CultureTravel

While it is true most travelers prefer non-stop flights to those with any layovers, I say, why not turn an inconvenient few hours into an opportunity to explore? The Greek capital city, Athens, is not only a common European layover stop, but also a beautiful fusion of ancient history with a youthful flair. Having been lucky enough to experience the spirited city a few times now, I’ve created the ultimate layover guide that will help you make the most of your quick pit stop in Athens. Let’s get into it; or as the Greeks would say, Opa!

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8 hours (7 am – 3pm)

As most flights from the States land in Europe bright and early in the morning, there is plenty of time to do all the necessary bits. By “necessary bits,” of course this means none other than the Acropolis. This massive ancient citadel hovers over the entire city, as you can see it from nearly anywhere in the city. Wind back and forth across the rocky outcrop for about 15 minutes until you reach the summit, and you are in for an unforgettable experience. While on top of the Acropolis, not only can you see a panoramic view of Athens, but you can also see the Parthenon and other architectural masterpieces that have been restored to look as proud as they did in 5th century BC. Take it all in and think about how much world history you are standing on top of…literally.

When you’re ready to move on from the beauty of the Acropolis, I recommend hiking down and walking just a few blocks to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of rescued, restored, and collected artifacts are housed from the ruins. Getting up close to each piece and examining its every intricate detail is a remarkable thing.

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12 Hours (7 am – 7 pm)

Spend time perusing and people watching in the animated, and ever loving Monastiraki Square, located near the historical Plaka neighborhood. To this day, I have never seen so much affection in one place. In the square, Greeks are often tightly hugging dear friends, passionately kissing their lovers, or jesting about with adorably dressed young children. Shop the windy side streets and browse all the flea markets, souvenirs, and trinkets. It’s a wonderful place to relax, enjoy your company, and of course grab a quick bite!

Thanasis is a restaurant well known for their mouth-watering souvlakis, a popular Greek dish with your choice of grilled meat, tzatziki sauce, veggies, and sometime fries, tightly wrapped in a fluffy pita. It’s conveniently located right on Monastiraki Sqaure, so you can involve your taste buds in the love fest, as well.

In case you want a more formal meal, only a block or so away from the square is an ultramodern, luxurious hotel called A for Athens. Take their terrifying small elevator (it’s worth it, I promise!) to the very top floor and get ready for more great views, food, and drinks. The magnificently lit Acropolis and Greek techno music serve as a backdrop while you sip on your beverage of choice and enjoy modern takes on traditional Greek cuisine. Keep an ear out for all of the languages you’re bound to hear surrounding you – it is remarkable how many international people flock to this great spot!

18 Hours (7 am – 1 am)

Make your way to the main square in Athens, Syntagma Square. This is often referred to as the “heart” of the city as Greek Parliament is located here, not to mention a common site for political demonstrations. In the square are various food vendors and a lovely park area, while the side streets contain some of Greece’s best shopping. For all the serious shoppers, this is a top priority before your layover comes to an end. There are international chain stores, but also boutiques unique to Greece, so you really get a taste of everything fashion-wise!

Finally wrap up your super quick layover in Athens by taking the metro to Soho Bar Athens in the Gazi neighborhood. This club and bar has a neat atmosphere, and is usually full of young professionals and or the “starving artist” type. Prepare for your next flight with a cold glass of ouzo and call it a day!

Image: Aysia Woods (Acropolis and Monastiraki Square); Carpe Juvenis (Greek Flag)

CultureTravel

With the perfect blend of Southern charm and eclectic flavor, the fine city of Savannah should absolutely be on your list of cities to visit. Since I was a child, my grandparents hauled my brother and I all across their historic city, exposing us to every neat nook and cranny it has to offer. Sprawling with hundreds of acres of lush, Spanish moss-draped parks and stunning 18th century architecture, Savannah is surely worth a trip — a day trip, at the very least! If you ever find you have a day in “The Hostess City of the South,” I have the perfect itinerary for you.

Morning

Rise and shine – it’s time to get the day started! In my opinion, there is no better way to start off a lovely Savannah day than with a visit to Forsythe Park. At 30 pristine acres, this park is the largest in the city. Feel free to wake up your mind and body with a jog or yoga under the cool, mossy trees. If it’s Saturday, take time perusing the massive farmers market hosted there. This is also a great time to practice your “southern charm,” as Savannah locals love to smile and chat.

After your morning exercise, get ready to chow down at one of the best breakfast spots in the city, J. Christopher’s. This is a regional chain that actually began in Atlanta, but lucky for us, they converted a garage right in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District into one of their laid-back establishments. Go for their Blueberry Crunchcakes (pancakes made with crunchy granola) or one of their many breakfast skillets, with a coffee served in their mismatched coffee mugs. They even have a pet menu for your trusty sidekick. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Afternoon

Now it is time for a history lesson. Old Savannah Tours has been providing tourists with fun, comprehensive trolley tours of the Historic District since 1979. I recommend the unlimited Historic On/Off Tour because you can pick and choose what Savannah sites to explore on your own time. Be sure to hop-off at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to see its exquisite murals, the Sorrel-Weed House to experience true antebellum architecture, and the City Market for a bit of shopping.

In case you haven’t already grabbed a quick bite during the tour, try to make it to Joe’s Homemade Café in midtown Savannah. I admit, I have not made it there yet, but I hear this place is all-around remarkable. Joe’s is not a sit-down restaurant; they specialize in “picnic” and “to-go” foods, such as their infamous Forsyth sandwich and lemon cheesecake. Sounds like a winner to me.

Evening

Properly reflect on your day over a delicious meal on the rooftop of Local 11 Ten, a restored 1950’s bank-turned-contemporary-restaurant. This trendy spot changes its menu with the seasons, featuring innovative winter dishes like confit pork belly with pan roasted quail, warm caselvetrano olives with bacon, smoked bone marrow, and Sapelo Island clams. Relish in the soft house music and enjoy this truly unique dining experience.

For those wanting something a bit more soulful, try Huey’s on the River, a restaurant that actually serves authentic New Orleans’s cuisine. Their menu has the works. I’m talking shrimp & grits, fried green tomatoes, filé gumbo, Po’boys, and beignets. In proper Louisiana fashion, the place is friendly and just the right amount of noisy.

Last and surely not least, take a night stroll along Savannah’s lively River Street. Along the wide Savannah River, this cobblestoned street is always bustling with crowds enjoying nightlife, street performers, antique shops, and quaint boutiques. Stop by River Street Sweets to pick up the necessary Southern candies – pralines and fudge, of course – and then continue down toward the river to sit and enjoy the cooling breeze.

Time-Permitting

If you have a bit more time during the day, check out some contemporary art at the SCAD Museum of Art or be brave and go on a walking ghost tour of the most haunted city in America.

There we have it – a day of fun in the ever-charming city of Savannah. Enjoy!

*Going to Philadelphia? Check out these places!

Image: Aysia Woods

Travel

Welcome to the home of the Tastykake, Rocky Balboa, Wawa, and, of course, the cheesesteak… I am taking you to Philadelphia! Growing up, my family and I would travel from my hometown of Collegeville, a suburb of Philly, into the city nearly every weekend to explore museums, eat wonderful food, and check out other hotspots. For you, dear traveler, I have come up with the perfect itinerary to help plan your first day trip to this lively, multi-dimensional city. Welcome to The City of Brotherly Love!

Morning

For breakfast, try one of the Green Eggs Café locations. This trendy, eco-friendly restaurant is dedicated to serving locally produced foods at reasonable prices, while allowing their customers to support the movement by using only recycled paper and dishware. I highly recommend the Smoked Atlantic Lox Omelet or the “Kitchen Sink” (think a skillet of eggs, cheese, potatoes, peppers, biscuits, and gravy everywhere). The portions are rather large, but don’t worry because you can ask for a biodegradable take-out container.

After the amazing meal, you are surely going to want to walk off the food coma. Spend a few hours browsing the collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Located at the end of the scenic Benjamin Franklin Parkway, this massive museum holds the most beautiful European, American, and Asian artwork. Don’t forget to run up the museum steps in proper Rocky fashion!

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Afternoon

From the museum, walk through the bustling Center City neighborhood to reach Reading Terminal Market. You’re going to brave some lines and crowds here, but this market is a prime location to eat and browse. The market carries nearly everything you could imagine, from local and exotic produce, Amish specialties, meat, seafood, handmade confections, flowers, to cookbooks and other trinkets. The delicious aromas will make you hungry for lunch here, so head over to my favorite vendor in the market and favorite cheesesteak joint in Philly, Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagie. If this is your first visit to Philly, order a classic and prepare yourself for a serious mouth party. After all, President Obama ate here, so you know it’s good.

By this point it’s time to say goodbye to the market and get ready for a little history lesson. Make your way to Philadelphia’s Historic District, which is full of museums and historic buildings. Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States and birthplace of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Betsy Ross’ home and first American flag. Stroll along the grassy squares and cobblestone streets, making sure to pass by the Liberty Bell, and imagine what life was like while the United States was young.

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Evening

The fun-filled Philly day trip is sadly coming to an end, so it’s time to wrap up with a glorious dinner. There are few options here. For the Francophiles and wine-lovers, try the quaint Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro near Center City and make sure to order the Beef Bourguignon. If that is not your ideal cuisine, right next door is El Vez, known for their funky rock n’ roll atmosphere and tasty enchiladas. Finally for the sports fan, go to Chickie’s and Pete’s, the Philly sports fan’s go-to stop for crab fries. I guarantee after eating at any of these restaurants, you’ll be more than ready to head back home and recoup after a great day of eating and exploring.

Time-Permitting

If you have a few extra minutes to spend in the city, be sure to stroll by the water at Penn’s Landing, shop around Rittenhouse Square, or bike in Fairmount Park.

And there you have it – a whole day of activities for your eventful day trip to Philadelphia. Time to grab a friend and make it happen!

Image: Aysia Woods

CultureTravel

Wanderlust coursed through my 15-year-old veins when I was given the option to travel and either explore the depths of a few European countries or the few hotspots of many countries. Of course, I chose the second alternative. Perhaps it was the naive desperation to check off more countries on my map of travelled places or the craving to be impressed by Europe’s must-see cities. But I then realized that I just wanted to witness Rome’s grandiosity as one of the birthplaces of classicism and breathe the glamorous Parisian air. London lingered in my thoughts with an image of wild print on fabric, charming accents, and tea breaks in-between exciting landmark sight-seeing tours. But London was not my favorite destination. Neither was Rome or Paris or Madrid. Maybe I was lucky, but having three free days Spain gave me the opportunity impulsively decide to take a stranger’s advice and visit multiple towns in Asturias, a northern region of the country. It turns out life has more treasures than the ones sitting in the chest.

Bruges may have had me at whimsical Spanish moss floating over unaligned, rustic, and ancient brick roads; but Cudillero had me at that dead-end parking spot, making walking our last resort into the vehicle-prohibited town. In order to reach the boardwalk that led to the town, walking through an unusually located car show between two cliffs was obligatory. Miles away from Cudillero’s entrance, “Stereolove” by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina almost pulverized my eardrum. There were about 200 teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women who were all undoubtedly there to display their unique Lamborghinis and Ferraris, mingling, and somehow chattering through the music. An amalgamation of two stark different atmospheres is what I had yet to notice. “Completely historic, not quite; absolutely modern, neither; wannabe Barcelona in the middle of nowhere, definitely,” I thought as we managed to squirm around the car enthusiasts.

A long narrow path sandwiched between cliff and sea awaited us. Concrete sidewalk corrupted the untouched serene water that held homage to the picturesque sailboats. The sun was fogged away by the opaque clouds. White sailboats sat beside wooden canoes latched onto the wooden docks by a ratty beige rope. Step after step, I snapped picture after picture and stood facing the silent water as I ingested the novelty that was somehow before me. From a totally bizarre car show to an impossibly picture-perfect scenery, I still couldn’t believe there was a sea of 3-D printed Van Gough sailboats to my left, psychedelic beats behind me, obscure fog 100 feet in front of me, and towering cliffs to my right. I wondered how this combination was even conceivable.

A few feet away was a scruffy fisherman who lightly tossed his turquoise cloth bag behind his shoulders. Behind him was a tall man impeccably dressed in a white suit who held his lover’s hand, garbed in eye-snatching Gaultier couture.  And I, in my emerald suede flats, truly effortless jeans, and plain H&M sweater marveled at what kind of place this was. Surely, this boardwalk led us all to the same panorama – a ginormous fungus-infested concrete ramp that brought the colorful building squares with matchless windows into the sea. It was the oddest place I had ever been to with only one primary entrance. Anyone who entered the town came out the same way – over the now-modernized narrow bridge. Vibrant neon moss stuck itself to the bottom of my flats and outlined the edges like a piece of abstract art. Cold, humid air reached the depths of my lungs like two strangers meeting in symbiosis. I could say that this was the beginning of an experience to an indescribable dream, but one thing was for sure: there was no place like it.

I never would have expected my journey to an unheard of village to be more enjoyable than a trip across Europe. The next time you plan a trip, don’t forget to leave a few days open for hidden gems. Their anonymous nature may seem like quite the dare, but here are a few tips to make them happen and to make the best of them:

  1. Never be afraid of unplanned detours.

Say you have your trip planned down to the minute. Incorporate free time into your itinerary. Take a minute or two to ask a few locals about their favorite places to visit in that country (or area). Chances are that it is not a tourist hotspot. Grab a map, do some internet research, and begin filling in that free time.

  1. Reservations have their cons.

Restaurants, activities, and lodging bookings may sound comforting when travelling to an unfamiliar place, but the fine print? They may tie you down. Always expect the unexpected because travel delays and mood shifts will always happen. Embrace a bit of spontaneity and don’t be afraid to show up in a town or city with an open agenda. Unless you’re in Russia during the next World Cup, book your night stay on the day-of and take the freedom of paving your own journey day-by-day.

  1. Expect unconventional means of transportation, breath-taking scenery, and authentic everything.

Prepare for anything when it comes to methods of transit as they are endless and still very much alive. Ferries, canoes, trains, mini-planes, and even walking may replace driving. This journey will certainly teach you a little something about photography, so always keep a camera on-hand. If you’re abroad and leaving the tourist centers, it should go unsaid that not everyone will speak your native tongue and that’s always a fun challenge. Once again, don’t worry – it’s amazing to see where other forms of communication can take you.

Food, of course, is important to many. You may find ease in that safety dish that happened to be Americanized such as the margarita pizza, but take a chance and leave your comfort zone. Taste the culture! You may remember that Italy has great pasta, but you will never forget that tiny, almost unnoticeable, trattoria that served that one-of-a-kind basil-sautéed penne with herbs that grew in that restaurant’s own garden!

Off-the-map doesn’t mean off-your-trip. If you really want to get to know a country, visit the outskirts.  They definitely make for the most memorable, exquisite, and unexpected adventures!