Cruise life – Contiki Greece Days 6-8

 

Warning if you’re booking Contiki’s Spotlight on Greece plus 3 day cruise you are not cruising around on a Contiki yacht, you are cruising on a mega ship with hundreds of other passengers. This was a fact I was unaware of when booking and slightly disappointed about. My roommate Ashleigh also didn’t know this either so we were both a little unpleasantly surprised when arrived at the dock. Never the less we decided to make the most of it and I made a pact that on the cruise we would be drunk as much as possible. Mature? No. Fun? Hell freaking yeah.

First docking was at the beautiful island of Mykonos. The tranquility and magic of the island was spoiled by the disembarking of the 500 hundred other cruise passengers. But our amazing tour manager Alex led us to some more secluded spots where we were able to take in a magical sunset before heading to dinner at a swanky restaurant. I don’t have any pictures but we were able to sample fish eyes and octopus!

The crappy thing about cruise ships is we only got to spend a few short hours on Mykonos. Some day I’m going to make it a point to go back and spend several days on this wonderful island.

Day 7 – Kusadasi, Turkey

One expected treasure of this trip was our stay in Kusadasi, Turkey. I’m not sure if when booking my trip I wasn’t paying attention or what, but I actually had no idea we were going to Turkey. Frankly, I was a little bit nervous about it. However, Kusadasi ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. Also, the pictures of me are amazing because for this trip to Greece I packed and actually wore all of my cute clothes. How nice is this green dress?!

The ruins of Kusadasis are extraordinary and so well maintained. There are perfectly preserved mosaics and stunning architecture that is still standing. Again, another place that is cooler than the very over hyped Acropolis…

Warning: Don’t drink the pomegranate juice before you go into the site. Even though the fresh squeezed juice is tempting, pomegranate lowers your blood pressure which is dangerous if you’re about to go on a long walking tour.

After visiting the ancient ruins we were then herded into a rug making “artisanal” factory. It was interesting to see the rugs and the old traditional style of weaving. But I did not like being hounded about buying one. Some people on my tour actually got suckered into purchasing these rugs for $100-$800 dollars!

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Next we sailed to the little island of Patmos. We spent the afternoon cooling off in the beautiful blue ocean and at sunset our tour manager Alex led us to an amazing overlook where we were able to climb to the perfect spot for instagram worthy pictures!

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We approached our final Island towards the afternoon, leaving us only a few hours to explore world-famous Santorini. Everything about this island is breathtaking. But the crowds caused by the cruise ship made it very difficult to really enjoy it.

 

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You can’t tell but I’m surrounded by 100’s of people.

After making sure we checked off of the necessary Santorini pictures spots we hustled back onto our cruise ship.

 

For our last night celebration, our tour manager Alex arranged a toga party. We all were under the assumption that it was a cruise ship wide toga party. Nope. It was just the 13 of us, running arround in toga and our undies. The other cruise passengers had a blast laughing at us and some even asked us to pose with them for pictures!

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Our group spent the final night dancing with each other in an empty cruise ship ball room. Ashleigh and I even hung out on deck with some super cool older women. Dorris and Nadien were in their late 60s and on their first trip to Europe. They told us how much they admired us for traveling when we were young. It made me remember how blessed I am to be living in an age where women can do more than just raise families. We can strive for our dream jobs, travel the world and make our own paths.

I am so grateful to have met so many amazing women on my travels. Becky, Ashleigh, Dorris and so many others.

Greece, you have been intoxicating. Something in my soul is connected to your blue waters, olive trees and white washed houses. I will be back again soon.

 

Olympia! Contiki Greece Day 3 & 4

I could get used to this view…morning sun on our hotel room’s deck. I would’ve stayed there forever…. but then I would’ve missed Olympia and Delphi!

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At the ruins of Olympia we were given a great tour by a local guide and then got to explore on our own. Some of the gentlemen in our group even raced on the original track field. Which was hysterical.

The resturaunt at Olympia was surpirsingly good. My roommate Ashleigh and I shared a Greek sampler and they had free Olive Oil tasting!

Afterwards we piled back on our coach and headed towards Delphi.

On the way we made pit stops in several adorable Greek towns inlcuding Naupaktos and Galaksidi. There we got to see some beautiful churches, charming Greek village homes and even do some swimming!

When most people think of Greece they imagine the Acropolis or the Greek Islands but mainland Greece should not be forgotten. Looking back on my Greecian adventure one of my favorite things I did was hike to the top of Delhpi.

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people standing and nightWe spent the night in charming Delphi. After a yummy meal filled with lots and lots of SAGANAKI. Which is litterally a huge chunk of fried cheese and tastes like heaven. We went dancing and drinking at the local club Katio Dancing Club. It was a tiny place with cheap drinks and good music.We had to climb up a very very very steape hill to get back to our hotel.  I still don’t know how half of us made it back from the club to our hotel without breaking bones.  14330119_10154284238775813_8634604808745435230_n-1.jpg

Where did I stay? Delphi Palace Hotel

Delphi is the ruins of a magical city. They say the airs of Delphi are healing and can provide you with enlightenment. The hike to the top of Delphi is steap but well worth it. Just keep pushing yourself and you’ll make it. You can not beat the view from the top. Many people on my tour decided not to climb all the way and I couldn’t believe it. You’re in Greece, you came all this way, just do it!

Our last stop before heading back to Athens was a cool little mountain town called Araxoba. This apparently is a bustling ski town during the winter (yes, there’s skiing in Greece). But while we were there is was very quiet. Most of my tour mates went looking for shops. I decided to explore the scenic overlooks solo. Sometimes it’s nice to depart from the big group. I found a nice bench and caught up on my book while taking in the warm sun and mountain air. Wandering alone through Araxoba is one of my favorite memories.

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Araxoba, Greece

Our return to Athens marked the end of the tour for some our our companions who were on the shorter Spotlight on Greece trip. But for me and my roomate Ashleigh we were on to the next leg in our adventure, the Greek Islands!

 

 

 

How letting my guard down led to my biggest travel misadventure and self realization

I want to tell this story in hopes that it provides inspiration to my fellow travelers. This is a cautionary tale about a girl traveling alone and a big mistake that could have been fatal. In this story the girl gets really happy, a little sad, then a little scared. Ultimately she discovers something deep about herself and has the best night of her life. Last December I was at a low point. Coming off of my life changing trip to South East Asia I had post-travel depression. Most of my friends already had travel plans for New Years and it looked like I would be ringing in 2015 alone. One morning in a daze I was scrolling through the Contiki Last Minuet Deals site when I saw an amazing discount on a 12 day tour of Italy. I debated for a bit and then pulled out my credit card. It was booked. In just a week I would leave for Italy! The day after Christmas I was on my way. Flying to Europe, getting a cab and exploring Rome was so much easier and less scary than Asia so I felt like a travel pro. When I saw the suitcases my tour mates brought (for just 12 days) and compared them to my tiny carry-on I knew I was (a pro traveler). The first couple of days were so flawless, simple and easy that I quickly began to let my travel guard down. When in Asia I had my guard set high. I limited my drinks (although my limit was very high…), always traveled in a group, wrote my hotel down, paid in cash, ect. But Europe is so safe! Or so I thought. On New Year’s Eve our tour rolled through Napoli and to the charming town of Sorrento on the Almafi Coast.

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My roommate and I pre-new years festivities!

As the sun began to set my Australian friend Mollie and I explored the markets where we came upon the beginnings of the New Years parade. Without a thought we decided to join the parade! We danced with the musicians and chanted alongside costumed characters. We followed a large papier-mache Donkey to the town square where Donkey was set on fire using fireworks!

Afterwards our group met up for a traditional Neapolitan pizza feast! Then toasted with Aperol Spitzers at this swanky restaurant right in the center of town. For dancing and more drinks we went to Americano. A Kareoke night club near the festivities.

After a few strong martinis bells rang out to single midnight’s approach. So we stumbled out of the club (stolen martini glasses in hand) and joined the masses in the piasa. Before midnight the locals started shooting fireworks at each other and throwing glass bombs on the pavement. It was noisy, hectic, scary and invigorating!

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Street fireworks!

Finally the countdown began. 3,2,1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! The crowd went wild. I felt more emotion, energy and happiness in that tiny Sorrento piassa then I did in New York City!

Music filled the air, laugher, chanting and love engulfed me. Streamers flew and confetti fell. I kissed my neighbor and he kissed my friend. It was all in good fun. Then in Sorrento tradition we broke our stolen martini glasses on the pavement. 10906166_10152891595005813_1466665417180988046_n Then the piasa stage lit up and the DJ started spinning. We dance in a large mob and I made friends with some touchy Armenians. They shared their Grappa and I shared my awesome dance moves.

After dancing for what seemed like an eternity I began to notice that much of 40 person tour group was dispersing. I searched and found a couple of stragglers to join. We celebrated for a little longer before they decided it was time to head to the hotel. It was only 115AM. Our local guide told us that in Italy the party really doesn’t start until 2AM. So I tried to convince them to stick around. But they were done. So reluctantly I began to follow them back to the coach. On the way to the coach we passed tons of Italians who were just heading out for the night. They looked magical and majestic in their sparkly dresses and tailored suits. As we continued towards our bus I got sadder and sadder. I didn’t want to go home. The night was young. I wasn’t ready for bed! I tried again at no avail to get someone to go back with me. “YOLO” I aurgued. “The night is young, no regrets” I pleaded. But they were committed to retirement. As we began to round the last corner I cursed myself. “What was I doing?” I questioned myself. “Why am I following these people? I don’t even know them!” I asked. “I don’t need them to have a good time!” I convinced myself. “Why am I using them as a shield? Don’t be a follower Becca!” I cursed. “Do you! Do what you want!” I boasted. Without another thought I bid farewell and sped back to the town square. On my own.

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When alone you take Selfies to occupy your time.

Back at the the piasa I felt a hint of loneliness and timidness. I swallowed my fear and joined the dance floor where I shook my worries away. I found my Argentinian friends again. We danced the mambo, YMCA and the electric slide. Eventually they retired for the night and I was left alone again. At this point it was around 230AM. So did what all good American girls traveling alone in a foreign city should do…I took a walk. I ventured away from the busy piasa where I found myself alone in a maze of cobblestone streets. I was fascinated by the peacefulness that was just blocks away from chaos. I wandered back to the once crowded market and found myself surrounded by twinkling christmas lights. I was alone, but never afraid. In Sorrento on a mild winter night, I felt at home and at peace. As I walked I reflected on the past year. I wished I could see my mom again. She loved Italy and I remember her recounting her wild adventures in Rome. As I stopped to make a wish at a century old fountain I felt her there with me. I wandered back towards the town square and was met by hoards of drunk young Italians on their ways to after parties and other bars. Their laughter and enthusiasm was contagious. “Happy New Year!” is universal and it chimed throughout. I was got my second wind and wished I could find another party to join. I made my way back to the Americano Bar. I only peaked inside. I thought it was dead, so I turned back. I wish I had gone inside the bar. Apparently the three other Americans on my tour were still partying it up at the Americano! I often wonder what my night would’ve become had I found and joined their party. But I turned away. I went back to the DJ and the main stage. I settled down on a bench and listened to Opera singers and local celebrities belt Italian showstoppers. Around 330AM the festivities began to die down. So I decided it was time to head to my hotel. I pulled out my phone and found that it had died. Stupidly I didn’t write down my hotel or it’s address. I only had the information on my phone. I had no option but to hope that someone would know where my hotel was. So I hailed a taxi. When it comes to Italian Taxi drivers I think I won the lottery.

  • First stroke of luck: Rafael spoke perfect English. Second: He was young and enthusiastic. Third: He was charming and handsome. Forth: He thought I was hilarious.

I flat-out said “I have no idea where my hotel is”. He couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what my hotel was called. I felt like an idiot. He thought I was super funny. I told him that I knew it used to be a nunnery. That it might be called “Sister’s Hostel”. He hadn’t heard of a hotel like that. So we googled it. Nothing. He called his friends. They didn’t know. So I was up creek without a paddle. I knew I couldn’t lose Rafael. He was the answer. If I walked away and tried to find someone else, they might not have been as eager to help me. So I said “I will pay you anything, just drive and I’ll try to figure out from memory!” He agreed. I hopped in the front seat and we drove. I think we drove all around Sorrento and maybe into Napoli. We navigated the winding streets and whisked past the cliffs and ocean. Rafael asked me to describe the hotel and it’s surroundings. I said “It’s in a very old building, surrounded by orange trees and gardens. It’s on a cliff and has a view of the ocean.” He chuckled “that describes every hotel in Sorrento!” I asked him to drive alongside the ocean. At least we would be in the right area. Finally we turned down a cobblestone path that I recognized. We continued onward. Then I saw a sign for “Phoenix Bar” and I remembered riding in the coach earlier. My friend Molly had asked “What’s a Phoenix?” I knew then that we were close to the hotel! Only moments later I saw what I thought was my hotel. But there were no hotel signs and the large wooden doors were closed. Rafael wasn’t sure so he got out of the cab and went with me to investigate. The doors were locked and my heart sunk. I thought I was wrong. Rafael knocked vigorously and luckily the attendant answered. Once the door opened I saw the lobby and knew I was right! Rafael chatted with the attendant briefly in Italian and they laughed. Rafael told me the hotel was brand new! This was its first weekend open and that it was called “Sister’s Hostel” (I was right!). That explains why we couldn’t find it.

I walked with Rafael back to the cab to pay him and say goodbye. In stereotypical Italian style he begged me to stay with him. I shyly declined. Then he invited me to brunch in the morning. He said “I want to introduce my family to the giggly American”. I was flattered and reluctantly said “I’m sorry, no.” My tour was departing early that morning. I gave him a generous tip (I think I paid like $200 for only an $80 trip). But it was worth it. Rafael was a perfect gentleman and I don’t like to imagine what might have happened if I had been with a different cabbie. My biggest regret was that I didn’t get a photo with Rafael. But my phone was dead so I had no camera. Finally at 430AM I was safe and sound back at my hotel. I passed out fully clothed in my bed. But not before soaking in the extraordinary occurrences on my wild night.

Traveling Solo with Contiki

The benefits of traveling alone are countless. But for many traveling solo seems intimidating and lonely. That’s when traveling with a group becomes an ideal situation. With Companies like Contiki you may be traveling alone but you are never truly on your own. You always have the option to be with a group of other like-minded travelers. .

Contiki tour groups vary in size from 30-50 people. I guarantee you will not be the only person traveling alone. On both on my trips there were a majority of singles, a few couples and a few friend groups. Nearly everyone you meet is willing to open-up and be friends!

Isn’t it scary? How do I make friends??

Many people have asked me about traveling as a single with a Contiki group. People often ask “is it scary not knowing anyone else? Will you be the only single? How can I make friends?” So here are my tips for traveling as a single with a Contiki tour group.

1. Book a double or triple-share room

My number one tip to guarantee that you will make friends during your Contiki is to have a roommate! You will automatically have a friend on the very first day. When you have a roommate you will always know when at least one other person is going out and what’s happening that day. I am now great friends with my roommate from Contiki Asia and I had a blast in my triple-share with Contiki Italy.

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My roommate Becky and I striking a pose in Cambodia

2. Put your guard down

I’m an introvert. At home I have a close-nit group of 4 friends. I typically don’t go out of my way to meet new people. But when traveling alone you have to get out of your comfort zone. Smile, and say hello. In order to make new friends you have to be approachable.

3. Crack a joke

The first meeting and meal with Contiki can be a little awkward. Everyone is nervous, you don’t know anything or anyone. So break the ice! I have pretty spot on comedic timing so I love to crack a witty comment or two to lighten the atmosphere.

4. Alcohol helps

I’m not saying be a drunk! As an introvert I know that a little liquor helps me loosen up. So why not have a glass of wine at dinner so that you feel more at ease talking to your new friends.

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Not passed out in the hotel lobby or anything…

5. Create a Facebook Page

Contiki has their awesome “Meetup” page through the website. But I’ve found people will use a Facebook page more. So create one for your tour and post the link to your Contiki “Meetup” page. That way you can talk to people, see what they look like, share travel goals and more before your trip departs. Plus stalking people’s profiles before the trip is a great way to pass the time.

6. Bring cards!

I always bring a deck of cards with me when I travel. A game of Kings Cup, Spoons or BS always brings groups together. One of my most memorable nights in Italy was playing Kings Cup at the hotel after a long day in Florence.

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7. Offer to take a photo of someone

The first day of travel the best way to talk to new people is to offer to take a photo of them and vice versa. Comment on their cool camera, compliment her sweet scarf or interesting tattoo. Break the ice!

8. Don’t be embarrassed

The best part about traveling is discovering yourself, letting your guard down and trying new things. With Contiki you might have the chance to sing karaoke, ride a bike, flash a mountain, take a shot, ect. TRY IT! Nothing brings a group closer than shared experiences. Rock those lederhosen like a champ and laugh about it later!

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We wanted to take the cheesy picture, so we did!

Plus Size Girls Packing. Guide to South East Asia

PackforSEA

Before my trip to South East Asia I scoured the internet for packing advice to a plus size girl. I had very little luck. So in order to save you some time I’ve complied my recommend packing list for a curvy girl traveling in SE Asia.

1. Body Glide (Chub Rub Stick): Thick thighs, humidity and extreme heat do not mix. Invest in body glide! If you bring one thing with you, choose Body Glide! I went through two sticks during my trip. Prevents chaffing and irritation caused by rubbing skin or undergarments.

2. Maxi Dress with sleeves: Many temples in South East Asia require shoulders and knees to be covered for entry. Invest in a light weight maxi dress to look conservativ

Bright colors are a must in the tropics!

Bright colors are a must in the tropics!

e but stylish. This dress can also double as a swim suit cover up!

3. Two Linen or Cotton tank tops: Invest in light weight and flowy fabrics. These are easy to pack, layer and clean. I absolutely lived in my Maurices elephant print tank (pictured above).

4. Chiffon Kimono: Modesty is important while traveling in Asia. It’s okay to wear tank tops when at the beach or riding elephants, but when dining or going to the market I recommend covering up your shoulders with an airy kimono like this Floral Print Kimono from Maurices. 

5. Rose Water Spritz: I swear by Boots Botanics Organic Rosewater Face Spray. It cleanses, cools, and moisturizes your skin.  Check out this article on the benefits of Rose Water.

Invest in layering pieces.

Invest in layering pieces like a vest or kimono. 

6. Soft, flexible and Supportive Bra: Many of the packing tip articles I found suggested do as the natives do and “go braless”. Well as a full figured woman there’s no way I could let the girls dangle. Invest in a great bra. Something that will not retain moisture, move with your body, breath and give support.

7. Bring simple t-shirts: I wish I had brought two plain, simple, yet chic t-shirts with me on my trip. I can’t tell you how many mornings I went through my suitcase and simply did not want to put on any of my frilly blouses!

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Invest in loose fitting, breathable tops to keep cool.

8. Don’t bring dainty flip flops: When walking through Bangkok you can play “I spy the broken flip flop!” From crowds stepping on your heals, getting sunk in mud, or just plain bad luck your “Old Navy” $5 thongs will break. Invest in sturdier sandles. I suggest Birkenstocks. They are super fashionable right now. Plus they have a life time guarantee!

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Invest in “Harem Pants” before you leave. Plus sizes are hard to find at the local markets.

9. Don’t bring jeans: Jeans are heavy, stiff and downright miserable when wet. If you’re like me and love the look of jean shorts then find some shorts with a synthetic jean like appearance (like these from Maurices).

10. Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray: Ditch you curling irons, flats irons and hair spray. Your hair will not withhold the humidity. Use a Sea salt spray to add sexy, tousled waves and a light matte finish to any hair type.

11. Beware Harem Pants: When in SE Asia you will be surrounded by stick thin hippies wearing “Elephant Pants“. You will desperately want to join the cult. However as a size 14+ girl you will struggle to pants that fit in the local markets. I tore three pairs during my trip! So think ahead and find a pair at your mall before your trip. They’re all over the stores right now!

12. Flattering, but conservative swim apparel: Modesty is always important in Asia. I love my body but when I rocked my cleavage boosting bikini on our first seaside outing I felt like I was given death stares at by the locals. I’m a confident woman but I did not like the glares.

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I wish I had brought a suit more like this cute, flattering tankini.

13. Bright Lip Stain and eye liner: You’re going on vacation so why not give your skin a break as well? Ditch all of your make-up and go all natural. Everyone else will as well. Plus any foundation, ect. will just melt off in the humidity. My essentials in Asia were my bright coral lip stick by Pixi brand (Target) and liquid eye-liner for fancy nights out.

14. No Jewlery: Twice on my trip girls lost their jewelry and one girl had her jewlery stolen from her suitcase at the airport! Don’t brink expensive rings, necklaces or family heirlooms with you! It’s not worth it. Instead pick up some cool accessories at the local markets!

15. Scarf: I have a rainbow scarf that has now been two 6 countries with me. It is my number one travel accessory. Invest in a large scarf that can double as a sarong, shirt, blanket, towel, bag, and more! Carry it with you all the time. It will keep you warm, modest, stylish and protected from the sun when needed.

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This temple in Thailand required your knees to be covered. Good thing I had my trusty scarf with me!


Want more information on what I packed?

Packing

Check out my detailed packing list for my Big Indochina Adventure!

Where do I want to go in 2015?

1. Peru

Peru is number one on my list of places to visit in 2015 because it features diverse landscapes, friendly people, colorful food and tons of adventure. I want to hike to Machu Pichu, white water raft on the Urubamba River and meet some Alpacas! I’m also going to try to convince a couple of friends to go. I want to share my adventure with others!

Hassle free trips I could take:

– Contiki’s Peru Uncovered

2. Eastern Europe for Christmas

I imagine visiting Eastern Europe’s capital cities of Budapest, Prague and Krakow in the winter will be like visiting the kingdom from Frozen or any other winter fairy tale. I want to visit Christmas markets, snow covered castles and ice skate on real ice! I might even like to do a week of skiing in Austria.

Hassle free trips I could take:

– Top Deck’s Spires in the Snow

– Contiki’s Berlin to Budapest

– Contiki’s Austria Ski

3. Camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I want to go camping with my family in the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains or the Harper’s Ferry region. We can take out my brother’s new Sylvan Sport Go Camper, go tubing or kayaking, hike and roast marshmallows.

4. Los Angeles

Since I work in Film and TV I think it’s about time to make the pilgrimage to Hollywood. I want to crash some celebrity parties, shop on Rodeo drive, take pictures with the crazy costume people at the Chinese Theater and hike past the Hollywood sign. Plus I’d love to catch up with my many friends who’ve made the move to the sunshine state!

5. Hampshire, Southern England

I want to dedicate a week or two of my year discovering Jane Austen’s England. But most specifically visiting my friend Becky in Petersfield! I want to rent a car and try driving on the wrong side of the road. I want to drink a pint of beer in a proper pub. I want visit the Downton Abbey castle, take in the English countryside and just relax with a proper holiday.