traditional Greek music was playing and the table behind us, bolstered by liquid courage, got up and started to dance. In the restaurant. During peak service. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me - and it really captures in my head the verve and vibrancy that we experienced in Greece.

Where to stay

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

Plaka Hotel

I definitey recommend the Plaka hotel - it's right in the middle of the tourist part of the city but it's also very affordable (always a plus side). The beds are comfy, the bathroom clean and pleasant, breakfast is included and the staff insanely nice and helpful. If this isn't enough to sway you to stay here, the only other thing I can add is the above photo was taken from the rooftop bar of our hotel. And if having an evening wine whilst looking out over the Acropolis isn't enough to convince you - I doubt anything would.