Stamp Collected: Greece

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Greece – September 2018
Contiki Greek Island Hopping
Hotels: Poseidon Hotel (Athens) | Paradise Beach Resort (Mykonos)
Nikos Hotel (Santorini) | Far Out Village (Ios)

“Why alone?” The first thing out of everyone’s mouth when I told them about this trip. Usually followed up by an “Absolutely not. I won’t allow it. That’s not safe,” until I’ve explained I’m not entirely by myself. (These are the kind of things your friends start to say after they’ve all become real-life moms, but you’ll always be their adopted third-wheel-on-every-weekend-date child.)

The simple reason: timing. I had a lot going on this summer, travel schedules weren’t matching up, and I was happy to finally start saving money to buy a house. You know — until Greece happened. Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll move out one day… Maybe.

But after the idea of a solo trip started floating around in my head, and the more excited it made me — while also completely terrifying me — I knew I had to go. And, like I mentioned before, this wasn’t entirely alone. I was booking a tour through Contiki, which means I’d be alongside other solo travelers and pairs throughout the duration of my time in Greece. I just had to get myself to and from Athens. Easy peazy. I got this.

So after two whole days of thinking about this — because that’s how long it takes to make big decisions in my life — I booked it. And 3 hours after that, I had already ordered a whole new wardrobe to take with me.

As the trip quickly approached, the nervousness started to set in, but as soon as I arrived at the airport — way too early once again, even though I tried to get there at a decent hour like a normal person — I became insanely calm.

What exactly was I worried about? Not sure. The last two years have prepared me beyond belief for this experience, but the thought — I kid you not —¬†what if I forget how to check in to a hotel crossed my mind. A HOTEL. Obviously, I figured that one out and moved on to more important worries, like will these people want to stop and eat as much as I do during the day? Will they be okay taking 100 pics of me at each stop? WILL THEY DRINK AS MUCH AS I DO?!

But soon after checking into the hotel — like a pro¬†— and a quick nap later, I realized I was in for a trip of a lifetime.

Athens

The first night, we all gathered in the lobby for our first official meeting. At this point, I had already met my roommate earlier in the day when I got to my room, so we headed down together where we’d meet the rest of the group for dinner, followed by rooftop drinks and lots of laughs. Our trip manager, Webby, explained how the rest of the trip would work and what we should expect in the following days. Very similar to The Yacht Week, your guide was more of your friend and would be adventuring and partying alongside the group the whole week, and since I was with a tour, we’d have a schedule for most days, with options to add on different activities at each stop.

Our first full day in Athens we spent exploring the ancient buildings around the city. Per usual, the guide was pointing out history on the left, but I was too busy looking in the windows of Hermès and Gucci on the right.

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After returning to the hotel later that afternoon, we gathered on the rooftop for drinks and pool time before we all headed back into town for a traditional Greek dinner. This was considered an “add-on” and would include dinner and wine (like most of the add-on activities), so for the price, it made it worth it to pay for all the extras.

By this time, we had all bonded pretty well as a group, especially me and my new instant bestie, John. Nothing bonds people better than a mutual love for shoes and the need to be extra AF. We even snuck off during dessert to have matching friendship bracelets made. Goals.

The group I was with was rather small (12 people) compared to other Contiki group sizes that can be up to 50 people, which was amazing for us since we all got to know each other quickly and became a huge family. At the end of the night, I thought to myself how silly I felt fearing whether I’d get along with everyone. We were so comfortable together, I forgot that only 24 hours before, I had no idea who these people even were.

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Mykonos

Since the next day was an early start, we all tried to get some sleep so we could enjoy our first day on the islands. After a 5 a.m. wake-up call, me debating to cancel the whole trip for making me wake up so early, and what felt like an eternity — but was really a 6-hour ferry ride later — we found ourselves on the island of Mykonos amongst the picturesque white and blue buildings. After settling into our adorable hotel and enjoying some time by the water, we headed into town for dinner, where we learned about the town’s history, saw views of the windmills, and, of course, dancing. Don’t worry. John and I still found time to sneak off to shop for matching hats. The two of us disappearing from the group quickly became a reoccurring trend for this trip. Attached at the hip would be an understatement.

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The following day, thankfully, started much later. After breakfast, we all gathered down on the beach to begin our day of sailing through Mykonos. We stopped to enjoy some swimming in a secluded bay, checked out the beautiful views and crystal clear water, and ultimately ended up at a beach club on the southern side of the island before heading back to the hotel for pool time and drinks. Always with the drinks. Our hotel was located at Paradise Beach, which is the big beach party spot, so in typical Tara fashion, I went too hard at the day party and fell asleep long before the night party started, which would lead me to having an early morning the next day, whether I was ok with it or not. Goooood morning, Mykonos.

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Our last day on the island ended up being a free day since none of us chose to opt in for the historical add-on tour. These are my kind of people. And a trip to Mykonos wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Lindsay Lohan’s new beach club, so off we went. *Cue the horrible dancing.* Soaking up the sun was exactly how I wanted to end exploring this island before heading on to Santorini. Unfortunately, we ended it with getting lost and a 3-hour walk to find the bus stop instead. Ughhh.

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Santorini

Bright and early the next day, we headed to Santorini where we’d have 3 days to explore the island. The first day we spent relaxing by the pool followed with a nice dinner at Argo overlooking the water, which was a good contrast that prepared us for all we endured the following day.

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It started slow by heading into Fira town to explore and enjoy some wine tasting at a local winery, Santos Wines, which was accompanied by another incredible view. Next, we hopped on a ferry to the volcano island. I was quite disappointed when we got to the top because, apparently, tops of active volcanos aren’t open craters you can look down into and see lava. Talk about needing a refund. As if hiking wasn’t enough working out for the day, next up was swimming through the ocean to a secluded hot spring cove for mud masks. I really thought spa days were supposed to be more relaxing than this.

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Our day ended at the Old Port with the iconic donkey ride back to the top of the island. Me and my little guy bonded quite well. He didn’t like anyone passing us, so we somehow were in a race to the top, getting terrifyingly too close to the edge and cutting off any donkey that tried to go by. 10/10 would not recommend. The views on the way up are breathtaking, but there is also a cable car option if you opt out of the donkey ride. Because, honestly, I felt more like the “ass”¬†making him carry me up the 600 stairs.

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Before this trip, when I imagined the free days, I saw myself wandering the streets by myself, exploring beaches and shops. In reality, we had all become so close, we would make sure we had a van big enough to to fit everyone so we could all still stay together and explore. For our Santorini free day, we first headed to Akrotiri red beach. It’s quite rocky and very prone to mud slides, so we only viewed this colorful beach from up above. If you plan on heading down to the shore, I’d really recommend bringing sneakers. The rest of the day we chose to spend relaxing at Perissma black sand beach. If you buy food or drinks from any restaurant, they let you lounge on their chairs or bean bags out on the sand. We were really lucky to be there at the end of season, so the mass amounts of tourists had already disappeared, making it easier and more empty for us to do things and enjoy.

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That night, we headed into famous Oia town to take pictures at the famous blue domes and watch the sunset. There are tons of rooftop terraces to grab a drink or dinner at that will allow you to have prime seating for the sunset. If not, be sure to get there early to claim space along the city’s walls to get a good view.

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Ios

The next day, we left for our third and final island to explore, Ios. We all made sure to rest up plenty the night before since the next few nights were set to party until sunrise as this was the big party island — with each of the 50 bars on the island having their own 7-shot challenge. Our hotel was located right on the beach, and being the end of season, daybeds were free to use. This also meant the sushi bar was closed for the year. Booooo! We spent the afternoon soaking in the sun — trying to get more tan than our fellow Contiki friend, Hayley — and also played a few rounds of volleyball. This hotel was definitely the best we had stayed at thus far. It was on a great beach, had an amazing pool, and the restaurant served amazing food… plus you can’t beat those 10‚ā¨ pitchers — I mean “jugs” — of beer that they even let you take out to the beach.

Our second day in Ios, was the day I was looking forward to most, the sailing day, because of how clear I had heard the water was around the island. Sometimes I realize how spoiled I really have been in life when I get bummed that we’re on an average boat instead of a catamaran when I’m in the middle of Greece swimming in some of the clearest water I’ve seen so far on a private beach we have all to ourselves. Don’t worry. I checked myself real quick on that one. #blessed

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When planning our free day in Ios, we had seen that Mylopotamos was supposed to be the best beach in town, so before setting out, we checked the map for how to get there, only to realize it’s the exact beach we had been on the last 2 days. Oooops. There’s a water sports company right on the beach that offers anything from paddle boarding to scuba diving (this is also where we rented a volleyball from a few days before.) Since I was feeling under the weather —¬†I had heard of the dreaded ‘Contiki Cough’ before this trip, but no amount of vitamins kept me from catching the bug floating around the group —¬†I opted to lay in the sand and hopefully sweat out the cold before my long flight home.

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After one final dinner together back in Athens, we all said our goodbyes. I used to think those girls on The Bachelor were crazy for falling in love after 2 weeks, but now I totally get it. These were some of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had to make yet, but I now have a new set of homes to visit across the world… and I may or may not have already bought a flight to visit John. Obviously.

This really was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far — a journey I think everyone should have once in their life — and I’m beyond thankful for all the amazing people I’ve met along the way.¬†So as I get ready to board my plane, I remind myself that these aren’t actually goodbyes, they’re just “see you laters.”

Ready for takeoff? Flights | Hotels

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‘The Yacht Week’ Packing Guide

As summer is quickly approaching — and as I’m pressuring friends into joining me another week at sea — it’s time to break down my The Yacht Week¬†survival kit¬†packing guide. Girls, you’re gonna need this for reference. Heck… I’m gonna need this for¬†reference.¬†

TYW Must-haves:

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A super Instagram-able floatie: Duh. Have you ever seen a picture from The Yacht Week that didn’t involve an inflatable pizza or flamingo? I didn’t think so. (Bonus: A huge floatie to fit your whole crew. It cost more to fly with this “checked bag” than the actual float cost, but being able to chill as a group with room for an ice chest full of drink refills, so worth it.)

Country Pride: This is huge at The Yacht Week so bringing a flag to hang on the boat is a must. Throw in some flag shorts, bandanas, coozies, sunglasses, swimsuits, etc. If you can print a flag on it, you should bring it.

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Boat Decor: Think battery-powered and waterproof, so disco balls, lights, streamers, more flags, etc. Coming home drunk and trying to find your boat in a lineup of 30 boats becomes way easier when you’re the only boat with flashing lights hanging from the overhang. That is, if you remember to turn them on before heading out.

Custom Crew Memorabilia: Tank tops, another flag — seriously, you can never have enough flags¬†— we even had a custom stamp made with our boat’s name on it so we could leave our mark on everyone who passed by.

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Group Costume: The last day is a regatta where group costumes are more important than the actual boat speed. The more original and unique costume and the higher energy your group has, the better chances of winning.

Extra Party Swag: A few extra props never hurt nobody. Unless, of course, you’re out of room in your suitcase. Water guns, neon¬†sunglasses, inflatable beer pong tables, glow sticks and body paint will all come in handy throughout the week.

Clothes:

Swimsuits: I know what you’re thinking. 7 days on a boat means you’ll need at least 7, maybe 9, bikinis, but, trust me, this is far from true. Most days you’re sailing, and once you reach the marina, the last thing you’ll want to do is get in that dirty water. Instead, use the extra space for cute outfits to walk around and explore in. I probably only used 3 – 4 of the swimsuits I brought. 2 for the different big raft parties, and another 2 to rotate between tanning and swimming.

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Shoes: I read every blog I could before this trip, and every single one recommended bringing boat shoes, so, naturally, I searched high and low for a pair and ultimately borrowed a friend’s pair to take — Thanks, Reb!¬†But as useful as boat shoes might seem on a boat, I never actually wore them. Comfy sandals and a pair of sneakers should be on your list, though. Stick with cute sandals for at night, since most party venues are outside, and old stone paths won’t mix well with heels.

Clothes: Read through your The Yacht Week itinerary to prepare for any parties that require themed attire. Athletic wear came in handy for during the day when it wasn’t warm enough to be tanning as we sailed to the next destination and also at night for when we got back to the boat after parties and continued hanging out. A lightweight sweater for colder nights should also be included on your packing list, along with a beach coverup for during the day. With minimal space for luggage, bring outfits that can be interchangeable to save space while packing.

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Avoid Denim: You’re on a boat, and sometimes things get wet, so you don’t want to be waiting around on your denim pants/shorts to dry.¬†Stick with light weight and cotton materials that will dry faster and keep you cool.

Odds & Ends: A good pair of polarized sunglasses are recommended to protect against the sun’s glare reflecting off the water and some super trendy sunglasses¬†straps to save them from slipping off your nose onto the bottom of the ocean. A hat to shade from the sun, a refillable water bottle, and a beach towel — which can be purchased in the marina to save baggage space — are also handy items to have.

Duffle Bag:¬†A small boat and lots of hard suitcases don’t go well together. A duffle bag or collapsible suitcase is highly recommended. Don’t make the same mistake as I did because my suitcase didn’t even fit through the bedroom doorway.

For more help on packing check out my Packing Tips for Any Trip.

Beauty and Health:

Makeup: Waterproof mascara. Obviously!

Small mirror: Yes, there are mirrors on the boat, but it gets so hot in there that I could barely stand it long enough to change my underwear, let alone apply a full face of makeup before I sweat it off. A small portable mirror will be convenient for applying makeup on the deck with an ocean breeze to cool you off. (Side note: Some boats have AC. I was uninformed about how highly to prioritize that while choosing a boat, though.)

img_6435Showers: I wish someone had explained to me that there are¬†showers at The Yacht Week, but they are public showers in the marinas.¬†Gross. Take shower shoes and a small bag to carry your toiletries/clothes in to the shower. Towels are provided on the boat, but investing in a bigger towel might be worth it — I’m not sure who they actually expected to be able to dry off with the napkin-sized towel they gave us. Bringing a pack of wipes will also be useful for a refresher during the days spent completely at sea.

Sunscreen: Lots of it, and for your lips. Can’t be having cracked burnt lips when that foreign cutie goes in for a kiss.¬†Know what I’m saying? And if you forgot to apply — and reapply — bring a bottle of aloe vera for after sun care. Ouch!

Medicines:¬†Advil is completely necessary, even though I’m convinced that hangovers are non-existent while sailing the Adriatic, and if seasickness is a thing for you, look into motion sickness medicines or patches. Clorox wipes aren’t a medicine, but I always keep some in my bag while traveling, and they were perfect for wiping down tables after a hungry crew devoured whatever Savannah and I made for breakfast and dinner.

img_6457Travel Insurance: Get it. I, thankfully, didn’t need it, but alcohol and slippery boat decks could have ended badly, and I couldn’t imagine having to pay for a foreign medical bill. I luckily made it out of The Yacht Week with nothing more than a few hundred bruises that I’m still trying to figure out where exactly they came from.¬†Allianz has an affordable plan that’s good for a whole year, so you’ll have protection for any other daring adventures you embark on in the near future. Plus, certain plans will reimburse you for any flight or baggage delays too!

Electrical Essentials:

Outlets: I can’t speak much on the outlets inside of the bedrooms, but in the kitchen where my bed was, there wasn’t a standard wall plug. A car charger or USB plug were available, though. It seemed everyone was always charging here, so either the plugs in the bedrooms were non-existent or they didn’t work, so a car charger with multiple USB outlets would be the most efficient.

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Waterproof: Things happen, and if you’re someone who takes pictures of everything, then highly consider a lifeproof case for this trip. You’re near water all week long, and you can’t predict when or prevent water from destroying your phone or camera — which reminds me. Don’t forget to charge the GoPro, and don’t forget to bring an extra battery. I’m still crying that I only have footage from the first day.

Music: Don’t show up disappointed when your boat isn’t equipped with an aux port but, instead, a CD player. Prepare a few mixed tapes beforehand, so you’ll never miss a beat.

Extra, and still very important:

Cash: Always cash. Many places on the islands won’t accept cards, so cash is important. There are ATMs all over, but I paid $20 per withdrawl when I needed extra, so exchanging currency through your bank back home prior to arriving would be more cost-effective.

Valuables: Leave them at home. People are constantly passing through your boat, and you don’t want to risk damaged or stolen valuables putting a damper on the rest of the trip.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This is such a long list, Tara, and you’re expecting me to get this all in a duffle bag?” Honestly, I haven’t tried yet, so I’ll get back to you all at the end of summer, but spending another week like this, is worth at least trying… And if all else fails, I’ll just shop when I get there.¬†Bon Voyage!

Ready for takeoff? Flights | The Yacht Week

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Stamp Collected: Italy

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Italy – August 2017
Hotel: AirBNB Rome | AirBNB Florence

I knew I was going to like Italy, but I didn’t think I’d be coming home Googling “hairdressing jobs in Rome for English speakers… but also 9% fluent in Italian.” (Side note: I had spent the 3 months prior to this trip learning to speak Italian.) I fell in love with this country that is filled with tons of history… and just as much gelato — that didn’t make me sick. Not even once. Lactose intolerant who?

Even though I did end up getting sick — stress related, not dairy — I loved walking the streets and admiring all the gorgeous buildings, each city so uniquely beautiful. During our 5 days in Italy, we explored Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre. (That means 5 lands for all you non-Italian speakers. You’re welcome.)

Rome

Rome was definitely my favorite of the 4. Our AirBNB was in the absolute cutest neighborhood ever. Everrrr. Look at this street. Bellissima!

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We spent two days in Rome, and since we had tours booked for the second day, we went and visited all the typical tourist attractions during our first, starting at the Trevi Fountain.

Being the super-incredibly-single-nowhere-near-finding-a-boyfriend girl that I am, obviously, I had to throw the traditional three coins into the fountain. The first guaranteeing you return to Rome, the second a new romance, and the third ensuring marriage.

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The drunk text from a boy back home that I received seconds after wishing for love was the complete opposite of just that… so naturally I dove back into the fountain to reclaim my coin and took myself to Valentino to purchase a new pair of shoes instead — because, let’s face it, shoes over boys any day.

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With my new precious cargo in tow, we continued our sightseeing at the Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. Obviously, I had to include my shoes in the pictures before I tucked them safely in my suitcase for the rest of the trip, away from all the dangers of gelato spills and annoying British girls (See: Croatia).

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Later that¬†night, we headed out for some drinks because… wine not? We ended up becoming friends with our waiter who showed us around the nightlife, which was great for me because, not only did I get free wine, I also got to use my Italian… The. Whole. Night.¬†Either I’m secretly fluent, or I was too drunk to notice I wasn’t making sense. Pretty sure it’s the former, but¬†I¬†do know I accidently¬†called some guy’s girlfriend a sweater. My bad, girl.¬†

With an early tour booked the next morning, it didn’t take long for me to regret all the free wine, but there was no way I was skipping¬†anything on the¬†itinerary. So, like the good Catholic girl I am, I got my — still slightly drunk — self out of bed and headed to the Vatican. Oh, forgive me Father for I have sinned. I was on my own for the first part of the day, and although wandering the empty streets in the early morning was oddly quite peaceful, it was also the moment I realized I’ll never be a solo traveler. Who am I supposed to talk to? Who’s supposed to take all my Instagram pics? Who’s supposed to make me feel better about having gelato for breakfast?

We had pre-booked a Vatican and Colosseum tour through City Wonders since this would allow us to skip the lines at both. Not waiting 5 hours in line, cool.¬†The guy that wouldn’t stop talking, not cool. I understand this is the whole point of having a tour guide, but I would have preferred wandering Vatican City on my own. He spent too much time telling me why there was a bee on the wall drapery and not enough time letting me relax under a tree in the gorgeous courtyard.

After walking through all the museums, we entered the Sistine Chapel. It was way smaller than I had imagined, and more just a room rather than a chapel. I actually had no idea I was even inside the Sistine Chapel until I noticed everyone looking up. This is when the guide decided to stop talking?

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we continued into the stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. The guide provided us with some brief history of the church before ending the tour and, finally, allowing me to wander on my own. Amen!

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(Tip: Although the tours are booked together, they are two separate tours.¬†You’re required to find your own transportation between the two locations, which unknown to me when booking, are on opposite ends of the city. Be sure to leave an adequate amount of time to reach the second meeting point.)

After¬†my nap and picking up my adventure partner, we headed towards the Colosseum.¬†Walking around this part of Rome is almost unreal, being surrounded by so¬†much ancient architecture. This tour will take you around the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill¬†while your guide¬†tells the stories of¬†all the history¬†that surrounds you. Since there’s a lot to see, there won’t be much time to stop and look around, so be prepared for constant walking.

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Tip: When we first visited the Trevi Fountain around noon, we found the place completely packed. Before leaving Rome, we went back early morning around 7:45 a.m., and this is when we were able to snag all our pictures since it was practically deserted.
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Florence

Our next stop was Florence, and since the Italo train leaving from Rome takes about 1.5 hours, we made sure to catch the first departure in the morning. (Tip: I highly recommend purchasing these in advance. We had waited until we arrived at the train station that morning and ended up not only not having seats together but also in different train cars.)

By the time we reached Florence, we were exhausted, mostly because we had woken up at 6 a.m., and I was too busy guarding my shoes that I couldn’t take a nap on the train ride. So after grabbing a much needed caff√®, we headed out to explore the gorgeous city.

Our sightseeing started at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Since we weren’t dressed modest enough to go inside, we had to admire this beauty from the outside only. Can’t say I was disappointed, though.

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Next, we headed towards the Duomo, which came highly recommended by my friend Brenda, and she’s Italian, so I was going to do anything she said. She could’ve told me to drink water from the Trevi Fountain, and I’d be like, “Well, if this is what Italians do….”¬†

Anyway, Brenda was right. The Duomo is gorgeous, but make sure you buy tickets in advance if you plan on going up inside. They were sold out until gioved√¨, which means Thursday, and I don’t know what day we were there on, but Thursday wasn’t anytime close, so, unfortunately, we were only able to admire this beauty from the outside.¬†However, Brenda reassured me the outside is far prettier than the inside.¬†Phew!

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Continuing on through the city, we headed towards Piazza della Signoria. Here you’ll find Neptune’s Fountain and a fake Statue of David — the real one is in a museum with a line going down the street. Pass. Sadly, the¬†Statue of David was under construction, but that didn’t stop me from taking a super mature Snapchat zooming in on his privates. Oops.¬†

After stopping for another gelato, we made our way to Ponte Vecchio,¬†which literally translates to old bridge — the oldest¬†in¬†Florence¬†to be exact — and is known for the many jewelry shops that line it. Too bad I had spent all my souvenir money on shoes, so window shopping would have to suffice.

Once crossing the bridge, we continued down the street until we came to Boboli Gardens. There are a few different entrances to the park, including the main entrance at Pitti Palace, but our GPS took us to a smaller entrance a little farther down the road. Being so hot, we found a shaded bench to rest under before exploring the gardens, eventually heading up a hill and finding ourselves in Piazzale Michelangelo with a view overlooking the city. (Tip: We exited the park through Pitti Palace and noticed a rather long line at this entrance, as opposed to walking straight in at the smaller one we used.)

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We finished up our day exploring this beautiful city with dinner at Quattro Leoni, another recommendation from Brenda. Duh! All I have to say is to order the pear pasta. It sounds bizarre, but trust me. Delizioso!

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Venice

For our 4th day in Italy, we booked a round-trip train ticket to Venice through Italo. With not many huge tourist spots in this unique little city, we were able to just walk around without a list of things to get done, which was a nice change for me, the self-appointed tour guide of every trip.

However, there was one thing we needed to get done, though, because you can’t go to Venice and not take a gondola ride through the canals. No matter where you are in Venice, a gondola ride is the same set price – 80 EUR. So this means that when you find the one cute young gondolier in the sea of old men, you chase him down and ask for a ride. Those arm muscles — swoon! Too bad I noticed a wedding ring, so guess I’m still waiting for that whole Trevi-Fountain-will-find-you-love thing… Fingers crossed he’s Italian.

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The rest of the day we walked around exploring the streets, stopping in stores, avoiding all the dirty pigeons in Piazza San Marco, and, of course, eating gelato. After wandering aimlessly all day, it was quite the journey to make it back to the train station. I’m the queen of GPS, but I could not figure out how to get us out of those canals; what looks like a through street on the map, ended up being cut in half by a canal of water. Eventually,¬†we made it out without having to swim upstream. On second thought, maybe we should’ve found the cute gondolier to row us out.

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Cinque Terre

On the last day, we finally headed to Cinque Terre. To reach this region of Italy, requires a 2-hour bus ride from Florence, so we booked an all-day tour through Ciao Florence. I had read mixed reviews, some saying it’s great, others saying you need more than a day to explore all the towns, but since the towns are small, there actually isn’t much to do in each one, aside from walking around or swimming… or eating gelato, so a day trip sounded perfect for us.

We started in Manarola and had maybe 15 minutes to wander around. Good thing it only took 7 minutes to walk from one end to the other, so we sat by the water for a while before catching the train to the next town.

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When we reached Vernazza, we headed up a path on our right side that would overlook the town. We were able to walk right through, but on our way out, we did notice a ranger-type guy taking tickets, so perhaps we lucked out by walking by when no one was working.

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The next stop was Monterosso. This was one of the bigger towns and where we would spend the most time. Here we were able to have lunch and take a swim in the ocean — the very salty ocean. We spent our extra time lying by the water, while others hiked up to the castle above the town.

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Following our relaxing lunch break, we took a boat to the final town, La Spezia. This town is rather tiny and has a super steep hill to get to the church at the top. Considering it was the end of the day and we didn’t have much energy left, we skipped the hike and sat and people watched for the few minutes we had before the long ride home.

It didn’t take much for Italy to become one of my favorite countries, between all the gelato, pasta and, of course, menwine… I mean, history. Everything about this trip was magical, and as I continue to sit here searching for new jobs, I’ll be dreaming of Italy and counting down the days until I can return again. Arrivederci, Italia.

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For Ships & Giggles: The Yacht Week Croatia

img_2509-1Croatia – August 2017
The Yacht Week

When I was told this would be the best week of my life, I didn’t quite believe it. I’ve had some pretty amazing weeks in my life so far, but as I sit here, literally crying on our flight home writing this, I can hands down say it’s been the best week yet, and I’m not sure if another trip can top it. (Except maybe our Yacht Week reunion that we made a pact to do when we’re 60.)

I’ve left with bruises, I’ve lost my voice, tons of sleep, and even maybe some of my dignity; but there’s something magical about spending a week on a boat with 8 people you’ve just met. I’ve left with memories I’ll never forget and with new friendships I’ll cherish forever.

Would I do this all over? In a heartbeat — even if I’m stuck with the dinner table as my bed again.

For those that don’t know what The Yacht Week is, it’s a week you spend on a yacht (duh), sailing alongside 20 – 30 other yachts. My crew and I sailed through the beautiful islands off of Croatia, which is the original route started by the company. Each town¬†offers a¬†new adventure, a new party, and a chance to meet new friends. TYW sets up an itinerary that your skipper will follow throughout the week,¬†like swimming in the crystal blue waters and meeting up at night to dance under the stars.

Everything is booked through The Yacht Week website, and you¬†can choose to book a cabin on a yacht with complete strangers or gather a group of friends to book your own boat. I did the latter, except we didn’t initially all know each other, but all had one mutual friend that brought us together for this experience. You’ll be assigned a skipper through the website and also a hostess, if you have signed up for one. We requested one too late, which meant we’d be on our own for the week cooking meals and cleaning the yacht. It wasn’t so bad, but with how often other boats confused me for Diridonda‚Äôs hostess (our boat’s name), I’m confused as to why no one left me a tip at the end — Ha ha. Just kidding.

More booking info here. | Find my TYW packing guide here.

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(Note: There’s two different routes for Croatia, so not all itineraries will be the same.)

Day 1: Setting Sail

Our crew all arrived in Split, Croatia, the night prior to The Yacht Week check-in. I highly suggest getting an AirBNB or hotel for Friday night to catch up on your post-travel Z‚Äôs before getting minimal sleep over the next week. You’ll need it.

Check-in won’t be until the afternoon on Saturday, but we, luckily, were able to have a later check-out at our AirBNB before we headed to the marina. Access to your boat won’t be available until 6 pm, so this is a good time to grab groceries, floaties, beach towels, or anything else you may have forgotten.

After loading our boat, by crossing the scariest little plank of my life (Side note: It didn’t get less scary over the week), we set sail to Supetar, where we had dinner and kicked off the week at the opening party. Our skipper let us know there was a pool, so a few of us went prepared for a midnight swim.

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Day 2: Hvar

Most of you know I’m not a morning person, but waking up with the sun and setting sail each morning quickly became my favorite thing. I was even the first one awake most mornings — probably because I slept in the kitchen and didn’t have a¬†way to block out the sunlight, but still. So we set sail early towards Hvar and stopped midmorning for a swim along the way. You ever pin drop off the side of a yacht into¬†the Adriatic Sea? ‘Cause it’s the best.

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Once we reached Hvar, we had some time to explore and use the, ahem, public showers before getting ready for the party that evening at Hula Hula. This party is open to anyone, not just Yacht Week goers, so be ready to make even more new friends. Following the party, we stopped for dinner before checking out a few other bars and, eventually, heading back to our yacht where we all stayed up and laughed the night away together.

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Floaties are a must at The Yacht Week, and that was our favorite, Alvin, who we eventually lost later in the week post-raft party. RIP Alvin.

 

Day 3: Hvar

With all day partying being the main agenda for the trip, I had drunkenly agreed to sky diving the night before. Once sober, I wasn’t quite sure this was the best way to spend the day, but, nonetheless, I had already paid and was on the water taxi to the airport. I may have cried, but nothing can compare to the bird’s-eye view of the island that you could only see by jumping out of the tiny plane with a large Croatian man strapped to your back.

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The uncool, safer options for the day include a morning yoga class hosted by The Yacht Week, hiking, a beach club, and other water sports, like jet skiing or paddle boarding, but make sure you’re ready to party¬†that afternoon¬†because you won’t want to miss the famous White Party at Carpe Diem. This party ends early, so there’s time to get dinner before heading over to the after-party held on a little island off Hvar.

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Day 4: Komiza

We started the day by meeting up with the other boats to create the iconic circle raft. This is when all the boats tie up together creating a floatie party in the middle. So grab your beer and your float and get ready to party. (Tip: Dont be the guy who tried jumping off the top of the boat and missed the water, though.)

img_2510Not pictured: Our¬†awesome Relaxation Station that all 8 of us could fit in, along with a cooler for instant drink refills. Also great for standing up in and calling out other floaties for not being as cool as ours… I had great pride in everything Diridonda did.

 

The sail to the next destination is a long one, and, in our case, a rough one too. Half the crew got sick due to the rocky waters on our 3-hour trip to the next stop in Komiza. Since there’s no dock here, you’ll stay on the boat all night and take a water taxi to the party. Boat hopping drunk to get home sounded like a disaster for someone clumsy like me, so I used this as my night in to catch up on some sleep.

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img_2514I can’t even take credit for these awesome pictures. I came home with 15 pictures total from the whole week. Good thing Jay sent me all 654 from his phone. @alayonroams

 

Day 5: Vis

We headed out early, again, and this was by far my favorite morning. By the time I woke up, we were already in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. Sitting alone in silence watching the waves pass by was, on its own, enough for me to claim this as the best week ever. We made our way to Vis before 9 am and had the whole day to explore. Some of the crew opted to book a tour to explore the island by Jeep, while the others stayed in town to just wander and lay by the beach.

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Later that night, hosted at Fort George, is what’s considered to the best party of the week, the Tropical Retro Party. Per recommendation of our skipper, we had dinner near the boat, opposed to at Fort George, i.e. over-priced food for what is being served.

This location was magical and definitely the prettiest of all the venues for the parties, but like most nights, our crew left early — more specifically, I left really early because lots of alcohol at once¬†wasn’t the best idea. Sorry, mom.

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Day 6: Green Caves and Float Party

I might be a little biased, but I really think we had the best skipper of all of The Yacht Week because he always got us places at the perfect time. We started our 6th day at the Green Cave, completely alone. Only our crew and our floats inside swimming, and we were ready to leave just before the tour boats full of people started pulling in. Such an amazing experience.

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After, we headed back towards Hvar where we stopped for awhile to swim before heading to the huge raft party.

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Luckily, we were one of the last boats there, so we were able to be on the end away from the crazy. In the middle, it was full of people on¬†floaties in the water, boats packed with people dancing on top, and a DJ in the middle on his own boat. Everyone is yacht hopping from boat to boat and swimming across the raft to meet people on the other side. It had started to get chilly by this time, and our skipper had told me¬†all the boats’¬†bathrooms drain into the water (Can you say poop water? Gross.), so I gave myself a 2-hour period of partying before taking my fat ass¬†back to the boat to make dinner — a¬†decision I don’t regret at all.

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img_2930There’s an app for The Yacht Week that only people who attended your week have access to, and you can message and share pictures. So shout out to the guy with the drone who posted this for me to steal. Our huge float made our boat the easiest to spot. We’re on the far right heading in.

Day 7: Regatta

Personally, I think this event needs to be at the beginning of the week because our crew was so dead, we barely managed to put our costumes on. The idea is to race all the boats, and those with the best energy and costumes win a table for the closing party. It has nothing to do with who crosses the finish line first, but we did; and, therefore, we were the winners in my eyes. We also may or may not have left the motor on and technically weren’t even sailing. Oops.

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img_2935Like, we couldn’t even pull ourselves together enough to get a decent picture.

Following the regatta, we stopped for a final swim on the way back to Split for the last night. Although it began to drizzle on our way, it was the perfect final sail home before ending the best week of our lives dancing the night away at Club Vanilla. And the best part of the night? Half the crew left to stay in an AirBNB, so I got to sleep in an actual bed instead of the table bed again. Holla!

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Even as the best week of my life, there are a few things that I would do differently next time.

Only go to The Yacht Week. We had spent the week prior in Italy, which resulted in more clothing, a bigger suitcase, and me constantly¬†kicking strangers off our boat so no one would accidently spill a drink on my new Valentino shoes. Sorry not sorry to the annoying British girl. When I read to only bring a duffle bag, I should’ve listened. By adding another stop to the trip, I was forced to pack more than just bikinis and take the suitcase that was bigger than the entire boat. Big mistake.

Skip the food package. We had opted to purchase the food package to minimize our grocery shopping, but, the truth is, I still did daily grocery store stops, and although the package comes with alcohol and 4 apples (that actually ended up being nectarines), we were left with food we didn’t use, and we probably could’ve bought it all on our own for cheaper. (Side note: If you get a hostess, it might be helpful to purchase the food package, though.)

Stay an extra day in Split. I can’t express how much I wish I stayed a night in Split before leaving.¬†I slept maybe 8 hours total throughout the week, and def needed to catch up on some more before conquering that long flight home. *Cue meltdown number 4 of the trip.*

This one week of my life felt like¬†10 years. It lasted forever, and still wasn’t enough. We started the week as strangers and ended as family. Every day was filled with new memories that will stay with me for a lifetime — especially that time Keith used pepper instead of instant coffee in the morning. That’s one way to wake you up. Yuck.

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Iceland: The Golden Circle


If you’re headed to Iceland, chances are you’ll be spending a day exploring ‘The Golden Circle,’ a 190-mile loop through the country¬†circling from Reykjav√≠k and back.

After some major Pinterest research, I found these to be the most popular stops:

  1. Thingvellir National Park (√ěingvellir National Park)
  2. Laugarvatn Fontana
  3. Br√ļarfoss
  4. Geysir – Strokkur
  5. Gullfoss
  6. The Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)
  7. Kerid Crater (Keri√į)
  8. Hveragerdi¬†(Hverager√įi)

We opted to not visit two of the geothermal pools since we had already been to The Blue Lagoon earlier in the trip, and I have far too much energy to spend time just sitting in a body of water. I’ve provided links above for the attractions we skipped over, but keep reading to find out about the places we did stop.

Don’t worry about mapping out each location¬†because the road, basically, only goes one way, and each tourist attraction is well marked with a red sign pointing you in the right direction. So once you’ve decided on your stops, fill up that gas tank, get a super early start (aka 9ish), and on your way out of the city, make sure you stop and get yourself a cinnamon roll because those things are seriously amazing in Iceland.

Thingvellir National Park (√ěingvellir National Park)

This was our first stop along The Golden Circle, and it will probably be yours too since it is one of the most popular tourist attractions. Although entrance into the park is free, this is one of the only spots we¬†had to pay for parking – 500 ISK. We spent about an hour walking around and exploring all the park has to offer. If you’re feeling crazy and¬†want to swim in 39¬į F water, here you can choose to snorkel in the Silfra Fissure, a divide between two continental plates. This California girl was not down for that, and after seeing the divers getting out of the water, was happy about her decision. Major props to my cousin who had done it the previous spring because I was barely able to hang in the 18 layers of clothes I had on.

Fun fact: I’m pretty sure I’ve been to more National Parks out of the country than I¬† have within the US.

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Br√ļarfoss

This¬†stop is the¬†one exception to the rule of being easy to find with a red sign. It’s a more unknown waterfall, and GPS isn’t going to get you to where you need to be. The GPS directions we had told us what turn to take off the main road, but that’s about it. (Note: If you use Apple’s map, it brings up a different location, so Google “Bruarfoss” and use the directions from there). Luckily, the extensive Pinterest research I had done beforehand got us the rest of the way. Once turning left off the main road, the best advice I have is to just follow the path and keep left. It’s a dirt road, and your tiny¬†rental car is going to feel like it’s about to break down, but just keep going anyway. Eventually, you’ll start seeing some cottage-type buildings with areas marked by numbers, followed by a handmade PVC pipe sign labeled “Bruarfoss.” If you drive past this, you’ll reach #14 which will open up to larger area where you’ll be able to park your car.¬†Head back and follow the¬†marked foot path down over the small bridge. Once you cross the bridge and see the giant puddle of mud, be smarter than we were, and use the plank to the left to get¬†past this.¬†Trust me, no matter how fast you try to walk through it, you’re going to sink knee-deep in mud. Still blaming that one on karma from the toast we stole for breakfast. Continue on the path to the left for 5-10 minutes until you reach the falls.¬†I will point out that this isn’t a waterfall you can walk up to, which is something no one else had mentioned when I read about it. I’m sure there’s a way to climb down to the water, but we clearly weren’t having the best of luck at this point and just stayed on the bridge to view this beauty.

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Geysir – Strokkur

Our next stop through The Golden Circle was Geysir. You’ll know you’re getting close because that super wonderful rotten egg smell due to all that sulphur. I recommend parking in the parking lot on your right. It’s much bigger and more organized compared to the madness happening in the lot to your left. Once parked, you’ll need to walk farther up past the building and cross the street to reach Strokkur, the active geyser of the two. It erupts every 6-10 minutes, so wait a little before you freeze your hand off recording nothing while waiting for it to erupt. Hey, anyone want to¬†watch the 8 minutes of blank footage I have, though? Before you head to the next stop, I highly suggest grabbing some lunch here. There are¬†tons of options inside, and I don’t remember passing much else as we continued on our route.

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Gullfoss

I only have one word for this stop: freezing. We spent more time looking for parking than we did looking at the actual waterfall. It’s big, beautiful, has a rainbow, and did I mention it’s¬†cold? At least I got a work out in with how fast I ran up those stairs back to the car.

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Kerid Crater (Keri√į)

This is the only stop we visited that we had to pay an entry fee – 400 ISK.¬†We didn’t walk around the top of the¬†impressive crater, but did walk down to the bottom to admire all the beautiful colors. I really suggest not missing this stop. I could have stared at it for hours.

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Hveragerdi¬†(Hverager√įi)

We had trouble finding the trailhead for this hike. The full trail is 11 miles out and back starting near the entrance to the city and, let’s be real, nobody got time for that. Instead, to start your 4-mile hike, take the¬†first right at the roundabout into the¬†city (assuming you’re on your way from Kerid). Continue on this road until it dead ends at the main trailhead where you will see a dirt lot to park and a¬†coffee shop. Hopefully, you’ve already changed into your swimsuit because your only option at this point is a porta potty or the car. This hike is fairly easy if you don’t get caught in a snow storm with terrible winds like we did. It’s steep in the beginning, but levels out as you enter more into the hills. We definitely considered turning around a few times because of how bad the winds were, but the end was extremely worth it, and we reached the hot springs as the storm settled. The area we chose to hang out in wasn’t very deep, maybe a few inches, but that seemed to be the standard for other areas along the river as well. After hiking what felt like the equivalent of Mt. Everest, give or take some drama there, it was nice to relax in the hot springs before jumping back into 25¬ļ F weather and heading back to the car with frozen icicle hair. No drama there. My hair literally froze into icicles.

PS: If anyone knows how to pronounce this city’s name, you give me a call.

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We were lucky to be visiting at a time of year when Iceland has long hours of daylight, so we never felt rushed if we¬†wanted to stop randomly along the way to check anything out or pet the horses. The route we traveled took about¬†12 hours total round-trip, so we arrived back in Reykjav√≠k as the sun was setting, just in time to enjoy some whale for dinner – but¬† if that isn’t your protein of choice, you can decide on a more familiar option.

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