Athens

Highlights:

Hiking up Lycabettus Hill to see fantastic 360° views of Athens and the sweet little ‘Saint-Georges’ chapel perched on the top. Running a cheeky lap, standing on the podium and holding a real Olympic Torch at the Panathenaic Stadium. Strolling the suburbs of AnofiatikaPlaka and Monastiraki. Discovering Dionysus’ Theatre and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre on the Southern Slope of the Acropolis, and the Parthenon and Temple of Athena Nike at the summit. Exploring the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaistos and Hadrian’s Library. Perusing the Monastiraki Flea Markets – you’ll find both treasures and trash here. Sipping a ‘Parthenon Pash’ cocktail at the rooftop bar of our hostel with a gorgeous view of the sunset behind the beautifully lit-up Acropolis. 

Travel Tips:

I would recommend hiking Lycabettus Hill as the first activity on your to do list in Athens. From the top you get a really good idea of the lay out of the city and can make out the locations of all of the major archaeological sites that you may want to visit. It only takes a maximum of 20 minutes to get from the base to the top of the hill so it’s not even a major hike, and the views from the top are so worth it.

If you decide to go to the Panathenaic Stadium (recommended), then definitely grab yourself an audio tape to tour around with. It’s a total bargain at 3 euro for entry AND audio tape and the commentary makes sure you don’t miss out on any of the interesting (and sometimes not so obvious) features of the stadium. Interestingly, the Olympic Torch that travels to the city hosting the Olympic Games every 4 years is lit at the Panathenaic Stadium.

To visit all of incredible archaeological sites in the central Athens area you’d be a fool not to get the 12 euro ‘special package ticket’ produced by the Ministry of Culture. This ticket allows you entry into the Acropolis (which is a 12 euro entry fee on its own anyway) plus 6 other archaeological sites, including; the Northern and Southern Slopes of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, Kerameikos (ancient cemetary), and the Olympieon (where you’ll find the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus). You can buy the ticket at any of the entrances to the 7 participating sites and it is valid for 4 days – easy peasy!

When visiting the Acropolis, go as early in the morning as you can to beat the heat and the throngs of tourists.

Curious Cuisine:

If you’re after a tasty snack on the go in Greece, your go-to meal is a ‘Gyros‘ – a traditional Greek sandwich made with slices of spiced meat cooked on a spit, served with salad in pita bread. They’re usually the cheapest thing on the menu which is a bonus and are served up super quick with a slathering of scrummy sauces. Apparently a lot of the world is already familiar with gyros, but little old me, from little old New Zealand, had never heard of them before and I absolutely butchered the pronunciation making my first order for one. So, just in case you didn’t know, like me, it’s pronounced ‘hear-oss’, NOT ‘jai-rose’ (doh!).

Another popular and traditional Greek fast food is ‘Souvlaki‘ – a meal of small tender cuts of meat, most often served on a skewer (sometimes with vegetables) for eating with your hands, or in a pita bread sandwich with garnishes and sauces (so pretty much a gyros), or with fried potatoes on a dinner plate. A tasty and inexpensive lunch or dinner option.

Apparently the specialty dish of the region is goat (or kid really) meat served with potatoes fried in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt, all drizzled in a zesty lemon sauce – I can’t tell you if it’s true, but I can tell you that it’s delicious!!

Archaeology in Abundance

Archaeology in Abundance

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Dionysus' Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Dionysus’ Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Paris

Highlights:

Roaming the streets and stalls of Montmartre and being awed by the beauty of the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica perched on its summit – think flickering candlelight reflecting off stunning gold-painted alcoves and arches. Looking out over the superb symmetry of the Champs de Mars from the second level of the city’s global cultural icon – La Tour Eiffel a.k.a the Eiffel Tower (even if I was terrified being over 600 steps up from the ground)! Strolling from the Arc de Triomphe in the Place Charles de Gaulle, down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, eyeing up all the theatres, cafés and luxury shops along the way. People-watching in the Place des Vosges, a sweet little town square lined with gorgeous old french buildings complete with red flowers cascading from every window box, located in the lovely Marais district. Rambling around around the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens and along the River Seine. Listening to the bells and marveling at the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the masterpieces of van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and others at the Musée d’Orsay. Taking a snap outside the iconic red windmill of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ cabaret house (see a show if you can). Finding my padlock (Cara and Bobo forever) from 2013 on the ‘Love-Lock Bridge’ – a truly romantic spot in the city of Love!

Lowlights:

In a lot of the touristy areas of Paris, I was approached by illegal street sellers, beggars and people waving petitions in my face. Of course you always want to help people if you can, but there are literally hundreds of these individuals, not just in Paris, but all over Europe, and you just can’t help them all. Also, sadly, many of these people have fairly harassing or sometimes even aggressive tactics and/or are professional pick-pockets. It really is best to just stay clear and use a firm ‘No, merci!’ if approached.

Travel Tips:

Ok so maybe this sounds like an obvious one but anyway… always have a really warm jacket packed in your suitcase – no matter the country you’re traveling to, no matter the season you’re traveling in. I never imagined I’d need a puffer jacket in Paris in May but I ended up wearing mine every single day I was there. You just never know when out-of-season weather may strike and it pays to be prepared. My black Macpac puffer jacket is fantastic for traveling as it’s super warm, doesn’t show the dirt, and squeezes down into a tiny pouch that hardly takes up any room in my case at all.

This also may seem fairly obvious but i’ll say this one anyways too… learn a few key phrases in the language of the country you are traveling to – even a couple of basic words/sentences (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where is the bathroom?, can I have the bill?, how much does this cost?, etc.) will really help you out in a foreign country. I’ve found that people, especially the French, are much more friendly and obliging if you at least try to communicate with them in their mother tongue. Even if you just start off in French and then have to swap to English, you’ll probably have better luck than if you use none at all.

Interior Inspirations:

A 20-minute ride away from Paris on the local RER* C line I located my ULTIMATE DREAM HOME – the Palace of Versailles. This royal chateau is one seriously pimped out crib! The opulence is breathtaking. If it’s not gold, it’s gold-trimmed. King Louis XVI and his infamous wife, Marie Antoinette used to kick it here and they were certainly spoiled for choice when it came to fab spots to hang out around the property! I mean, the palace itself has over 700 luxuriously decorated rooms.  Then there’s the acres and acres of gardens dotted with grand fountains, quaint ponds, splendid sculptures, manicured mazes and even a huge cross-shaped canal (where you can hire a row boat if you so wish). Not to mention the Grand Trianon (a gorgeous collection of buildings including an adorable pink marble and porphyry palace), the Queen’s Hamlet (a group of thatched-roof houses encircling a pond and surrounded by farmland), and Marie Antoinette’s Estate (I would have died to attend one of her lavish tea or dinner parties here). I really love how each  room of importance (i.e., practically every room in the whole place) was decorated with a different bold and beautiful colour, adorned with copious amounts of gold, and finished off with a gigantic sparkling chandelier. I think if I had been resident at the palace, you would have been most likely to find me in either the ‘Queen’s Bedroom’ or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – truly truly magnificent spaces.

* RER trains are similar to metro trains, but travel longer distances outside the Paris city limits. To get to Versailles, take the train headed towards ‘Versailles-Rive Gauche’ — this is the stop to jump off at and also, conveniently,  the last stop on this line so you won’t need to worry about missing it.  The palace is only about a 5 minute walk from the train station and when you exit the train you will soon see signs pointing you in the right direction.

To get the official low-down on all the fabulous aspects and features of this UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site you can visit:  http://www.chateauversailles.fr

Curious Cuisine:

To be perfectly honest with you I was disappointed by the French cuisine that I sampled in Paris –  most probably because I had such high expectations (I mean, ‘cuisine’ is a French word for pete’s sake)! Of course you can always get a delicious ‘petit dejeuner‘ (breakfast) anywhere in France – just grab a hot ‘croissant’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ with a ‘café au lait’ or ‘chocolat chaud’ – but as for lunch and dinner, well, it was all overly cheesy (and not even the good cheese) baguettes made with rock-hard bread, overpriced salads or chunky cut chips (not the skinny FRENCH fries that you’re assume you’re getting). At least the waiters were always very charming and entertaining (insert winky-face). Disappointed by the traditional local fare, I opted to eat at non-french restaurants, and here I was pleasantly surprised. I ate a mountain of tasty tempura vegetables with beautiful fresh salmon and tuna sushimi at a lovely little ‘Restaurant Japonais’, which I unfortunately didn’t jot down the name of, and a simply scrumptious serving of of garlic naan dunked in a creamy chicken tikka masala curry (my standard order) at a colourful and warm ‘Restaurant Indien’ named ‘Kastoori‘. Both of these eateries were located a couple of minutes walk around the corner from the Saint-Georges metro station.

Heights really aren't my thing

Heights really aren’t my thing

'Love-Lock' Bridge

‘Love-Lock’ Bridge

Des Jolies Fleurs

Des Jolies Fleurs

Gorgeous Cafés Galore

Gorgeous Cafés Galore

Marie Antoinette's Field of Daisies

Marie Antoinette’s Field of Daisies

Luxurious Lemon Interiors. Palace of Versailles.

Luxurious Lemon Interiors. Palace of Versailles.

Pink Interior Perfection. Palace of Versailles.

Pink Interior Perfection. Palace of Versailles.

Palace of Versailles Golden Gates

Golden Gates. Palace of Versailles.

Le Tour Eiffel avec ma Petite Sœur

Le Tour Eiffel avec ma Petite Sœur

Paris from Le Tour Eiffel

Paris from Le Tour Eiffel

Sensational Symmetry in the City of Love

Sensational Symmetry in the City of Love

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