Exploring the Ancient Ruins of Athens, Greece

Ah, Greece. The fascinating country with an even more fascinating history – and mythology. Travel back in time and imagine the city as it was during the classical period of ancient Greece. Back when Athens was the center for the arts, learning and philosophy.

Visit the ruins  of what once was a spectacular library. Visit the ruins of the many temples built in honor of the Greek gods and goddesses. Visit the ancient cemetery. Ancient theaters. The stadium. For the love of Zeus – just put on some good shoes, bring your camera and visit absolutely everything!

I visited Athens with my significant other. What was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation on the outskirts of Athens, turned out to be more of an educational city trip instead. After just a day of doing nothing, we both realized how difficult it is for two restless adventure-seekers to be able to enjoy a full week of laziness, so we decided to take the local bus (KTEL) to Cape Sounio (photos below) to see the beautiful ruins of the Temple of Poseidon. Two days later we took the bus the opposite direction, to the city of Athens where we spent a complete day exploring the city. Two days later, we went back to the city for another full day of exploring monuments, ruins and everything else that makes Athens as fascinating as it is. In Athens, you never really run out of things to do.

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As we got off the bus in Athens we were kind of clueless as to where to start – and we didn’t even know where we were, except that we were somewhat close to the Acropolis. Turned out we were right in front of the Parliament House – just in time to see the changing of the guard. A fun experience for tourists. And it’s totally free. Too bad I forgot to take pictures of the ceremony.

We continued to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where we were given the option to buy individual tickets to see the temple only – or a package which allows you to visit multiple sites on the same ticket. We already knew we wanted to visit the Acropolis anyway, so we went with the package deal. Considering we ended up visiting every single site listed on the ticket, we definitely made the right decision – which also saved us a lot of money!

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While on our way to the next site, we made a quick stop to photograph the Arch of Hadrian, a monumental gateway between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the rock of the Acropolis. Speaking of Acropolis; did you know that the word acropolis comes from the Greek words “akron” (highest point) and “polis” (city)?

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Ancient citadel, historical Acropolis was as captivating as I expected it to be. But also as crowded – and under renovation. Even with cranes, workers and selfie-taking tourists blocking the full view, visiting these ruins is a magical experience unlike any other. I overheard tourists comparing it to Rome, but this is nothing like Rome. This is Athens. They are both beautiful cities and might have certain similarities, but you shouldn’t compare. The Greek gods would not approve of comments like that. I don’t know about you, but when in Greece, I think it’s a good idea not to mess with them!

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The Parthenon, a former temple on the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena.

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Built at the foot of the Acropolis, there’s the Theater of Dionysus. It was used as a theater since the sixth century Before Christ, and has recently been brought back to life as it has been renovated and will apparently be hosting more and more theater performances in the future.

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As fascinating as the ruins are, there’s also another reason to visit the Acropolis. Just check out this gorgeous view over the city!

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After visiting the Acropolis, we walked down the hill – only to walk up another one, to get a great view over the Acropolis from a distance. While on top of the Areopagus rock (Areopagus translates to “Ares’ Hill”) we enjoyed the view – together with a bunch of other tourists. A lot of tourists visit this rock because it was, supposedly, from this location Apostle Paul had delivered his famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands”.

We didn’t hang out there for too long as we were both starting to feel quite thirsty and slightly tired. We needed to sit down somewhere, preferably a nice little cafe or restaurant – with an ice-cold, refreshing beverage.

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We wanted to visit Hadrian’s Library the same day, but had to save it for later as it was closed by the time we got there. On our second day trip to Athens, we did indeed get to visit this library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian. Once the largest library in Athens, now only ruins are left.img_20161011_212110

We also visited the Temple of Hephaestus. I was surprised by how well-preserved this temple is!

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The last site we visited was Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens which is an archaeology site and museum….and for some reason it’s also the home of land turtles? At least we found five individual turtles wandering around the site, happy and healthy.

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A different side of Warsaw, Poland

When you think of Poland, do you think about Kraków? Do you think about vodka? Do you think about unpronounceable names with too many consonants and not enough vowels? Well, let me give you something new to think about.

Welcome to Warsaw, the capital city of my favorite Eastern European country (because I’m half Polish and obviously biased). Welcome to a diverse, cosmopolitan city and its young, vibrant environment. It’s not all young and urban here, though. There’s still the Old Town with its beautiful ancient architecture, and the historical royal palaces and their parks on the outskirts of the city. I’m gonna talk more about some of those.

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My favorite park is the Lazienki Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw. It was designed in the 17th century, and the palace on the water – Lazienki Palace – is a must see while visiting this picturesque park. What is the history of this marvelous palace and park complex, you may ask. It was built as a summer residence for King Stanislaw August, and was later used by the President of Poland. Today, its a museum and a venue for cultural, scientific and entertainment events. Speaking of which; from May to September – at noon and at 4 pm – free outdoor Chopin concerts take place there. Take the bus (116, 166, 180) from the central train/bus station to Lazienki Królewskie and check it out!

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Another park I’ve fallen in love with is the garden of the historic Wilanów palace – the “Polish Versailles”, and second home to various Polish kings. Just like the Lazienki Palace, the Wilanów Palace is also open for tourists to visit as a museum. Take the bus (519 or 700) from the central train/bus station to come here and enjoy this idyllic garden!

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After spending a full day in one of these parks, I’m sure your legs are gonna be exhausted from all the walking. And maybe you need a bit of caffeine and some sugar? And a what about a cuddle? You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m on about, and it’s not as weird as it sounds – although some people may still find it weird anyway. Follow me to Miau Cafe – the first cat cafe in Warsaw! I have never felt as calm and relaxed as I did in the lounge area of this establishment. It’s completely hygienic, as all food and drinks are prepared in a closed kitchen area – away from the furry kitties. And the cats are not crawling all over your stuff if you (or the hostess) tell them to back off.

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I’m sure some of you are interested in visiting Poland because you want to go shopping. I don’t blame you. My mother is crazy about it, so I’ve spent a whole lot of time with her inside of the malls of Warsaw searching for things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like. At least it’s not that expensive to go shopping in Warsaw – although it’s way more expensive now than it used to be, before Poland became one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. Zlote Tarasy is kind of hard to miss if you come to Warsaw city center by train or bus, as it’s just across the street from the central train station. This mall has everything you need and more. All kinds of stores, a hypermarket, a food court and a movie theater.

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The other one worth checking out is the large shopping mall Arkadia , which is easy to reach by public transportation, as nine of the tram lines and six of the buses go there. Grab an ice-cold beer at the Bierhalle or one of the many ice cream desserts at Grycan. Enjoy!

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Let me ask you again; when you think of Poland, what do you think about? Did any of these things tempt you into visiting Warsaw during your next trip to Poland?

If yes, then here’s another idea for what you can do in Warsaw. Sit down in a Pierogi-restaurant, order those dumplings filled with deliciousness, raise your pint of Polish beer or your vodka-based cocktail and say “Na Zdrowie!”. You’re welcome.

 

Humane and enjoyable ZooParc de Beauval (Loire Valley, France)

I love animals. There’s no doubt about that. Zoo’s, however, is something I have mixed feelings about – depending on the zoo in question. There are those who force animals to live in small cages in terrible conditions and keep them on display from morning until late evening. With nowhere to hide. And who knows whatever happens when darkness falls? Only the staff knows.

BUT. There are humane zoo’s too. Zoo’s that truly care for animals and promote wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. Where the outdoor areas looks exactly like the animals’ natural habitat. Where they have plenty of space to run free and hide away from the public whenever they want to. ZooParc de Beauval in the Centre-Val de Loire region (France) is one of those zoo’s. It was a joy to visit this place after having watched their documentary on TV, and seeing how well they take care of their animals. They care a lot more about the well-being of the animals than profiting from the zoo. Which means I have no problem recommending it to you, your friends and anyone else who happens to be in the Loire Valley in France and is in need of something fun to do.

ZooParc de Beauval is more than just your average zoo. I had a fantastic time watching their bird show. In fact, it’s one of my top five highlights this year. I’m kind of obsessed with owls, and to have great grand dukes flying inches above my head, back and forth, was spectacular! The entire audience was amazed by the owls, the eagles and all the other majestic creatures that were flying right above us. It was an experience unlike any other.

The sea lion show was fun too, but it’s something I have seen before, elsewhere, so it didn’t blow me away as much as the bird show did. However, it was still fun to watch the sea lions doing tricks, getting fed and playing in the water with the trainers.

One of the most popular sights in ZooParc de Beauval was the new hippo pool. The water was crystal clear and you could see absolutely everything. We made it in time for feeding, and got a great view of the hippos enjoying their lunch in the water.

Did you know that in ZooParc de Beauval you can adopt an animal? Your donations will pay towards the care and treatment of your adopted animal.

One person can not save the world, but if you can help one animal, one organization or one person, then that’s a whole lot more than doing nothing at all!

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Barcelona: Lost in Wonderland

There I was. Barcelona.

La Rambla was as busy as it was rumored to be. Tourists, souvenir sellers, taxis, locals. So much noise. So much life. I watched and listened with curiosity.

I love Spain. The Spanish language is beautiful, the people are friendly – and who doesn’t like sunshine, tapas and sangria? But there’s more to Barcelona than just that. And my trip to this gorgeous city was unlike any experience I’ve ever had.

Park Güell and its colorful mosaic. One of my definite highlights. This is one of the major works by architect Gaudi, the man behind the beautiful basilica Sagrada Familia and many other fantastic buildings in the city of Barcelona. He put his magic touch on the city back then, so that you and I can admire these fairytalesque buildings today.

Speaking of fairy tales. I came to Barcelona first and foremost for a writing retreat hosted by Pink Pangea. But the retreat became more of a soul-searching experience than anything else. I met these wonderful women of all ages. We laughed together, we cried together, we shared. Oh, how we shared. By sharing my deepest thoughts and most personal stories, not only did I reach out to these women, but I reached inside of my heart and opened it for the world to see.

I had the time of my life with these women. We got lost multiple times, though. We visited the crowded Mercado de la Boqueria. We photographed, tasted dried fruits and caramelized nuts and we got separated from the crowd. Me and a fellow blogger from the retreat. It was easy to lose track in Barcelona. Track of time. Track of people. Track of sanity. We went to the beach right before midnight. Into the water. Wet dress. Sand everywhere. Smiling from ear to ear. Like children. And again, during a walking tour, we got separated from the crowd and ended up walking elsewhere and had a lot of fun doing it. Like children.

One day I got up early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise and enjoy the streets during the silent hours. The only people who were out at the time, were the street sweepers and the people who hadn’t made it back to the hotel after the night before. It was a different Barcelona. The city I had learned to know would wake up in a couple of hours.

I loved the silence of that morning. Back home, silence is a sign of boredom. I crave the energy and the childish spontaneity I had back in Barcelona. Gaudi’s world. Wonderland, where me and my fellow writers were all Alice.

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Park Güell

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The things you discover when getting lost

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The market

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Some of the works of Gaudi

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One of his most famous buildings: Sagrada Familia

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The morning I got up earlier than everyone else

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Tapa. Pimientos del Padron.

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Powerful Flamenco in Barcelona

Flamenco. Sizzling hot moves, passionate and emotional music, cheerful clapping and gorgeous outfits. This Spanish art form is an experience unlike any other. 

Strong vocals. Male and female. Powerful facial expressions. I didn’t understand the Spanish lyrics but I felt the passion, the pain, the sensuality, all at once. The guitarist played mesmerizing melodies in harmony with the vocals. All the musicians had wonderful stage presence. It was a joy to watch!

The dancers were absolutely fabulous. Tapping. Clapping. Expressions. Gorgeous frilly dresses. They took us on an emotional journey and left us stunned after an intense performance. I wanted to see more. Hear more.

I gave them a big applause, complimented them on a fantastic performance and finished my sangria, before making my way out after a spectacular show.

The venue was small, which made the atmosphere seem more authentic and personal.

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If you’re planning to visit Barcelona, I highly recommend this Flamenco show at City Hall!

location: Barcelona, in a venue called City Hall (address: Rambla de Catalunya 2) 

when: Thursday to Sunday at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm – length of performance: 55 minutes

website: www.flamencobarcelona.com

(although tickets were complimentary, all opinions in this review remain my own)