Posts Tagged With: Europe

Exploring Mykonos

Of all the Greek islands, Mykonos is considered to be the glamorous party island of the Cyclades, and after spending a few days here, it was pretty easy to see why the rich and famous flock to its fancy beach clubs and party the night away. But, for those of us with tighter budgets, Mykonos still has plenty to offer.

Mykonos has been attracting visitors since the 1920s, but back then, rather than sun seekers and party goers, the island was an intriguing getaway for archaeologists and antiquity hunters, who would use it as a base to visit ancient Greece on the island of Delos.

The island became more popular in the 1960s when celebrities began vacationing here, and its popularity has continued to grow. Now, during the high season, the island, which is home to over 12,000 people, sees a huge influx of tourists and cruise ship passengers, adding up to 15,000 more people a day!

With its popularity comes a higher price tag on many things, especially if you are planning to visit between June and the end of August, when prices are double or triple what they are in the low season or even the shoulder seasons of May and September. We arrived near the end of May when the temperatures were already rising and the crowds were getting bigger, but with only three nights here, we jumped right into exploring what Mykonos had to offer.

One of the most famous sights on the island is the windmills.

They were built and in use in Mykonos from around the 1500s and up to the first decades of the 20th century. As the island is blessed with a strong wind most days, windmills were the ideal tool for grinding grain into flour—primarily wheat and barley.

While they are no longer operational, many of the windmills still stand as a reminder of the past … and a great photo spot! Be sure to check them out during the day and then come back in the evening, grab a beer, and find a spot to sit and watch the gorgeous Mykonos sunset!

Below the main set of windmills, you’ll find the Little Venice area of the island, filled with lots of trendy boutiques and restaurants with colourful flowers and cascading bougainvillea. This is the perfect place to grab a drink at one of the bars and catch the sunset. (Just be aware that reservations are often required and many have a €100 sitting fee during the sunset hours.)

As you make your way along the cobblestone streets and up and down the many stairs found here in between shops and restaurants, you’ll also find a number of tiny churches. I’ve never seen so many churches in such a small area as I did around Little Venice and Old Mykonos.

Another thing Mykonos is known for is its beautiful beaches and many beach clubs, including Paradise, Super Paradise, and Paraga. Dotted along each one you’ll find beach bars, restaurants, and lounge chairs. Even for those who aren’t into the crowded party scene (like my husband and I), you’ll still have a great time down at the beaches.

We had a delicious dinner at Paraga Beach at Taso’s Taverna and then strolled along the beach watching the sunset!

One thing I was most excited about on our trip to Greece was Greek food, and Mykonos didn’t disappoint—especially the fresh seafood found here. The beach tavernas have amazing dishes, but the ones found in Old Mykonos, like Captain’s, also have a great variety. We opted for the seafood-sharing platter and weren’t disappointed!

I made a promise to my husband that when he joins me on trips, I will always do my best to find a craft brewery for him to enjoy, and it turns out Mykonos has a great one. It was a bit of an adventure to find (I don’t recommend walking from town), but Mykonos Brewing Company was worth the visit.

We enjoyed a tasting flight of the beers they had on tap as the guy working told us all about each one and a bit about the history of the brewery. My fave was Fragos’ko, a beer made with the local prickly pear!

DELOS

If ancient Greek ruins are more your style, then don’t miss taking a trip over to Delos island. This UNESCO world heritage site, which was once considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, is easily accessed from Mykonos by boat. The Cyclades name comes from the islands encircling the sacred island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis. There are no permanent dwellings and overnight stays aren’t allowed. The island is only 5km long and 1300m wide and can mostly be explored in a few hours. Many of the pieces found on the island are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but there’s a good collection found here.

Tickets can be purchased down by the water in Old Mykonos. There are several time slots each day and you can opt for just the return boat ride for €22 or a guided tour for €60. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes. Entrance to the island isn’t included in the ticket and costs €8 at the gate. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and good walking shoes!

Where to stay

There are so many options around the island vastly ranging in price.

We wanted to be within walkable distance to Old Mykonos and the windmills and found Oniro Suites, a small boutique hotel about a 7-minute walk from Old Mykonos.

The room was beautiful and the small pool was perfect after a hot walk around town, but the best parts were Anna, who worked reception, and the amazing continental breakfast that was included each morning. We were expecting the typical North American-style breakfast, and instead had some of the best breakfast food we’ve ever had.

More Info

Mykonos is easily accessed by high-speed ferry. We used SeaJets, but you can find all the options on FerryHopper.

If you are arriving to the island by ferry, you can take the SeaBus from the new port (where the ferries land) to the old port for €2. The SeaBus departs every 30 minutes and has lots of room for luggage.

The main Windmills of Mykonos are located in the Chora, just a 5-minute walk away from Fabrika central bus station. They are also just up the hill from Little Venice.

You can rent cars, ATVs, and motorcycles everywhere and many tourists use this as a way to travel around the island.

But if ATVs aren’t your thing, you can easily (and cheaply) get around the island by public bus. Schedules can be found here. It’s a great way to travel to the beach clubs, especially if you’re planning to drink. Plus, asking for a roundtrip ticket to Paradise is fun!

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A quick trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower at nightParis – the city of love!

A city full of history, architecture and pain du chocolat!

I’ve been to Europe 10 times but seemed to be dancing around Paris. It was finally time to go see this iconic city that everyone always has so much to say about.

We arrived and found our cute little Airbnb apartment in Montmarte, just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge and set out to join the Sandemans New Europe free walking tour. I’ve done this tour in other cities around Europe and always find it a great way to get your bearings, find some of the big tourist sites, and learn about lesser-known favourites that the guides love.

We gathered at Fontaine Saint-Michel to start the tour and learn a bit about the buildings around us. The architecture here is incredible. I could have happily just wandered through the city looking at the buildings, but there were far too many other things to see and do to just leave my eyes glued to the buildings.

We crossed a bridge and found ourselves walking up to Notre Dame, and while we didn’t find Quasimodo ringing the bells, there were a lot of gargoyles up on the arches looking down over the city. This gorgeous French Gothic church was set for demolition, but was saved by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book was so popular that a petition went out to save the church.

Inside Notre Dame
The inside is as beautiful as the outside – especially the huge stained glass windows!

We made our way along the Seine River and came to the new Love Lock Bridge. Across the way is the former Love Lock Bridge, but so many locks had been placed on it that a piece of the bridge fell off into the Seine! It was considered a hazard (and an eyesore by many locals) and was moved to a sturdier landing by the bridge. Not as cool, but still full of locks.

We added our own lock to the masses and threw our key into the Seine. The area down by the water was nice to walk along except for the fact that like much of the city, the smell of pee was strongly wafting through the air. Such a beautiful…smelly city.

The LouvreThe Louvre was our next stop. This incredible building stretches along the right bank of the Seine. It houses over 35,000 works of art and it’s said it would take nine months to look at everything. Likely the most famous piece inside is the Mona Lisa, but we didn’t see it or any of the other masterpieces as we just wandered the outside of the building. Sometimes when you have limited time, you have to choose what you have time to see!

The Louvre used to be where the monarchy lived and they continued to add to it. In 1989, a new entrance was built. Pyramid outside the LouvreIt’s supposed to be an invisible pyramid, but with its height, they couldn’t get the glass to stay without breaking as soon as the wind or rain hit it. Now it’s a bunch of small triangles with steel poles holding them together, making this invisible pyramid very visible and very odd looking next to this grand building from the 13th century!

Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselAcross the way is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a much smaller version of the main Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon commissioned it to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. He had already commissioned the main one, but it took about 20 years to build, so he had this one made so he could walk under it in victory sooner! If you look though the marble arch you can see the Arc de Triomphe from one side and the Louvre from the other. Here, we were given more info on other main sites and our tour ended in the park.

Arc de TriompheWe continued through the park, heading towards the Arc de Triomphe, walking along the fancy Champs-Elysees area with all the high-end shops and restaurants. To get to the Arc de Triomphe, you must take the underground tunnel, as it’s far too dangerous to cross the 12 lane roundabout circling it! It’s a very patriotic sight with a huge French flag flying in the middle of the 50-metre high arch.

The whole time we were walking up to it, I found myself singing songs from Les Miserables, specifically “Do You Hear the People Sing.”  (If you don’t know this musical, go check out the soundtrack!)

Eiffel Tower Our walking tour continued along Champs-Elysees as we now made our way toward the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to have the classic romantic picnic by the Eiffel Tower so we looked for a place to buy baguettes, cheese and wine, but we waited too long and most of the bakeries were closed for the day. We realized we didn’t have a corkscrew and all the good wine needed one. Eventually, we found a little market with twist off mini bottles of wine, small baguettes and some cheese, so we bought it and continued to the Eiffel Tower. What an impressive sight! You see the image of the Eiffel Tower on everything these days, but seeing it up close was amazing. We found a spot in the grass just as the sun was starting to set and started our picnic.

Our Parisian picnic

It was definitely less than ideal. The bread was hard and the cheese smelled like dirty feet! We scrapped that and got seafood paella at one of the food vendors nearby. So much for our romantic French picnic!

Beginning at 9pm, there is a sparkling light show on the tower lasting about 5 minutes every hour on the hour. What a spectacular sight! After watching it again at 10pm, we caught the Metro back to Montmartre and saw another iconic Parisian landmark all lit up – the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge

We spent day two at Disneyland Paris. You can see that blog post here.

The following day, we set out to walk around Montmartre, the artsy, bohemian area of Paris. I loved it here. We stopped at a bakery for pain du chocolat (delicious chocolate croissants) before continuing on. Montmartre is located on a hill, giving you some nice views, especially when you make it up to the top by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

The huge dome can be seen for miles. You can climb up the Dome and head down into the crypt here. If you are tired of walking at this point, you can also take the funicular up the hill to the Sacre-Coeur. At the base of the steps is a beautiful old double-decker carousel. Beautiful carousel near Sacre-Couer

From here, we took the Metro to visit the Catacombs of Paris. It was a long wait, but it was a very cool experience, exploring the bones beneath the city. (For more on that, check out this blog post).

Our time in Paris was running out and although there were many more things I wanted to see and do, they would all have to wait for next time. I had one more main item to check off on this visit… climbing up the Eiffel Tower!

We made our way back over to the tower, paid our €7 and started climbing. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

There are also elevators you can take, but we decided to walk up instead. You can climb as high as the second viewing deck. We stopped at the first level, 57m up, to take some photos before continuing up to the second deck at 115m. (The full tower is 324m to the tip). We toasted our success with a beer and enjoyed the view of Paris from up here. View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

What an incredible end to a short stay in the city of love!

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Bonjour Paris!

I had always wanted to visit Paris, but seemed to always find myself heading elsewhere on my trips to Europe. Finally, on my last trip over, I had a few days to spend exploring the ‘city of love’.  The architecture here is amazing. I loved just wandering around the streets taking in all the old buildings.  Since we didn’t have much time, we walked the streets looking for all the iconic Parisian sights, stopping at bakeries for croissants and coffee along the way!

Here’s a little video with some of the most famous sights in Paris.

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