We took a train to Venice Italy where we were departing on a cruise in a few days. Stepping outside the train station and seeing the Grand Canal was an amazing feeling. It seemed so romantic. I had read up enough to know to purchase vaporatto tickets to getting around Venice. All transportation is in the form of a boat of three types; Gondolas, private boat hire, or vaporatto which is shaped like a ferry and they will pack in as many people as possible. Vaporatto is the budget friendly choice. We picked a 48 hour pass since we only had two days in Venice. We saw all of the usual landmarks from Rialto's bridge to St. Mark's Square. St. Marks Square is known for the mass of pigeons. Although it is illegal to feed the pigeons there was a man handing out cracked corn to be fed to the pigeons. With cracked corn in your open palm and with arms outstretched, the pigeons will come. They will land on your arms, shoulders or head. As much as we know pigeons are dirty the experience is well, an experience. It was an amazing two days of sightseeing and wonderful outdoor cafes. A vaporatto ride away is Burano and Murano Islands. Burano is known for lace making and Murano for glass. We only had time for one island so we went to Burano. Lace shops were very upscale since the lace is all handmade. Other shops had hand made masks of every type. Colorful would be a one word description of Burano. Since there are only a few homes with a courtyard for greenery, the people paint their houses with a wide array of bright colors. The doors of homes are very unique of color or wood patterns. Many people had curtains on the exterior of their doors. The curtains acted like a screen door, letting air in while protecting their privacy. The few homes with courtyards had plants and some with colorful objects to create a special space outdoors. I hope Venice is on everyone's bucket list. I am glad we didn't miss it.
This is always our favorite city. The Amsterdam Central Train station can take you anywhere in Europe. There aren't many cars on the street but look out for the bicyclists! The bikes are everywhere, parked or moving fast. It isn't a leisure activity for the people but a mode of transportation. The will ring their bells when they come up behind you but it easy not to realize that you need to move over. Amsterdam is amazing. From the outdoor flower and vegetable market to the many museums. The Rikjsmuseum had been closed for many years for renovations but re-opened in 2013. You can use flashless photography but not with a tripod. I was approached by three guards because of my tripod. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when that decision was made. The Anne Frank house was very moving emotionally and yet it wasn't overdone to the point of boredom. The Red Light district is interesting on a first visit to Amsterdam. But don't take pictures. It is said, that if you take a picture, you camera will be confiscated and broken. I didn't try to take any pictures of the ladies so I don't know if the story is true. A canal tour will provide you with interesting history while enjoying the views. Amsterdam has wonderful restuarants and shops to peruse. The coffee shops are many and varied in the way of atmosphere, some friendlier than others. These are not Starbucks coffee shops, they are marijuana shops. To be polite customers order an espresso while they enjoy the product they just bought. If you traveled this far don't miss this experience if only to drink an espresso and observe. Amsterdam is very walkable or you can use their tram system. It is a city rich is history and vibrance. I promise you won't visit any other city and see as many bikes, moving or parked.
Athens, wow! Not overly impressive on our first taxi ride to the hotel. Along the way were some nice buildings and hotels, then the driver took a left to our hotel and it was a fairly run down area. Lots of graffiti on the buildings as many were deserted. I heard of the financial problems for Greece but I didn't honestly know the impact to the city. But it did feel safe. Many hard working people trying to make a living. A large, very large outdoor market where they sold not only fruits and vegetables but also raw meat. That made an impression on us due to the smell of the newly butchered meat. Our hotel was on the route of the 'hop on - hop off' tour bus. That is a great way to see the city. We usually ride the entire route before deciding at which stops to get off. The Parthenon temple was built on the Acropolis 447 - 432 BC. The Parthenon is visible from much of the city so we didn't feel a need to stand in line to get up close. Our hotel had a roof top bar that looked over the Parthenon and is quite stunning at night when it is lit up. Saw the government buildings and the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Athens was our last city before heading home. Go with an open mind and notice how friendly the local merchants are.
Santorini and its complex of islands, is an active Volcano. The crater of the volcano is in the sea. Hugh eruptions occur every 20,000 years or so. Our small cruise ship pulled into Santorini Harbor and shuttled us to the dock. Now to see Santorini, you have to look straight up because the town sits on top of the cliffs made by the volcano eruptions. There are three ways to get to town. You can ride a donkey for $20 to town. You can walk up the same shallow steps that the donkeys use or you can pay $5 to take the sky rail. I went for the experience of the donkey ride. Of course my donkey was actually a mule, almost as large as a horse. The funny part was that my donkey would stop every once in a while, as if to look over the rail to the harbor to see how far it traveled. I saw some donkeys along the way that had been abandoned by their riders. At about the 4/5th mark, my donkey stopped for good. I sat for a while then I acquiesced and walked the rest of the way. Santorini is a well preserved stone built town. The store clerks are friendly and helpful, but not pushy. There are bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a glass of wine while looking out over the Aegean sea. Looking for a romantic get away? Be sure to put Santorini on you list.
Mykonos is part of the Cyclade islands in the Aegean sea. This island was very poor until tourism started in the 1950s, The town of Chora follows the iconic architecture of cubism. White squares with doors, windows and railings of varied colors. Living spaces are upstairs while the lower level is used for storage. The town looks very clean with narrow hand painted streets and patterns of blue and white or pastel and white homes. Plenty of shopping is available with a multitude of shops and eateries. Grab a drink and snack at a restaurant 30 feet from the harbor and enjoy. The town center is located just behind the primary school. Up from the school and to the west is a plateau where the famous windmills are located.
Back in the day, people from all over the Cyclades islands would come here to grind their wheat and barley.
Just beneath the windmills is Alefkandra also known as 'Little Venice'. This part of the island has a 'thumb' that juts out into the harbor with water on 2 or 3 sides. This area is wonderfully scenic overlooking the bay and the horizon. You can't help but feel relaxed when you are here. My immediate reaction was that I could vacation for a week right here.
Petro, the adopted mascot is a pelican who likes to hang out in Little Venice. I hear he also likes his picture taken with the tourists.
Mykonos is both beautiful and friendly, even when they are over run with tourists. Cruise ships stop right in the harbor and shuttle their passengers to the island's edge. Definitely worth a visit.