Wednesday Write-Up: A Visitor! Opa!

After we left Athens, we took a four hour ferry ride to the island of Paros in the Cyclades. We are now settled in a wonderful little apartment just a 5 minute walk from the beach! We found our apartment on airbnb.com and have fallen in love with it. It is called Betty Apartments, and Betty has been an amazing hostess. For one thing, she does our laundry! She also cleans our room everyday! It has been a real vacation so far for us. We have had very busy days consisting of brunch, nap-time (for Zoë, although there have been times I wished it was mine), time at the beach, dinner and then some relaxation after Zoë’s asleep. Chad works in the mornings and while Zoë naps and I do my writing or cleaning then too. This life is amazing! This trip is amazing, and I feel so very blessed to be here. God is good!

Zoë hanging out on our back porch

Zoë hanging out on our back porch

Chad and Zoë walking back to our apartment

Chad and Zoë walking back to our apartment

We have been on the island now for 10 days. And as of two days ago, we now have a friend from Sonoma County staying with us! (We have tried harassing everyone to come and see us, but with the price of plane tickets these days…whew). Our friend, Nathan, has been traveling himself for the past half year or so. He was planning on being in Greece the same time as us, so, here he is! It has been so nice to see a familiar face thats not pixelated on skype or facetime. Both Chad and I have enjoyed having someone new to converse with, and hearing about his travels and what God is doing in his life. Hopefully, he is just as happy to be here as we are to have him here!

As it is whenever one has visitors, whether you are in your home or traveling, there are hiccoughs along the way, but the stories you will tell later about your time together will be even better because of them. For example, Zoë being over-tired at dinner last night and pushing her glass of water over so that Nathan had to make a quick dodge before getting deluged… well, that will be funny in the future right? And Chad getting the flu today and being bed-bound and unable to keep anything down except cola… we will laugh about that someday too.

God has impeccable timing for teaching us things that we didn’t realize that we needed to learn, and what I have learned in the past two days, is that I need to stop sweating the small things (I cringe at being so cliché…I’m sorry).

I need to see God blessing me with patience when Zoë screams as if I am water boarding her every time I have to wash her hair (we use tearless shampoo, the water’s a good temperature, I have tried every trick, she just hates washing her hair). I need to see that God is blessing me with a merciful attitude, when she accidentally punches me in the face while having a public melt-down. I need to see that everything around me, God has blessed to me. He has given me this opportunity to see the WORLD! I need to stop worrying about the small, insignificant things that will be forgotten or laughed at later and try laughing at them or forgetting them now.

How hard that is. When I have it down perfectly, I will let you all know. Until then, I will just keep trying and keep praying. God is good.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Athens in a Day

There are three places that Chad and I knew we wanted to go when we were planning this trip. Taiwan, Thailand, and Greece. Every other place we have gone has been because the circumstances were right, the flights were cheap, accommodations were plentiful, etc. I feel that God has opened certain doors for us and has shown us where he wants us to go in this way. When we were in Lisbon, figuring what to do next, Greece did not seem to be working out, we couldn’t find flights, places to stay, or even decide what we would want to see in Greece. We both really wanted to see Greece, but thought that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for this time in Europe.

It wasn’t until two days before we were to leave Lisbon, and 13 days before we had no other place to go or stay, that Chad found a perfect flight to Athens, Greece online,. We booked our tickets and then worked to both agree on what we wanted to do in Greece. Then we found inexpensive and awesome places to stay. It worked out even though we had doubts, and now here we are in Greece! God is good!

We started our time in Greece in Athens. We had been told by many friends that an extended stay in Athens is not necessary, you can see everything you want to in one or two days. Our friends were right. We had a day and half in Greece and saw all the major sights and felt we were ready to move on to our next destination.

We stayed free at a Novotel Hotel in Athens using our miles from one of airline cards. We like to stay in places we find on airbnb.com, locally run guest houses, or hostels usually, but every so often, when you are on an extended trip, it is nice to stay in a place with a pool, room-service and a maid. It’s a fun change for a couple of days.

After researching for a bit, I found a perfect way to see the sights and entertain Zoë at the same time (I know, I almost couldn’t believe it myself… I actually found something on the internet without Chads help… I have to say I was pretty proud of myself). I found the Happy Train, a little red train that takes you to past the famous sights and to some shopping areas and such. It had mixed reviews, but was inexpensive at only 6 Euros each for adults. Zoë loves “choo choo’s” so I knew this would be a great way to see the touristy part of the city.

So, on our one full day in Athens we decided to take the Happy Train and get off at the Acropolis and see that up close.

We got up and had our free breakfast buffet at our hotel (seriously… accommodations that include free breakfasts are the best!) and then headed down to the metro. The metro was a bit confusing to use, as I didn’t see any maps in the stations. But with google maps we were able to figure out what line and direction we were supposed to go.

The Happy Train is about a 2 minute walk from the Monistaraki Square metro stop and is in the midst of the Monistaraki Flea Market. The flea market is filled with leather bag and shoe stores, souvenir shops, outdoor eateries, and other stores. We walked through it for a bit before hopping on the Happy Train. We also got some waters and snacks for the trip on the train as we had read that the sun (and pollution) in Athens can dehydrate you quickly.

Zoë loved the "Choo Choo" also known as the Happy Train

Zoë loved the “Choo Choo” also known as the Happy Train

The Happy Train takes one hour to go through all the sights, including the Acropolis, Plaka, Temple of Zeus, Thisseon, Ancient and Roman Market, Zappeion, Panathinaiko Stadium, Theatre of Herodes Atticus, Hadrian Arch, Monastiraki Square, and New Acropolis Museum. We were going to get off at the Acropolis right away, but decided to take the whole hour long trip and then have lunch and get back on the train up to the Acropolis then.

Most of the ruins are right near the Monastiraki square and you can walk around them and take pictures in them until 3 pm every day. It was interesting to see the marble columns in different states of decay amongst the trendy looking outdoor eateries and shops. The train moved slowly enough to get a few pictures in of each sight. Zoë had a blast on the train and I was glad that we decided to see the old structures that way. The only complaint I would have with the train was that the sound system was very hard to hear, and although the “tour guide” did speak in both Greek and English, we couldn’t hear anything she said. Also, I should have researched or bought a guide book telling about the places we were going to see on the ride, I regret not having more information about what we were seeing. The train was great, but it was up to the customer to know and learn about what they were seeing.

We ended up having a very long lunch at a restaurant in Monastiraki square, it was a bit touristy of a place (I am sorry that I didn’t even get the name, but most of the places to eat there offered the same things), but the food was tasty and they really loved having Zoë there.

The Greek people we have met so far, have loved playing and trying to entertain our little girl. She has been a conversation starter and ender, too. She lets us know when she wants us to be done talking, in the sweetest way possible of course. She is learning many lessons of politeness and kindness on this trip.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand, we hopped back on what we thought was the Happy Train, but later learned that there are many other companies that use the same kind of trains, on the same route, with the same stops. I think we were on the wrong train, but the driver didn’t even ask for our tickets. Like I said, it was the same route as the Happy Train, with apparently the same sound system as we still could not hear any of the announcements. We happily enjoyed our ride up to the base of the Acropolis though. We exited at that stop and made our way up the hill, excited to see the beautiful stone structures built as early as the 8th century BC.

Zoë and me on our way up the the top of the Acropolis

Zoë and me on our way up the the top of the Acropolis

We came upon a little touristy area near the entrance to the ancient gates leading to the Parthenon and noticed that we needed to buy tickets to enter. It was 12 euros per adult, but Zoë was free and they even had a free stroller storage area which was very nice. Strollers are not allowed and once we made it through the entrance, I realized quickly why. There were many stairs and slippery areas on the way up to the top of the acropolis. The marble steps were worn down by millions of feet traipsing over them for the past 2000 plus years.

The Acropolis is… well I cannot express how I felt walking up to the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athena. I was awe-struck. I still cannot fathom how they were able to build such massive and impressive structures so long ago, and the fact that they are still standing for the most part…well I was (and am) just flabbergasted by it.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

We walked around the outside of the buildings (you are not allowed to walk through them as they are being repaired, actually the parthenon was full of cranes and half of it is covered in scaffolding), took a bunch of pictures and read the plaques that gave a picture at what the buildings used to be. This is another area where I wished I had a guide book. I learned about Greek history in school, but seemed to have forgotten all of it. I had to research all the history after the fact. You can learn more about the history of the Acropolis here.

All Three of Us in Front of the Parthenon

All Three of Us in Front of the Parthenon

Old Temple of Athena-Built Originally in the 8th Century!

Old Temple of Athena-Built Originally in the 8th Century!

Zoë was Tuckered Out..Also the Huge Greek Flag in the Background

Zoë was Tuckered Out..Also the Huge Greek Flag in the Background

We left the Acropolis, took the train back and went back to our hotel. All-in-all it felt like a really busy day, but we saw everything we wanted to see in Athens with the Happy Train ride. I think it was a good choice.

Have you ever been to Athens? What did you think? What was the best way to see the sights?

Curacao Part One: The Island

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Curacao is not what I had expected. I am not saying that in an entirely negative way, there are things that I have enjoyed and things that I wish I had known before coming here. Not much is written about this diverse and colorful island for the indie traveler. And that is why I write this blog, to not only keep in touch with all my family and friends throughout the world, but also to help fellow travelers along their journey.

There is not much written on Curacao as a vacation destination unless you are staying on a resort. Curacao is the largest island of the Dutch Antilles or the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). The islands were originally “discovered” by the Spanish (there was a group of natives called the Arawaks that were here first) in the 1500’s and by 1815 belonged to the Dutch. The Dutch settled the island and started plantations, and the port of Willemstad became a stopping point for ships from all countries on their way to deliver their wares. You can still see this with all the many cruise ships (one or two a day) that stop here to drop off their guests on land for the day.

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Cruise Ship in Willemstad Harbor

When we decided to go make this the first out of the USA stop on our long journey, it was because we were looking for beautiful beaches, good food, frosty drinks, and just an all around relaxing time. Also I love to be tan (yes, I do still use sunscreen, don’t worry) and wanted a fresh tan before we ventured on to Europe.

We felt there were three different choices for us: Curacao, Costa Rica, and Belize. Chad We looked at all the information available both online and in book form (I know, kicking it old school!). Our main desire was for beaches that were clean and accessible, where I could sunbathe and Chad and Zoë could swim and play in the water. I, of course, also looked into the food of the region, the shopping and other amenities (do you really want to see how long my underarm hair gets if I can’t get it waxed-not pretty to say the least).

We decided on Curacao, the beaches looked beautiful and easy to get to, the amenities and shopping all seemed good, as it looked like a resort-y sort of island. Belize was out because everything we read said their beaches weren’t really conducive to sunbathing or swimming. And Costa Rica was out because Chad had been there before and wanted to see somewhere new, and because the beach towns take buses to get to from the airport, and we just weren’t ready to put Zoë through long bus trips quite yet.

So we arrived at the tiny airport terminal in Curacao (finally! see my last post for story on flights) and were greeted by a taxi driver holding a sign with my name on it, it was very exciting, I felt like royalty. I know, it’s almost sad how easy it can be to make me excited. Our new landlord had arranged for a taxi for us. It was great, cost about $35 US dollars and gave us a chance to look around the island a little bit on our way to Willemstad, the capital city of Curacao, and the place we would be staying for the next couple weeks. I was enamored with the quaint little dutch colonial houses in all their bright colors, and was surprised to see, on the more inland area of Willemstad, huge oil refineries, with tall smoke stacks and oil tankers sitting in the bay. They don’t show you that in the tourism sites. It was visible but not too close to the main part of town though and was easy to forget about unless you were driving right past them.

We booked a house through airbnb.com, a two bedroom, one bathroom house with a full kitchen and a back yard area that looked, well…simply tropical. The house, owned by a local husband and wife team, was everything and more than we had imagined! Huge really, and clean and well stocked with linens and kitchen utensils. It had air-conditioning (only to be used through the night) and fans to keep us from getting too spoiled and to feel like real locals. And all of this for under $70 a night, I felt like we had won the lottery.

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Zoë Checking Out Our New Place

After arriving to the house from the airport, getting settled in and trying to get used to the heat, 86 degrees and about 80% humidity-not bad really but it does take some adjusting, we decided to find something to eat. Lucille, the lady renting us the house, told us about all the “American” food places in the area, including McDonalds, (insert very sarcastic hooray here) when we got to the house. We decided to try the old Applebee’s that was now called “Larry’s”  right down the street from our new home, and it turned out to be just that, an Applebee’s. Not exactly the most exciting food, but not the worst either. This was the first time that we noticed that the prices of food here are relatively the same as the prices in northern California, about $10-15 a person, plus drinks.

THE FOOD

Photo Taken by Chad R. Mitchell

Zoë Enjoying Some Stewed Fish at the Old Market            Photo Taken by Chad

(Are you surprised that I started with the food? I feel so predictable…oh well. )

I had thought from what I had read, that the food was going to be creole food, not one of my favorites, but something new and different so I was excited. This turned out to be hard to find. Local food for us foreigners is only easily available in the Old Market in the Punda area of Willemstad. Old Market is where locals and tourists can eat alike (although the tourists are charged much more, about $11 a plate). I fell in love with the stewed goat and stewed fish platters that included beans and rice, and savory plantains. Best food I have had on the island, hands down. There are many restaurants and eateries along the beaches and in town that offer other food, mostly Dutch, Chinese, or American dishes though. There are also a ton of rib places, one of them two doors down from our house, called The Rib Factory which we were very pleased to find out does have delicious ribs, tex-mex dishes, sides and cocktails.

Just a side note, there are many other restaurants that I have seen in the more locals areas, but for a tourist, there are not many that are accessible. So all in all, the food has been rather disappointing and expensive. Luckily we have our own kitchen, so we have been making most of our breakfasts and lunches at home. Which brings me to my next topic…shopping.

THE SHOPPING

There is much shopping to do here, and for someone just coming for a vacation and heading back home, it would be fun. But for us, who us continuing on after this and already have 75 pounds of luggage to handle, shopping is not really smart or feasible.

There is a huge contrast in shopping here, next door to the United Colors of Benetton store is a mom and pop shop filled with cheap souvenirs and bottles of every color of curacao liqueur known to man for sale. There is a Victorias Secret and the next block over is a shop selling lingerie with Victoria Secret Bags in the window, so I guess we will think that store is the real Victorias Secret (I saw through their clever ruse though). They seem to all buy their souvenir wears from the same manufacturer so you could pretty much go into any store and find the same knick knacks and post cards. The clothing stores look like they have some cute clothing actually (in normal sizes even) so if I was here on vacation I probably would have done some clothes shopping.

Pretty much, the only type of shopping I have done while here, is grocery shopping. I know, even on a tropical island, I lead a very routine exciting life. We have a supermarket a block away from our house here, called Best Buy, which I have grown to dislike immensely. It’s a large, dark warehouse that smells a little like rotting meat. They have all the normal wares (although I stopped buying their produce because it was always rotten inside when I got home) and it was convenient and buying food to make is much cheaper than eating out every meal. Every time I would go into the store though, the ladies that work there were so rude (I think it was because they don’t speak English and maybe were nervous?) that I gave up. I stopped shopping at their mildly disgusting fine establishment and now make Chad drive me to a supermarket about 15 minutes away in a suburb of Willemstad.

And that is a good segue to my next topic…

TRANSPORTATION

I truly love to use public transportation as much as possible. Wait… let me rephrase that- I truly love to use public transportation as much as possible, except in California (most people I know would agree with me, California’s public transportation is severely lacking). In every other country I have visited, the buses, trains, subways, etc. were a great way to get where you were going while rubbing elbows (sometimes literally) with the locals and seeing parts of a place that you probably wouldn’t unless someone else was driving you.

I also love to walk (city walk that is, I’m definitely not a hiker), in fact my mother and I used to walk miles around our town just to get some exercise and visit. This is why I thought that we should be able to walk everywhere from our house in Curacao. The landlord had said in her description of the house we were subletting, that the beach was 10 minutes away, and so Chad and I decided that we would walk to the closest beach our second day here. Well, she must have meant by car, because it took much longer than 10 minutes.

We were pushing Zoë in a city stroller, not an off-road stroller, and it was very hot outside. I love heat, but direct sunlight while walking on pavement mixed with the exhaust from cars passing by, make for an uncomfortable walk. Not only that, but there were no sidewalks and pushing the stroller with a 26 pound toddler and all of our bags, made for a difficult slow pace. We kept thinking the beach was just over the next hill and pressed on. The whole time I was worried that Zoë, now sound asleep, was going to get sunburnt and be miserable so I kept reapplying sunscreen to her exposed knees (we had a light blanket shading the rest of her) and praying that the beach was close. About an hour later, we arrived at a resort called the Lions Dive and Beach Resort and stole our way onto their beach after having a snack at their beachfront restaurant, Hemingway’s. We finally were able to go in the beautiful aquamarine water! All three of us had a great time!

When it was time for us to leave the stolen beach, we quickly decided to take a taxi anywhere else we were going that day. Lucky for us there was a taxi stand about a 10 minute walk from the resort. Taxi’s here on the island do not have meters, they all give a set price for the place you want to go, for example, from Lions Dive Resort to downtown Willemstad (Punda) was $15 US (you can use either Dutch Guilders or US dollars for everything here, the conversion is 1.75 Guilders= $1) and there is no negotiation on the prices. After walking around Punda for a bit, we decided that we would need to rent a car. It was a tough decision because we really didn’t want to spend another big chunk of money, but figured that after using taxis every day, we would be spending around the same amount. Our house was not in walking range of any beaches, such a bummer. My advice, look at the map closely when choosing a place to stay, don’t take the owners word for it.

We rented a car from a car rental agency down the street from our house, Boric Car Rental. We were able to negotiate the price with the helpful gentleman there and left the parking lot with a very small economy car that suited our needs perfectly. (For those with children needing car seats, most car rental agencies will rent them to you.)

Only after we rented the car, did we notice all the signs on the side of the road saying “Bushalte”. They were everywhere and we learned they were the bus stops. We could have taken a cheap bus around the island…oops. On the bright side, we were now able to explore the island on our own terms and hopefully find some amazing beaches, which we did! I want to devote a whole article to the beaches that we have visited here, there is just too much to write about in this one. So stay tuned for next weeks post!

LODGING

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Our Place in Curacao

We rented a roomy house off of airbnb.com that we love, although the location is a bit out of the way. There were other houses nearer the beach (I assume) that were far more expensive. We chose this one for the size and price. We are quite happy with the house itself and love the people renting it to us (you can see where we stayed by clicking here). There are many resorts on the island that have beach fronts and seemed much more expensive when we were planning this part of our trip. I now realize that we probably would have spent near the same amount money if we had just stayed on a resort, after having to rent a car and paying to get on beaches and such.

 FINAL THOUGHTS

So what are my thoughts on making Curacao a stop on your round the world trip? They are simply this: If you choose to come here, don’t try to be an indie traveler. Buy in, stay at a resort, and relax on a beach right outside your door. The island has some things to see outside of a resort, but there is not much in the way of cultural spots for a tourist to see that you can’t get to from a resort.

Also, make sure that your budget reflects that the prices here are similar, or sometimes more (they sell 7 ounce beers in restaurants here for $5!!!!) than they are in the some of the more expensive areas of the US.

All-in-all, I am happy that we have experienced the island of Curacao, mostly so that I can now share the information with all of you fellow travelers. And why not see every part of this amazing Earth we live on?

Stay tuned for next weeks post “Willemstad, Curacao Part Two-The Beaches!” You will want this information if you choose to come to Curacao!