Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Land of Lepricons

Went to Dublin with my American friend Alejandra (from New Orleans) last weekend. We had yet another national holiday (what’s up with the French and their endless holidays… these people never work) so we decided to spend 2 days in Dublin to see how the other side lives—basically we just wanted to spend a girls weekend partying. Which we most certainly did… and never have I been as conscious of my age as I am now.

We arrived on Friday morning and I quickly realized that despite being a tiny city, in addition to having a pub every two steps (a local radio station actually had a contest to see if anyone could walk from Point A to Point B without passing a pub... no one could do it), Dublin has the very thing that make London such a great town—amazing shopping! They had The Office and Oasis, Boots and the crème de la crème: TOPSHOP… they even had a Wagamama, which is, hands down, the most delicious Asian fast food I have ever had in my life. I was in heaven.

So after lunch and an afternoon pint (the pubs were packed even at 2pm, gotta love the Irish!), Ali went to take a nap while I set out to hit the stores (who needs sleep when you can shop?). Its times like these when I really miss my girl Paula (we once had a 4-day, sun-up to sun-down shopping fest in London. By the end of it our bodies ached, our feet were literally swollen. We had to sit on our suitcases to close them and feared getting stopped by customs due to the sheer amount of things we bought. But we came back to the States with piles of delicious clothes/shoes) but I went at it alone, and even though I’m hopelessly poor these days, I walked away with a few cute summer dresses.

We were staying in a hostel and our 3rd roomie was a Californian named Kristy who had been studying abroad in Florence for the last year. She was super sweet and traveling alone so we invited her to join us for “an easy night out”. We had dinner and then decided to stop by a pub on Temple Bar, the party street which was a block away from where we were staying. After the first pint, we decided to go to a second bar. Then walking out the door, we bumped into an Irish girl who told us we HAD to check out another bar (off Graffton St which is where the locals hangout)… we arrived at the 3rd bar and spent the next 3 hours dancing with a group of Brits in town for a bachelor party—the DJ spinning everything from Britney Spears and 50 Cent to “Grease Lightning” and “New York, New York”. Funny what music sounds so “fantastic” when you’re drunk :o) At closing, the doorman gave us free tickets for the club across the street which was inside an old theater so we stayed there till closing an hour later. And as per usual, we needed junk food to end the night properly so we decided to stop at Burger King (I know, but you really get to miss American junk food living overseas), where Ali met an Irish guy who escorted us home around 5am.

The next day, we woke up at noon, hurting from the night before. We had planned to see the Guinness Factory regardless of our physical state, so we walked over, waited in line for over an hour to get in and have our tour, complete with a free pint of Guinness (meanwhile, at that point just the sight of beer made us nauseous). We got back around 5pm and fell into bed until it was time for our dinner reservation at Elephant & Castle, apparently one of Colin Ferrell’s favorites. After dinner we wanted to do something chill but since it was Saturday night (or simply b/c its Dublin?), everything was a huge, loud, packed party. So we went to bed at 11pm Saturday night like a couple of losers… granted our flight left at 7am the next morning but its odd to think that just a few years ago I could party till 5am six nights a week and feel fine, while now, one night will do me in… oh well. Dublin was a blast, very cool city with really nice people, but probably made more for the younger set. But after living in a crappy shopping city like Paris for so long (yes, it sucks unless you can afford Chanel and YSL), at least I had a chance to shop!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


B and I had both been itching to leave Paris and go someplace warm and since I had Spring Break, we decided on a week in Greece (April 26-May 3). What I was worried about was the prospect of spending an entire extended holiday (7 days and nights) with this man for the first time...

Athens (1 day)
Flew into Athens on Saturday night, getting to our hotel around 2am. Being in Plaka, the city center and oldest/most popular neighborhood in Athens, it was easy to find. They gave us the best room (I use that term loosely, considering the hotel was totally budget) with a view of the Acropolis. Granted, you had to crane your neck to see it from the balcony, but we knew it was there. After dropping off our stuff, we went out to grab a bite to eat. We found the streets buzzing, even at that late hour, and had Mythos beers and my all-time favorite Greek snack, Spanakopita (a spinach & cheese filled pie). I was told that Athens isn’t the greatest city so we only planned one day there, just to see the Acropolis. Well, guess what? The one day we’re in town the Greeks up and decide to have Orthodox Easter—meaning every single thing in the city was closed. Including the Acropolis. Needless to say, we were bummed… we spent the day wandering the city, eating and drinking.

Santorini (3 days)
We booked economy class for our 7am ferry and grabbed the best seats we could—two chairs at a table in the crowded restaurant. Not the most comfortable way to spend the 7 hour trip but we sat next to a really great couple and ended up talking to them the entire way. A 35-year-old French guy named Benoit (a struggling,girl formerly-homeless gypsy jazz musician) and his English girlfriend Clara (a wannabe interior designer) who lived in London and were spending 3 weeks island hopping—camping no less—on the most remote islands in the Cyclades. Couldn’t be me, but Clara put on a brave (girlfriend was totally faking it).

At the port we were met by a driver for the hotel who told us that the hotel we booked only had twin beds left and if we wanted a double, he could put is in their other hotel a few blocks away. It was terrible—situated on a loud, busy street and on the ground floor—so I politely asked the receptionist if we could take a look at our original hotel to see if we’d prefer that instead. She had the nerve to cop the biggest attitude! Finally I had to get rude and she agreed to call the owner and have us driven to the other hotel which we ended up switching to.

Walking into Fira town, my first thought was, “This is it? This dirty, busy, loud, tacky place is supposed to be one of the most beautiful islands on earth?” I was totally bummed until B decided to walk in the opposite direction from the center and we ended up in Firostefani, the most beautiful little village I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Santorini of picture books—whitewashed buildings, amazing volcano views, red rocked cliffs and an unbelievable sunset. And since tourist season had yet to begin, it was quiet and peaceful, as if we had the entire village to ourselves. We stumbled upon the most beautiful hotel (closed) and I talked the owner into opening the bar for us. We sat out on the terrace drinking beer and taking in the view… unbelievable is too light a word.

The next day we rented an ATV… I was really hesitant about it b/c the Greek Islands are known for their bad roads and tourist motor casualties. There’s nothing to keep you from veering off the side of a mountain, 1000 feet to the rocks/sea below and to your death. I wanted to just take buses to the sights but B insisted on the ATV and I’m glad he did. After running of gas on the side of the road and having to walk 20 mins to the nearest gas station, we ended up seeing so much of the island; visiting the beaches, ancient blue-domed churches, wandering through the villages… even driving back from Oia (in the dark, on a winding cliff) was amazing… granted I was drunk from dinner, otherwise I would have been freaking out. But the entire island is stunning; I will definitely be going back.

Naxos (3 days)
Naxos is known for their varying landscapes—mountains, vineyards, farmlands, beaches. It has absolutely everything you can imagine, is as close to unspoiled as you can get for a tourist destination and is a nature-lovers paradise. Needless to say, I don’t do the nature thing very well so aside from the fact that it was beautiful, the bugs and insects were kinda grossing me out.

Again, we rented an ATV and spend a day touring the entire island. My absolute favorite part was when we came upon a tiny village called Kinidaros. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Oasis, literally just a Greek guy named Dimetri serving food out of his kitchen. We walked in and asked if they were serving food and he replied, “Sure! I have some things I can make for you. Take a seat and I’ll bring something out”. No menu, nothing, we just had to wait and see. Turns out, he makes all the food himself, depending on how the day goes. That day he happened to kill a goat so we had goat cheese and spaghetti with grilled goat. He made a Greek dish of rice wrapped in leaves (picked from his tree in the front yard) grilled in olive oil (homemade). And we had a delicious glass of wine—also made himself out of 12 types of grapes. Everything was absolutely delicious. He sat down with us and told us all about his life and sent us off with a couple of bottles of his homemade wine.

The next best thing was getting lost on the way home. After seeing the countryside, we wanted to ride back along the coast. We took a little road and as it got more and more unkempt, we realized we had made a wrong turn. At a fork in the road, I told B to go left and we ended up near a house. I was going to get off the bike to ask for directions when out of no where, two dogs ran out and started growling and barking at us! I screamed and told B to step on it as the dogs ran alongside the bike, lunging and trying to bite our feet. At the time, I was terrified, thinking we were going to get eaten alive, but now I can only crack up at the image of B trying to maneuver the bike through the potholed, gravelly road without flipping us over and me screaming at him to go faster :o)

It was just such a fun, relaxing trip, I didn’t want it to end (plus, I wasn’t looking forward to the 6 hour ferry ride back to Athens). We got to Athens around 12:30am and since our flight was at 6:40am, we opted out of getting a hotel. Instead we got to the airport around 1:30am, picked out a spot on the floor in between all the backpackers, made a little “campsite” out of our suitcases and towels and lay down to sleep until check-in time.

My favorite thing on vacations is trying to pretend I'm not a tourist. Sure, I like to see the sights, but the best part is attempting to behave like a local—going to the small towns, eating their foods, getting lost in the backstreets. It was pretty unplanned so we just went with the flow and even with a few missteps, we had a blast. And the lucky thing is, it was B and my first real holiday together and it went off without a hitch (aside from the fact that I nearly made us miss our flight b/c I insisted on catching a United game… our saving grace being that the flight was delayed so they let us through the gate. Hey, we made it there in the end so that’s all water under the bridge). The only downfall of the trip was the reaction I got from the Greek people: I have never been stared at so hard in my entire life, not even in Italy (and you know how Italian men are!). I travel a lot so I’m used to looks a tourist (esp. a black woman) gets and I usually ignore it, but this was downright uncomfortable. I later spoke to a black woman who lives in Greece and she said the Greeks are fascinated with anything “ethnic”, it’s like the cool thing now, even though there aren’t many blacks in the country. So all the stares could mainly be caulked up to old-fashioned curiosity rather than racism. Anyway, apart from that it was an unforgettable trip—and a few dozen stares won’t keep me from going back again someday!