August 30, 2015

Oia, Greece ~ Where the Town IS the Attraction

I'd be lying if I didn't say that I wanted to go to Greece for the sole reason of getting the above picture.

That is to say, I did have other reasons, too, but I would've chalked the trip up to a win if we'd only gotten this picture and nothing else. But thankfully we stayed for several nights and drank our fill of the twisting lanes, traditional cave housing, and sunsets of Santorini.

The town of Oia (pronounced "Ee-ah") is perched on the northern end of the caldera that forms the island of Thira (or Santorini as it's popularly known). If you guessed that the island rock is volcanic, you'd be correct. Santorini is an active volcano that last erupted in 1956, destroying many buildings on the island. When those who remained on the island began to rebuild, they did so with an eye for aesthetics and with the keen business sense to appeal to tourism. As such, the white-washed houses and blue-domed churches of Oia and the rest of the island have become an iconic vision of the Greek islands and are responsible for luring thousands of tourists to come spend their money wandering the beautiful streets.

There is nothing historic in Oia. Most of the buildings are no more than 60 years old due to the volcanic eruption in 1956, but here the main attraction is simply the town and island itself. The raw beauty of Oia is stunning; where else in the world do you find crowds that applaud simply in response to a sunset? This place was made for romantics. But judge for yourself.

View of Oia from the northern tip of the island

Greek enchantment

A couple's paradise

Let the wedding bells ring!

Ah, yes, the money shot!

Requiem to a sunset

Where else in the world does one applaud after a sunset?

If you find yourself planning a trip to Santorini, do yourself a favor and stay in Oia, even if you can't afford a caldera-view hotel. Just being in the town itself will be worth your while.

Have you visited Oia?

* We recommend staying at the Oia's Sunset located near the town square. It is not caldera view, but the rooms are spacious, have a traditional feel, and Panos will make you feel more like an old family friend than a stranger. A review of our stay will be forthcoming!

Linking up for #WeekendWanderlust!
Linking up for #TravelTuesday!

August 26, 2015

An Unexpected Trip

We're going back to London and Germany!!!

If you guessed Great Britain, England, Germany, London, Dinkelsbuehl, or Bavaria, then email me your mailing address so I can send you a postcard (!

This trip will only be around nine days long and will primarily focus on family, but we're looking forward to filling up on our favorite Bavarian eats and seeing some of our favorite sites in London for the precious few days that we're there! As always when traveling, it's best to follow along on Instagram or Facebook to sneak a peek into our adventures.

Thanks to all participants! I really wish I were going to New Zealand, Costa Rica, or Sweden, but maybe next time!

Destination Guessing Game!

"Oh, where will I go? One final clue...
The destination is not one, but actually two!
Do you know these two spires & where they reside?
If you do, our destinations you’ll correctly surmise!"

Good thing I didn't try to get a job writing poetry! So if you keep up with my Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you'll know that we're leaving on a jet plane... next week! It's the second-most last-minute trip we've ever had, and I'm dubbing it the "Babymoon" as it's now all but guaranteed to be our last international trip before Baby Gypsy arrives. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to have people guess the destinations to win a postcard of the correct guess! Think you recognize the two pictures above? Leave a comment here, on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook! I'll reveal the answer tonight!

What was the most last-minute international trip you've been on?

August 17, 2015

Baby Gypsy: Herr or Her?

So we threw a "Dirndl or Lederhosen?" themed reveal yesterday to announce Baby Gypsy's sex to our families...

Looks like it's time to bust out everything sweet and cutesy for a baby girl! We are so excited to be adding a little girl to our gypsy adventures, but even more happy to say that she appears to be healthy. We've chosen to keep our social media postings rather vague when it comes to Baby Gypsy. Her name will probably remain a secret until birth, and most likely we will not be posting any pictures of her. We feel that since she will be unable to express any opinion about her online presence until she's much, much older, we will respect her privacy by being overly cautious about posting specifics or images. But we'll be happy to share generalities with you and welcome you to share in our joy as we go through the second half of the waiting period leading up to her arrival - the biggest adventure we've ever undertaken!

Any tips from moms, moms-to-be, and non-mothers who have traveled in the near vicinity of infants while dying to express an opinion on how to do it better? ;) We're tentatively planning on a March trip to Germany to introduce her to that side of the family, but she'll be less than three months old. Any suggestions on how to travel easily with a baby would be welcomed!

August 14, 2015

Tears & Tantrums at the Trevi Fountain

Many world-class attractions in the world come with a mandatory tourist tradition. At Blarney Castle in Ireland, one must kiss the Blarney Stone to gain the gift of eloquence. When visiting the Louvre in Paris, taking a photo with the glass pyramid in the palm of your hand or dangling from your fingers is obligatory. And when in Rome, one cannot pass up the opportunity to toss a coin over the shoulder into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee a return trip to the Eternal City.

But when we were in Rome, we were denied the coin-tossing tradition.

I blame the fuzziness on disappointment.
Not gonna lie - I was pretty much at the point of tears when I came around the corner and saw all the scaffolding. The magnificent Trevi Fountain was undergoing renovations (anticipated to finish in Fall 2015). A television screen was playing footage of what the Trevi Fountain looks like with water in it, and a small marble basin sat near the construction site for tourists to toss a coin over their shoulders. But that's like waving an ice cream cone beneath the nose of a diabetic. It just makes you feel worse about not getting the real deal.

While Danny lingered around the square to take a few pictures of the site, I retreated back down the alley from which we came, ready to go back to the hotel and lick my wounds. Other English-speaking tourists were also voicing disappointment, and I felt particular kinship to a toddler throwing a temper tantrum nearby. It's hard traveling halfway around the world only to have a site closed for renovations, isn't it, little guy? Then again, maybe the tantruming toddler was just upset because he dropped his gelato cone...

Let's just hope the fountain is flowing and bubbling by the time I get around to returning to Rome!

Have you ever traveled somewhere only to discover that a site was closed for some reason? How did/do you handle it?

Linking up for #WeekendWanderlust!
Linking up for #TravelTuesday!

August 10, 2015

Dining Out in Athens

When it comes to finding a restaurant in a strange city, I'm a fan of the "hit and run" method. You case the place, maybe saunter past casually a few times to gauge the atmosphere and patronage; you thumb through the outdoor menu for something to catch your eye; then you either hit up the place or you run off before the outdoor attendant tries to convince you that it's "the best food in all of [fill in the city]."

In southern Europe it's quite common for restaurants to have an outdoor attendant to bully woo potential patrons into their seats; Greece is no exception. Oftentimes it can feel like you're running a gauntlet of "please, eat here, sir!" and "enjoy the best views from our patio!" catcalls from these restaurant workers.

Although our time in Athens was short, I have a few eatery recommendations below for the general Monastiraki and Plaka areas.

Stock photo of gyro. Not taken at Quick Pitta.
Quick Pitta
The very name should serve as a clue that this place markets tourists. That being said, we did not find the prices to be unreasonable for the portions or the quality; however, you will find cheaper elsewhere if you're so inclined. Having stumbled off the plane only a few hours prior, we wanted cheap Greek food and fast. Quick Pitta was exactly what we needed at that time.

If you order your meal to go, you can take a wrapped gyro (otherwise known as a döner or döner kebab in other corners of Europe) and be out the door in minutes. We chose to sit down and enjoy ours, in which case the meat and other ingredients are brought out on a plate for you to wrap in pita yourself.

The service was typical for Europe; Americans should leave their expectations of overly smiling, chatty-Kathy waitstaff at home! Our server was neither impolite nor affable. We did not have to wait long for our food or drinks, and we were satisfied with our experience.

Price Range: $
Service: 3.5 out of 5
Bang for your Buck Value: 4 out of 5
TripAdvisor Rating: #515 out of 2,343 restaurants
LocationMitropoleos 55 in the Plaka district; it is located at the corner of Mitropoleos and Aiolou Streets, just northeast of Hadrian's Library or southeast of Monastiraki Square.

Dia Tayta 
Walking through ancient ruins all day can work up a Herculean appetite! (See what I did there?) Thankfully, there are a number of restaurants in close vicinity to the ancient Athenian Agora, of which Dia Tayta is an excellent choice.

We began our meal with an appetizer of tzatziki and pita, accompanied by a small bowl of olives; hands down, it was the best tzatziki we had in all our time in Greece. Danny ordered gyro meat on pita while I opted for souvlaki with peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  In a word, delicious.

The serving sizes were appropriate for the price, and Danny's Hellas beer was also reasonably priced. Dia Tayta is located on an especially busy street, as it's the main thoroughfare from Monastiraki Square to the entrance of the Agora. Street vendors and pedestrians will be your immediate view, but you can catch a glimpse of some of the ruins over their heads. The patio attendant made sure to shoo away the girls trying to make you buy their flowers, but not before I got a slight pinch on the nose and Danny a smack on the hand by one cheeky teenage girl when we refused to buy a rose.

We were very pleased with both our meal and the general atmosphere for our lunch at Dia Tayta and would recommend it to others.

Price Range: $$
Service: 4 out of 5
Bang for your Buck Value: 4 out of 5
TripAdvisor Rating: #423 out of 2,343 restaurants
LocationAdrianou 37 in the Plaka district; it is located southwest of Monastiraki Square by approximately one block.

Taverna Karyatis (KARUATIS)
Situated in the heart of the Plaka district just one block east of Hadrian's library, the Taverna Karyatis offers a pleasant atmosphere of outdoor seating beneath leafy trees and serves delicious Greek cuisine to tempt your palate. We ate at this restaurant on our last evening in Athens.

We were coaxed into choosing this restaurant by the outdoor attendant, but his manner wasn't too forceful and he kept the scamming street sellers at bay during the entirety of our meal. Predictably, Danny selected the gyro entree accompanied by a Mythos beer. I choose a chicken and mushroom dish served in a creamy sauce with a side of rice and french fries - not exactly authentic Greek food, but one must not resist pregnancy food cravings!

The gyro was excellent; my rice was slightly undercooked, and my french fries ended up being smothered in the creamy sauce. But the sauce was delicious, and both the chicken and mushrooms were good.

While the food at Taverna Karyatis certainly didn't overwhelm us, the restaurant was a solid choice, and a place we wouldn't necessarily overlook in the future when we return to Athens.

Price Range: $$
Service: 4 out of 5
Bang for your Buck Value: 3.5 out of 5
TripAdvisor Rating: #282 out of 2,343 restaurants
Location: Kapnikareas 39 in the Plaka district; it is located on the corner of Adrianou and Kapnikareas in a park-like area directly east from Hadrian's library.

Our last Athenian meal was spent at Old Ithaki, located adjacent to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. We were enticed to eat here by the views of the Cathedral, the pleasing outdoor seating, and of course, the outdoor attendant who swore it was the best food in Athens "or your meal is free!" Like that would ever really happen!

While the food was not the best in Athens (not even the best of our time in Greece), we enjoyed it and were very impressed by the portion sizes, as you can see from my Instagram post below.

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsy87) on

I settled for a salad lunch that day - Caesar, not Greek, as I was craving some lettuce and fattening dressing. My portion was equally huge, and I struggled to eat half of it. The prices were a bit high at Old Ithaki compared to the rest of Athens, but you could work around this by splitting an entree between multiple people. The serving sizes will definitely accommodate it!

Service was prompt, unassuming, and unremarkable. We were more entertained by the other American couple seated nearby who were furiously arguing in hushed tones about credit cards not being accepted and how much to leave in a tip (hint: tipping is not necessary, but you can round up to the nearest or next nearest Euro if you feel compelled).

Price Range: $$
Service: 4 out of 5
Bang for your Buck Value: 3.5 out of 5
TripAdvisor Rating: #1,844 out of 2,343 restaurants
LocationAdrianou 37 in the Plaka district; it is located east southeast of Monastiraki Square directly next to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.

Have you visited Athens? Do you have restaurant recommendations?

Linking up for #TravelTuesday!

August 05, 2015

Temple of Hephaestus - Athens, Greece

It's only one of the best preserved Doric temples in the world. No big deal, right?

Situated on a hill overlooking the Agora but overshadowed by the nearby Acropolis, the Temple of Hephaestus is an eye-catching structure in the historic center of Athens. A single 12 euro ticket* provides entry into the Ancient Agora of which the Temple of Hephaestus is a part. Late on the evening of our first day in Athens, less than an hour before the site closed, we entered the Agora for a quick look around.

It was in the magical haze of just before sunset that we saw the Temple of Hephaestus peeking through the fence post-like trees around it and above the ruined walls and paths of the Agora. It's eye-catching, and so excitingly complete. Well, minus the decorative stone panels that were absconded to the British Museum and the Greek museums.

We were so fascinated with the Temple that we returned again the following day for more photos and to soak in the quiet atmosphere of this little hill beneath the Acropolis.

Have you visited the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens?

*Cost: 12 euros per person, but includes admission to the Acropolis, the North and South Slope of the Acropolis, Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora, Kerameikos, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The Temple of Hephaestus is part of the Ancient Agora.
Time Needed: 1-2 hours for the entire Agora
Accessibility: There are two entrances to the site. The main entrance is located just off Adrianou Road, and a smaller, quieter entrance is located near the back entrance to the Acropolis on Polignotou Road.
Money-Saving Tips: Download Rick Steves' free podcasts on your smartphone to learn more about the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. Bring a refillable water bottle as the site contains fountains, and it can be very warm in Athens from May through September.
Other Tips: Wear comfortable shoes as the ancient cobblestones can be difficult to walk on and stones are scattered everywhere. There are restrooms located in the recreated Stoa near the main entrance to the site, and there are vending machines selling bottled drinks and snacks located at the exits.

Linking up for #WeekendWanderlust!

August 01, 2015

Mapping My Month: August 2015

So it's August. Am I the only one desperately searching for a slow motion button?!

Despite my best intentions, I didn't write much more in July than I did in June. But it's better than not writing at all, right? (The glass is always half full...except when wine is involved.) Every weekend was booked from Independence Day celebrations with family to tubing on the James, to a weekend getaway on the Shenandoah River with more tubing and culminating in a girls' getaway to Ocean City, Maryland, this past weekend. Once again, I've increased my writing topics with no clear idea as to when I'll actually be able to write about them!

This past month I also enjoyed a very successful blog exchange with Julie of Alone with my tea! I shared about the theme behind being a Thrifty Gypsy while Julie wrote about the highs and lows of being an ex-pat in Brazil. I had such fun working with Julie that I'm open to more guest exchanges in the future! Drop me a line if you're interested.

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsy87) on

August will be just as eventful as July if not more so. This weekend is shaping up to be beautiful, so we'll probably be lured out to Kilmarnock for a weekend of boating, swimming, and fishing. The following weekend is the best weekend of the whole year - because it's my birthday! We have no set plans, but Danny may have some secrets stashed up his sleeves. After that, we'll be doing a German-themed gender reveal for Baby Gypsy (dirndl and lederhosen-shaped cookies, anyone?) with our families and very close friends before welcoming a little piece of Germany into our homes when Danny's cousin arrives from Frankfurt for a 10 day visit. Her visit will encompass two weekends, which will be spent at Kilmarnock, the beach, the mountains, and various other attractions. It'll be a whirlwind trip! After she leaves, it's Labor Day weekend, and who knows what we might be up to by then? I'm still concocting hypothetical itineraries in case something pops up this fall so we'll be prepared!

2015 Goal Updates:
1. Does walking several miles on the Ocean City boardwalk count? No? Ok, well then, once the weather cools, I'll be back on this goal like a pregnant lady on ice cream and pickles.
2. Over 11,000 points on the credit card! It might take me years, but one day it'll get us free tickets to Europe!
3. Accomplished.
4. The less time I spend online, the more time I'm spending in real life, y'all. It's been a good trade so far.
5. We made zero progress on the #252by2022 challenge this month. Again! And at this rate, September will be the first opportunity to change that and only if I don't look so hugely pregnant that the vineyards bar me entry...

How was your July, and what are you up to in August?