Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 All Aboard for Athens http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/31/weekend-in-athens/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/31/weekend-in-athens/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32332

Santorini was not easy to say goodbye to. Things got a little emotional as we boarded the ferry and watched that stunning volcanic isle disappear in the distance. Still, Heather and I had one last stop on our joint European adventures to enjoy — a weekend of urban adventures in Athens. I loved this city something fierce on my first trip several years ago, and was extremely excited to return for another round.

Athens, GreecePhotos courtesy of Heather Holt

Athens, GreecePhotos courtesy of Heather Holt

We absolutely adored our apartment rental in Santorini, and were thrilled to continue the theme in Athens. This time, we went with a spacious designer loft found on Flipkey for a fraction of what a high end hotel would cost. While there were some issues — the building was fairly sketchy and it’s definitely a one bedroom apartment with a second bed awkwardly placed in a master bathroom — we loved using our own kitchen and washing machine, having enough space for impromptu midnight dance parties and pretending we were super trendy Athens locals for two nights.

And really, any complaints aside — if only you could find apartments like this in New York starting at $150 a night!

Athens Apartment Rental

Athens Flipkey Rental

Athens Apartment Rental

Athens Flipkey Rental

Athens Apartment Rental

Athens Flipkey Rental

We kicked off our first night in Athens in style by popping around the corner — literally — from our apartment for sunset drinks at Fresh Hotel, where Heather was hit with her first ever glimpse of the Acropolis. Yamas! (That’s cheers, if it’s not all Greek to you.)

Nightlife in Athens, Greece

Sunset in Athens

Sunset in AthensPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Our next stop? Zappeion Gardens for a midnight movie at an outdoor theater, one of my favorite memories from my first trip to Athens. While the cinema experience lived up to my own personal hype, the attached restaurant has gone downhill compared to my rose-colored recollections.

Still, you simply can’t miss visiting one of these countless open air theaters on a summer trip to Greece.

Zappeio Gardens Athens

Zappeio Gardens Athens

The next morning, we mostly ran errands and enjoyed doing cartwheels in our cavernous accommodation. Eventually though, we made our way to another one of Athen’s mega-hip hotels, New Hotel, for an avocado-laden late lunch, and then worked off the calories with a window-shopping stroll though the charming Plaka district.

New Hotel, Athens

Finally, it was time for the big one — visiting the Acropolis itself. Having already been once myself, I was still excited to return, especially with a fellow photographer in tow. We were running late, as usual, and arrived just as the crowds were thinning out and the golden hour of lighting was settling in over the hill.

It was perfection.

Acropolis Photography

Acropolis Photography

Acropolis Photography

One of the many things I love about traveling with Heather? She takes the most amazing candids. Look how deep and contemplative I look through her lens, when in reality I was probably mulling over the maximum amout of gyros it is socially acceptable to eat per day.

Acropolis PhotographyPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Acropolis PhotographyPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Photographers — save the Acropolis for sunset. I can’t imagine a more stunning time of day. We practically floated back down to the streets when the guards finally kicked us out.

Acropolis at Sunset

Acropolis at Sunset

Acropolis at Sunset

Acropolis at Sunset

Acropolis at Sunset

We decided to celebrate our perfect Parthenon experience with a night in Gazi, Athens’ hip and happening nightlife district. With no real insight on where to go or what to do, we simply bar hopped in whatever direction the wind (and wine) took us, from bro-tastic mega bars to hipster-inspired speakeasies tucked down discreet alleys. From what we could tell, we were the only tourists around.

Going out in Gazi yourself? Cartone and Plastiko were two of our favorites.

Nightlife in Athens, Greece

Going Out in Gazi, Athens

Nightlife in Athens, Greece

Going Out in Gazi, Athens

Going Out in Gazi, AthensDon’t ask

Eventually, we cabbed it back to the more tourist-friendly — and much closer to our accommodation — Psirri district. Here, we discovered two more of our favorite finds of the night, Six Dogs and the rooftop bar of A is for Athens. While A is for Athens was a hotel bar and thus filled with a healthy mix of tourists and Athenians, hidden away Six Doggs definitely had the same local flavor we had found in Gazi.

Nightlife in Athens, Greece

Nightlife in Athens, Greece

Acropolis at Night

All too soon, our forty eight hours in Athens were over and it was time to part ways with Heather — though not for long, as we already had plans to join forces again in Thailand a few short months later. And while Heather was off to Germany, Iceland, and beyond, I was thrilled to not be crossing any borders for a few more weeks.

And with that, I was off to next installment of my Greek adventure…

Weekend in Athens

Happy Friday!

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

Many thanks for Flipkey for providing me with a booking credit. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Earning Abroad: Bartending in Portugal http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/30/earning-abroad-bartending-in-portugal/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/30/earning-abroad-bartending-in-portugal/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32169

Earning AbroadWelcome back to Earning Abroad! In this series I’ll introduce you to some inspiring and ambitious friends I’ve met on the road — friends who have found viable work away from their home countries.

I’ve been on and off Koh Tao for years now. A lot changes, but one thing remains the same — my first stop is always Banyan Bar, my life’s own version of Cheers. Upon my most recent return in August, Brian, one of the owners — and one of my dearest friends — paused to introduce me to the new crop of bartenders. “And we have you to thank for this one,” Brian said, gesturing towards a bearded Canadian named Ian Brown. Ian, it turns out, had stumbled upon Brian’s own Earning Abroad interview while researching bartending in Thailand in order to continue his impressive streak of seasonal jobs. He went on to message back and forth with the Banyan boys, who told him to stop in for a drink if he ever passed through Thailand. He did, and now he sits at the other side of the bar. I was super thrilled by this small world story, and excitedly peppered Ian with questions about which other of my posts he had read — the answer was a flattering zero.

When we both participated in October’s inaugural Koh Tao Writer’s Retreat, I asked Ian if he’d be willing to regale us with tales of his sordid summer bartending in the partu town of Lagos, Portugal. Lucky for us — though unlucky for anyone who cringes at tales of excess alcohol consumption and general good-time having — he said yes. Over to Ian!

Working in Portugal

AB: Walk us through a typical day on the job.

IB: Lagos is a small town nestled in the South Western coast of Portugal’s Algarve region. It’s notorious for its stunning coastline, vibrant nightlife and for once being considered the “end of the world.” Every summer the village is overrun with raucous backpackers eager to lap up the good times, which makes it a perfect place to obtain short-term employment, especially at a bar or hostel. I did just this, and found myself working at Three Monkeys, a high-energy cocktail bar where I had some of the best nights of my life while meeting what could be some of the best people in the world.

Three Monkeys Bar, LagosAt Three Monkeys, and Lagos for that matter, the only thing resembling routine is the hangover. Typically the bar opens between 1:00PM and 4:00PM, when one staff member sets up and orders stock while reflecting on the previous night’s debauchery. Due to the rowdy nature of the clientele, minor repairs are often necessary. Sometimes this individual is lucky enough to prepare the bar in peace, but more often than not they are subject to booze fiends getting naked and running amuck. At 9:00PM this poor soul is released into the wild and replaced by the four or five bartenders required to manage the evening carnage. At this point, lights go down, music goes up and the next five hours are a blur of rock ‘n’ roll-fueled excess. The toughest part of the night is getting everyone out at 2:00AM and counting the money while staggeringly inebriated.

Due to exorbitant alcohol consumption, I used to dread the afternoon shift because making it there on time would require me to cut-down on my much cherished sleep. Plus, when it’s midnight, the bar is packed and you’re raising glasses with best friends, it’s impossible not to have a good time.

How long did you work there?

Living in LagosLike most people I arrived in May to kick off the season and stayed until then end, which falls around September/October. Trust me when I tell you, that’s about as much as even the strongest livers can handle.

How did you come to work in Lagos? What inspired you to find this job?

The summer prior, I spent one week in Lagos, basking in self indulgence while nearly meeting my maker through alcohol. I stumbled out with red eyes, trembling hands and an aching liver, vowing never to return. I’ve decisively concluded this was the worst I’d ever felt in my life.

When I returned home six months later with ambitious intentions of rejoining the civilized world, I quickly realised it was impossible. I began to examine my time in Lagos through the rose coloured lens of hindsight and found myself focusing less on the suicidal come-down and more on the postcard beaches, whitewashed cobblestone streets and the close-knit community of seasonaires. By that point, the decision was made for me and I tossed a one-way ticket on my credit card as fast as my wi-fi connection would permit.

Bartending in LagosOnce in Lagos, I spent every night drinking at Three Monkeys, so it only made sense to seek employment there. After a quick chat with the owner, I was instructed to return the following afternoon for a formal “interview.” To call this the most entertaining interview of my life would be a drastic understatement. To begin, I was instructed to make the majority of the cocktails on the menu, consume them in a timely fashion and spend the next hour chatting about music. That night, I was given a “trial shift” to see if I was capable of performing the necessary tasks while navigating the sea of aggressive alcohol consumption. Five hours and a million shots later, I found myself with a new job and a family of close-knit staff members.

How did your family and friend react to your initial departure?

I felt like I was on trial at Nuremburg. My mother spent days crying and the only other time I’ve seen my father so upset was when I polished off the last of the leftover lasagne in ’98. In their minds I was throwing away my college education in favour of becoming an alcoholic beach comber, which I suppose wasn’t entirely untrue. But after traveling for a year, the thought of spending forty hours a week doing something I didn’t love was a joke. And since buying a home and car are the last things on my to-do list, I decided to opt for lifestyle over money. As for my friends, some of them understood but the vast majority assumed I had abandoned all hope and chosen the life of a hobo… which again I suppose isn’t entirely untrue. But at least I’m happy.

How much money did you make? Was it enough to live on?

Living in LagosI was making enough to get by, but let’s just say we won’t be seeing Donald Trump behind the bar anytime soon. As bartenders, we would take home 30 euros per night, plus tips. So on a good night, you are walking away with 50 euros. I shared an apartment with four friends, which was interesting to say the least. We had three beds, one inflatable mattress, a sofa and what seemed like a minimum of two house guests every night. The apartment had two balconies, a TV, an inflatable pool and we paid 100 euros each per month. When you do the math, after only two bar shifts you’ve sorted out your accommodation for the month and the rest of your wages can be spent frivolously on contraband. Although, it is worth noting that we managed to dupe our landlord into cheaper rent by convincing her that there were only two of us living in the apartment. Since most of us looked similar (long hair, beards, hollow eyes) we successfully convinced her that the five us were in fact just two people and somehow managed to keep up the gag for the duration of our stay.

Most of my disposable income was spent on eating out since you would be more likely to find someone having sex in our kitchen than preparing anything fit for human consumption. A lot of my friends back home wondered how I could afford to drink so much, but everyone in town is so tight that you know all the bartenders and you therefore rarely pay full price. By the end of the summer I had enough cash poked away to take a trip to Germany and Holland, but generally you can expect to break even.

What kind of legal hoops did you have to jump through?

Working in LagosI, like most others, was visiting Portugal as a tourist and working illegally. To my understanding, getting caught would have meant a hefty fine and deportation. Luckily for me, Portugal is wildly corrupt, so whenever immigration was making its rounds, we would get a phone call and jump to the other side of the bar until the fuzz finished their inspection.

Canadians are only permitted to stay ninety days in the Schengen Area of Countries in Europe without a visa, but after five months I pranced through customs hassle-free. I can’t guarantee this will be the case for everyone, but all my acquaintances have and continue to ignore this rule with no consequences.

What skills do you need for this job?

Thick skin, an understanding of music, a personality and most importantly an iron liver. Even though the bar has a strict “no asshole policy,” a surcharge for bad manners and a reputation for, quite literally, soaking patrons with poor etiquette, you still have to be able to tolerate a loud and very intense working environment.

Three Monkeys became infamous for the “tidal wave shot” that we would deploy with gusto when the time was right. Since Lagos is a backpacker’s hub, many bars compete on price and some tourists are silly enough to approach the bar and try to negotiate free shots. Take my advice and don’t do this. If you do, the bartender will politely ask if you would like a “tidal wave” on the house, to which you will eagerly agree. “Finally a free drink!,” you will think to yourself before getting a pint of ice water to the face and a free escort to the curb side. In fact, this advice applies globally: please never go to a bar and ask for anything free unless you hate yourself and want to be punished.

Working in LagosThree Monkeys is exceptionally busy every night in high season and you have to be able to work VERY FAST, wash glass, DJ, count money and keep the bar stocked while consuming enough booze to pickle your liver. If you’re interested, here is a good test. Down a bottle of Jameson, funnel two or three beers and try and calculate 4.50 x 7 + 2.50 x 5 with your stereo on 10.

What were the best and worst things about bartending in Lagos?

The best thing is, hands down, the people. Lagos is a melting pot of like-minded hedonists who are simply there for a good time. There is something quite raw and visceral about getting vulnerably intoxicated every night with the same people and I honestly feel closer to friends I met there than some that I’ve known my entire life. Plus, living in paradise didn’t hurt either. Hangover or not, something about plunging into the crystal-clear Portuguese water makes everything OK. The hardest part was simply the self destruction. I’ll let you in on a little secret: alcohol isn’t healthy, and when you consume it literally everyday for five months, it hurts… a lot. There was many a morning when a shot of hot lead to the brain seemed like the only way out. Lots of people arrive in Lagos, only to realise they simply cannot handle it and are left with no choice but to saunter away with their tail between their legs. Having said that, if you are up for it, I guarantee you’ll have the best summer of your life.

Working in PortugalWhat would your advice be to someone looking to do the same?

It sounds cliché, but just do it. Don’t worry about trying to sort out a job before you arrive, it will all work out once you get there. Show up in May with a smile on, order a drink and brace yourself.

What do you know about Portugal that a tourist wouldn’t?

To be honest there was a lot more I learned about myself rather than Portugal specifically. Prior to this experience, I had always thought that long-term travel required a strong reserve of cash. When backpacking how many times have you heard the classic, “I’m going home to make some more money and then leave again” story? In Lagos, I learned that this wasn’t the only way. I showed up in Portugal with about $1000, lived decadently for five months, attended a prolific music festival and spent cash quite frivolously yet managed to leave with more than I started with.

Bartending in LagosAs far as Lagos is concerned, there’s a whole other side that I didn’t experience when I was just passing through. You will inevitably befriend the locals, who besides being some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet, will teach you all the offensive slang you could ever require and take you to some pretty under-the-radar events. For example, every two weeks, there is a jam session at this abandoned farmhouse that starts around midnight and goes well into the morning.  These nights will make you reevaluate how you define “weird.”

Are there differences between working in Canada and in Portugal? 

Without question. At the most fundamental level, my Portuguese job requirements would probably get me locked up in Canada. Believe it or not, the Canadian government doesn’t take kindly to browbeating people to take shots, lighting the bar on fire and drinking on the job. As I previously mentioned, corruption is rampant in Portugal to a degree that I would never see at home.

Lagos, PortugalBut the biggest difference was probably that I didn’t have to shovel my driveway to get to work every morning.

Was it difficult to transition home and re-enter the mainstream workforce?

For me it was impossible, so I refused to even try. Since leaving Lagos, I’ve continued to work seasonally, which better suits my needs rather than trying to force myself into a role that would, more than likely, make me miserable.

After leaving Lagos I did a brief stint volunteering at Oktoberfest in Munich before returning to Canada where I moved to Whistler to enjoy a season of snowboarding. For money, I continued bartending and also worked as a zipline tour guide.

What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?

One day, while suffering through the frigid Canadian winter, I was daydreaming of South East Asia and stumbled across this magical blog called Alex in Wanderland. There was an interview with the owner of an establishment called Banyan Bar in Koh Tao, Thailand. After an entertaining back-and-forth with the owners, I moved to the island, have been here for five months, and don’t see a departure in my imminent future. Life is too great for me to start taking it seriously now.

Bartending in Portugal

Thanks for sharing, Ian! Let’s leave him some love in the comments…

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Diving in Greece: Submerged in Santorini http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/28/diving-in-santorini/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/28/diving-in-santorini/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32228

“So what did you think of the diving in Santorini?” A message from a blogging friend blinked on my screen. “Because I didn’t want to tell you this beforehand, but it was probably my least favorite dive of all times.”

“Um, we go tomorrow,” I replied, and tried to keep my spirits high.

Diving in Santorini

Diving in the Mediterranean gets a pretty bad rap sometimes. In a way, I can understand — if you’re crazy for coral or a big fish aficionado, you’re not going to find either in spades around here. But having just spent an amazing week diving in Malta — and with distant memories of a pleasant day diving in Ibiza, too — I wanted to believe Santorini would be special.

I mean, check out the setting for this dive shop! How could this not be a good time. Right? Right?

Santorini Dive Center

Santorini Dive Center

Diving in Santorini

We were picked up by our Santorini Dive Center divemaster at the extremely reasonable call time of 9am — fellow scuba fanatics will appreciate that this is basically sleeping in on a dive day. And off we went to Caldera Beach, in the shadow of Akrotiri. Gearing up in front of the Aegean, our dive guide briefed us on our first plunge. We’d be heading to Nea Kameni, the crater around which modern Santorini is formed.

And off we went.

Santorini Dive Center

Our dive began with a slow swim around the slopes of the crater. Mostly we marveled at the topography, and being so close to an active volcano, though nudibranches, clams and coral formations clamored for attention too.

Diving Nea Kameni

Black and White Nudibranch

Black and White Nudibranch

Diving Nea Kameni

Diving Nea Kameni

Diving Santorini

Diving Nea Kameni

Doubling back to the bay we dropped anchor in, we swam past the shadow of our modern speedboat and towards the hulking husk of an antique one. The 34m long steel wreck is the remains of a tourist boat that sunk in the harbor, and that no one ever bothered to pull up.

Today, it’s a shallow playground for divers and snorkelers. At only 13m deep, some might turn their noses up at this wreck — but as a natural light photographer (no external strobe on this baby!) I loved the bright color coming through.

Diving Santorini

Santorini Dive Center

Santorini Ship Wreck

Diving in Santorini

I also loved that we were able to enter the wreck, and have a quick swim through its hallowed halls.

Santorini Ship Wreck

Santorini Ship Wreck

Nea Kameni Ship Wreck

Diving in Santorini

Nea Kameni Ship Wreck

Nea Kameni Ship Wreck

Santorini Dive Center

Not a bad view to surface to, eh? While I bummed I didn’t get to show Heather around Nea Kameni on this trip, my mom and I hiked around it on our day on Santorini in 2011.

Diving Nea Kameni

Back at the dive center, we changed tanks for our second dive — a shore one directly off the dive shop’s beach. Waddling our way out to sea, we dropped underwater as soon as we were deep enough to swim, and made our way through the sea grass clogged shallows.

Santorini Sea Grass

Heather and I both felt a little overweighted, and at one point — because we are incapable of being dive buddies without attempting to end each other via laughter-induced drowning — it inspired Heather to do a striking impression of an upside down beetle. I was able to steady my giggle-wracked body long just enough to photograph it.

We should probably remember to warn our dive guides about our antics ahead of time.

At least we tip well.

Santorini Sea Grass

Santorini Sea Grass

After the very sparse sea life on our first dive, I was curious what to expect of this mini wall. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity we encountered, especially from a spunky barracuda intent on putting on a show. I appreciated that, knowing our experience levels — Heather is at instructor level and I’m a divemaster — the guide let us hang back and do our own thing.

Santorini Dive Center

Diving in Santorini

Barracuda in Santorini

Barracuda in Santorini

Our favorite find though? Those black and white nudibranchs, a specific variety we had never seen before. We don’t know the official name, though we dubbed it a cow nudi, and I moo-ed appropriately in its honor.

Santorini Dive Center

Diving in Santorini

Black and White Nudibranch

Our conclusion? We couldn’t be more pleased with our decision to spend one of our five days on the island underwater. I don’t know if it was my low expectations, my favorite dive buddy or just being happy with a camera in hand, but I had a great experience. One day was enough for me, but there’s no way I would have missed the chance to check out Santorini’s scuba scene.

Being able to see Imerovigli from sea level wasn’t too shabby, either!

Santorini Reef Dive

Diving in Santorini

Imerovigli, Santorini

Kudos to Santorini Dive Center for running a top notch operation — dive times that reflect that customers are on vacation, guides that respect various experience levels, and a seriously kick ass office.

Santorini Dive Center

Happy diving!

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

Many thanks to Santorini Dive Center for hosting us. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill!

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Photo of the Week 176: Thailand http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/27/photo-week-176-thailand/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/27/photo-week-176-thailand/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:05:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32176

This week, my mini (millionth) tour of Thailand continued as Heather and I ditched the Bangkok boys and made our way up to Pai and Chiang Mai. Our four days in Pai mostly consisted of lazing around our cute A-frame bungalow, getting massages, reading by the river, and one ambitious excursion to a nearby cave.

Since arriving in Chiang Mai we’ve vowed to be a bit more active, which we kicked off with one of the most magical nights of my life at the Yi Peng lantern festival — attending was basically what inspired this entire trip up north, and it was worth it, multiplied by about a billion. You’ll be hearing about the whole thing in a lot more detail but for now, I think the expression on my face in this photo by my friend Torre says it all.

Amazing as this trip has been and as much as I am looking forward to these last lingering days in Chiang Mai, I am beyond pleased that next week I’ll be reporting from Koh Tao again. Crystal clear ocean and palm tree shots coming right up. Happy Monday, guys!

Photo A

Lod Cave, Pai, Thailand
Magnificent Lod Cave in Pai

Photo B

Lod Cave, Pai, Thailand
Two shutterbugs goofing around in a cave…

Photo C

Friends in Pai
…and on a bridge

Photo D

Yi Peng
The magic of Yi Peng

Photo E

Yi Peng
Sending off love and light

Photo F

Yi Peng, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The heart theme continues as I paint with light by playing with my shutter speed

Which photo is your favorite?

 

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Sippin’ Santorini Style: A Greek Wine Tour http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/24/santorini-wine-tour/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/24/santorini-wine-tour/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32175

Have you seen that episode of Parks and Recreation where April enters a sommelier competition? That’s how I typically feel when I’m around wine enthusiasts and professionals — like I’m swirling grape juice around in a fancy glass that I’m possibly holding upside down and declaring I smell notes of sandwich and the color purple.

So the Ancient Akrotiri and Santorini Wineries tour wasn’t exactly the most natural fit for me — I’m no wine aficionado. But I do have an affection for all things quirky and corked, having enjoyed tastings at wineries  in the rural outskirts of Cambodia, in the shadow of a volcano in Hawaii, and in a town predominantly known for brothels in Nevada. The fact that the harsh, inhospitable growing environment on Santorini isn’t one of the world’s famous wine regions is exactly what piqued my interest.

And so when our guide, a salt-and-pepper-haired Greek sommelier named Stamatis picked us up in the morning, I already knew we were in for an interesting day.

Santorini Wine Tour

Santorini Wine Tour

Heather and had I debated about whether or not to do the Akrotori add-on to the winery tour.  Looking back, I can’t believe we hesitated — it was one of the highlights of Santorini for me.

Akrotiri was once a lost city that lay buried for centuries after a volcanic explosion. The almost 4,000 year old ruins are now one of the Aegean’s most important prehistoric settlements. Yet, to be honest, I think had we strolled through on our own, we would have been there for about fifteen minutes, scanned a few plaques, taken a few obligatory photos, and left with a shrug. However, thanks to our private guide Malissos, who Stamatis handed us off to at the gate, we spent over an hour enraptured by the story of this amazing ancient civilization, rumored by some to be the lost city of Atlantis.

Malissos was hands down the most engaging guide I’ve ever had at a historical site, patiently answering our endless questions and picking up on the aspects of the history we were most interested in and focusing on those.

Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

The most haunting thing about Akrotiri? There are no bodies, no human remains, not even the bones of a single domesticated animal. This along with other clues tells archaeologists that unlike the famous tragedy at Pompeii, the people of Akrotori had warning that an eruption was coming, probably in the form of foreshocks. As wealthy seafarers, they had the means to flee, taking all their worldly treasures with them. Why they never returned, and where they went, is still a mystery.

The people of Akrotiri had a short but good life, estimated to be only about thirty-five years long, on average. The ruins of the city reveal a peaceful people and a democracy — remains of a parliament, no signs of a palace, and — Malissos pointed out with proper gravity – ubiquitous plumbing, not just reserved for an aristocracy. Toilets all around!

Unlike in much of the ancient world, the art in Akrotiri showed no signs of war, fear, or human sacrifice. Instead, archeologists have uncovered frescoes and other images of flowers, birds, dolphins, and the bounty of the sea. And wine. These ancient Minoans made wine.

Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece

When it was time to say our goodbyes we made our way to meet Stamatis at our prearranged time and location. When he wasn’t there, we tried to sit back and be patient, but our confusion and the unrelenting heat made it hard to relax. By the time we saw the van rounding the corner, we had spent an hour waiting in total between the delay in our morning pickup and now this one. We accepted Stamatis’s apologies and explanations of traffic due to the many cruise ships in port and put on smiles to meet our fellow wine tasters, who were just joining the tour — a honeymooning couple from San Francisco, two stylish sisters from Chicago (one of whom was a professional wine buyer!), and a man from the Czech Republic.

We were ready for a drink. Our first stop was Boutari Winery, the second largest in Santorini. We started our tour by wandering out to the vineyards themselves, which in Santorini look unlike the vines I’ve seen anywhere else in the world — like scrubby bushes hugging the ground. Stamatis told us a fantastic story from his time researching Santorini wines.

He asked an elderly vintner. Why do the vines grow like this in Santorini? She responded with a shrug. Because we found them like that.

In reality, the vine’s distinctive growing pattern in baskets close to the ground, rather than high on trellises, allows them access to desperately-needed moisture from the island’s notoriously volcanic dry soil. And that’s not the only way in which Santorini wines are peculiar. These vineyards have a notoriously low yield, with eight to ten kilos of grapes producing a mere 500ml of wine!

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Greek Wine

Greek Wine

Boutari Winery, SantoriniSantorini vineyards!

After touring the wine cellar, we sat down for the fun part — trying the wine. This is when I realized that this tour was more of a sommelier class than a tasting, as Stamatis explained the process and steps of wine judging, polled us on our opinions, and gave us suggestions on pairing the wines with the platters of local cheeses, breads, and meats in front of us.

The best part? There wasn’t a hint of pretention despite the fact that there was not one but two wine professionals at our table. After asking our thoughts on the wine, we’d often reply in the form of a question. I think I taste hints of nutmeg? I think I prefer the Nykteri? Stamatis wouldn’t give us the approval we were seeking on our opinions, only replying with a laugh that, “there is no argument to taste!”

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Wine Tour Greecephoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Wine Tour Greecephoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Five wines later, the late pickup fiasco was all but forgotten. But not by our ultra-polite guide. As we rose to leave Boutari, he asked us to wait a moment and returned with four bottles of fine Vinsanto, an apology to each of us for the delays at the beginning of the tour. Now that is some good damage control.

(Airlines, are you listening? I would gladly accept a bottle of fine wine in exchange for every hour you’ve ever kept me waiting in an airport or on a runway. Let’s get this implemented planet wide, am I right?!)

Boutari Winery, Santorini

Funny Winery Sign

Spirits high, our next stop was Gavalas Vineyard, which has been in the same Santorini family for more than 300 years. This was the most traditional of all the wineries we visited, with the barrels to back it up — the oldest dated back to 1863! They also maintained a traditional foot-stomping grape press, which we all took a tipsy turn goofing around in.

Again we sampled the winery’s finest offerings of traditional Santorini varietals — Assyrtiko, Nykteri and Vinsanto.

Santorini Winery Tour

Santorini Winery Tour

Santorini Winery Tour

Santorini Winery Tour

And now, I know what you’re thinking – Heather and I totally coordinated on purpose. But we didn’t, I swear. I mean, Heather didn’t anyway. She can’t help that I secretly wait to see what she’s wearing every morning so we can be twinsies!

Santorini Winery Tour

Next up was a bonus stop — Stamatis asked is we wanted to make a quick detour to Santorini’s sole microbrewery, and we readily accepted. While I’m not a beer drinker myself, I had seen the Yellow Donkey logo around town and was curious to see the brewery behind the brand.

We did a quick mini-tasting here and despite my protests I ended up with a beer in my hand at one point and greatly amused the group with my attempts to make a polite face when I tasted it.

Yellow Donkey Brewery Santorini

Yellow Donkey Brewery Santorini

Yellow Donkey Brewery SantoriniHow things have changed!

Our final stop for the day, Gaia Wines, was in fierce competition with Boutari for my favorite, if for no other reason than its stunning seaside location. Literally everything tastes better with the breeze of the Aegean whipping by.

Gaia Winery Santoriniphotos courtesy of Heather Holt

Gaia Winery Santorini

Gaia Winery Santorini

Gaia Winery Santorini

And for the twelfth and final time that day, we clicked our glasses and called out a hearty cry of “Yiamas!” — cheers, in Greek.

Yet we were toasting to how amazing this tour was for long after the buzz wore off. From the fascinating Akrotiri to the fabulous wineries to our incredibly knowledgeable guides to the unbelievable customer service when something went wrong, I tip my hat — or my glass, rather — to this tour. In fact, I’d say it competes with the Brussels Chocolate Tour for my favorite Viator experience of all time (and yes, feel free to not point out that both of those tours involve consuming calories).

Yiamas indeed! Would you trade beach time for a Santorini wine tour?

. . . . . . .

This post was brought to you by the iPhone video editing app TogetherI am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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Going Greek: The Oia Obsession http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/23/oia-sunsets/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/23/oia-sunsets/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32172

“The sunset in Oia is the most photographed image in all of Greece,” I overheard a tour guide stating confidently. While it seemed like a fact that would be difficult to confirm, the camera totting hoards swarming the streets alongside Heather and me pointed towards its accuracy.

“This is not how I remember Oia,” I tell Heather, as an overly aggressive fellow tourist almost elbows her lens out of her hand.

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Bookstore in Oia

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Yup, Oia is stunning, and it’s the most famous — and expensive — village to stay in on Santorini. Don’t let these photos fool you. Heather and I are patient photographers and willing to stubbornly stake out a spot until that perfect moment when it almost appears that you stumbled upon this charming slice of Santorini solo, but make no mistake, I felt almost claustrophobic at the crowds. It was nothing like our deliciously deserted — relatively, anyway — base in Imerovigli.

It should have been a hint when we had to sit on the floor of the over-capacity bus to get here.

Oia_04

Oia, Santorini

Still, it’s easy to see why the place is so packed. There’s simply no better example of the white-and-pastel-washed buildings clinging to the sides of cliffs, the bright blue domes against the equally cobalt Adriatic sea, the essence of all the images travelers conjure when they close their eyes and think Greece.

Oia, Santorini

Oia PhotographyPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Oia PhotographyPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Slowly, we eked through the clogged cobblestone streets towards the Byzantine Castle Ruins, a key location for sunset spotting. Though it was still hours to go before the sun would make its final descent, there was a thick crowd of shutterbugs staking out the best seats. The views were hypnotizing and we made a game of picking out which charming cave house we would pick, should we ever win that lottery we never play.

I called the one with the pool.

Oia Photography

Oia Sunset

Oia Santorini

Greek Flag over Oia

Oia SunsetPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Eventually, we abandoned our perch in exchange for more exploring. The “For Sale” sign in the second photo down made me giggle — maybe it was an omen that we should go buy a lotto ticket!

Oia Sunset

Oia Sunset

Oia Sunset

Eventually the throngs of people did start to weigh on us, and we wondered where we might find some respite. A glance at a map reminded me of the good things I’d read about Amoudi Bay, right below us at sea level. We set off without looking back.

Santorini, Greece

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

A few hundred steps later — we declined the donkey ride down, and dodged poo piles instead — we arrived. Elegant sail boats bobbed in the harbor, the small bay lined with half a dozen seafood restaurants and a dramatic displays of drying octopi. And we had plenty of room to breathe.

We took a seat and watched the sunset with wine and tzatziki balls in hand.

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Later, when the sky turned to black, we hitchhiked our way back up to the main road and hopped on another overcrowded bus back to Imerovigli. “That was absolutely stunning,” Heather said. “Let’s never go there again.” And dissolving into laughter, we vowed not to.

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

My previous visit to Oia had been during a twelve hour stop in Santorini on a Mediterranean cruise. We’d hopped off the ship, shot straight up to Oia and been charmed silly before making our way back to Fira and onto a sunset cruise for the evening. Despite it being the same time of year, the fever pitch of high season, we’d had the place to ourselves. So from my extremely limited experience, I’ve concluded Oia is best visited during the day, when you’ll have a bit of breathing room to appreciate it. Oia is beyond beautiful, there’s no denying that. But if your visit falls over high season and you’re somewhat claustrophobic, you might prefer to watch the sunset from elsewhere.

If all else fails, hide out in Amoudi Bay.

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Have you been to Oia for sunset? Did you think it was worth the hype?

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Going Greek: The Allure of Imerovigli http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/21/imerovigli-santorini/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/21/imerovigli-santorini/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32088

Greece. It’s just one of those places that calls to me. A few days in Athens and a week cruising the islands with my mama the summer I graduated college didn’t even come close to sating the hunger I’ve always seemed to have for all things Greek. If anything, that perfect tease of a trip only made my desire to return stronger.

So when Heather and I started brainstorming places to recover post-Tomorrowland, and a casual flight search from Brussels to anywhere revealed Athens as the cheapest choice? There was no convincing needed.

Imerovigli

While I’d spend just under a month in total traipsing through gorgeous Greece, Heather had a week to spare. And there was only one thing on the agenda for it — recovering from the four nonstop days of festival intensity we’d just put our bodies through.

While I can’t say it was on purpose, serendipity led us to stumbling upon the world’s most perfect place to do it. While Santorini is far from a hidden gem, its two top draws, Oia and Fira get most of the attention — and most of the tourists. So allow me a moment — or a thousand words, give or take — to obsess over the dreamy village I fell in love with, nestled between the two: Imerovigli.

Imerovigli Village

Considering our plans for Santorini involved an extensive rotation of napping, floating in the pool, staring out at the ocean, casually grazing on snacks, more napping, and occasional unconscious meditation (also know, to some, as even more napping), we weren’t going to stray very far from home base. Where to stay was critical.

I had never even heard of Imerovigli when I discovered Hara’s Houses. But the five bright and colorful studios, the charming interconnected balconies, and the poolside caldera views left me swooning. We were sold.

Hara's Houses Santorini

Hara's Houses Santorini

Santorini Crater View

I mean, can we talk about that view for a minute? I was hypnotized, completely. Every morning I’d wake up, blink into consciousness, and suddenly remember where I was. Then I’d rush out of bed and fumble to fling open the door, somewhat skeptical that my memory must be deceiving me about what lay beyond it. But no — there it was, that endless cobalt ocean and that beautiful ancient caldera, just waiting to be dreamily stared at all day long.

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses SantoriniPhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

I know much of the travel world had this revelation a few years back, but I am in the midst of a great love affair with renting apartments instead of staying in hotels. As someone who is on the road constantly, it’s such a luxury to stay somewhere that truly feels like a home. But for any traveler, you can’t beat the treat of having a homemade breakfast in bed, making a simple dinner and watching the sunset from your balcony, or being able to keep a bottle or two of white wine chilled for emergency toasting situations.

Five nights? I could have stayed five weeks.

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses Santorini

Hara's Houses Santorini

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

Hara's Houses Santorini

Imerovigli Apartment Rental

And actually, the best part of Hara’s Houses can’t be shared through a photo. Even warmer than the light on the cliffs at sunset was the hospitality of the property manager Stamos, who treated us like old friends. When Heather needed antibiotics for a raging sinus infection, he personally drove her to the hospital and stayed with her the entire time, translating and keeping her spirits up.

He refused our money but we paid him back the Santorini way — with a bottle of the finest Vinsanto we could find.

Imerovigli Crater View

We did, in fact, leave the comfortable clutches of Imerovigli a few times, to go diving, to do a grand winery tour, and to take in an infamous Oia sunset — but those adventures will get posts of their own. For the vast majority of our time, however, we could not have been happier kicking around Hara’s Houses, or taking one of the winding knot of paths that makes up Imerovigli, and seeing what surprises awaited us around the corner.

It is possible to walk all the way to either Oia and Fira in opposite directions, never losing sight of the caldera along the way.

Imerovigli

Imerovigli

Not that we really needed to ever leave the village, technically. Everything we needed was just a white-washed stroll away. Need a massage? We made our way to the neighboring Avaton Resort, where Heather treated us to an indulgent afternoon at the spa.

Avaton Spa, Imerovigli

Kapari Natural Resort

Need a good meal? Imerovigli is home to some of Santorini’s finest restaurants. I had the best meal of my entire month in Greece at Kapari Restaurant, where every single course, backed by one of the most famous sunsets in the world, made me feel like I was losing my actual mind. Heather and I just spent the entire dinner wide eyed, mouths full, gesticulating wildly between our plates and the horizon, unable to speak.

We are excellent dining companions.

Kapari Natural Resort

Kapari Natural Resort

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

My favorite course was an appetizer made entirely from ingredients found on Santorini’s fifty-six square miles. Fava, white eggplant, capers, and lots of love went into those bites. From the homemade bread still warm from the oven to the carmelized banana dessert, we were still talking about this meal on the ferry back to Athens.

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Kapari Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Another favorite was La Maison, which was as hospitable as it was delicious. The waitstaff was sweetly accommodating of our particular dietary needs (I eat meat but no fish, and Heather eats no meat but does eat fish, but only after a ten minute interview on ethical sourcing), they handed out pashminas when it got a bit chilly, and they also had a seriously bumpin’ playlist. When they saw us waving our phones in the air trying to Shazam various songs, they brought over a handwritten list of what had been on rotation.

I can say from personal experience that I highly recommend you come here and order every dessert on the menu.

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

La Maison Restaurant, Imerovigli, Santorini

Yes, overall, Imerovigli was enchanting. It even inspired Heather, who is a professional photographer and arrived in Europe in the midst of a bit of a creative burnout, to pick up her camera again. And I’m seriously glad she did — look at these beautiful shots she captured!

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Imerovigli, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

We left Belgium broken after pushing ourselves to the limit in every capacity at Tomorrowland. We crawled our way onto Santorini  — I mean, okay, technically we flew in an airplane but crawling more accurately depicts our mental state — and Imerovigli healed us. It’s a special place, and it captivated me completely.

I think it was the view.

Hara's Houses, Greece

Hara's Houses, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Hara's Houses, GreecePhoto courtesy of Heather Holt

Hara's Houses, Greece

Greece, you got me again.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Hara’s Houses and Kapari Restaurant for their generous hospitality. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 175 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/20/photo-week-175/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/20/photo-week-175/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 17:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32110

Oh hey! Remember me? That blonde blogger who used to post so much you were basically like, shut up already? Ahem. I didn’t really plan to go so radio silent this week, so sorry about that. As usual, I forgot how all consuming it is to travel in a group, and so between that and a few behind-the-scenes projects, I barely eked out this Photo of the Week today!

But it’s been a blast. Since leaving Koh Tao seven days ago, I’ve traveled over a thousand kilometers north through Thailand. I spent a blissful two nights in Koh Samui with an amazing group of friends at the gorgeous Ban Ling Noi villa, a base so gorgeous we never left the grounds, followed by five days of mayhem in Bangkok with another fabulous crew. Today, the herd thinned to just Heather and I, and we’re looking forward to a few days of serenity up here in the north.

I have so many beautiful stories and photos to share with you this week — I’m finally covering Greece, my final stop before Thailand! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these…

Photo A

Ban Ling Noi Koh SamuiThe beautiful grounds of Ban Ling Noi

Photo B

Ban Ling Noi Koh SamuiThis girl knows how to sing

Photo C

U Sukhumvit BangkokOur deliciously modern digs in Bangkok

Photo D

Chatuchak Market BangkokCatching up with my old friend, Chatuchak Market

Photo E

Bangkok Muay ThaiMuay Thai madness in Bangkok’s original stadium

Which photo is your favorite?

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Surviving Tomorrowland http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/14/complete-guide-to-tomorrowland/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/14/complete-guide-to-tomorrowland/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=31883

The Survival Series is a resource highlighting my favorite festivals and parties around the world. Previously I’ve featured Burning Man, an epic week-long social experiment in the desert, Sunjam, an intimate annual rave on a deserted Central American island, and The Full Moon Party, Southeast Asia’s most infamous monthly blowout.

I’ve got festival fever, and Tomorrowland was an itch I just had to scratch. Read on for the complete Alex in Wanderland guide to Tomorrowland. This post refers exclusively to the original Belgian event, though there are now sister festivals in the US and Brazil.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland

What

Tomorrowland is an whimsically over-the-top EDM (that’s Electronic Dance Music, dad) festival. But Tomorrowland is about much more than music — it’s an event that prides itself on user experience and creating an extravagant and eccentric playground for ravers to go down the rabbit hole in.

The year I attended Tomorrowland, 2014, was its tenth year anniversary. As one music blog describes it,

Tomorrowland is bigger, louder, harder and most definitely crazier than any other festival I’ve ever been to. Fireworks synced with the drops of the tracks being played, floating stages in the middle of a lake, dancers dressed as fairytale characters next to the DJs, helicopters dropping flowers over the dancing crowd, soap bubbles in the air everywhere, ferris wheels and poker casinos – Tomorrowland has it all. Source.

Who

Electronic Dance Music devotees, festival fanatics, and whimsy lovers from over 220 countries around the world. A total of 60,000 revelers per day over the three day weekend belies the oft-quoted number of 180,000 tickets sold per year. DreamVille, Tomorrowland’s fantasy land onsite camping and glamping village, holds up to 35,000 people.

How to Get to Tomorrowland

Where

The aptly named town of Boom, Belgium, a small town of about 16,000 about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels. The festival takes over the De Schorre recreation area, a lush park with lakes, beaches, forest, and a natural ampitheater all incorporated into the various stages.

When

Tomorrowland typically takes place towards the end of July. For the tenth anniversary in 2014, two weekends were held, July 18-20 and July 25-27. In 2015, Tomorrowland will be held over the weekend of July 24-26.

Those camping in DreamVille can arrive on Thursday and leave on Monday, and enjoy an exclusive pre-party on Thursday night known at The Gathering.

Tomorrowland Guide

Cost

Tomorrowland is a full scale production with a ticket price (€237.50/$300) to match! Yet overall costs will vary wildly — from those traveling in from other parts of Europe and pitching a tent in general camping to someone flying in from across the world on a full service Global Journey package, the difference could be thousands of dollars.

I wrote a full post on my own personal cost breakdown from Tomorrowland, which totaled around $1,500.

Getting Tickets

Demand for Tomorrowland tickets is ridiculously high. Billboard reports that the 360,000 tickets available for 2014′s two weekends sold out in under an hour.

How I Got Tickets

Personally, I lucked into tickets in a very unexpected way. My Tomorrowland partner-in-crime Heather lives in the Cayman Islands, and on January 31st she received an email telling her that she was one of the first ten people to pre-register in her country, giving her entry into an extremely exclusive International Invites pre-sale designed to ensure the diversity of the festival’s audience. Obviously, not everyone has the benefit of having their festival buddy based out of a small Caribbean island nation. But if you live in a very sparsely populated country, it’s worth it to make sure you’re at your keyboard the moment pre-registration opens. You might just get lucky.

Still, even this was not without hiccups — when we received the link to buy tickets, all the DreamVille choices we were interested in didn’t even show as options. We didn’t know if they were sold out, or perhaps just unavailable for International Invitations. This seemed odd and so we hysterically tried to reach out to customer service for the next twenty four hours, panicking the entire time that we might lose what few options we had entirely. At one point, in response to a detailed, multi-paragraph email, we received the following –  We have received your email and we are working on it. We will contact you and give you further information. Gee thanks! About two days later, magically, the Dream Lodge appeared as an option, and we pressed purchase. That launched a whole other drama to do with Paylogic, the site that processes all ticket orders, rejecting Heather’s various credit cards multiple times. And I’m not even getting into the drama over the fact that Tomorrowland won’t deliver tickets to PO Boxes, which is the only way of receiving mail in the Cayman Islands.

Buying tickets to Tomorrowland? Not for the faint at heart.

Tomorrowland Ticket Orders

How You Can Get Tickets

There is no way to guarantee getting tickets, though Tomorrowland proved their money making genius by arranging ticket sales so that ticket panic would motivate festival hopefuls to spring for the obscenely overpriced Global Journey packages, which include plane or train transfers plus accommodation in either DreamVille or a hotel, and go on sale two weeks prior to general sale.

This was the timeline for 2014′s ticket sales:

January 13: Pre-registration

Feb 1: Global Journey tickets go on sale

Feb 3: International Invites on sale

Feb 8: Belgian Pre-sale tickets go on sale (You must have a Belgian bank account and Belgian home address to be able to order tickets in the Belgian presale.)

Feb 15: General sale tickets go on sale

March 16: Final date to complete personalization (After this date, tickets cannot be transferred or resold except through The Exchange Desk, Tomorrowland’s official outlet for transfer.)

Despite extensive research, I was unable to determine how many tickets were allotted for each of the sales. One thing is for sure — in order to be eligible for Tomorrowland ticket sales you must complete pre-registration. This will give you a unique access code in order to enter the ticket shop when the sale opens. So the steps to getting tickets to Tomorrowland include:

STEP 1: Pre Register

STEP 2: Purchase Tickets — if you are lucky! Up to four tickets may be purchased at a time. Once payment goes through, you will receive a confirmation e-mail. This e-mail is not a ticket — when the personalization process starts, you will receive an e-mail with a special link to personalize your tickets.

STEP 3: Personalize tickets. There is a one month period for personalization — during this month is when the black market for ticket resales will go crazy. Once the final date for personalization has passed, it becomes significantly harder, if not impossible, to transfer tickets.

STEP 4: Receive tickets. Tomorrowland tickets come in the form of color-coded, light-up wristbands. These arrive in the last two weeks of June or beginning of July.

STEP 5: Use tickets! Make sure to bring photo ID matching the name on the tickets.

There are all kinds of crazy theories about how to game the online lottery system in order to ensure tickets. Forums and Facebook groups are bursting with theories about reloading the page, using various IP addresses, and speed testing your connecting before sales start — some super-smarty pants coding geniuses even figured out how to hack into the system during the Belgian pre-sale this year! (The organizers caught on before general sale.) Personally, I wasn’t planning on taking any extraordinary measures other than setting my alarm for an hour before the sale to remind myself to get in front of my laptop.

One thing you can do to prepare? Call your credit card the day before sales let them know you will be making a large international purchase and to decrease the chances they will block the sale.

What if You Don’t Get Tickets?

Exercise extreme caution in buying tickets second hand. Message boards, Facebook groups and ticket resale sites are flooded with Tomorrowland tickets at vastly inflated price, but there are no guarantees of their veracity and plenty of heartbreak scam stories. One site that seems to get consistently good reviews for second hand tickets is Viagogo, though I have no personal experience with them and Tomorrowland maintains they do not recommend using any ticket resale sites. Tomorrowland’s own Exchange Desk is the only officially sanctioned outlet to resell tickets.

Tomorrowland Guide

Getting There

You can reach Boom by car, by train, by Tomorrowland shuttle, or by Global Journey. International travelers will most likely fly into Brussels Airport (airport code BRU).

Car

There are directions (don’t use your GPS!) and paid parking for those who arrive by car — parking vouchers are cheaper to buy ahead online than at the gate. If you’re thinking of driving an RV and bedding down in the parking lot at night, time for Plan B — camping in the lots is strictly forbidden. There are free shuttles from the certain parking lots to and from Tomorrowland.

Train

There are also free shuttles from the Boom train station to and from Tomorrowland and DreamVille. For those staying in DreamVille, extra trains will run to Boom on Thursday, with the last free shuttle bus to DreamVille leaving at the railway station in Boom at 9 pm. On Monday, the free shuttles will be leaving from around 7am to 2pm. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be free shuttles to and from the train station and both DreamVille and Tomorrowland.

Generally we found information about train service to and from Boom to be confusing and often conflicting, even within the official Tomorrowland site. On Sunday, employees at the DreamVille information desk seemed baffled by our question of how to reach Brussels by public transportation the next day. After come coaxing they pulled up the train schedule for us online, which involved at minimum one transfer. You can check schedules and ticket fares here.

Tomorrowland Shuttles

Airport shuttles go to DreamVille from both Brussels’ two airports on Thursday, and return on Monday. Prices are reasonable at €27 or $34 round trip. Be sure your shuttle driver knows where in DreamVille you are staying — we didn’t know to mention we were staying in the Dream Lodge village and were dropped off clear at the opposite end of the campsite, a full forty minute walk away with all our luggage. Whoops! There are also shuttles that run to and from the festival and several cities within Belgium, the Netherlands and France on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. These range between €20-24 per day.

On Monday, we wanted to go to downtown Brussels rather than the airport as we were spending a night in the city decompressing before flying out the next day. When we went to the information desk to find out our options, we were happily surprised that we were quite easily able to sweet talk our way into two Global Journey bracelets, which allowed us to hop on a Brussels station-bound shuttle for those connecting to their Global Journey package trains (despite bold-lettered signs declaring shuttles were strictly for Global Journey guests only!) This made us cheer with joy — our hotel was a five minute taxi from the train station as opposed to the hour it would have taken us to reach it from the airport. While this was a bonus for us, I would love to see Tomorrowland add in DreamVille shuttles on Thursday and Monday to and from Brussels and Antwerp — make it easier to explore the rest of the country, rather than just b-line to the airport!

Global Journey

If you are on a Global Journey package, everything will be arranged for you from door to door. Shuttles will bring you from your flight or train directly to your hotel or to DreamVille. If you are on a hotel package and staying in Brussels, a free shuttle will bring you to and from the festival grounds each day. More on Global Journey below.

Tomorrowland’s guide to how to get to and from the festival is found here.

Tomorrowland 2014

Staying Alive

In comparison to other festivals and events I’ve covered in this series, like Sunjam, The Full Moon Party, and Burning Man, staying literally alive is less of an issue. The festival is highly organized, security and medical teams are at the ready, and the grounds have been heavily rookie-raver-proofed.

However, there are the usual risks of overindulgence and dehydration. All the sinks in the restroom areas have potable water — no signs indicate this, though if you ask at information or security they will concede it, and every single time I made a trip to the toilets there were several people filling up. You will not be able to bring even empty water bottles into the festival and I received mixed reports on whether or not Camelbaks were allowed. Additionally, any water bottles you buy inside the festival will be handed to you with the bottle cap off. So your best bet is to bring a few bottle caps in your pocket, buy a bottle of water, and use the caps you brought to allow you to refill and drink as necessary during the day, cutting down on both costs and plastic.

Drugs are taken fairly seriously at Tomorrowland. Pat downs are par for the course getting through the gate, and there were drug sniffing dogs accompanying the row of stern-faced Belgian police that waited on the other side more than once. “Amnesty bins” at every festival entrance allow for those with a last minute change of heart to dump contraband with no consequences.

DreamVille, on the other hand, is fairly anything goes.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland

Staying Sated

Tomorrowland is known for its culinary highlights from around the globe — you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty at this festival. We enjoyed sampling many food stand specialties throughout the weekend, from Chat Hills Smokehouse pulled pork sandwiches to stir fried Asian noodles. There were also plenty of local treats, from cheap waffles and croquettes to a luxurious “chocolate experience” from Belgian chocolateier Callebaut. Vegetarian and gluten free options are available. Learn more here.

Food and drink are paid for with tokens purchased at special “ATM machines” using cash or credit cards. For more on costs, see my Tomorrowland budget breakdown.

There are three specialty restaurants and one specialty bar at Tomorrowland, each of one requires a reservation and a pre-purchased voucher. Wout Bru is the namesake pop up restaurant of a star Belgian chef with a mainstage view. BEAT features Beats by Dre headphones and a menu matched to the music and atmosphere of the current headliner. And Belgian Steakhouse features — you guessed it! — Belgian steaks. Bubbles with a View is a specialty bar serving full bottles of champagne, accompanied by a bowl of strawberries, with kick-ass mainstage views. Because we didn’t want to be tied down to a special reservation time, and because they sold out fairly quickly, we skipped the specialty restaurants. We did, however, splurge on Bubbles with a View, and it was fabulous!

You can bring unlimited amounts of your own food and drinks into DreamVille, though no glass is permitted — alcohol must be transferred into plastic bottles. Also be aware that ice is not sold on site.

Complete Guide to Tomorrowland

On the DJ festival circuit, Tomorrowland is the enigmatic mecca of holy rave magic. Any raver worth his or her untz must make it there at least once, get muddy and praise the bpms. Source.

Alex in Wanderland’s Tomorrowland Tips

Tomorrowland is not easy to prepare for! In comparison to Burning Man, where I felt almost overwhelmed by the amount of helpful tips and planning information available, Tomorrowland was much more of a mystery. Here’s what I wish I had known –

1. Build in Time In Belgium

If you’re traveling internationally to attend Tomorrowland, don’t make the mistake of missing beautiful Belgium outside Boom! For me, Brussels made the perfect base to rest off any travel fatigue in an amazing hotel, stock up on supplies, and see a bit of the country. Civilized highlights like my Brussels chocolate walking tour and day trips to Ghent and Bruges perfectly complemented the hedonism of Tomorrowland.

Regardless of whether or not sightseeing is on the agenda, be sure to plan ahead. There are supermarkets in Boom, but it’s best not to rely on them, as liquor and bottled water will be sold out quickly. The city’s population is 16,000 – Tomorrowland’s population is 60,000 per day. Stock up ahead of time.

Whatever you do, don’t book an early morning flight or train on Monday. If you are staying in DreamVille, getting packed up, checked out and back to Brussels is quite the process. We were so grateful for our extra night in Brussels to get organized, repack, mail home our festival souvenirs, and buy one last round of Belgian chocolate. And don’t assume if you book Global Journey they will choose you an ideal flight time — our Dream Lodge neighbors had to leave at 5am to catch their flights back to Norway, a hassle they had paid a serious premium for!

Tomorrowland Guide

2. Pack Properly

Think carefully about what to bring to Tomorrowland, as you’ll pay a premium for any essentials you forget. Sunscreen and chapstick, (the festival is open from noon to 1am — most of it takes place during daylight!), tokens and a backup credit card or cash, the key to my locker, my camera or iPhone, and bottle caps (all water sold in Tomorrowland is handed over sans cap) made it into the festival with me every day.

For DreamVille, don’t forget earplugs for sleeping or a towel for showering. I made a rookie festival mistake of thinking I’d be comfortable in flip flops during the day. In addition to my rainboots, I wish I’d brought a pair of lightweight day boots, Keds, or other close-toed shoes. Things got messy — and muddy!

Also bring physically printed copies of any and all vouchers (festival tickets, shuttle transfers, Bubbles with a View, exclusive dining experiences, etc.)

3. Download the Tomorrowland App

I don’t know what I would have done without the Tomorrowland App! Available two weeks before festival on Android and iPhone, this beautifully designed app allows you to scroll through timetables, maps, FAQs, and even place your tent on a map of DreamVille should you find yourself lost when stumbling home late at night. Be sure to download the app before you arrive — there’s no wifi at Tomorrowland, and it’s available in only one tucked away corner of DreamVille (which I didn’t visit the entire four days!)

Tomorrowland App

4. Don’t Get Stuck on the Mainstage

I was absolutely shocked when I talked to other festival-goers on Saturday who had barely left the main stage. Tomorrowland is a playground, go explore it! Discover hidden stages, ride the ferris wheel (night and day!), taste test different treats, and go discover new artists you’ve never heard of. While we stuck to the mainstage for the last few hours of each night, some of my favorite moments and sets (namely, Kygo on the BlueFlame stage and Diplo on Mad Decent) happened elsewhere in the festival grounds.

5. Join Facebook Groups

I joined a few Tomorrowland Facebook groups once I started looking into attending, and they were immensely helpful in planning. While they were occasionally flooded with ridiculous memes and posts desperately searching for tickets, there was also plenty of useful information being exchanged and I received answers to some questions that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

6. Protect your Wristband

Be careful with your wristband — the faces (the part with the Tomorrowland logo) fell off easily and unless the wristband would no longer scan, you could not get a replacement. Mine broke the first hour I was at the festival and I was extremely irritated that after all I’d spent to be there, I was expected to walk around all weekend with a broken wristband. Thankfully a sympathetic employee at the Dream Lodges broke protocol and gave me a replacement part from another discarded band. Be careful!

How to Get to Tomorrowland

7. Pace Yourself

On of the things I loved most about staying in DreamVille was the ability to enter the festival as it opened, spend a few hours playing during the day, and then go back to the campsite to relax, regroup, and then get ready to rage again at night. Four nights and three days was the perfect amount of time for this festival — but I don’t think I would have made it had we attempted to stay inside the gates for the full thirteen hours they were open.

8. Get Swept Away

Sure, some of the sentiments are a bit cheesy. Some of the “peace, love, unity and respect” stuff rang a tad hollow and some of the sets seemed a tad manufactured. But the bottom line? Tomorrowland is a blast. Grab a friend, unplug from the world, and enter the technicolor wonderland that is Tomorrowland. Get swept away in the madness.

Tomorrowland 2014

Also in this series: The Cost of TomorrowlandOnce Upon a Time at TomorrowlandDreaming of DreamVille

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Photo of the Week 174: Koh Tao http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/12/photo-of-the-week-174-koh-tao/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/10/12/photo-of-the-week-174-koh-tao/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=32087

Where did the past seven weeks go? I can’t believe that tomorrow I’m back on a ferry, waving goodbye to Koh Tao again. However, I have a suspicion the next seventeen days traveling around Thailand are going to fly by. I am really looking forward to the trip ahead, which is going to be filled with friends, favorite old destinations and one very highly anticipated festival. There’s something special about the exotic becoming the familiar, and that’s very much how I feel now — like Koh Tao is home, and I’m taking off on another road trip around my big beloved backyard that is Thailand.

And um, no, those aren’t sentimental tears you guys! I just had some salt water in my eyes from the ocean!

It’s been a beautiful week here on Koh Tao, with moody storms, gorgeous drives through the jungle, more sunset paddleboard sessions, live music at treehouse rasta bars, and one stunningly technicolor beach day.

Photo A

Driving in Koh TaoVisiting a friend’s house up in the hills — love how small my girl Anna looks in the big jungle

Photo B

Beautiful Koh TaoPretty much a postcard paradise, no?

Photo C

Baby Rasta Bar Koh TaoLive music at Baby Rasta Bar

Photo D

Stand Up Paddle Koh TaoSunset with my paddle pals at SUP Koh Tao

Which photo is your favorite?

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