July 29, 2015

Finding "Mr. Right" in Athens ~ Or How We Chose Hotel Attalos

Searching for a hotel is a lot like looking for "the one." In fact, you could draw a lot of parallels between hotel hunting and questing for Mr. Right. Photos can show the most flattering angles of any person (or hotel room), but conveniently cut out the not-so-attractive parts (like the leaky bathroom sink). Online reviews could rave about the service and accommodations much like an overly doting, biased mother could exaggerate her son's charms while overlooking his flaws.

So how is one to find "the one" when it comes to hotels? Sometimes it comes down to plain old luck... or at least the ability to read reviews with a grain of salt, specifically when looking for three or four star hotels in lieu of taking out a personal loan to lounge in the Ritz (one day, one day...). When it came time to find a hotel in Athens, we experienced the same ups and downs of finding "the one," but ultimately settled upon a choice that proved to be exactly as we expected, needed, and wanted: Hotel Attalos.*

Situated on Athinas Street just north of Monastiraki Square, Hotel Attalos has five floors of rooms and a rooftop patio sporting phenomenal views of the Acropolis. Many Americans may find the rooms to be small by their expectations, but we found it to be quite normal by European standards. The queen-sized bed took up most of the space, but the room was also furnished with a desk, a small fridge, a television, a private patio, and a small bathroom. Everything was clean, fresh, and the air conditioning was blissfully cold.

Larger persons may find the bathroom more difficult to navigate, but the only problems we experienced was water escaping from the shower into the rest of the bathroom. As we had the same problem in Santorini, I'm assuming it's a quirk of Greek bathroom engineering.

And speaking of bathrooms... when you are using, ahem, the facilities, be sure to toss your used paper into the trash and not the toilet. That is, unless you want the contents making a smelly reappearance in your bathroom after having clogged the ancient sewer pipes. A small, lidded waste bin beside the commode is your answer.

Thankfully, we had no issues in that department.

We enjoyed the night view of the Acropolis from Attalos' rooftop bar and also ate breakfast there every morning. If you book directly through the hotel, breakfast is free for the first morning; it generally consists of assorted fruits, a few pastries, yogurt and honey, cereals, bread, salami and cheeses. Do not expect a hearty American or English breakfast at most Greek hotels unless specifically advertised. Coffee and juices were also provided.

While we have certainly stayed at more grand hotels (and more primitive), we were perfectly pleased with the accommodations and price of Hotel Attalos, spending roughly 70 euros a night including breakfast. If you're looking to be thrifty without sacrificing safety or location, it's a solid choice. It was only three minutes from the Monastiraki metro station and only 1 kilometer (a 15-30 minute walk uphill, depending on how fast you're walking) from the north entrance to the Acropolis. There were "fast food" gyro restaurants in close proximity, but we primarily ate closer to the historic attractions since we only returned to our hotel in the evenings.

Most of the staff speak English, and they were more than amenable to letting us stow our luggage there on our last day since our flight didn't leave until late. If you're looking for a no-frills, clean, affordable hotel near the historic sites in Athens, Hotel Attalos may be "the one" for you.

Have you been to Athens? Where did you stay?

The not-so charming exterior of our otherwise charming hotel

*I am not affiliated with this hotel in any way, nor was I compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.

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

July 23, 2015

Eichstätt Postcard

Eichstätt is a lovely Bavarian town of 13,000 people, located on the Altmühl River. Boasting a Catholic University, Willibaldsburg Castle (a 14th century palace), and several ruins, the town makes for a fine day trip or a resting place for a road trip through Bavaria.

Have you visited Eichstätt?

July 21, 2015

The Struggles & Joys of Living Abroad ~ Guest Post by Julie of Alone with my tea

Today we're heading for the oceans and mountains of Brazil as seen through the eyes of my friend Julie of Alone with my tea! I've been following Julie's travel and lifestyle adventures for over a year, through her final months living in Brazil to her current settlement in southern Alabama. Since I have never lived abroad, Julie volunteered to share some of the highs and lows of being an ex-pat, and I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did!


Awkward selfie at the Christ the Redeemer Statue!
Hello there! I'm Julie, and I blog over at Alone with my tea. I started my blog as a way to document my "creative" attempts, but it has since morphed into a travel and lifestyle blog. Thanks to Katrina, I now get to share on Thrifty Gypsy's Travels a little bit of my experiences living abroad!

Exactly eight days after saying "I do," my new husband and I started the long trek from Los Angeles, California, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My husband actually grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, and is fluent in Portuguese, so I thought that living there would be a breeze. I was wrong...

First of all, the struggles. Living in a foreign country means learning a foreign language. At one point in my life I was almost fluent in Spanish, and that definitely gave me a leg-up when it came to learning Portuguese; however, the Carioca accent confused me to no end! Luckily, my husband gave me some important tips, and I was able to pick up the language quickly! Learning the language is an important part of living abroad. Your time will be so much more enjoyable if you try to connect with the locals!

The second struggle we had was adapting to the high cost of living in Brazil. One Brazilian real doesn't go far! We were able to live on our small salary, but we weren't able to save, and we didn't buy anything that wasn't completely necessary all year. Make sure you research the cost of living where you are moving. Take into consideration exchange rates and the price of every-day items, such as food!

The biggest struggle we had was our job and living situation. Our employer "provided" (we had to pay rent) a "furnished" apartment that looked like this:

And then we found out that our rent was actually $300 more than what they originally told us. Also, the employer refused to help me get my work visa, which in Brazil is a huge hassle. Many other things happened that made us extremely disappointed in our work situation, and even though we were hoping to stay in Brazil indefinitely, we ended up leaving after one year.

My number one piece of advice to someone looking to move abroad - make sure you thoroughly research your prospective employer! Ask for references of past employees - talk to as many people as possible to find out exactly what kind of situation you're getting in to!

Ok, now the fun part. The joys of living abroad!

First of all, this view, which was only a 10-minute walk from our apartment:

Secondly, the people. One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting new people. Brazilian people are so friendly and nice! Whenever I told them I was trying to learn Portuguese, they would chat away. Even the taxi drivers had some interesting stories to share!

Thirdly, the food! My other favorite part of traveling is experiencing new food. I loved Brazilian cheese bread (pão de queijo), all-you-can-eat steakhouses, tropical suco, and feijoada.

Pão de Queijo
Last but not least, the adventures. We got to visit a beautiful town in the mountains of Brazil, the historic village of Paraty (famous for their cobblestone roads made by hand and their historic distillery of cachaça), all the wonders of Rio, including the Christ the Redeemer Statue, Sugar Loaf, Parque Lage, and much much more.

Overlooking the roofs of São Paulo

Brazil's mountain range
In conclusion, there will always be struggles and joys when traveling anywhere. Do I regret my time in Rio? Not at all! Would I live there again? YES... but with a different employer!!!

Thanks for letting me share some of my experiences living abroad!


You can read more about Julie's adventures at Alone with my tea or can follow her on social media!

July 20, 2015

Playing "Travel Make-Believe"

My travel addiction knows no bounds and is rarely quenched. So even though we do not have any firm international or major regional travel plans on the calendar right now, I can't resist drawing up mock itineraries for various vacations and travel scenarios for the future.

It serves two purposes - one, it keeps me from getting too antsy/depressed when there are no pending travel plans. And two, travel research is never wasted time! If a last-minute travel opportunity presented itself, I'd already have a few ideas as to what I could visit and experience at a number of different places.

With Danny's past business trips to London in mind, I've been fixating lately on getting another taste of my favorite city while squeezing in some family time in Germany, too. And with a little help from a few travel booking sites, I've got an eight-day getaway mapped out for under $2,000 (USD), including airfare! Not too shabby for a multi-national Europe trip, huh? Granted, we would be hypothetically taking advantage of costs being eliminated or reduced due to a business trip status, but hey, that's what being a thrifty gypsy is all about!

So if you're in between travel plans, you might want to consider playing "travel make-believe" to do the research legwork for a future trip. You never know, it may be the motivation to start saving those pennies so you could turn the make-believe into reality!

Have you ever played "travel make-believe?"

Buckingham Palace

Hypothetical U.S. to London to Germany Itinerary:

Day 1-2
In my scenario, Danny would leave for his business trip mid-week and hit the ground running while I'm still in the states, chomping at the bit for my turn. Granted, his business trip doesn't permit any room for sight-seeing, but working in the London office is still ten times cooler than working in the home office!

By Friday, the weekend (and the trip!) will finally have arrived, and I'll catch a red-eye from Dulles to Heathrow. Let the adventures begin!

Day 2
Piccadilly Circus and a double-decker bus!
London is very accessible for travelers, particularly when landing in Heathrow, due to the convenience and prevalence of public transportation. While Danny is hustling in the office, I'll take the Tube into central London, drop off my carry-on in his hotel room, and hit the ground running in Piccadilly or the British Museum. Maybe I could meet up with another blogger for tea - a quintessentially English activity that has yet to be crossed off my bucket list.

Day 3
Having already conducted a whirlwind tour of London in 2014, I'll take the opportunity either to revisit some of the sites that left me craving for a more leisurely exploration, such as Westminster Abbey, or seek out new sites within the city or with a manageable day trip to Windsor, St Albans, or Canterbury!

Rothenburg o.d. Tauber, Bavaria, Germany
Day 4
Another day of solo sightseeing will satiate more of my thirst for London, but by evening, Danny's business trip will be over and we'll be making our way to Frankfurt for family, friends, and familiar places! If this trip actually materialized this year, it would be the first time we've ever been able to visit twice within the same year.

Day 5-9
What does one usually do when visiting Germany? Drink delicious beer and nibble on tasty sausage, of course! I'll leave the beer-drinking to Danny, but will savor the opportunity to continue practicing my German skills in the comfort of visiting with family.

Day 9-10
Although we'll be kicking and screaming, all good things must come to an end, and by days 9 and 10 (falling on a Saturday and Sunday), it'll be time to return home. Usually we fly home the day before going back to work, but with Baby Gypsy making me more tired than usual, this hypothetical trip will probably end in time to give us a day to recover at home before the work-week starts.

Hypothetical Washington D.C. to London to Frankfurt Costs:
$00.00      - Danny's flight from Dulles to London for business trip (covered by work).
$1,061.00 - Katrina's round-trip flight from Dulles to London.*
$80.00      - Parking for car at Dulles.
$00.00      - Hotel in downtown London for five nights for Danny/two nights for Katrina (covered by work).
$150.00    - Food/expenses for one in London.
$148.00    - Round-trip London to Frankfurt tickets for two.*
$297.00    - Rental car for five days in Germany.
$00.00      - Lodging in Germany (family).
$100.00    - Food/expenses for two in Germany.

*As always, the price of plane tickets is a fluctuating factor that may end up being more expensive than anticipated due to when they're bought and how far in advance. In this case, I chose a fly-out date of the Friday before Labor Day weekend.

July 14, 2015

Talking Travel with AloneWithMyTea

Julie and her husband Peter 
Good morning! Today I'm taking over lifestyle and travel blog AloneWithMyTea to chat about thrifty travel and to blackmail myself with a few embarrassing travel stories (thank goodness my mother doesn't have a blog or I'd never be able to show my face in public again!).

I've been following Julie of AloneWithMyTea for over a year now, through the final months of her life in Brazil, to a few crazy weeks in California catching up with her family and friends, and to her current settlement in southern Alabama. Her blog covers a wide variety of topics from lifestyle hacks, blogging tips, and of course travel stories, particularly those detailing her experiences abroad and even some culture shock from moving to the Deep South!

Next week Julie will be taking over my blog to talk about some of those travel and culture experiences, but in the meantime be sure to check out some of my favorite posts such as when she "enjoyed" a cup of tea in Romania, that time she kissed an alpaca in Peru, and her musings on patriotic feelings as an ex-pat.

Have you ever kissed anything crazy while traveling?  :)

Linking up for #TravelTuesday!

July 13, 2015

One Year Later, Still the Weltmeister

One year ago today, Germany won the men's World Cup! In honor of that win, I'm re-blogging my piece about experiencing the win while in the heart of Germany.


(Original post here)

When we booked our tickets last winter for a summer visit to Europe, we knew we'd be in Germany for the final matches of the World Cup.  Danny spent his childhood summers watching fuβball in Germany, cheering on FC Bayern-München and the national team, and we were hoping to recreate some of those memories with our visit this year.  But although we hoped, we never really thought we'd be so lucky as to actually be in Germany when they won the World Cup for the first time in 24 years!

After a day spent touring Strasbourg, France, and driving through the Black Forest, we made it back to Stuttgart in time to change and then do a little pre-gaming on the S-Bahn (I don't exactly look my best when mid-sentence in a buzzed state!...

We watched the game in the "fellowship hall" of a church. I can't think of many places in the U.S. that would condone any drinking where a church regularly meets -- and a Protestant one at that! This is one liberal aspect of Europe that I can fully embrace!

We had a few nail-biting moments... but ultimately exploded in celebration!  As did German fans across the globe!

Götze dank!

Full of elation (and beer!), we made our way out into the streets and towards the Königstraβe, the pedestrian-only center of the city.  Apparently, so did everyone else in Stuttgart!

There were ten times as many people out celebrating compared to the German third place finish when we were visiting in 2010!  Here we were four years ago...

...And here we are in 2014!  Same pose, same group of friends, same love for Deutschland!

A HUGE thank you to our Stuttgarter friends, D. and E. for being such wonderful hosts, and for making all the arrangements to meet up with D.F., A.W., and J.B. to continue our World Cup viewing tradition!  We can't wait to do it again in 2018!

Have you experienced a World Cup celebration like this?

July 12, 2015

The University of Virginia, UNESCO World Heritage Site

How many of you Virginians knew that the University of Virginia is one-half of a UNESCO World Heritage Site?  Anyone?

Well, now you do.

As a 2009 graduate of UVa, I must confess that I didn't realize the UNESCO status until, well, just a few months ago.  If there were an award for obliviousness, I would win it, hands down.  I walked by the UNESCO sign every single day.  But when you attend a university that screams history, it's easy to become immune.

The University of Virginia was established in 1819 and is affectionately known as Jefferson's University in honor of the man who designed the central buildings (picture above and to right).  Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe all served on the first Board of Visitors, jump-starting the University's reputation as an elite school.  Today UVa is known as a "public Ivy" and consistently ranks as the best or second best public university in the nation.

But before I lose you in a sea of alma mater nostalgia, let's focus on what makes UVa a great place for travelers.  Obviously, the UNESCO World Heritage status is one reason.  Jefferson designed the Academic Village with neoclassicism in mind.  The Rotunda dominates the Village, and those who have traveled to Rome will recognize its resemblance to the Pantheon.  Four colonnaded rows flank the terraced Lawn that extends from the Rotunda down to more academic buildings.  The student residences along the Lawn are prime real estate at UVa, but only fourth-year students with high GPAs (think, 4.0 and above) and who have shown "unselfish service to the University" can apply to live in these rooms.  Edgar Allan Poe himself lived in these rooms when he was a student at UVa for a few months in 1826 before he withdrew due to lack of funds.  His room is still on display on the West Range.

Besides Poe's footsteps, you'll also be retracing the steps of notable alumni and faculty such as Laura Ingraham, Antonin Scalia, Tina Fey, Larry Sabato, Katie Couric, Ronde and Tiki Barber, countless Kennedys, a Roosevelt, and more than a few astronauts.  Pretty cool, huh?
Poe's room on the West Range.
Be sure to check out the University Chapel located just northwest of the Rotunda.  Constructed in the 1880s, the Chapel is a great example of Gothic architecture and even features a Tiffany stained-glass window.

Finally, enjoy the serenity of the Lawn gardens tucked behind the unique serpentine brick walls before you leave Charlottesville visit Jefferson's Monticello, the other half of the UNESCO site.

Do you consider universities to be a cultural attraction worth seeing when traveling?  Which one(s) would you like to visit?

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

Linking up for the #WeekendWanderlust!

July 08, 2015

Why You Should Visit Greece Now

With the headlines screaming dire warnings about Greece's economic crisis, many travelers have begun to reconsider summer plans to visit the birthplace of democracy due to financial and safety concerns. Having just returned from Greece only six weeks ago, I would encourage you to stop reconsidering and visit Greece as soon as you can!

Citizens vs. Tourists
Unfortunately for Greeks but fortunately for visitors, the economic situation primarily affects only the Greeks themselves. Even a Grexit from the Euro and transition to the drachma would favor tourists as the exchange rate promises to be advantageous. Even still, the euro would most likely be accepted after a switch to the drachma as businesses would prefer the stronger currency.

Used with the gracious permission of Indiana Jo.
In addition, it is unlikely that attractions such as the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and all the museums housing the cultural treasures of the ancient Greeks would close during this crisis, as Greece needs every tourism dollar it can elicit. Just bring enough currency to last your whole trip, be prepared to encounter logistical setbacks more commonly found in third-world countries, and enjoy the falling rates at hotels, especially on the mainland.

Island Life vs. Athens
While the Greek economy has been struggling for years, you wouldn't know it when you visit the islands. Our taxi driver on Santorini spoke of how he moved to the island because of the abundance of well-paying jobs that simply cannot be found on the mainland, and this translates to a pleasant atmosphere for those on vacation. So if you're still leery about visiting the big cities like Athens, consider doing some island hopping and skip all the cities.

How To Be Prepared
Bring cash. Even though there are currently no limits on withdrawals from foreign accounts, there's no guarantee that the banks and ATMs won't run out of currency. Credit cards may still be accepted while Greece is officially still using the Euro, but that could change at any moment.

Bring any/all medicine you might need. If you are planning to be in Greece for a long visit, make sure you have more than enough of your prescriptions and a supply of over the counter pain relievers, allergy medicines, etc. There have been runs on the pharmacies in Greece to rival the queues at the bank counters.

Bring a back-up plan. Is the ferry to Hydra not running due to a fuel shortage? Have a coastal destination on the mainland as a back-up plan to cover a delay until transportation is back in business. Leave your expectations of northern and western Europe behind as you may experience set-backs and delays more likely to be found in developing countries.

While ultimately you need to weigh your own pros and cons about visiting Greece during such a tumultuous period, remember that the media loves to disproportionately distort potential problems for a ratings boost. Take the headlines with a grain of salt, and with some careful planning, you could enjoy a budget-friendly experience at some of Greece's most amazing sites!

Have you visited Greece lately? Would you go right now if time and opportunity afforded itself?

Panorama of Oia on the island of Santorini

Other travel recommendations for visiting Greece right now:

Linking up with LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.