My Top 5 Favourite Islands

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

Last summer I wrote a series on some of my Favourite destinations. But one of these lists needed some serious updating after my travel adventures over the past 12 months. So without any further ado, here is my updated list of favourite island escapes.

Spanning five unique countries, all of the islands on my list have one important thing in common: stunning natural beauty.

Top 5 Favourite Islands

Galiano Island, BC

This lovely little gem in the Gulf Islands is the nearest to Vancouver making it a perfect weekend getaway or even day-trip from the mainland. Very few people live here year round, but those that do love it’s laid back vibe and tight knit community. Galiano is the only place where I’ve ever felt safe enough to hitch hike or leave my bike unattended. They even have a free store and a free book store where you are welcome to take whatever you like – no donations required. With stunning views from the top of Mt Galiano, lovely trails near Montague harbour, and the friendliest locals around – It’s no wonder I have come to consider Galiano my second home.

Mt Galiano Viewpoint

Hvar, Croatia

If you are looking for an intoxicating blend of old world charm, exhilarating night life, and ruggedly beautiful coastline, then look no further than Hvar. Touted as the sunniest spot in Europe, this beautiful island on the Dalmatian Coast convinced me that it would make a perfect Honeymoon destination. A consistent contender on many top 10 lists – it’s no surprise that Hvar easily holds its own among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

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Capri, Italy

I just can’t get enough of the Amalfi Coast and especially my favourite little piece of la dolce vita – Capri! Twice I’ve visited this lovely island off the coast of Naples and twice is not nearly enough time to soak it all up. Famous for its dazzling Blue Grotto and beloved for its majestic Cliffside vistas, Capri is the perfect place to soak up luxurious Italian living.

Capri, Italy

Maui, Hawaii

Oh Maui… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Before I first visited Maui, I had previously been to Oahu twice. And I thought it was great. Then, I went to Maui and now I wonder why anyone even bothers going to Honolulu because Maui is E V E R Y T H I N G ! Less crowded than bustling Waikiki, Maui offers a more laid back vibe but still delivers a ton of activity if you want it. In my four day escape I lay on gorgeous beaches, snorkeled with sea turtles, drove the winding and scenic road to Hana, summited a volcano, and ate my heart out. I still look forward to visiting the other islands in the future but for now I am content with my version of paradise!

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Santorini, Greece

Located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece is Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world – and for good reason! I fell head over flip flops for the spectacular caldera views, beautiful beaches, cliff-side villages, amazing restaurants, and friendly local hospitality. Santorini was a dream destination for me and it absolutely lived up to all the hype. I had one of my favourite travel days of all time while riding an ATV around the island and touring the nearby wineries. It was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost pained me to leave. I will definitely be back someday!

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What’s your favourite island escape?

Eating my Way through Greece & Turkey

Eating my Way through Greece & Turkey

When I first started telling people that I was planning a trip to Turkey, the one thing that everyone told me was that food was ahh-mazing!

Now I already rank Mediterranean cuisines like Italian and Greek on the top of my list so I was confident that Turkish would be just as delightful (pun intended). After two weeks of indulging in meal after decadent meal, I couldn’t help but share some of my favourites. Hope you’re hungry :)

Tomato keftedes (fritters) & Greek Salad   Skala Restaurant (Oia, Santorini)

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Santorini is famous for its flavourful tomatoes. We sampled them many times in our daily Greek salads but we also sampled the local island delicacy of deep-fried tomato fritters. They were so good that we ordered them more than once. And with a view like the one from Skala restaurant… I could have sat and savoured them all day long, especially when a parade of donkeys passed by our table. Dinner AND entertainment… what’s not to love?

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki     Fanari Restaurant (Fira, Santorini)

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For our final dinner in Santorini we headed to Fanari Restaurant in the main town of Fira where we enjoyed flawless sunset vistas and a classic Greek dish – souvlaki! It’s simple but it’s famous for a reason – you simply can’t do Greece right without this dish.

3. The best Gyro in Greece  Lucky’s Souvlaki (Fira, Santorini)

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If there is one meal that stuck in my mind for the entire trip it was this gyro in Fira. A gyro is like a doner or a kebab, essentially meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and then wrapped in a pita or sandwich. The toppings differ from place to place but I prefer mine fully loaded. I did some pre-trip research and found out that the best gyros on the island could be found at Lucky’s. The internet did not let me down because this place was cheap (2-3 euros) and mind-blowingly delicious.

4. Authentic Greek Frozen Yogurt   Selatrevo (Fira, Greece)

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I’m was already a frozen yogurt fan before this trip but now I’m craving a Greek fro-yo place to frequent at home. The flavour of the Greek yogurt is so much richer and Selatrevo has even caught on to the craze of letting you add your own toppings. The store clerk told us that she knew we were from North America because no one else knows what to do with the self-service bar. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment but we certainly knew what we were doing :) It may have been the priciest cold treat we bought during our travels but it was well worth it.

5. Gözleme   Kelebek Hotel (Goreme, Turkey)

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Our cave hotel in Cappadocia ended up having a very nice restaurant terrace that became a permanent fixture during our stay. For our first dinner, I ordered a dish that I had never heard of before called gozleme, which is a savoury traditional Turkish flatbread made of hand-rolled dough that is lightly brushed with butter and eggs and filled with cheese, chicken, and mushrooms. It’s basically a pancake that you’re allowed to eat for dinner – so that made this breakfast obsessed traveller verrrry happy.

Farm to Table Lunch   King’s Valley Farm (Goreme, Cappadocia)

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The best meal we had in Turkey was this unbelievable lunch that was included in our History and Adventure tour by Heritage Travel in Cappadocia. They took us to this private farm in the King’s Valley where a group of local ladies cooked us a four course, vegetarian meal consisting of bread, salads, stuffed peppers, soup, bean stew, and dessert. I’m not exactly sure what I ate but it was all quite delicious and the experience of sitting outdoors in the middle of this hidden valley was definitely a highlight.

Chicken Curry  Kelebek Hotel (Goreme, Turkey)

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I said we couldn’t stay away from our hotel restaurant and I wasn’t kidding. We returned for another dinner and the Turkish version of chicken curry did not disappoint. But then again, I think everything on the menu was a win.

Meatball Durum Wrap    Mama’s Shelter (Istanbul, Turkey)IMG_4263IMG_9969One thing that I knew we HAD to do in Istanbul was eat dinner on a rooftop terrace. I found Mama’s Shelter online and even though the price tag was a bit steep for this crew of backpackers – the sunset views of the Sultanahmet were well worth it. And they didn’t even charge me for my delicious rose sangria so I can’t really complain.

What are some of your favourite travel dining experiences? What country tops your list? Leave a comment below.

My Favourite Travel Day: ATV Adventure on Santorini

My Favourite Travel Day: ATV Adventure on Santorini

On our second full day on Santorini we decided to venture away from our adorable villa in Finikia and the unbelievably gorgeous streets of Oia to explore what the rest of the island had to offer. Well let me tell you… it had a lot!

The view from our villa... it was hard to tear ourselves away.

The view from our villa… it was hard to tear ourselves away.

To maximize our freedom (and fun for that matter) we decided to rent two ATVs for four people. At a rate of €34 for 24 hours – we figured we were getting a pretty good deal. I was super stoked about this whole experience as I’d never driven an ATV before. And the last time I decided to rent a vehicle while traveling was on my wildly successful trip to Maui – another island paradise! Are you sensing a travel theme these days?

As it turns out, this day was quite possibly one of my favourite travel days of all time!

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By the time our two ATVs showed up (that’s right… we had them delivered to our door) we were more than ready to hit the streets. I handed over my drivers license and signed my life away before some 14 year old kid showed me how to operate the ATV properly. I even had to go for a test drive with the rental guy for him to assess my abilities. My male friend Caleb did not. Another loss for feminism… but I digress.

After a quick pit stop to fill our tanks, we were off. Our first stop was lunch in the centrally located town of Pyrgos. The main draw to this part of the island was the proximity to a plethora of wineries. We had trouble finding the first one on my list but ended up stumbling upon a winery recommended to us by the owner of our wine store in Finikia. Are you sensing another travel theme?

Art Space was a completely delightful addition to our itinerary. Immediately upon arrival, the owner of this winery turned art gallery started leading us on a tour of the facilities. He spoke in rapid Greeklish with me only comprehending one in every 20 or so words. But he was completely adorable and the space was very cool which more than made up for my lack of understanding. Plus, we concluded our not-so-informational tour with a €5 wine tasting that included various blends of the Assyrtiko grape, the local sweet speciality Vinsanto, Ouzo, and something akin to moonshine at 42% alcohol. 

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Conveniently located just around the corner was Santorini’s first and only brewery. This craft beer obsessed Vancouverite was definitely excited to taste the Greek brews, which were adorably named the Yellow Donkey (lager), Red Donkey (red ale) and Crazy Donkey (IPA). They gave us a free tasting and I have to say that I really enjoyed all three, even the IPA which isn’t normally my drink of choice. I’m definitely rooting for this new business!

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The final stop on our self-guided wine tour was the one I was most looking forward to – Gaia Wines. We drove to nearby Kamari where an old tomato factory was converted into a winery. The beach front location didn’t hurt either.

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Next up was a frolic in the sea on a black sand beach in Kamari. By this time we were completely blissed out and feeling the vacation vibes in a big way. There’s nothing that puts me in a better mood than oceanfront dining and the sound of crashing waves.

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We had some time to kill before our final activity of the day so we took our ATVs for a drive to a lookout at the top of the island. I couldn’t believe how high we were able to drive and the view – stunning!

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Mandatory helmet selfie :)

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Our final activity of the day was the highly anticipated outdoor movie at Kamari’s famous Open Air Cinema. We got there early to nab front row reclining seats for an English screening of Age of Adaline. The movie wasn’t great but the atmosphere was top notch. The cinema featured complimentary blankets, a full bar, and reasonably priced snacks. What’s not to love?

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What a day! Aside from the post-movie ATV incident (it wouldn’t start but then it did) and the adrenaline filled ride home (imagine pitch black switch back roads with 1000 ft cliffside drop-offs) we had a perfect day. It was fun. It was adventurous. It was delicious. Santorini – you did it again!

Coming up on the blog… we left Greece just in time to miss the economic meltdown and turned our attention to neighbouring Turkey. Stay tuned for some of the most incredibly weird and wonderful sites that I’ve ever seen!

Everything they say about Santorini is True!

Everything they say about Santorini is True!

I have been dreaming of Santorini for over a decade. Villages of white and blue perched atop rocky cliffs. Aegean sea waves meeting caldera backdrops. Donkey traffic jams and Greek salad dinners. Nightly sunset photo shoots. Needless to say… I was expecting a magical place and was mildly concerned that reality could not possibly live up to the hype. Fortunately, my fears could not have been more misplaced. Santorini was everything they said it would be and MORE!

I had heard rave reviews from friends, family, and travel bloggers. Everyone told me that it was amazing! Touristy? Yes. Overcrowded? At times. Worth it? Most definitely.

Santorini was so intoxicatingly gorgeous that I started to hate myself just a little bit. As I wandered the streets of Oia, you could hear me exclaiming “Look at this view! This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” Only to hear me say, just minutes later, “I take it back… THIS it the most beautiful view!” And then again around the next corner, “Here we go. Money shot! Is this real life?!!!” You get the idea.

The pictures do not come remotely close to doing it justice but here’s a little teaser of what I saw in Santorini.

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I’m not quite done with Santorini yet because I had one of my favourite travel days of all time when we rented ATVs to explore the island. Stay tuned for the full post to come.

Santorini was a dream destination for me. But I want to know… Have you ever been to one of your dream destinations and did it live up to the hype? Leave a comment below.

Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

I had incredibly low expectations for my two nights in Athens.

I first visited this Grecian capital back in March 2003 as part of a 10-day Art & History tour with my high school. I did not love it. Far from it. In fact, I have spent the last decade telling people that it is my least favourite city in Europe. Ouch!

So when I decided to return to Greece my heart was set on the islands. But, since Athens still made the most logical starting point, I relented to the wishes of my travel companions and spent a full day touring many of the same famous sites that failed to wow me the first time. And… what do you know. Athens was NOTHING like I remembered it.

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This is not the first time that a city has improved upon its initial impressions. Barcelona, Rome, and Portland are just a few names that won me over on the SECOND visit and now are some of my favourite cities ever! This is why I absolutely NEVER SAY NEVER. I am so glad I was willing to go back to all of these places because the memories I made the second time around are worth every bit of letdown on the first run through.

So, what changed my mind about Athens? Better weather. Better company. Low Expectations. More Freedom. Open Mind.

But enough preamble… here’s what we got into!

The Acropolis

The most important site in Athens is without-a-doubt The Acropolis – an ancient citadel perched high on a rocky outcrop above the city. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings, most famously the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena (patron and namesake of Athens).

Knowing this was a must-see and with only a short stay in the city, we opted to stay in a very well-located apartment just minutes away. This made our early start time much more manageable. We were waiting at the ticket entrance before it opened at 8:00am to beat the crowds and I’m so glad that we did. It wasn’t difficult to get photos and we had plenty of time to soak of the panoramic city views. We even had time to climb neighbouring Mars Hill sans spectators.

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Parliament Buildings – Changing of the Guard

Every Sunday at 11:00am there is an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Presidential Mansion in Syntagma Square. And what do you know… our one day in Athens just so happened to be on a Sunday. I didn’t even plan that! So we made sure to get there early to nab a spot on the street and gleefully watched the impressive procession of synchronized guardsmen in all their skirted, pom pom tossing glory. I think I enjoyed it even more than the UK variety at Buckingham Palace.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Not too far down the road we came across yet another ancient ruin. This time the Temple of Zeus! The entrance fee was included in our Acropolis ticket and we only stayed long enough to marvel at the sheer size of it. How did people build these monstrosities 2500 years ago?

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Panathenaic Stadium

Okay – this one I did remember and was definitely excited to revisit. It probably has to do with my Olympic obsession but seriously, how could you not be impressed by a 50,000 seat stadium built entirely out of MARBLE! The site of the very first modern Olympic games in 1896 even dates back to ancient times. Mindy and I couldn’t help getting cheesy with a sporty photo shoot.

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The Acropolis Museum

This new museum opened to the public back in 2009 to house the artifacts found on the Acropolis. It was even built overtop of an archaeological site with glass walkways allowing you to view the ruins below – how cool! I loved the juxtaposition of this modern building amidst the surrounding ancient architecture. I’m only a casual fan of museums but it was a nice air-conditioned break from the summer heat and an interesting walk through. Plus it has miniatures! I’m such a sucker for those.

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The Ancient Agora

The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. This one also happens to be the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora. Honestly, by the time we got here I was a bit tuckered out from our full day of sightseeing. Even though it was approaching golden hour (my favourite time of day for photos!) I couldn’t muster up a lot of energy. But the grounds are extensive and beautifully nestled in below the Acropolis. It’s definitely worth a visit!

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So by the end of my two nights in Athens, I was actually wishing I had a couple more. I could have happily dined and strolled in the Plaka neighbourhood for another evening, soaking up the European café culture that I have become so insanely fond of. But, alas, the Greek Islands were calling and I didn’t want to miss one second of my time in the Cyclades… not even Zeus could stop me.

Next up: Santorini at last!!!

In My Bag: Packing for Summer in Europe

In My Bag: Packing for Summer in Europe

While I’m currently gallivanting around Europe, I thought it might be apropos to provide another dose of packing advice.

It is my travel mission to pack as light as possible (hello carry-on!) while still managing to look stylish. I look back at the photos from my 8-month back packing trip to Europe in 2005/2006 and I cringe at the outfits I put together. I wore a ski jacket in 80% of my photos and couldn’t have looked more like a tourist if I tried. Since then, I’ve learned that comfort and efficiency does not have to sacrifice style. With some strategic choices and some handy tools (read: packing cubes!) I am travelling in Europe for 2 weeks with less than 20 lbs on my back!

Here is the breakdown of what I packed in my bag:

CLOTHING AND SHOES

  • 1 pair of walking shoes (BOBS with memory foam)
  • 1 pair of dressier sandals (Clarks)
  • 1 pair of flip flops (Flojos with arch support)
Three is the perfect number for travel shoes.

Three is the perfect number for travel shoes.

  • 1 pair of jeans (for the plane and chilly evenings)
  • 1 pair of loose fitting hippie pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 dresses
  • 1 skirt/dress (convertible)

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  • 8 tops (3 t-shirts, 5 sleeveless)
  • 2-3 cardigans (for the plane, chilling evenings, hot air balloon)

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  • 1 bikini
  • 1 set of sleepwear
  • 12 pairs of underwear + 3 bras (excessive maybe)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of bandelettes
  • 1 belt
  • 1-2 scarves (for the plane or to use as a shawl)

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Note: Packing Cubes!

All of my clothing easily fits inside three small packing cubes. The larger blue one is for all of my bottoms and dresses, the medium red is for tops, and the small red is for underwear. These packing cubes make it insanely easy to pack and repack quickly when living out of a backpack. Read more about my packing cube obsession here.

TOILETRIES & ACCESSORIES

  • Stella & Dot Hang On Travel Case (toiletries/make-up/jewelry/sunscreen)
  • Norwex Cloth
  • Small Medicine Bag (Kleenex, band-aids, medication, hand sanitizer, wet wipes)
  • Travel Flat Iron
  • 1 Pair of Sunglasses
  • Tote Bag (for beach use/extra stuff for airplane)
  • Cross-body Bag (Lug – Moped Day Pack) – The best travel day bag that I’ve found!

ELECTRONICS

  • iPhone 5C
  • Headphones
  • iPhone Charger
  • Camera + Charger (Canon Powershot SX700)
  • Spare Memory Card
  • Portable Charger
  • E-reader (Kobo Aura)
  • Voltage Converter
  • Adapters

DOCUMENTS & MISCELLANEOUS

  • Passport & Visa
  • Wallet
  • Travel Documents & Insurance
  • Sleep Sheet
  • Pillow Case
  • Ear Plugs
  • Travel Journal / Pen
  • Travel Umbrella
  • Luggage Locks

This was my first time bringing only a carry-on to Europe. Do you find it difficult to travel light?

Departure Lounge: Greece & Turkey

Departure Lounge: Greece & Turkey

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!! Summer is swiftly approaching and with it… my next big travel adventure!

In many ways, this trip has been 5 years in the making. It all started in a crowded pub after the first day of an economic conference. My university friends, married couple Rachel & Caleb, were hilariously sharing the story of their disastrous honeymoon in Paris. It was a 3-week comedy of errors and the retelling had our table in stiches. But this story was more of a tragedy in truth because poor Rachel virtually swore off international travel ever since. Being the travel evangelist that I am, I promised that someday I would take her back to Europe and show her how awesome it can be. Well, that someday has finally arrived.

In just a few weeks I am travelling to Greece and Turkey with both Rachel & Caleb (wish me luck!) as well as my frequent travel partner Mindy. If summer in the Mediterranean can’t win them over, then nothing will. We only have 2 weeks but I am confident that our itinerary has something for everyone: Beaches, History, Culture, Adventure, and Food!

Itinerary

June 20-21: Athens, Greece

June 22-25: Santorini, Greece

June 26: Bodrum, Turkey

June 27: Ephesus, Turkey

June 28: Pamukkale, Turkey

June 29-30: Goreme, Turkey

July 1-4: Istanbul, Turkey

These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Renting ATVs and driving around the island of Santorini.
  • Drinking wine while watching the famed Oia Sunset
  • Exploring Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient sites in the world
  • Riding a hot air balloon in Cappadocia!
  • Sinking my teeth into Turkish cuisine (rumored to be A-MAZING!)

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I am SOOO excited for this trip and I can’t wait to start posting about it. Stay tuned this summer for all the details!

Where are your summer plans taking you? Have you been to Greece or Turkey? Any tips? Leave a comment below.