Wanderlust Fulfilled: Greece

Santorini

I can check this one off the bucket list…  Exceeding all dreamy, picture perfect expectations, Santorini’s beauty is simply breathtaking.  Known for it’s blue-domed churches, whitewashed buildings, and steep and winding stairs that ascend from the Aegean Sea, it is exactly how you imagine it to be, and more.  Bright pink blooms pop against what seems to be a blue and white mirage.

Santorini sunset web 3

Santorini view web 2

We stayed at On the Rocks boutique hotel in Imerovigli.  Our “cave” was built into the side of the mountain.  This was the most unique hotel I had ever stayed.  The staff were equally as lovely.  Each morning, we were awakened by a knock at the door and breakfast delivered on our private patio, overlooking the sea.  Fresh coffee, greek yogurt with honey and nuts, omelets (with feta and olives), pastries and fresh fruit.

santorini stairs monica
Dress by Dress Up Boutique – Glasses by Diane Von Furstenberg – Sandals by Franco Sarto

aegean view lens baby2

on the rocks 2

santorini mike stairs2

Things to do in Santorini:

Rent an ATV and explore the island (see video below)

Visit Ammoudi Bay, located in the village of Oia

View of Ammoudi Bay
Dress and bralette by Dress Up Boutique – Hat by J.Crew – Bracelet by bebe

Ammoudi Bay 2 web

Ammoudi Bay donkeys

Ammoudi Bay Monica

Ammoudi Bay row boats

Sail until sunset (I highly recommend Santorini Yachting Club)

sailing Monica

sailing Mike

sailing BBQ

sailing at sunset

This goes without saying, but eat like a local!

Ammoudi Bay greek salad

20170704_141117.jpg

Ammoudi Bay paella

pita

Regardless of what the hotel, travel agents, or anyone tells you, no need to make a reservation.  We visited during peak season and had no issue getting a table anywhere (with the exception of Amoundi Bay at sunset, which we still were able to grab two seats and order a bottle of wine just in time for the show a.k.a. sunset).  The food was fantastic everywhere we went and everything was extremely fresh.

Ios

Funny story… We visited Ios by complete mistake.  In attempt to travel from Santorini to Mykonos, we got off the boat at the wrong stop and found ourselves stranded on Ios.  Apparently this happens quite often, so beware.  With that being said, I consider it a blessing.  Ios is a gorgeous island!  We stayed the one night at Liostasi Hotel.  This charming hotel was not only beautiful, but their hospitality was out of this world.  Every staff member knew our names.  We were treated as if we owned the place and their breakfast (included) was unbelievable.  When I return to Ios, I will be staying here.  Much smaller than Santorini, Ios is a party island and had a much different feel.  You walk through the winding streets, literally through the middle of outdoor restaurants and pubs where bands of local seniors played their instruments and sang.  Young people gathered on the village steps to drink cocktails and dance… see a bar called Steps.  I wish that we had spent more time in Ios.  Next time I would love to see the beaches.

Liostasi Monica
top and shorts by J. Crew – sandals by Aldo – sunglasses by Ray-Ban
Monica Ios.jpg
Dress by Dress Up Boutique

Liostasi

Ios Monica

Mykonos

Traditional Cycladic architecture, including the infamous windmills, beautiful beaches, and winding cobblestone streets lined with white washed building and more of the bright pink blooms.  Mykonos is a busier, more commercial version of iOS.  Pulsating nightlife, often in competition with Ibiza attracts jet setters, celebrities, gay pride festival goers, and all kinds of people looking for an exotic adventure.  We stayed one night at Cavo Tagoo, visited the beaches of Little Venice, shopped amongst the beautiful churches scattered throughout the city, ate our way through the island, and danced all night in a cave to the beats of DJ Grandma Man.

20170708_185008.jpg

Athens

We spent our first and last night in Athens.  There aren’t any direct flights to the islands, so going through Athens is a requirement.  This gave us the opportunity to stay at the beautiful Hotel Grande Bretagne and explore the city.  We had gyros from street vendors more times than we could count and drank wine in Monastiraki Square, with the most beautiful view of Acropolis.  Fortunately, on our last day, we did have the opportunity to visit before sunset.  The cost is $20EU per person for just the Parthenon (extra for the museum, which we unfortunately did not have time for).  When I tell you it was hot, the heat put Georgia to shame!  But once we got up there, the view made it all worth it.  It’s amazing that structures like this still exist today.

View from acropolis.jpg

Parthenon3.jpg

Parthenon1.jpg

Do not, I repeat, do NOT wear heels in the Greek islands.  Not even to dinner.  Invest in some stylish flats and sandals.  Wear hats, because A) hats are fabulous and B) my scalp and face burned immediately.  Wear dresses, shorts, skirts, and rompers.  Light flowy clothing is best. If you rent an ATV, BE CAREFUL (we saw a few nasty accidents).  Be prepared to walk a LOT.  Whatever you’re doing at sunset, drop everything and take it in.  And do not be afraid to be adventurous. Go explore. There’s more to see than you could ever imagine.

20170706_203931.jpg

Below is a video of our trip, produced with a combination of drone and GoPro footage.  Unfortunately, aerial  footage wasn’t possible on Ios or Mykonos due to high winds.  Be sure to watch in 1080p HD for maximum quality.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

San Francisco (be sure to wear flowers in your hair)

San Francisco, the city by the bay with endless offerings.  What a lovely place it is!  The streets are lined with pastel Victorian town homes, trolleys, cafes, and all within a short driving distance to the infamous Redwood Forest, as well as Sonoma and Napa Valley.

pastel homes in san fran

11263137_10100976558296608_4105222112787104015_o

There really are too many sights, restaurants, and shops to mention, but here are a few gems that were highlights of our most recent trip:

Near Union Square:

Blue Bottle Coffee.  This is by far the best coffee I have ever had.  They specialize in siphon coffees – a centuries-old technique that is done mostly by hand, requiring precise temperature, time, attention and skill. The results are well-worth the effort, and more like the consistency of tea than coffee.  Meant to be consumed black and never with the addition of cream or sugar.  Their breakfast items are just as fantastic.  If only I could start out every day with a stop at Blue Bottle…

siphon coffee1

siphon coffee2

coffe cup

eggs

And right on the edge of Union Square, you will find a quaint little cafe and wine bar called La Marsa.  The owner, Rafik Bouzidi, serves as host, waiter, bartender, and chef.  He’s a one man show.  Do not let this discourage you.  This is a very small space and he offers high quality, inventive dishes with a Tunisian flair, and a side of conversation.  If you’re out and about Union Square, stop and see Rafik for a glass (or bottle) of wine.  You’ll be glad you did!

Rafik of La Marsa.JPG

Haight Ashbury:

Possibly the most famous neighborhood of the 1960’s hippie movement. The Haight was home to many artists and musicians including The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.  Here you would find people dancing in the streets and preaching free love to all.  The year is 2017 but the vibe remains the same.

Love on Haight

10828146_10100976560152888_6992300975074740564_o

710 Ashbury
710 Ashbury (current day)

Corner of Haight & Ashbury

You can now find eclectic boutiques, bars and cafes serving everything from coffee to rum punch served by the bowl (see Hobson’s Choice).

Piedmont Boutique 2
Piedmont Boutique

One of my absolute favorite boutiques is Decades of Fashion, selling authentic vintage clothing and accessories from the past 100 years, separated by decade.  It’s no wonder that many Hollywood costume designers come here for authentic pieces, as well as inspiration.  The store is owned by fashion designer, Cicely Hansen.  Amongst the vintage collections, lives one line of 1920’s flapper style (inspired, not original) beaded dresses, designed by Cicely.  A few of these dresses were made for the 2011 movie, “The Artist”.  She sold me the most beautiful hand beaded cocktail dress.  I can’t bear to put it away in my closet, so it’s still hanging on display in my office.  After all, it is a piece of art.

Decades of Fashion front

decades of fashion - window shopping

decades of fashion - shoes

Muir Woods:

A short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, and just past Sausalito, you will find Muir Woods.  This protected nature reserve is home to some of the world’s largest redwoods, ranging  between 600 – 1200 years old.

These photos really do not begin to do it justice…11212729_10100976559529138_7458421216884756180_o

11222498_10100976559304588_8596738595078778539_o

10339329_10100976559030138_3843910892118347972_o

IMG_7599

Wine Country:

We have visited both Sonoma and Napa, and I have to say, I prefer Sonoma.  On both occasions, we traveled with a tour group (approx. 10 people), and so we were taken to smaller, family owned wineries.  A few of my favorites include Larson Family Winery, Cline Cellars, and Jacuzzi Winery (all located in Sonoma Valley).

What is the difference, you may ask?  Sonoma Valley is located along the coast and has a slightly cooler climate, largely producing more white wines such as Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, sparkling wines, and also Pinot Noirs.  Napa is on the opposite side of the mountain range, which aids a warmer climate and produces more Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots.  Napa is more known for their Michelin star restaurants and more expensive tasting rooms, while Sonoma is less expensive and more like a traditional visit to country vineyards.  I do of course, recommend you visit both.  Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to dine at some of the finer restaurants, but it is on my list for future visits. See the video below for some aerial footage taken in Napa just a week ago (no grapes yet on the vines)…

IMG_7680

IMG_7667

50 year old vines.jpg
50 year old vines.  At age 40, they produce far less grapes. However, vines this old make for the most delicious wines.  You can spot them by their burley, gnarled appearance.

Recommended Tours:

Green Dream Tours– Mark was fantastic!  The price is well worth booking a tour rather than adventuring out on your own if you happen to be staying in the city, like we were.  They will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel and the tasting fees are included.

Mark with Green Dream Tours in San Francisco.JPG

Many tours are available, Sonoma, Napa, or a combo of both, Alcatraz Island and wine country, food/wine combo tasting, private tours, etc.  Take a look at their website and decide which fits your interests best.  And ask for Mark.

San Francisco is lovely in the Spring, but I would recommend anyone traveling to plan their trip for the Fall.  You will experience the best weather that San Francisco has to offer, and the grapes will be fully ripened and ready for harvest.  Do some research or just wander about the city.  Either way, there’s a breath taking view and happy-go-lucky locals on every steep and winding turn.  Cheers!

(make sure to view the above video in 1440p HD for maximum quality… thanks for watching!)