ALL THE THINGS
HIRSH AND SARAH'S ADVENTURES THROUGH "GREATER EUROPE"
WHERE WE HOPE TO EAT, SEE, AND DO
ALL THE THINGS THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE HAS TO OFFER
We spent the entire day circumnavigating the island of Paros with our four-wheeler, eventually settling down for a few hours at the local favorite, Golden Beach.
This was our last morning in Mykonos, and what did Hirsh want to do more than anything? The same thing he resisted so strongly yesterday was the same thing he wanted to enjoy one last time before our 24-hour rental expired. We rode that 4-wheeler all over creation and checked a few more beaches off the list. Since most people in Mykonos seem to sleep in after a late night/early morning of partying, we had the first couple beaches - and seemingly much of the island - mostly to ourselves and it was so blissfully peaceful.
Since we'd become so well acquainted with Super Paradise Beach, we thought we'd check out regular Paradise Beach this morning. These two beaches are widely considered the top two beaches on the island, and we can see why. The strands are wide and long and beautiful, the water is gorgeous, and there's plenty to do and plenty to see. This is the first time we saw full nudity on a Greek beach, and of course we didn't come equipped with our beach gear or enough time to partake. Darn! Mykonos, we will be back!
We raced back to our guesthouse to check out and said goodbye to our home for the last four nights.
We caught a very sexy catamaran ferry for the hour and a half ride over to the island of Paros, a destination highly recommended by Sarah's brother, Jeff.
We even stayed in the hotel he recommended, Akrotiri Hotel. This hotel is located in the neighborhood of Parikia and is a quick 5 minute drive from the main town and ferry port. A staff member from the hotel was waiting at the port to pick us up, and we were given the warmest welcome when we arrived at the hotel. The people here are genuinely lovely and go above and beyond to make your stay exceptional. Even the resident border collie greeted us with a big smile! The staff immediately served us homemade lemonade on the beautiful terrace and explained in great detail all the things to do on the island. After a string of somewhat unfavorable rooms in our previous accommodations, we lucked out with the best room in the entire hotel: 2-room family suite on the top floor with the best view of the ocean AND the beautiful pool!
We hurried to change into our bathing suits and hit the pool right away.
The hotel even arranged for a 4-wheeler rental company to drop a vehicle at the hotel for us and they would pick it up after we checked out. This time we specifically requested a bigger, more powerful vehicle (our Mykonos 4-wheeler couldn't make it up really steep hills with both of us on it, oops). The rental company obliged and brought us a beast, and the looks of pity we had grown accustomed to in Mykonos were replaced with looks of envy. Winning! We drove to town to watch the sunset and had dinner at a wonderful seafood restaurant recommended by our hotel hosts, where they serve gigantic portions of fresh seafood at unbelievably reasonable prices.
Check out the nighttime view from our balcony!
After two straight days at Super Paradise, we were ready to explore more of Mykonos island. We could either continue to take buses or rent a car, moped, or 4-wheeler. We "compromised" between the safe car and the crazy moped by agreeing on a 4-wheeler. Unfortunately, between the time we reached this compromise and the time to actually rent the vehicle, Hirsh had freaked himself out by reading all kinds of horror stories online about the dangers of driving a 4-wheeler around a place like Mykonos. He was strongly opposed to the idea, but Sarah likes to live on the edge and take her chances. So we rented a 4-wheeler.
We ended up having a great time exploring different beaches and feeling the wind in our hair. Many of these smaller beaches are pretty isolated and can't be reached by bus, so the 4-wheeler was a good call. This stunner of a beach was our favorite...
There was Starbucks, of course!
And then we drove up to a ridge with a spectacular view we had found earlier in the day to watch the beautiful sunset.
As we walked around town looking for dinner, we decided to hop off the beaten path and wind through the quiet residential streets downtown. Hirsh happened upon a very special find on someone's clothesline- the same exact sheets he had as a little boy in Chicago!
We had so much fun at Super Paradise Beach on Saturday that we decided to return today. Nudity (and tattoos... SO. MANY. TATTOOS.) and alcohol continue to abound!
We returned to the windmills for yet another ridiculous sunset.
Dinner tonight was at a restaurant called D'Angelo Mykonos. Rated achingly close to the Top 10 on TripAdvisor (it's #11), we had a lovely meal outside in the truly perfect weather - warm with a gentle breeze. This restaurant is located in a highly conspicuous location at the start of the pedestrian entrance to Mykonos Town's center, but the food and service really deliver. We still can't shake our love of Italian food, so we stuck with what we know and love.
Mykonos is famous for being a gay-friendly party island with beautiful beaches, so we immediately fell in love with the laid back, open-minded vibe here. There are quite a few nice beaches to choose from on this island, so to start, we opted for one of the most popular, Super Paradise. It's an organized beach with all the comforts necessary for full vacay mode: comfy loungers, beachside service with good food and any frozen drink you could imagine, an array of water sports, a clothing optional policy, and beautiful people. We caught the private Super Paradise bus from Mykonos for the 20 minute ride to our beach du jour. We were one of two straight couples on the whole bus, and it was fabulous! Snagging a spot on the front row of the strand is key, and only costs €10 more for the whole day than a seat farther back, so this is obviously what we did. 😎
Hirsh is in the middle with his arms raised, and check out the guy fly boarding in the distance!
We stayed at the beach from 10:30am-6:00pm, and left when the twerking dancers appeared and the beach party was really cranking up. They start turning up the music and the debauchery at 4:30pm and it keeps going until at least 4am. We're too old for that mess. Instead, we bussed back to the main town and caught another beautiful sunset, this time from the island's famous windmills.
Tonight's dinner was at a restaurant that piqued our interest when we wandered by it the night before. Avra is a special place, beautifully tucked away in the middle of town under a canopy of bougainvillea. The food and service were both wonderful. For an appetizer we shared the Sesame Feta, which consists of feta cheese wrapped in soft pastry, deep fried and covered with sesame seeds and served with rose petal jelly. For the mains, Hirsh had Penne with Spinach and Sesame, while Sarah had Chicken Oriental. Delish!
The easy flight from Rome to Mykonos had us in the Greek Isles early in the morning so we could enjoy the whole day. Andriani's Guesthouse is located a short 5 minute walk from the heart of Mykonos Town and is infinitely more reasonable than most other accommodations in the area. Nothing fancy, it's clean and comfortable and family owned and operated. A staff member picked us up from the airport (included with our stay) and kindly allowed us into our room a full 5 or 6 hours ahead of regular check-in. They even had a bottle of local wine waiting for us. As much as we enjoyed the beauty of Croatia, it was nice to be back in a friendly culture!
We don't like to admit it, but the overnight stay in the Rome airport took its toll on us. They say the best way to overcome jetlag is to resist the urge to nap and just wait until a normal bedtime to sleep. Try as we might, that has never worked for us, and we can't even keep it together one time zone apart! What we intended to be a 30 minute nap turned into a multiple hour slumber. But hey, there was nowhere in particular we had to be. Once we finally did wake up, we walked around the cute town for awhile and scoped out a place along the waterfront to watch the famous Greek Isle sunsets.
Dinner this night was at a wonderful restaurant right in the heart of all the action, Caesar's. Advertised as Greek comfort food, it definitely hit the spot. Our adorable waiter was an eccentric middle-aged guy wearing elastic waist cotton pants ("happy pants," as we refer to them) and a vest with no shirt underneath. He was quite the charmer and made our dinner even more memorable. Hirsh had fresh fish and vegetables cooked in paper. Sarah had orzo in tomato sauce with shrimp. We highly recommend this place!!!
After one last look at Hvar on our way out...
...we took the 11:15am ferry from Hvar back to Split, where we spent a few hours walking around inside the old city walls known as Diocletian's Palace. More of a giant fortress than a palace, this place was built around the year 300AD and was intended to be used as the residence of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and his military. Today, you will find all the typical hallmarks of any modern city: shops, restaurants, hotels, and private residences. While huge for a palace, it's small for a city and takes only about 30 minutes to walk around. It's quite pretty and reminded us of a smaller, slightly less refined Dubrovnik.
After seeing the palace itself, our sole objective that afternoon was to spend the remaining few Croatian Kuna we had on food. We settled for virgin mojitos and one order of french fries at a cafe within the walls, and saved just enough to buy sun hats and our bus fare to the airport that evening for our flight to Rome (merely a connecting airport to our next flight).
Your mind does funny things when you have hours to while away in a tiny airport like Split's. We spent an unhealthy amount of time debating whether we should buy dinner before or after security and ended up making the wrong call. After going through security and having half our toiletries thrown out (things like toothpaste and lotion that had made it through no less than four other security checkpoints at other airports - thanks, Croatia) we pooled our last few pennies on a disgusting airport sandwich. At least we could fondly remember our dinner at Dalmatino's the night before, which just so happened to be written up in the airline's in-flight magazine! Sarah's dish is specifically mentioned, too!
Tonight's accommodations needed no reservations because they consisted of four chairs pushed together in a hidden corner of Rome's Fiumicino Airport. Our flight from Split landed at 10:30pm and our next flight out left at 5:40am, and we didn't feel like wasting a night's hotel fare. Save where you can so you can spend where you want? The border patrol agent didn't want to let us into the terminal at 11pm because you aren't technically allowed in there until the day of your flight. As soon as he realized we weren't bluffing when we suggested standing in front of him and staring at him for an hour (there was literally no one else around), he let us through. It's the small victories. We slept exactly as well as you might expect.
This day started out cloudy and chilly, as promised by the forecast. If it had been another sunny day, we would've rented a boat again and posted up at one of the beach clubs on the surrounding islands. Beyoncé's pregnancy was first revealed when she was photographed by the paparazzi lounging at the nearby Carpe Diem beach club. This is it...
Since it was not a beautiful day, we had to forgo the possibility of running into celebrities and think of alternatives. There's really not much to do on the island of Hvar during the day other than sleep off your hangover and/or wait to see if you'll regain consciousness from your crazy trip the night before (this is an insanely fun party place), so we stayed in our comfortable apartment most of the day and took full advantage of the impressively fast Wi-Fi. We were even able to stream an hour-long episode of Louis C.K. on Netflix! This was the first time we've watched anything other than BBC World News in ten weeks, so it was nice to enjoy a little lighthearted, if crass, taste of home. We also planned the remaining two weeks of our trip and purchased all outstanding flights and hotels. Hirsh can finally relax!
We literally did stay in the apartment all day, surviving on Coke, leftover alcohol from yesterday, Twix, and Kinder Bueno candy bars. We finally mustered the strength to leave just before dinner time and started off with a walk around the pretty harbor and main square at sunset.
We had spent all day looking forward to tonight's dinner. Rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Hvar, Dalmatino has over 2,000 five-star reviews. We couldn't get in last night, so we put our names down for tonight. While we waited for our table to be prepared, we enjoyed drinks at the bar next door and our waiter came to collect us when they were ready.
Dalmatino was everything we expected it to be and more. One online reviewer stated that service at this restaurant was the best he had experienced anywhere in the world. We can comfortably say that we agree. From the friendly and endlessly patient host in charge of reserving and assigning tables to the throngs of expectant tourists, to the numerous waiters who served us throughout the meal, every person with whom we interacted was perfectly pleasant and professional. They manage to be attentive and courteous without being intrusive or stuffy. The food is, of course, outstanding. We started with appetizers of risotto with shrimps and salted anchovies in olive oil. Sarah had the popular Gnocchi "Istria" (black gnocchi with black truffles and shrimps in creamy wine sauce), while Hirsh had Rump Steak "Dubrovnik." For dessert, we shared Granny's Home-Made Cake, a chocolate cake with walnuts and ice cream. Before, during, and after these courses, we were served complimentary shots as palate cleansers. A superlative dining experience, for sure!
We never planned to spend much time in Split, as it was just a stopover point to get to the beautiful party island of Hvar. So, we took the 9am ferry from Split and in about 45 minutes, we were there! We had budgeted two nights in Hvar, knowing (from other travelers' blogs) that we wanted to spend one full day island hopping in our very own rental boat. We didn't yet know which day that would be, but when we disembarked from the ferry in Hvar, the beautiful weather told us today was the day! We hustled to the boat rental area and descended upon the latest victim of Hirsh's aggressive negotiating tactics. Once he got the price down to something we could stomach, we threw our bags in the boat, loaded up on food and alcohol from the nearby market, and we were off! We were a little anxious for a few reasons: we fibbed about having operated a boat before, it was an extraordinarily windy and somewhat dangerous day, and all our belongings were with us in that little boat - clothes, passports, copies of passports, cash, credit cards, medications, etc. If the boat sank, so did we. Figuratively, if not also literally.
You have to admit, Hirsh does appear to be in his element driving this boat. The island of Hvar is in the background.
We had been given a handy map of the surrounding Pakleni Islands by the man who rented the boat to us, so the first order of business was to circumnavigate the barrier islands so we could get to the south-facing side where the winds are much calmer. We found a great spot in a beautiful cove, Stipanska, and dropped anchor to enjoy our lunch, a nap, and a swim in the azure blue water of the Adriatic. You can't tell from these photos and the iPhone doesn't capture it, but the crystal clear water is full of bright blue Finding Dory fish. 😄
Croatia is well known for its nude beaches, and has been recently featured on the cover of some in-flight magazines for just that. Finding one of these beaches was a top priority for us, and we found it right away. We had pictured a beautiful white powder strand in a secluded cove where people are frolicking around the way God/Nature intended. The reality was very different, with the nudists perched on the edges of low rocky cliffs and not a grain of sand in sight. Bummer. No matter, we created our own natural paradise for the afternoon on our private boat. Photos tastefully cropped for the sake of our future political careers...
After a couple of hours, we cruised around to another cove, Palmizana.
In all, we were out on the water for a good seven hours. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable days of our entire trip. We understand now why people charter yachts with a group of friends to sail around the Caribbean or BVI for a week! Friends...any takers?
After returning the boat at the latest permissible time, we checked into our Booking.com accommodations, Apartments Rogosic, where we cleaned up and headed back into town for dinner at a fun pizza joint, Alviz. Hirsh had the expected pizza and beer while Sarah had unexpected Croatian beef stew. Delish!
Happy Labor Day! We spent the unofficial last day of summer in The States braving a very rainy drive from Plitviče to Split, the second largest city in Croatia. If the weather had been nice, we had planned to stop at Krka National Park and swim! Since you aren't allowed to swim in any of the Plitviče Lakes, and the water looked oh so inviting, we were pretty excited about the possibility of Krka. Here's what it looks like on a beautiful day...
But the forecast was right and it rained cats and dogs pretty much all day. At least we got to see Plitviče at its most spectacular, which was our main objective. Hirsh drove our latest rental, an ugly little bright fuschia Mitsubishi "Space Star" (not so fondly renamed the "Death Star" by us for its death trap construction) the four perilous hours to Split, with a brief detour in the town of Zadar to see the Sea Organ.
The Sea Organ is pretty neat. It's a series of tubes housed under marble steps right at the edge of the sea. The waves interact with the giant instrument to create random and impressive harmonies. We parked nearby and could easily hear the unique sound from our car, even over the hammering rain. Hirsh, of course, had to get out and see it for himself. We had come this far already. In the thirty seconds he spent outside the car, he managed to get thoroughly soaked.
Annnd that pretty much sums up our time in Zadar. We could tell it would be a fun city to walk around, but not today. So, on to Split!
After returning our rental car in the most inconvenient of places (smack in the middle of a busy town with narrow streets and no actual parking lot for the rental cars - just wedge it in between some other cars on the street) to the most unfriendly rental car agent (it's impossible to really describe her, you just had to be there...words like brittle, caustic, and dismissive come to mind. At the end of our drop off, she said "Any questions? No? OK, you can leave."), we walked to our Booking.com accommodations for €30 per night. It was basically a tiny room in a family's home, but it was clean and well appointed and perfectly located.
Dinner was at a newly opened restaurant called Articok and came highly recommended online. It's a fun, vibrant place with beautifully presented and imaginative food. Hirsh had fish tacos and Sarah had fettuccine carbonara.
And we couldn't resist a little dessert at the Choco Cafe. We had walked by this place when we first arrived in town and knew we had to return later. We shared a divine piece of homemade caramel chocolate cake and cappuccinos.