Dublin, Ireland

And I’m back.

After wrapping up the year that was with my last post, I popped over to England for Christmas with Helen and her parents and a couple of weeks in slightly colder, slightly grayer weather than we’ve got down here in Madrid. Before returning from our holiday excursion, though, Helen and I stopped into Dublin for a couple days to ring in the new year with her friend, Carmel, and to take an all-too-brief tour of the city.

This was my first time visiting Dublin (and Ireland for that matter), so I was excited to add it to the list of visited countries. It was a brief stopover, though, so if you’re looking for tips on what to do in Dublin or wondering if I hit up your favorite Dublin hotspots, chances are this post isn’t for you.

Which is not to say I didn’t see a lot. We packed in as much as we could in our short time in Dublin.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but across a total of two full days—New Year’s Eve & Day—and a brief morning drive before our flight out on the 2nd, we managed to see Phoenix Park (twice), the Forty Foot (and the Dublin coastline), Clondalkin Round Tower (it’s both a tower and round), Temple Bar (though we didn’t stop here; as Carmel explained, “It’s a tourist area with overpriced drinks and people playing Irish music.”), and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Up above you’ll see the famous Molly Malone Statue in front of St. Andrew’s Church. Can you guess which part of the statue tourists like to touch?

New Year’s Eve in Dublin, Ireland

We didn’t go out clubbing in Dublin for New Year’s Eve, which I’m sure is a thing people do. That isn’t really our scene (or at least not mine). Instead, we stayed in with Carmel, a few bottles of wine and a fifth of whiskey. Carmel is currently hosting a woman from Ukraine and that woman’s daughter was visiting while Helen and I were there. The mother actually went out on the town for NYE, but the four of us—one American, one Brit, one Irish, one Ukrainian—stayed in, drank, ate chocolates, and discussed life.

It might not have been a Lonely Planet guide to New Year’s in Dublin, but it was a memorable night and a chance to do what I like most, hear people’s stories.

Phoenix Park

New Year’s Day involved two major stops.

The first, Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was an absolute treat. I’d never heard of it and had no idea there was this big, beautiful park right in the middle of the city. We initially drove through on the morning of NYE (before going into town for lunch) and then on the 1st, we took a walk through it. We saw the giant Papal Cross, the gate to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (that must be a prime gig), and all the deer that roam freely through the park.

The Forty Foot

Later in the day, Carmel drove us along the coast until we reached the Forty Foot. You’ve possibly heard of it because Matt Damon was photographed there not long ago going in for a swim.

The water is freezing off of the coast of Dublin, but tons of people like swimming at the Forty Foot, including Carmel and Helen (I stuck to photography duties; my hands are cold enough without submerging them in arctic waters). As it turns out, it’s a bit of a New Year’s Day tradition to take an ice dip at the Forty Foot, so we weren’t the only ones there, even though we went later in the day as the sun was starting to set.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

Before we flew out on the 2nd, another of Helen’s Irish friends, Dawn, offered to drive us around so we could see a bit more of the sites and sights of Dublin. One of our brief stops was the Kilmainham Gaol, the former prison where the UK government used to hold and execute Irish revolutionaries before the nation’s independence.

We spent a little extra time around St Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the city’s numerous ornate churches (as Carmel said when I asked her to identify one cathedral, “I don’t know, we have a lot of churches here.”). St Patrick’s is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland and, as Helen likes to say, has been around longer than my country. The famous satirist, Jonathan Swift, was at one time the dean of the church. To this day, it continues to be a central structure in Dublin’s religious culture.

There are two things I did not get to do this trip: tour the Guinness Storehouse or drink my way through the Jameson Distillery. I know, sad face. But, don’t be too bummed, because I did get to have my very first “real” Guinness (I have it on good authority from at least a dozen people that Guinness tastes best in Ireland; which, I suppose it did) and I consumed a couple liters of Irish whiskey, including Jameson, Bushmills (American Oak Cask Finish), and one or two others. I also returned with a bottle of The Busker, which I’ve yet to crack because my liver is on strike.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of things to do in Dublin that I missed, but, hey, this was my first visit and I fully expect to be back. Go ahead and sound off in the comments what I should do the next time I’m in Dublin. Until then, I always have my whiskey to take me back.

Catania, Sicily

Here concludes a three-part series with a third destination in two weeks: Catania, Sicily in Italy. After just over a week in Greece, with stops in Athens and Hydra, Helen and I tearfully parted ways with the souvlaki. But, that was okay, because our last stop overflowed with pizza, pasta, and pistachios.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

Catania, Sicily, Italy

Sicily is an island just off the tip of the “toe” of Italy’s boot (not even 10 kilometers separates them in places). Formerly a province under the Roman Empire, it, like Athens, is littered with ancient ruins. Among them is a former Roman amphitheater that sits in one of the city’s busier intersections, along with other sites sprinkled through the neighborhoods.

For much of its history, Sicily was a separate kingdom, only unifying with Italy in the 19th century. The island’s deep historical roots touch the present, from the ever-present backdrop of Mt. Etna, a volcano enshrined in ancient mythology that continues to smoke daily, to its abundance of churches and religious iconography, to its still functioning Sicilian Mafia (or Cosa Nostra).

There’s also a personal history for me. When they were first married, my parents lived in Sicily for 6 months, well before I was born. My oldest brother was a baby at the time, and I’ve long heard stories of old Sicilian women simply picking him up with my non-Italian-speaking mother unable to stop them. Sicily has long existed in family lore, so I was excited to finally see it for myself.

The Sights of Catania, Sicily

While in Catania, one of Sicily’s most popular port cities, Helen and I stayed at Diletta Oasi, a charming B&B run by a talkative Sicilian woman. She kept the kitchen stocked with breakfast foods all day round and even left us a handwritten note at one point as a means of checking in on us.

Diletta Oasi is on the edge of the city center, just a few blocks away from the Catania fish market that bustles in the morning. Steps past the fish market is Piazza del Duomo, a central square filled with some of Catania’s most popular photo spots. Among them is the Fontana dell’Elefante at the center of the square, featuring Catania’s most iconic imagery, the elephant. (Elephant statues appear all around the city.)

The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants where you can stop for a drink and enjoy the gorgeous backdrop, including the Fontana dell’Amenano.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

Also on the square is Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, one of the many Roman Catholic cathedrals throughout the city. Adorned with statues and sculptures, the church is a picturesque example of Baroque architecture. The towering dome of the Catania Cathedral can be seen from miles away.

The Churches of Catania, Sicily

Though the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata may be the most photographed cathedral in Catania, Sicily (due to its proximity to tourist hotspots), its just one of numerous impressively designed churches throughout the city. There’s a slew of them that line Via Crociferi, including Chiesa di San Francesco Borgia and Chiesa di San Giuliano. You can’t turn around without spotting a cross or statue of a saint.

For my money, the most impressive church I found was the Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena. I had just been walking aimlessly one afternoon through a residential neighborhood when I came upon this massive structure dating back to 1687.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

Inside, the church is filled with art, statues, and other stunning works of religious imagery. Paintings that depicted various saints and angels were displayed in ornate, marble altarpieces.

The most affecting room was a mausoleum dedicated to local soldiers who died in World War 1. In two alcoves, marble plaques told of the dead, while at the end of the room stood an imposing statue of an angel carrying a wounded soldier.

Adjacent to the Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena is the Monastero dei Benedettini di San Nicolò l’Arena. This enormous monastery, which took over 300 years to construct, is now used by the University of Catania. Its various rooms are used as lecture halls and along the marble-decorated hallways students read while staring out on two beautiful courtyards.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

Sure beats the study halls at Kansas University.

The Beaches of Catania, Sicily

While the architecture and sculptures of Catania made for impressive views, it’s hard to compare with the wonders nature creates.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

We, of course, had to spend some time at the coast. Our first stop was Catania’s southern beaches. A series of private beaches occupy a few miles of coastline, with free access to the water limited to random spots (we had to essentially sneak through a parking lot to get there). The major selling point of these particular beaches is the view of smoking Mt. Etna in the distance.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

As nice as those were, though, we enjoyed the coastline up north more. Admittedly less beach than rocky coastline, Catania’s northern seaside is nonetheless awash in beautiful views and natural wonders. One cool feature of the coast are the Islands of the Cyclops, 500,000-year-old rock structures made of ancient volcanic lava. Like much of the land in the Mediterranean Sea, these jagged rocks played a significant role in Greek mythology.

The real feast for our eyes was the Castello Normanno (Svevo di Aci Castello), a former Norman seaside castle that was built upon a magnificent mountain of hardened lava. An imposing mix of human architecture and natural formation, Castello Normanno is nearly 1,000 years old.

As you approach it, it simply looks like a grandly designed, but somewhat modest castle. It’s only once you descend to the rocks below (in reality, a lava beach) that you grasp the imposing form of this millennium-spanning fortress. These images of Helen standing at the base of the lava mount will give you an idea of its size (you might have to squint to see her).

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

If there was any drawback to our accomodations, it was merely that there was no easy way to get to the coast. Going south took about a half hour bus ride (we didn’t realize we needed to buy a ticket ahead of time and ended up riding for free), and going north was roughly an hour on the bus. The views were worth it.

Swimming was difficult at these northern spots, though, because the lava rocks were sharp and the water was shallow for quite a ways (we kept forgetting our swimming shoes that we originally bought for Croatia). The sandy southern beaches were much easier to swim at, but they were, again, very shallow (I walked out maybe a quarter of a kilometer before I was no longer touching with my feet).

Thankfully, we found the “Danielino surf school” that let us sit on their deck for free so Helen could slip in for a brief swim.

Overall, the coastline of Catania did not disappoint.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

The Best Food in Catania, Sicily

While the architecture and the beaches of Sicily are worth the price of admission, everyone knows the real reason to travel to Italy: the food.

Pizcaria

The first thing we wanted was, obviously, pizza. Unfortunately, we arrived in Catania at an odd time, just after 5 in the afternoon. By the time we had checked in to Diletta Oasi and headed back out for food, it was around 6 and nobody was serving pizza. Most restaurants don’t turn on their pizza ovens until 7 or 8, which makes some sense. Spain is similarly strict about when certain meals can be eaten (don’t even try to get lunch at noon at most Spanish restaurants).

We did eventually find a restaurant just up the road from Piazza del Duomo that would serve us pizza. While it was good, my first mind-blowing pizza experience came a couple nights later when we finally got to try Pizcaria in Piazza Santa Maria dell’ Indirizzo: Diavola for me, and Norma for Helen. Under a canopy of colorful umbrellas, we enjoyed Italian perfection.

On our last night in the city, I had a third pizza, a pesto-based one. It was excellent, but Pizcaria won the trip. Naturally, we had pasta a couple places, including at Al Tubo near the Castello Normanno, all of which was delicious.

One evening, we walked over to Via Gemmellaro, a rapidly developed avenue of the city that is now a promenade of hip bars and Italian and non-Italian eateries. Based on the signs hanging from balconies above the road, not all the neighbors were happy with the transformation of their street.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily
Translation: Imagine if this chaos happened under your house

Like revitalized neighborhoods in cities across Europe and the States, it’s clear from the surrounding, downtrodden areas that new development has transformed this portion of Catania into one that’s now making money (for whom, I don’t know). The gentrification vs. revitalization debate is certainly a worthy one, just not one I’m prepared to jump into here.

We went down to the area to try out a place called Vermut for, appropriately enough, a vermouth aperitivo. It was only 6:45 and we were told we had to be out by 9 because there was a reservation. We scoffed at the idea we’d be there that long; we were only having drinks, after all. But then, we smelled the food.

An intoxicating aroma was wafting out of the kitchen, so eventually we had to order something. We didn’t have a full meal there, just a couple rounds of drinks and what were essentially fancy Italian tapas. But that ended up being our dinner.

Rounding out our culinary tour were various pistachio-flavored pastries and desserts. There was the pistachio-filled croissant near the beach, and the salted pistachio gelato near Piazza del Duomo, and, finally, right before we left for the airport, a pistachio granita with brioche bread (a special shout out to the espresso granita we had one afternoon while we took shelter from the sun; think a Wendy’s Frosty, but about 2 times creamier and 10 times tastier).

Helen also partook of fresh oysters straight from the fish market a couple mornings, which she thoroughly enjoyed (not my thing). Sadly, a couple days later, her stomach got dodgy, so we won’t discuss the oysters any further.

Like Athens, Greece, by the time we left Catania, we had eaten enough food to last us a month.

Saying Goodbye to Catania, Sicily

As I mentioned, Helen had a bad stomach near the end of our trip, so on the second-to-last day, while she rested, I walked about the city solo, taking detours down random streets. That’s how I came across Chiesa di San Nicolò l’Arena.

One thing I often think when walking through the non-tourist, residential areas of many European cities is how much they remind me of parts of Brooklyn. It’s not so much that they resemble Brooklyn, it’s just a vibe. The non-trendy or picture-ready areas tend to have a similar, homey, lived-in feel. It always makes me miss NYC a bit.

They’re just normal neighborhoods where people go about their city lives, shopping at mini markets and local eateries.

But then I turn the corner at the mini market and come across a castle that’s older than America and I remember that I’m definitely not in Brooklyn.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

After two weeks, the trip ends and I return to my home in Madrid. And I immediately start thinking of all the other places I want to visit. Eventually.

Thanks for reading along on my voyage through Greece and Sicily. Next time, I’ll post some bonus photos from my Mediterranean adventures. Cheers.

Things to do in Catania, Sicily

Hydra, Greece

Welcome to the island of Hydra (alternatively, Idra, or Ύδρα). For five days, Helen and I stayed on this idyllic isle in the Aegean Sea, swimming, laying out on beaches, drinking, and eating enough food to burst. Also, playing with cats. But I’ll get to that. Here is Part 2 of our three-part trip: Hydra, Greece.

The Port of Hydra, Greece

After our first weekend in Athens, Greece, Helen and I spent five days and four nights in Hydra. We stayed at Hotel Kirki, a two-story home converted into a B&B-style accommodation. Our room included a large balcony off the back with a view of the surrounding red terracotta roofs and the towering hills that surround the main port of the island.


The Hydra Port is the first thing you see when you reach the island (by ferry). An active, commercial port, the area transforms throughout the day. Both pleasure yachts and fishing boats are docked there overnight. In the early morning, locals and delivery workers moved about, unloading shipments from boats and transporting them by cart or donkey to the various stores and eateries.

(Hydra is an island that purportedly doesn’t have cars, but we actually saw quite a few work trucks and vehicles. Tourists, though, should expect to either walk or ride a donkey.)

As the day progresses, Hydra Port becomes a tourist haven, with dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars serving both day visitors and long-timers. Additionally, there are clothing stores, souvenir shops, and food markets, providing you with essentials (and non-essentials). The port is sliced into sections by streets that lead up to the rest of the island town (Hotel Kirki is a few meters up one of those side streets, Miaouli).

Serving as the focal point of the port and a kind of visual pinpoint as you wander is the Hydra clock tower. Day or night, you can spot it, and even when you can’t see it, you’ll hear it.

Hotel Kirki’s proximity to Hydra Port turned out to be a major plus, as getting out of the town and to the various beaches on the island involved cutting through the port and turning either left or right. And the beaches were our main reason for visiting Hydra.

The Beaches of Hydra, Greece

For our birthday – yes, our; we share a birthday to Helen’s chagrin – we wanted a relaxing, even decadent day on a beach. The goal: lounging on a beach and having people bring us drinks. So we walked the half hour from Hydra Port to Mandraki Beach Resort.

It turned out Mandraki Beach Resort was the most expensive option we could have picked for renting lounge beds, but we figured, what the hell? We’ll indulge. Unlike most of the beaches we encountered on the island, Mandraki was a sandy beach (as opposed to pebbles or stones). We swam, read our respective books, napped, and had a drink brought to us, as we wanted.

Other beaches we visited included Spilia Beach Bar (our first stop upon arriving) and Hydronetta Beach, which are essentially at the port’s edge. Slightly further out (15 to 40 minutes on foot), there’s Avlaki Beach (Paralia Avlaki/Παραλία Αυλάκι), Vlichos Beach (Παραλία Βλυχός), and Vlychos Plakos Beach (Παραλία Πλάκες).

Of those last three, Vlichos Beach is the most touristy, but not in a bad way. You can rent beds for €5 and there are restaurants and cafes around so you don’t have to really leave the beach to get lunch. We ate at Taverna Marina, which turned out to not only have some of the best food we had on the island, but some of the best views too.

The Best Restaurants on Hydra, Greece

As in Athens, much of our time in Hydra was spent eating far too much food. Progressively throughout the week, we tried ordering smaller portions, but it never worked out. Appropriately, most of the restaurants on the island served traditional Greek food (if you’re hoping for Mexican or Sushi on Hydra, well, why are you there?).

For our birthday lunch, we ate at Mandraki 1800 (Μανδρακι 1800), which serves a variety of mostly seafood-based Greek dishes, including shrimp saganaki (prawns with feta) that Helen absolutely loved. Like Mandraki Beach Resort, Mandraki 1800 was nice, but pricier than other options that ended up being just as good or better.

For our birthday dinner, we ate at Sunset, which, appropriately, is positioned high above the water’s edge for spectacular sunset views. Again, the food was delicious, but the prices definitely had a View Charge added on. Our waiter was helpful and happily took our picture (“That’s my job,” he smirked when we asked), though after finishing our main course, we struggled to find him (or, really, the back waiter) for a dessert order. A manager eventually came and gave us a free dessert (a sweet Greek yogurt-based concoction) that was fantastic.

We ended up visiting another restaurant, Kodylenia’s Taverna, twice, once for dinner and another time for drinks. It overlooks the Kamini Fishing Shelter (an enclosed boat dock about 15 minutes from the port). It’s not as elevated as Sunset, but Kodylenia’s views were still some of the best we found (at a restaurant). This was a spot where we only wanted a small bite but nonetheless left stuffed. I only ordered a Greek Salad!

We didn’t have to venture far to get great food and drinks, though. Across from Hotel Kirki was Lulus Taverna, where I had what I erroneously thought would be a small souvlaki plate. On a cold and overcast afternoon, we had a cocktails-and-Shithead session at Plakostroto, the terrace bar right next to Hotel Kirki. We also enjoyed breakfast, gelato, and drinks at the various Hydra Port cafes.

One of our best meals in Hydra was on our first night, a local spot we happened upon. We had taken off from our hotel and walked up a hill, away from the port, only to find ourselves blocked by a cemetery. We could either go back or cut through the cemetery and pass through a closed gate. We chose the latter. It’s good we did because we were greeted by a stunning view of the port town from high above.

After coming down the hill, we chanced upon Giasemi Taverna (Γιασεμί). There, the woman who served us steered as toward the night’s special, roasted chicken, which, typical of our experience, was both delicious and more than we needed.

Giasemi proved to be emblematic of Hydra restaurants for another reason: we spent the meal with a squadron of cats.

The Cats of Hydra, Greece

Giasemi’s waitstaff kept coming by to shoo the begging cats away, but honestly, we enjoyed it. Like typical tourists, we fed a bit of our food to the cats, which ensured they stuck around throughout the whole meal. This became the theme of our week in Hydra.

We couldn’t turn around without spotting a cat (we made a game of pointing out every one we saw, which I’m sure annoyed any locals who heard us). Most were indifferent to us when we didn’t have food. Clearly, Hydra belongs more to its cat inhabitants than to humans.

I understand why locals find the overwhelming feline presence a nuisance, but for us, the cats of Hydra were a bonus.

Speaking of cats, we stopped by the former home of one cool cat who used to live on Hydra: Leonard Cohen. (Seamless segue). Cohen, the beloved Canadian singer/songwriter known for writing “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” and “So Long, Marianne,” lived on Hydra throughout most of the 60s and, as a result, is claimed by the island. His former residence is marked by a sign, and there’s also a Leonard Cohen Memorial Bench on the way to Avlaki Beach.

Saying Goodbye to Hydra, Greece

Our last two days on Hydra were slightly marred by a morning cold front that covered the sky in clouds and ripped through the town with gusty winds. It ruined any attempt at a beach day on Thursday (hence the Shithead tournament), though it did make for some cool photos.

On Friday, even though the clouds lifted, the strong winds had made swimming all but impossible because they brought with them a horde of unwelcome guests: jellyfish.

The water was pocked with these translucent pink monsters. As a result, even if the water hadn’t been too choppy for swimming, we were blocked from entering the sea. We made do with reading in the sun on this Grecian island. Truly a struggle.

We didn’t get much reading in, though, because about 30 minutes after we arrived at Avlaki Beach, we were engulfed by some sort of soft erotica/porn shoot. A group of young (18, maybe) boys and girls descended on the beach (literally; you climb down cement stairs to get to the water), and within a few minutes, two of the boys were dick-swingingly naked.

Eventually, a middle-aged British women arrived with a team of photo assistants and started taking pictures of the boys (and a couple girls) in various stages of undress (with a banana at some points).

(No juicy bits are visible in these photos, as far as I can tell.)

We didn’t stick around to find out if the photo shoot turned into a video shoot.

Despite our last beach day being interrupted by two different invasive swarms, we still enjoyed our final romp on the island before we had to catch the ferry back to Athens.

We both hope to go back. Five days, it turns out, is not long enough for a stay on Hydra. But, alas, we had to go, not just because we needed to see more of Athens, but because, in three days, we were flying to Sicily. More on that next time.

Athens, Greece

Welcome to Part 1 of a three-part series: Helen and my birthday/honeymoon vacation. Over the span of two weeks, we visited two countries I’d never been to before – Greece and Italy – and three cities: Athens and Hydra in Greece, and Catania in Sicily. First up: Athens, the capital of Greece and the birthplace of democracy.

Hotels and Hostels in Athens, Greece

Helen and I stayed in two different places over our two weekends in Athens, both within walking distance of the Central Municipal Athens Market (Κεντρική Δημοτική Αγορά Αθηνών): Evripides Hotel and Athens Hawks Hostel.

Both had their charms, including rooftop bars, though Evripides was a bit closer to the action (and therefore not as deep into the undeveloped area. Many reviews for Athens Hawks mentioned female solo travelers not feeling comfortable there; your mileage may vary). One of the first things that endeared us to Evripides was the views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. So omnipresent were these monuments, in fact, that we joked of being sick of seeing them. But they certainly made for awe-inspiring backdrops.

Trendy Athens

After settling in to the Evripides Hotel (our first weekend accommodations), we struck out into the city. This trip, we spent most of our time around the Psyri area exploring, eating, drinking, eating, and eating. There’s surely a dozen or more national cuisines that can claim to be among the best in the world, but Greece must be a frontrunner (Italy as well; we ate a lot on this trip).

We found ourselves in the midst of blocks of trendy restaurants and bars. It turns out Exarcheia, the neighborhood whose northern border we were staying at, is both one of the coolest neighborhoods in Athens, and one that a lot of people avoid for its scuzzy appearance and reputation for anarchy. Think Brooklyn’s Williamsburg mixed with Madrid’s Puerta del Angel.

Though there are some sketchy areas around Exarcheia (especially past its outer edges), any visitor to Athens would be missing out if they didn’t visit. In addition to the Instagram-craving cafes and novelty eateries, there’s a nearby market where you can pick up secondhand books (if you can read Greek), art, clothes, antiques, and plenty of Athens souvenirs.

On our second weekend, we branched out a little farther from Exarcheia to visit a brand new rooftop bar in the Keramikos area that had only opened a few weeks before: The High Bar. We were among the only patrons in the new establishment, and we had the best views in the house for sunset as we drank our cocktails. Stop by if you’re visiting Athens, Greece anytime soon.

The Best Food in Athens, Greece

Speaking of great Athens establishments: Athens restaurants treated us very well.

Our first meal in Athens was in Monastiraki at a restaurant clearly pitched more toward tourists, not locals. That didn’t stop the saganaki (fried cheese) from being delicious. Over four or so days in Athens, we ate quite possibly a literal ton of food in various restaurants and cafes. Not everything was life-changing, but even mediocre Greek food is delicious.

We had multiple great meals, but I think Helen and I both agree the best food in Athens (that we tried, at least) was from O Kostas (Σουβλάκι Κώστας συνταγμα), which has served Greek street food since 1950. We each ordered a single souvlaki (or kalamaki as you might see it called): grilled meat on a skewer that is then served in a pita with vegetables and the best tzatziki sauce we had in all of Greece, which is saying something. We immediately regretted not having ordered two or three. The best souvlaki in Athens, Greece? Almost certainly.

O Kostas: The best souvlaki in Athens

Among the runner ups were Avli (Εστιατόριο Αυλή), a hidden gem of a Greek restaurant you have to seek out because it’s located on a side street (a couple blocks from the Evripides Hotel) and the signage is small. On our last full day in Athens, we also had a fantastic meal at Nikitas, and though we were basically stuffed from a week of non-stop eating, it was still a delicious mix of dolmades (rice-stuffed vine/grape leaves), pork skewers, and, of course, more fried cheese.

I also have to mention Savvas Kebab, which is a tourist spot, but nonetheless has excellent gyros and baklava. And then there was the James Joyce Irish Pub, where we were able to watch Liverpool FC win their last match of the Premiere League season surrounded by British expats and fellow travelers.

If we had any complaint about the food in Greece, it’s that we never figured out how to order a small amount. Even when we thought we were just ordering a miniscule portion, we’d end up stuffed (we weren’t going to not eat it).

The Monuments of Athens, Greece

Beyond the food, of course, Athens is known for its numerous ancient monuments, including, most famously, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Even before we left for our trip to Athens, we booked our tickets to visit the Acropolis for the second weekend. For our first weekend, we opted to visit Lycabettus Hill, which, at 277 meters above sea level, is the highest point in Athens, Greece.

We rode the cable car up to the top (itself a pretty trippy ride) and then walked about, taking pictures of the views and the Holy Church of Saint George that stands at the top of Lycabettus Hill. They were spectacular views, to say the least.

For visiting the Acropolis, we bought our tickets online (€24.50 each) and left early in the morning to try to beat the crowds, which we mostly did. We also got up there before it was too hot in the day. It was still hard to get photographs of the various structures – the Parthenon being the big one, but also the Propylaea, the Ancient Temple of Athena, the Erechtheion, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus to name most of the big ones – without fellow tourists in the background.

Regardless, the Acropolis is an impressive sight, especially considering that these ancient structures predate the New Testament. It’s nearly unimaginable that so many man-made objects could still be standing, albeit with centuries of wear and tear.

Saying Goodbye to Athens, Greece

There were plenty of other landmarks in Athens, like the Academy of Athens, that just popped up when we turned a corner. Athens is a fascinating city to walk through, mixing the ancient with the merely old and the recently revitalized. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about gentrification and what that means for the citizens, but any visitor to Athens will be in for stunning sights (and sites).

There’s, of course, much more I could write about Athens, and so much more that I didn’t see in my relatively short time in the Greek capital. But that should give you a taste. Next time, I’ll be writing about our five days in Hydra, or as we came to know it: Cat Island.

Korčula, Croatia

A week spent in Korčula, Croatia is a brilliant way to capture amazing travel photography, while getting spectacular nature shots as well. In addition to drinking beer, eating local cuisines, and going for daily swims in the Adriatic Sea, we also visited some of the smaller islands that are in the vicinity of Korčula, including Badija where there is a Franciscan Monastery, and Vrnik where we enjoyed Croatian “fast food” at Škoj.

Croatia is definitely one of those places where a photograph can’t truly capture everything that makes it special, but hopefully these few images give you a taste of what it’s like. One of the main reasons it has remained so beautiful is the country has barred private development of the beaches, so there is not excessive pollution or overdevelopment. Hopefully that will remain the case for a few more decades, at the very least.

If it’s ever a possibility, I highly recommend you check out Croatia – Korčula, in particular – and see some of the bluest seas you will ever experience.

Six Months

Months have roared passed – September, October, November, December, January, February – and I have arrived at the sixth month mark. This moment has traditionally represented a pivotal moment, the halfway point to something new, the vantage point off a mountain’s peak from which I could see where I’ve been and where I was headed next.

The View from San Francisco

In this moment, though, I do not feel like I’m on higher ground.

It has been half a year since I moved to Madrid. I have no idea what point on the timeline that represents. At the very least, I expect (hope) to be here in Madrid through next September, which means this isn’t even my halfway point. It is possible that I will stay in Madrid another year or two, or maybe I’ll move to Valencia or some other Spanish city. My intention is to spend at least two years in this country, but my intentions are subject to whims and laws (moreso the former than the latter).

I don’t have any great desire to return to the United States – though, I miss New York City terribly, in ways both obvious yet also unexpected – but that’s about all I know. There’s no denying that America is my home, and I know I will be back there, someday. Just, not yet.

Six months in, I am adrift.

Estanque y Monumento

Of my time in Spain, three of those months are three of my favorites of the year, and the other three are my absolute least favorite. My apologies to T.S. Eliot, but December through February are, in fact, the cruelest months.

On this blog, I’ve discussed quite openly my mental health: I am Bipolar II (severe depression, hypomanic episodes) with seasonal affective disorder. There is a regularity to my cycles that is simultaneously calming and infuriating. To know that a prolonged period of mental desolation is inevitable, to know it but be unable to preempt or mitigate it, is, in a word, cruel.

We all have our medications. Mine is moving.

I travel because I am alive, and I am alive because I travel. To explore somewhere you’ve never been, to begin over again in a new home, that’s to allow oneself to feel both small and enormous: a lonely stranger, yet member of a nearly eight billion-strong club. I’ve been traveling long enough to know that new scenery isn’t a magic elixir for mental illness. It is, however, a reprieve. 

Crowds at Plaza Mayor

I talk about such matters on this blog because it’s something I so rarely see discussed in this arena. Travel blogs and Instagrams are all shimmering vistas and words of infinite optimism, inspirational quotes etched over mountain ranges; people proclaiming that they quit their jobs without looking back and they have never been happier. I suppose some of them could be telling the truth. I know some of them are full of shit.

This is a hard life. Sorry to break the illusion. I don’t aim to inspire.

To travel, to step out on the wing, is to feel lost and out of control far more often than you feel certain. The doubts, the anxiety, the depression: they are companions of a constancy far greater than any friend. They travel for free and are already unpacked before you arrive at your destination 

Like life itself, traveling is a solitary endeavor, so I’m thankful for the friends who stick around, and for those who allow themselves to be vulnerable and admit their own struggles. They make the road less lonely. It is not weakness to admit you feel weak. I’ll type that up in Helvetica and plaster that on a photo, for sale in the gift shop.

Los Portadores de la Antorcha (Alcanzando)

Six months down another road. It’s still true, I don’t know where this one leads. The more I think about my future, the harder it is to see an endgame. When I was 22, I had a picture of what my life would look like; I knew it was just a dream, but at least I could envision it. Now, all I can see are all the things might life will never be. The future is unwritten.

If the past is any indication, it doesn’t really matter. All I can do is hope that I don’t run out of a fuel before I run out of time.

Sunlit Palacio