Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:17:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Delving into Delphi http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/25/delphi-greece/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/25/delphi-greece/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32571

I can’t quite recall when or where I first spotted a photo of the mystery-shrouded, clifftop monasteries of Meteora. But I do know that ever since the moment when that image first entered my brain, I became obsessed with seeing it not through a screen but with my own eyes.

After a few days in Athens decompressing from my weeks on the Greek islands, I was ready to finally meet Meteora. But while I was tempted by the endless adventure opportunities in the surrounding area — hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding and rafting, to name a few — I was also feeling exhausted from weeks on the go, monetarily drained from too much time in Europe, and pretty anxious to get back to Southeast Asia and settle down for a while. So while I normally pride myself on traveling relatively slowly and thoroughly, I quite happily signed on for Viator’s Two Day Trip to Delphi and Meteora.

Delphi, Greece

Viator Tour of Delphi

As my main objective was getting to Meteora, our first stop of Delphi was a big bonus. It was also a necessity to break up what would otherwise be two back to back days of long bus rides — an unavoidable element of trying to see these far flung sights with so little time. The good news? The scenery from my seat was gorgeous. So stunning I was almost physically aching for a camera stop, but settled for committing the vistas to my visual memory. I couldn’t believe this too was Greece, a country which so far had been all Acropolis and Aegean to me. And now, there was this.

And the feeling continued when we arrived at Delphi, stumbling into one of the most gorgeous valleys I’ve ever had the good fortune to gaze upon.

Delphi, Greece

Guided Tour of Delphi

Delphi, Greece

Our guide was licensed to give tours within the archeological site and so led us straight off the bus and up along the winding paths, refreshing our mythological knowledge along the way. While far from an ancient history buff, I always loved Greek mythology, and seeing the stories I first heard years ago in a classroom in Upstate New York come to life in front of me, half a world away, was a joy.

It’s hard to overstate Delphi’s significance to the Ancient Greeks. In the classical period, it is said that Zeus released a eagle from each side of the Earth, and Delphi was there they crossed paths. Hence, the city was seen as the center and navel of Mother Earth. Delphi would go on to be home to the Pythian Games (similar to the ever-so-famous version held at Olympia), to the most important oracle in history, and to the Temple of Apollo.

Delphi, Greece

Viator Tour of Delphi

Delphi, Greece

My favorite historical detail of the day was the myth of Apollo’s first trip to Delphi, in which he arrived in the form of a dolphin, carrying priests from the isle of Crete on his back. I hadn’t realized dolphins played such an important role in Greek mythology, and I was immediately reminded of my travels in the Peruvian Amazon, where local legend is that dolphins are descendants of spiritual humans, explaining their abundance in waters where almost every other creature has been hunted to the brink of extinction.

However, as much as the history, I simply enjoyed wandering the ruins of this epic city and exploring it through the lens of my trusty dSLR.

Guided Tour of Delphi

Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece

Viator Tour of Delphi

Guided Tour of Delphi

Now, all my solo travelers out there — praise Zeus for self-timer selfies, am I right? I have pretty much given up on trying to ask other travelers to take my picture and instead just look for a ledge where I can toss my camera up and throw on the timer. Embarrassing in front of onlookers? Yes. But well worth it to prove I was, you know, there. And to remind myself to request a hotel iron next time I wear those shorts.

Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece

Guided Tour of Delphi

Delphi, Greece

After an hour and a half of exploring Ancient Delphi, it was time to head to the modern one and split off into two groups. The one day tour groupers were to explore the Delphi Museum before making their way back towards Athens, while those of us in the two day tour joined up with the last half of a four day tour around Mainland Greece. Unfortunately, due to the logistics those of us on the two day tour didn’t have the option to see the the Delphi Museum. But there was also an option for a three day tour, which was basically the exact itinerary I was on with 24 hours in Delphi injected in the middle — enough to hit up the museum in the afternoon, and spent the next morning kicking around the hotel pool. I strongly considered this option but in the end just ran out of time in Greece.

Sound confusing? While I’d been worried in theory these mix n’ match tour legs would lead to a disjointed overall experience, I was actually relieved by it in practice — our first tour guide had certain speech patterns that were driving me slowly insane and so I was overjoyed to be handed over to my new guide, Joy. It turned out to be a nice benefit to the way the tour was structured. Don’t like your tour guide? No problem. Here’s a new one.

Delphi, Greece

After a lunch stop in modern Delphi, we wound our way towards Meteora. Joy’s commentary made the long drive more than manageable, and before I knew it we were pulling in to Kalambaka, the small town base for visiting Meteora. Because our hotel was not walking distance from the city center, we were given some free time to hit ATMs, fuel up on snacks, and stretch our legs after the long ride.

I was pleasantly surprised by our digs for the night, which boasted an idyllic pool and rooms with inviting soaking tubs. Yet we weren’t staying for long — I was early to bed and for once not dreading a dawn wake up call. After triple checking my cameras were charging, I fell asleep that night buzzing. I was just mere hours away from Meteora, and Delphi had been the perfect opening act.

Meteora Hotel

Meteora Hotel

 Stay tuned for my very last dispatch from Europe… magical Meteora!

. . . . . . .

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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Photo of the Week 180 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/24/photo-week-180/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/24/photo-week-180/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 21:10:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32616

Greetings from New York! What a week it’s been. My last few days in Cambodia were perfection — plenty of work time surrounded by a city I am energized by. Though staying put in Phnom Penh for the full eight days I was in Cambodia was exactly what I needed for this trip, I was reminded how much I love this country and how ready I am to return and explore it again someday in the near future.

After saying goodbye to Southeast Asia and spending a full thirty six hours in transit, I arrived back in New York ready to unwind.  Less than three days later, and I’ve managed to squeeze in a dramatic day at a Manhattan ER, a morning at the Philadelphia marathon cheering on my big sister, and a night of being blown away by a completely unexpected Brooklyn birthday party. Surprise!

While the emergency room visit was not ideal, all is well that ends well. The short story is I looked in the mirror Saturday morning to find one of my pupils completely blown out, which I later learned is a sign of major neurological trauma. Or, as someone put it to me in terms I could understand, “pupil asymmetry is like a ‘brain is broken!’ alarm.” Which explains why the doctors took it so seriously when I walked panicked into the nearest emergency room. Yet my brain scans came back clean and as I was being discharged that evening, one doctor conceded that I was, and I quote, “a bit of an enigma.” Well thank you sir. I have several ex-boyfriends who would love to see that diagnosis in writing. But all in all, I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday than snuggled in a hospital bed with a little sister I haven’t seen in five months.

And how happy I am for my eyesight and my functioning brain, as I would have hated to miss what came next. A mere half a day late, I caught the last train to Philly and woke up a few hours later to watch my big sister complete the Philadelphia marathon. I was so proud! And as I dragged my jetlagged and exhausted butt back to Brooklyn later that night, I was met with the ultimate jolt of energy — an apartment full of twenty of my nearest and dearest jumping out of the dark screaming “surprise!” Having already declared myself just about the luckiest girl on the planet for all the birthday love I felt earlier this month, it’s easy to say I was completely overwhelmed, and beyond touched. And extremely, eternally, grateful.

For traveling, and for coming back. For sisters and parents and friends and one spectacular cocker spaniel. For healthy brains and unhealthy birthday cakes. For all of it.

It’s good to be home.

Photo A

Phnom Penh RiversideAlong the Tonle Sap River.

Photo B

Handicap InternationalVisiting a prosthetics center outside Phnom Penh with my host Wes.

Photo C

Phnom Penh SunsetSunset over Cambodia.

Photo D

Cambodia Tuk TukKhmer pride.

Photo E

Flight to New YorkComing home.

Photo F

Surprise PartySurprise! Twenty five just keeps getting better.

Which photo is your favorite?

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Ahoy! Sailing the High Seas of the Aegean http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/23/contiki-ios-sailing-trip/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/23/contiki-ios-sailing-trip/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32654

So this whole group travel thing — it genuinely took me by surprise. I didn’t expect how much I’d love getting to know my fellow Contikiers in Mykonos, how I’d love rediscovering Santorini with them, or how much fun my new friends and I would have raging and recovering in Ios. I couldn’t have anticipated how good it would feel — letting someone else plan the fun while I sat back and enjoyed. And I’ve loved sharing it with all of you, especially those that write to me looking for a way to ease into international travel.

But I’ve saved the best for last. This day, sailing on a pirate ship with my new crew around the island of Ios, was my absolute favorite of the entire trip.

Ios Harbor

Ios Harbor

Though this, like all activities, was an optional add-on to the tour, almost every single person had signed up. Two weeks in, and I felt like I was surrounded by old friends. The day started low key as we admired the scenery of tiny and sparsely populated Ios unrolling in front of us.

Ios Island, Greece

Ios Boat Trip

Ios Island, Greece

It didn’t take long, though, before things started getting silly. How could they not, when we were on a pirate ship in the middle of the Aegean?

Ios Boat Trip

Ios Boat Trip

Contiki Ios Boat Trip

Contiki Ios Boat Trip

Leigh Browne Pirate Boat Trip, Ios

Though for me and most others this was a sober outing, the boys simply couldn’t resist adding to their singlet collections — appearantly even boat excursions aren’t immune to this savvy marketing ploy.

It wasn’t long before we were docked in a beautiful bay, and taking part in one of my all time favorite life activities, Jumping Off High Stuff into Water. I was in heaven as I leapt off the second story bow.

Contiki Ios Excursion

Contiki Ios Excursion

Leigh Browne Pirate Boat Trip, Ios

Ios Sailing Trip

I may have let out a cry of protest when it was time to pull up the ladder — what can I say, being told where to sleep, when to move and what to eat quite temporarily regressed me to my toddler years — but I shouldn’t have protested. Our next stop, a hidden cove in a place that looked suspiciously like paradise, was even better than the last.

One by one we jumped in and swam for shore.

Ios Sailing Trip

Contiki Ios Boat Trip

For a girl with an incurable ocean addiction, no, I can’t really imagine how a day could be better than this.

Contiki Ios Excursion

Ios, Greece Boat Trip

Ios, Greece Boat Trip

It was just crazy, silly, amazingly carefree fun. One of those days where half of the things that come out of your mouth are some variation on the expression, “Isn’t this great?”

Contiki Ios Boat Trip

After a picnic lunch on the beach, some chose to hike to a nearby viewpoint, some chose to nap in the sand, and a few of us chose to don snorkel gear and go for a swim. While there wasn’t much to see, I had a transcendentally happy moment swimming as far out as I dared and floating on my back until I was in what I can only describe as a full meditative state, the sun and ocean making the perfect Alex sandwich. This is it, I thought, the two purest things I need in life, the ocean below me and the sun above me. I’ll just float somewhere in the middle.

Snorkeling in Ios

Snorkeling in Ios

Snorkeling in Ios

Snorkeling in Ios

Contiki indeed has a reputation for partying. But it’s worth noting that for me and many others, the highlight of the trip was a good old fashioned day of fun and friends, with a heavy heaping of sunshine.

I’m thankful to this trip for opening my mind to group travel, introducing me to some truly fantastic people, and allowing me beautiful moments like this in what I can now confidently say is one of my favorite countries to travel in.

Ios, Greece Boat Trip

Contiki Ios Boat Trip

Leigh Browne Pirate Boat Trip, Ios

Till next time, Contiki, and farewell, Greek Islands! Next stop, back to the mainland.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Ios After Dark http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/20/nightlife-in-ios/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/20/nightlife-in-ios/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32730

Ios is an island that comes to life after dark. I mean, the beachfront daylight hours are fairly epic themselves. But people don’t really come to Ios for the paddleboarding. It’s a nice distraction from the hangovers, sure. But for the most part, backpackers flock to Ios for one undeniable reason — to get their debauchery on.

As some of you may know, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of world party scenes. So obviously, in my role as an online alcohol anthropologist, I had no choice to but to take a pulse on Ios’s nightlife scene. For research, guys. The things I do for science!

Ios Sunset

Due to the irresistible lure of Mylopotas Beach, I never once saw Ios’s town center, Chora, before dusk — and I’m not even going to apologize. However, I found myself there each of our three nights on the island to have dinner, go for a cobblestone wander, party my face off, or some combination of all three. One restaurant I’d be remiss not to mention is Sawadee, a chic and relatively affordable Thai restaurant — the first I’d seen in my weeks in Greece.

Ios Restaurants

Ios Chora

Ios Restaurants

After dinner it would be time to drop all pretense of civility and hit the town, hard. Now, this is the Ios photo one might send their mother:

Ios Nightlife

Yet this is the Ios photo that gives a much more realistic representation of what goes on in European summer party towns like this:

Fun Pub Ios

And in true Contiki fashion, even the guides got in on the fun. Have I mentioned how much I adored and admired our guides Ed and Paola? I heard a few people on the trip remarking that they had the world’s greatest “dream jobs,” and while I agree it’s a great gig, there is no denying these two worked their bums off to make sure all their charges had the vacation of a lifetime.

Ios with Contiki

Ios with Contiki

I don’t think there’s much I could say to explain a night out in Ios as well as these random snaps that I found on my memory card after a few hours of handing over my camera and unleashing it onto my fellow Contikiers.

Ios Nightlife

Ios Nightlife

Partying in Ios

Partying in Ios

Ios Nightlife

Ios Nightlife

One genius marketing aspect of the Ios nightlife scene was Singlet Syndrome — it seemed almost every single establishment we entered had a deal where you bought seven shots and after downing them all consecutively, you were given a bar branded singlet (or hat, in some cases) to commemorate your achievement. At 25 a round and the boys in our group heading home with an average of eleven singlets each, I think it’s safe to say our Contiki tour fed the families of several Ios bar owners that weekend.

Plus, it made for some seriously entertaining photos.

Soho Bar Ios

Partying in Ios

Traffic Bar Ios

While we mainly bar-hopped aimlessly into wherever caught our eye, I did develop a few fast favorites. We tended to start the night at Fun Pub, where there was life-size Jenga, occasional karaoke, and a general upbeat atmosphere to kick things off. Lost Boys was a tucked away gem that seemed to have a portal hole leading to Brooklyn hidden away somewhere, based on the amount of bearded hipsters milling about. Plus, they had beerpong.

I never really got a taste for Slammer Bar, where the signature shot involves putting on a helmet, taking a shot, and being hit over the head with various objects. Yeah, that just wasn’t my thing. But don’t get me wrong, I definitely think casual concussions are as rockin’ good fun as the next guy does.

Partying in Ios

Lost Boys Ios

Fun Pub Ios

Fun Bar Karaoke Ios

And finally, Traffic Bar was hands down my pick of the mix. It was crowded sweaty fun, the DJs were fantastic, and I was even inspired to complete the one and only seven shot challenge of my own there, earning myself a now-cherished black and gold trucker Traffic hat.

The moment where the DJ coaxed every single person in the wildly over-capacity bar onto the floor, held us there till we were practically pulsing, and then had the crowd spring back to roaring life as the beat dropped was one of my favorites of the trip, bringing back happy memories of Tomorrowland and reminding me why it’s sometimes worth it to stay out till the sun comes up.

Traffic Bar Ios

Ios Nightlife

Ios Nightlife

Ios promised to be a rocking good time — and it delivered! What’s your favorite spot for guilt-free getting loose?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Falling For Far Out Beach Club http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/18/far-out-beach-club-ios/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/18/far-out-beach-club-ios/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32477

Mykonos was a Vegas-style blowout. Santorini was a peaceful retreat. But Ios may have been the stop I was most looking forward to on my Contiki Greek island tour. The island is a notorious stop on the world’s backpacker party circuit — sun and fun enthusiasts flock there every summer, lured by the promise of cheap drinks, white beaches, and proximity to other young hot people. I know, right? It sounds just terrible. Obviously, I had to see this place for myself.

At first I was disappointed to hear we’d be a twenty-five minute walk from the Chora, Ios’s tiny action center. Considering the island has all of five taxi cabs, I saw many self-pitying stumbles home in the dark ahead of me. However, like in Mykonos, I quickly forgave our distance from the action when I laid eyes on the location. I am not kidding when I say that I briefly considered scrapping it all, getting a bartending job, and moving into Far Out Village instead. (Not really. But basically really.)

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Instead, I settled for vowing that someday, I will come back here for a minimum one week of play time. Far Out is broken into three separate accommodation areas at varying budgets, plus several restaurants, a watersports shop, a dive shop, a gym, a laundry, a beach club, multiple pools — it’s basically an all inclusive resort for the kind of people who don’t think they like all inclusive resorts.

I have a feeling that when I return someday, I’ll probably end up in what our guide Paola (un)affectionately referred to as “The Zoo,” the budget zone with camping, dorms, and super basic bungalows — I might live a flash life in baht, but in euros, I’m still very much a backpacker. So I made sure to soak up every second of enjoying our flash digs in the Village Hotel section of Far Out.

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Far Out Beach Club Ios

Far Out Hotel Ios

Far Out Hotel Ios

Far Out Hotel Ios

Because our group was so large, some were staying up at the Hotel and Spa at the top of the hill towards town — the newest and nicest of the accommodation options. Personally, I loved being down by the beach and so close to the water, but could certainly understand why those at the top loved their views, modern rooms, and shorter walk home.

Far Out Hotel Ios

Far Out Hotel Ios

I couldn’t get enough of how genius the Far Out model was. We loved staying in the laid back Village, where we had a relaxing pool to lounge by, a nice restaurant to order from, and a quiet place to sleep. But we also loved the fact that we were next door neighbors to the Beach Club, where the party fired up mid-afternoon and carried into Ios town after dark.

Far Out Village Ios

Far Out Village Ios

Far Out Village Ios

But as delicious as all those pool scenes were, none of them could compare to the addictive waters of Mylopotas Beach. I could get used to waking up to this every morning.

Far Out Beach Ios

Far Out Beach Ios

While I’d been itching to get out on the Aegean since Mykonos, Paola assured us that the prices for watersports would be much easier to swallow in Ios — and she was right. When I heard my roommate Lauren had never been on a Stand Up Paddleboard before, we made our way directly to the rental shack.

Far Out Stand Up Paddling Ios

Far Out Stand Up Paddling Ios

Far Out Stand Up Paddling Ios

Far Out Stand Up Paddling Ios

Granted, we did as much Lounge Down Paddleboarding as Stand Up Paddleboarding, but what can I say? Far Out put me in vacation mode.

But the paddleboarding was just the beginning. Suddenly, I felt an irresistible urge to pay ridiculous amounts of euros to be pulled by a speedboat on a giant inflatable couch, a mission Lauren and I were even able to recruit Paola to join us for. When the staff tried to talk us into more exciting and adrenaline inducing options, we steadfastly resisted. “No, we want the couch. Yes, the one for babies. Perfect. Thanks.”

Far Out Ios

Watersports in Ios

Watersports in Ios

We were slightly excited, as you may be able to sense.

Meltemi Watersports Ios

Watersports in Ios

Meltemi Watersports Ios

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the backdrop this silliness was taking place in front of? Damn I love Greece. Something I also love? The pure elation on these faces.

Watersports in Ios

Meltemi Watersports Ios

Watersports in Ios

Early on in the ride, I suffered the tragic loss of hair tie. While it made for a serious hair snack while we were out on the water, it also resulted in some seriously entertaining images. I whip my hair back and forth, indeed.

Meltemi Watersports Ios

Watersports in Ios

Clearly, Mylopotas Beach is my kind of place. In fact, I’m already itching to go back. Summer 2015, anyone?

Playing in Ios

Next up… Ios outside Far Out beach club!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 179 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/17/photo-week-179/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/17/photo-week-179/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32615

Greetings from Cambodia! I’ve spent the last week split between two of my favorite cities in the world, Bangkok and Phnom Penh. My time in Bangkok was a bittersweet goodbye to Thailand that hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but was filled nonetheless with temples, markets, movies (I finally saw Gone Girl!) and some world class pool and bar hopping. I’ve since landed in Cambodia’s capital, where I’m catching up on work, spending time with an old friend, and soaking up all the crazy energy that makes me love this place so much.

And now I’m off to wrap my brain around the fact that next week I’ll be sending this dispatch from the within the beautiful borders of New York State! Till next time, here are the Photo of the Week candidates…

Photo A

Muse Hotel Speakeasy BarFeeling on top of the world at the Muse Speakeasy Bar

Photo B

Alms Giving in BangkokWatching the morning alms giving

Photo C

Grand Palace, BangkokAn unusual portrait at The Grand Palace

Photo D

Viator Bangkok ToursBeautiful and bold in Bangkok

Photo E

Cambodia School Visit
A nineteen year old teacher in Cambodia

Which photo is your favorite?

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Gratitude at Twenty Five http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/15/gratitude-at-twenty-five/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/15/gratitude-at-twenty-five/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32475

One week ago, I turned twenty-five. A quarter century! I wanted to write something big to commemorate it. Something epic and meaningful. Something like this.

But honestly? I’ve found myself in a bit of a slump lately — with my writing, my work, and my travels. I used to laugh at warnings of the mythical quarter life crisis, but recently, reluctantly, I’ve accepted that I myself might be clumsily stumbling around in one. The good news, though, is that I’ve spent the past few months thinking about what path I’m taking next, and I’m excited about the future.

25th Birthday Post

One thing I’ve been focusing on lately? Living with gratitude. For the past month or so, I have made an effort to once a day say to myself very consciously, “I am grateful for this moment.” Sometimes that was gazing back at Koh Tao from my perch on a paddleboard, sometimes it was in the midst of a warm hug with a close friend, sometimes it was driving my motorkbike down the road when the sun shone through the palm trees at just the right moment.

And so, to start the next quarter century in style, a list of twenty five things that I’m grateful for today.

1. I am grateful for the privilege to see with my own eyes twenty seven countries and seventeen states — and counting. For the memories I’ve made, lessons I’ve learned, and people I’ve met in each of them. I’m thankful for recognizing my passion for travel so early in life.

2. I am grateful for a family that always calls me home. For a mother who has imbued me with creativity and kindness, a father who has taught me to be both successful and generous, and for sisters who inspire me, who make me laugh and who hold out a hand when needed. For aunts, uncles, grandmas and cousins who make up the rich fabric of family. I am ever so grateful that despite the fact that my parents are separated, we all remain a family. Sometimes I am overly critical of or impatient with my family, and I want to work on that. There is no one or no thing I care about more.

Family Portraits by My Lens 360 Philadelphia

3. I am grateful for a cold Diet Coke on a warm summer day, and a warm apple cider on a chilly fall one.

4. I am grateful for a passport from a country that gives me the green light to travel almost anywhere the world. I often take this for granted until I see the red tape my friends from countries with more “difficult passports” have to work through.

5. I am grateful for a body that is capable of bringing me up mountains, under the sea, and all over a yoga mat. I am grateful to find a natural enjoyment in physical activity, which makes at least one half of the staying in shape equation easier. (Though, you know, if I would magically develop an immunity to carb bloat, I wouldn’t be opposed to that too.)

6. I am grateful for what I’m convinced is the most amazing group of friends in the world, spread out all over the planet. I am grateful for the ability to accept them for who they are and what they are willing to give to our friendship, and for their patience and understanding of my endless wandering. I feel a deep connection with them even when I am physically very far away. It makes feel like I’ve done something right in my life to deserve these friends I have.

25th Birthday Post

7. I am grateful for what my sister Olivia and I call The Church Giggles — those times you laugh so hard you totally lose control and tears spring from your eyes and you feel you’ve had a slight workout after. I feel lucky to have a life that is full of them.

8. I am grateful for those rare books, movies and songs that leave me lost in thought.

9. I am grateful for the fact that, glaring exceptions aside, life has put a string of funny, interesting, big-hearted guys in my path. I’m kind of seeing one right now.

10. I am grateful for the ocean, and all the beautiful time I’ve spent living so close to it.

25th Birthday Post

11. I am grateful for having access to comprehensive health care, a family of experts helping me navigate the system, and the privilege of not having to base my health care decisions on my bank account. (Gotta get this one in while I still can — I roll off my parents’ health insurance in a year and I suspect I’ll be singing a different tune then.)

12. I am grateful for teachers who inspired me, nurtured my creativity and challenged me. From my Montessori educators to my public high school teachers to my Pratt professors, I owe a lot to the people who molded my little brain. (And I’m so proud that’s what my baby sis has been doing for the past two years!) I’m so grateful there were people out there fighting for my education before I was wise enough to realize how important it was for myself.

13. I am grateful for my sense of taste, which lets me savor ripe mangos, delicious avocados, and endless flavors of ice cream.

25th Birthday Post

14. I am grateful for access to a family car that gets me wherever I need to be when I’m stateside.

15. I am grateful for a childhood bedroom that still feels like home in a town I’m proud to be from. For couches, spare rooms and floors I’ve been offered by family, friends, and acquaintances all over the world.

16. I am grateful for sunsets, which always remind me that nature is my favorite artist. And mush my brain enough to give me a free pass on all kinds of cliche statements.

25th Birthday Post

17. I am grateful for the kindness from complete strangers that so often makes my day on the road.

18. I am grateful for two amazing dogs who have brought immeasurable joy to my life, and taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

19. I am grateful for the confidence to travel alone and the predisposition to wildly enjoy it. I am so thankful to enjoy my own company as much as I do.

20. I am grateful for strong holiday traditions that I grow more appreciative every year to have grown up with. I look forward to carrying on and continuing to create these traditions for the rest of my life.

21. I am grateful for rediscovering my love of singing. It was a goal of mine to get up and sing at an open mic night while I was in Thailand and once I got over my stage fright, it felt good. It has reminded me how much I miss creating — outside this blog, of course — and I’m even hoping to pick up a paintbrush again soon.

Creativity

22. I am grateful for being debt free, and the frugality and financial values my parents instilled in me. For the financial freedom my career gives me to treat myself occasionally to cheap Thai massages, fancy cocktails, movie tickets and all the other little splurges I enjoy so much.

23. I am grateful for days when I am productive and end the day proud of my work. For blogging, which has connected me to fantastic like-minded people the world over. For the fact that my lifestyle and career mean that days when I wake up to an alarm are few and far between (I’m a naturally early riser anyway).

24. I am grateful for the pain I’ve felt and the times life has truly tested me — they have shown me who I am and how strong I can be, taught me to appreciate periods of peace and joy, and prepared me for whatever comes next.

25. I am grateful for how easily 1,300 words of thankfulness came. I recognize that there are many people in this world for whom a similar list would be much shorter, and that reminds me to never take these things for granted.

25th Birthday Post

I’ll wrap this sap-fest up with one of my favorite quotes, from American Beauty. Most of all, I’m grateful that when I read through the list I just wrote, tapped out on my iPhone over the course of a few thoughtful days, I feel exactly like this.

It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

Thanks for being a part of my stupid little life, y’all. What are you thankful for today?

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Swinging Back Through Santorini http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/14/santorini-with-contiki/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/14/santorini-with-contiki/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32476

Pulling into the Santorini harbor felt like a warm hug from an old friend. We were in rough shape after the carnage that was Mykonos — I pretty much feel that this snap from the ferry says it all. I knew we’d come to the right place to recover. I’d already spent five blissful days here earlier in the trip, and knowing I’d be back so soon was the only thing that made that departure bearable. I had a feeling that seeing Santorini through the lens of my first Contiki tour would be a completely different experience — and I was right.

For starters, this time, I’d be based in the heart of Fira, Santorini’s capital. Our digs, New Haroula Hotel, were the simplest of the trip, but the location could not be beat — a three minute stroll into the town’s main square. Despite this being my third trip to Santorini I’d barely spent any time in Fira, and couldn’t have been more excited about being based there.

Fira, Santorini

We had three nights and about two and a half days. With tons of freedom of movement and lots of flexible time, Santorini was a very relaxed tour stop on the tour for me. I caught up on work poolside, I grabbed lunch and a manicure with one of my favorite new girlfriend friends on the trip, and I ate more than one gyro while sitting hunched over the street curb laughing at someone’s antics. It was very similar to how I would have spent my time if I was backpacking Santorini independently, and I liked that. I also liked the exceptions.

Contiki offered two Me Time optionals for Santorini. One was a sunset excursion to Oia — I gave that a pass, as once was simply enough. The second was Santorini Island Chill Out, a day tour that I was pretty pumped to see included a whole host of things I’d never seen/done on the island before. One thing that I loved about this Contiki was that if I was traveling independently, signing up for a day tour like this would be a total gamble. Whoever you share your bus seat with can make or break it, and so you just have to hope you’ll get lucky. Whereas here, I was going on a private day tour with thirty or so of my new crew of hilarious friends. Fun was guaranteed.

Our first stop was Profitis Ilias, the highest point in Santorini. While I admit I actually think the views are better from the crater rim, we had a pretty darn good time goofing around, and checked one major Santorini tourist attraction off the list.

Santorini Viewpoint

Santorini Viewpoint

Next up, the town of Pyrgos. This was the stop I was most excited about. I started foaming at the mouth with excitement a little bit when we reached the picturesque little village, and lost the entire group in record time while fiddling with F-stops on my Rebel T2i. It wasn’t an intentional move, but I shrugged my shoulders and kept shooting.

What a magical place to wander.

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos, Santorini

Pyrgos might just be my new favorite spot on Santorini. While I wouldn’t stay there — accommodation and dining options would be extremely limited, and it’s not exactly anywhere near the actions, it was a lovely place to get lost. It has all the charm of Oia, with none of the crowds. It’s a must-see, for me.

Pyrgos, Santorini

Donkey in Greece

Pyrgos, Santorini

And I made sure to carry on my Greek tradition of either one frozen yogurt or one nutella crepe per day. Sometimes both. Always delicious. Rarely good for my waistline.

Frozen Yogurt in Fira

Next up we piled back into the bus and made our way to Akrotiri and the Red Beach. Having already been to Akrotiri, I chose to head directly to Red Beach, as did all but four on the tour. While I had an absolutely fantastic experience at Akrotiri, I can’t really blame them for skipping it — I do believe it is the kind of place that’s mind blowing with a great guide, and mildly boring without one. And with only about fifteen minutes available for them to stroll through, they wouldn’t have the time to get the full scoop.

We didn’t have time to go down to the Red Beach, which I was kind of okay with considering the mixed reviews I’ve heard of it in the past — apparently the crimson sand is pretty dirty — but I did love the view from the top.

Red Beach, Santorini

Red Beach, Santorini

Red Beach, Santorini

Red Beach, Santorini

Our next stop, however? They couldn’t have stopped me from going in. Santorini was the first place I’d ever seen black sand, though I’d yet to get the chance to dig my toes in it. This Black Sand Beach was the undoubted highlight of my day, and I briefly considered launching a toddler style tantrum when it was time to leave.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the Aegean.

Black Sand Beach, Santorini

Black Sand Beach, Santorini

Black Sand Beach, Santorini

Black Sand Beach, Santorini

Finally, it was time to get our inner winos on. While I’d already taken an entire Santorini winery tour, Santo Wines was a new stop for me. While this tasting was far less personal and educational than the eight person ones I’d done led by a professional sommelier, there was tons of enthusiastic cheers of “Yiamas!” and I loved both the modern design of the winery and the insane views of the caldera it was perched on.

It was the perfect end to what was one of my favorite add-on tours of the trip. A sampler platter of all things Santorini.

Santo Wines, Santorini

Santo Wines, Santorini

Santo Wines, Santorini

Santo Wines, Santorini

Santo Wines, Santorini

One side of the island that I got to experience completely for the first time? It’s nightlife. My first trip to Santorini involved just eleven hours in port off a cruise ship, and my second involved nursing a week-long hangover post-Tomorrowland. And regardless, Santorini is known more for honeymoon romance than hectic raging.

I had a feeling this Contiki crew would find a way to work around that — and I was right again.

Santorini Sunsets

Santorini Sunsets

Santorini Sunsetsphoto courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er

Fira’s nightlife might be relatively tame if you compare it to Mykonos or Ios, but it’s still a damn good time, and it’s impressive how almost anywhere can become a sign of after dark carnage if you really put your mind to it! I’m pretty sure I saw that on a motivational poster once.

Santorini Nightlife

Santorini Nightlife

Santorini Nightlife

No surprises here — I loved Santorini all over again, and found even more reasons to gush about this magical isle and daydream about my eventual return. Most of all, though, I loved sharing it with a special new group of friends.

Santorini Crater

Santorini with Contiki

Next stop, Ios!

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As great as the ferry ride from Mykonos was, I much preferred the view from above. Thomas Cook flights go directly to Santorini from several cities in the United Kingdom. Book one today!

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This post was brought to you in collaboration with Thomas Cooke. Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Causing Mayhem on Mykonos http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/11/mykonos-with-contiki/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/11/mykonos-with-contiki/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32179

I couldn’t help but let out an involuntary whoop as Mykonos appeared on the horizon. Despite the fact that it was already day three of my Contiki tour, it felt like the trip was really just beginning. Most of my time in Athens has been spent buried in work, running frantic errands, and attempting to get to know my group whenever I took a harried break from my laptop. But the idea of being back on an island soothed me, and the salty air filled me with excitement for the three days ahead.

Welcome to Mykonos

Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

We were starting our island hopping in style. The itinerary of the trip was two nights in Athens, three nights each in Mykonos, Santorini, and Ios, and one final night wrapping things up back in Athens. My whooping started up again — seriously, I need to work on my involuntary noise emissions — when I saw our beachfront digs in Mykonos. We were basing ourselves at the Aphrodite Beach Hotel in Kalafati Beach, about a twenty minute drive from Mykonos Town. While at first I was skeptical of being so far from the action, within moments of arriving at Aphrodite I vowed to leave the grounds as little as humanly possible.

I mean, there was a lot of ground to cover. There were the deliciously breezt sheets of my charming whitewashed room, there were the inviting waves of the turquoise sea, and there was the shimmering calm waters of the saltwater pool. All demanded plenty of attention.

Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

Does it get any more Greek than this?

Lobby at Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

Lobby at Aphrodite Beach Hotel, Mykonos

Understandably, I spent every second of our free time at Aphrodite. While some of that was due to work obligations, some of it was due to the unmistakably magnetic pull of the ocean and the lure of beachfront bonding with some of the girls I was quickly growing to love. Much of the group joined me in this water-side vigil, while others chose to catch the bus into Mykonos town for some daytime exploring.

Our time in Mykonos had two official optional excursions and one impromptu ones thrown together by Paola and Ed, our guide extraordinaires. The first, ambitiously named The Hidden Treasures of Mykonos, involved a sunset stroll through charming Mykonos town, a traditional taverna dinner, and a night on the town with — and this is key — an included early hours bus transfer back to our hotel. Mykonos is notorious for its shortage of cabs and public transportation ceases in the evenings, so nothing short of Hercules himself coming back to life and sweeping me off my feet was going to stop me from that call time.

Contiki Greek Island HopperPhoto courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town

While I admit that in such a large group it was nearly impossible to hear our local tour guide’s insights, I quite happily fell to the back and got lost in seeing the whitewashed town through my lens. I had been to Mykonos once before, on a Mediterranean cruise with my mom, and it was exactly as I remembered. I was thrilled to be getting a second look.

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town

Mykonos Town

I wish I could wax poetic about the traditional Greek dishes we dined on that night at dinner, but frankly my brain was completely overcome with elation at our very special dinner guest, Petros the Pelican. I started letting out high pitched shrieks the moment he waddled towards the table — here we go with the unintentional peep-making problem again — and they reached a pitch heard only to canines when he boldly strode into the kitchen and demanding scraps. The unamussed chef chased him out with a spatula in hand, and I nearly passed out from the excitement.

Mykonos NightlifePhoto courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er

Mykonos Pelican

Mykonos Pelican

And then the bar hopping began. We worked our way en masse through a serious of bars, starting in little Venice and winding our way through the star-lit streets from one dance floor to another. It was our first big night out as a group, and I quickly realized how and why Contiki earned its reputation for knowing how to party. I loved seeing how our tour guides were greeted like old friends by bouncers and bartenders alike — they really do know these islands inside and out.

Mykonos Nightlife

Mykonos Nightlife

Our next day was spent exactly as earlier described — rotating between beach and pool lounger with laptop in hand. By the time evening rolled around, I was ready for a little excitement and eagerly signed up for the mega-club excursion Paola and Ed had arranged. While the 50€ price tag had me pulling a face at first, I gave myself a pep talk that could be more or less summed up by the acronym “YOLO,” only infinitely less annoying. While almost the entire tour group had joined the previous night, only about fifteen of us made it on this particular evening. I’m not sure if this night of debauchery is what cemented it, but this crew turned out to be my go-to group for the rest of the trip.

We were still raging when our 5am alarms went off to signal it was time to head back to the bus.

Paradise Club Mykonos

Paradise Club MykonosPhoto courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er

Paradise Club Mykonos

Paradise Club Mykonos

Our final day in Mykonos was one of the most highly anticipated of the trip. Thanks to the low price tag, just 12 per head, every single person in our group signed on for the day part at Paradise Beach. Still smarting from the lack of sleep the night before, I was relieved to arrive to a fairly low key beach scene. But I was well aware things were just warming up.

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day Club

Paradise Beach Club Mykonos

As the afternoon wore on, the music turned up, the drinks flowed more freely, and what seemed like the entire male population of Italy flooded through the doors. The scene was Vegas pool party meets Ibiza nightclub. And it was wildly entertaining.

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day ClubPhoto courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er

I’m in the “what happens at Mykonos day parties stays at Mykonos day parties” camp, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Italian ex-pornstar MC known colloquially as “The Elephant Man” — perhaps the photo above will give you a clue why — and a Contiki-wide love affair with a certain blow up flamingo.

By the time the sun went down and it was time for our bus to pull away, my abs were actually stinging from the burn of too much laughter.

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day Club

Mykonos Day Club

As much as I loved Mykonos, the prices were starting to wound me by the time day three came around — not the mention the lack of sleep. I was very much looking forward to returning to the healing embraces of my dear old friend Santorini. Someday, I’m sure I’ll return to Mykonos again and experience a slightly more civilized side — take a day tour of Delos, rent a jeep and drive around the island — but damn, am I glad I got to experience the sun and fun for a few days.

And I can’t think of a better crew to have done it with.

Mykonos with Contiki

Have you been to Mykonos? What side did you see?

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Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 178: Koh Tao http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/10/photo-week-178-koh-tao/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/11/10/photo-week-178-koh-tao/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32229

Apologies for the light posting again this week, guys — it’s been an emotional roller coaster around here! In the past week I turned 25, showed one of my favorite travel buddies of all times around Koh Tao, and said goodbye to the island that I never quite seem ready to leave. My friends on Koh Tao and around the world made sure I was ridiculously spoiled with love on my birthday — I still can’t believe what a special few days it was. However, that only made it harder to say goodbye to my little island family. The past two and a half months have been the happiest and most content I’ve felt in quite some time, and I’ve long been in denial about them coming to an end.

I’m currently in Bangkok, where I’m bidding farewell to my favorite country in style for a few days before flying to Cambodia for a week of catching up with an old friend. Then it’s home for the holidays — a fact that my brain still hasn’t quite wrapped itself around. I promise to actually write more than one post this week — pinky swear, in fact.

Much love and happy Monday!

Photo A

Sai Nuan Beach BungalowA birthday getaway at Sai Nuan Beach

Photo B

Aminjirah Koh TaoAdmiring the ocean

Photo C

Thailand PhotographyTouchable textures

Photo D

Koh Tao SunsetMind-boggling sunset views from Aminjirah

Photo E

Loy Krathong Koh TaoMy friend Katy making wishes for the new year on Loy Krathong

Which photo is your favorite?

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