Stonehaven, Scotland

Towards the end of the trip (after having to say goodbye to most of our travel buddies), my friend Jackie and I made our way out to Stonehaven for two nights. We stayed in an adorable Airbnb right in town. It was a great place for us to unwind after the roadtrip and handful of days in Edinburgh.
There are some tasty restaurants in town; we found two that really hit the spot for us. We popped into Graingers Delicatessen for a light lunch. The sandwiches were tasty and substantial. Priced at £3-4GBP each, it was an affordable option in town.
We also visited The Bay Fish & Chips takeaway shop. We went for dinner and while there was a line, we only waited about 15 minutes. There’s no indoor seating but we were lucky enough to snag one of the picnic tables out front. We split the extra large fish and chips which was more than enough food. We could have easily split the regular sized-option and still been stuffed. At £10GBP, it was a very cheap meal and some of the best fish and chips I had while on the trip.
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We devoured our meal so quickly that there was no time for photos.
I think my favorite part of Stonehaven was the coastal walk to Dunnottar Castle. There is a path from the south end of town that continues to the castle. It was one of the most breathtaking hikes we took on this trip. We didn’t go into the castle as it was closing soon after we arrived so we sat and enjoyed the view instead. We also walked along the beach in town and out on the harbor. Stonehaven was a lovely last stop in Scotland.

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Stonehaven, Scotland

Guadalajara, Mexico

Guadalajara is not a pretty city in the conventional way but it has a lot to offer visitors. The city is large and sprawling. And in the four days that I was there with two friends, I did not get to see nearly as much of it as I would have hoped but that means I have lots of exploring to do when I return.

 

We stayed at an Airbnb near Parque Alcalde. The apartment was very nice and had a balcony which we took full advantage first thing in the mornings and then again in the afternoons when we needed a rest from wandering the city streets. I cannot recommend this Airbnb host enough. He was so accommodating, helpful, and gave us some great information on the city. And he has multiple properties in Guadalajara to choose from.
We had originally planned to stay near Avenida Chapultepec Norte and thus found bars and restaurants to check out in that neighborhood. We dined at El Sacromonte and I would highly recommend it. I had steak in a delicious sauce for around $250MXN.  We also wondered down the way and split a bottle of wine at Romea. It was very chic and a bit on the expensive side (our bottle of wine cost $730MXN) but a nice treat to sit outside on a nice evening and enjoy some delicious wine. Later during our long weekend, we went to Pigs Pearls in the same neighborhood. We needed a break from traditional Mexican food and grabbed burgers. Lunch (a burger and a glass of wine) was perfect change of pace and only cost $85MXN.
We definitely ate a lot of food while we were in Guadalajara and it seems as though the street food was easier to find at night than during the day. Much like anywhere else, I would recommend if you’re eating street food find vendors that are busy with locals, saddle up, and eat everything. We did eat in the mercado in the city center one day for lunch and it was delicious. Also, we are here during Lent in the Catholic faith and there were a lot more fish options than I would have thought we’d find. Hopefully this is not just during the Lenten season but is all year round.
Usually when I sit down at any sort of food vendor in which prices are not listed, I ask what the prices are. But I found in Guadalajara that when I didn’t ask first, all of the prices were perfectly acceptable and I never had any issues with people over charging me. This might be because I speak enough Spanish to order food and ask questions. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. And while a lot of people here do speak English, I think that it was easier for everyone when I used my small amounts of Spanish.
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This torta ahogada (the drowned torta) included pork, cabbage, onions, and a tart tomato sauce.
We also ate at a little place called Casa Mitote which serves Oaxacan dishes. It was so delicious and were so glad that we caught them on a night when they were actually opened.
We attended a performance by the Jalisco Philharmonic while we were in town. The music was just lovely and tickets were very affordable. We had wonderful seats in the center of the theater for $220MXN each.
We also visited Tlaquepaque on a Saturday which was a nice break from the city. It was also a great place to shop for locally-made crafts. Some of the items that we found here were very similar to other items we found in Oaxaca but at cheaper prices.
Few locals had amazing things to say about taxi drivers so we opted to use Uber when we needed to get around the city and could not walk the distance. We took one from our Airbnb to the city center and it cost about for $2USD one way. There are currently two train lines that serve parts of Guadalajara but since we were not here very long and we tend to walk a lot of places, we did not take advantage of the public transportation.
I also visited the Panteon de Mexquitan cemetery one afternoon. The architecture and stone work of the mausoleums was beautiful though some where in sad states of repair. I really enjoyed wandering the quiet paths and reflecting on this cities history and its people.

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Guadalajara, Mexico

Santorini, Greece

My friend Rheanna and I spent two days on Santorini. We were skeptical about our visit because of the high profile of the island. We stayed in Fira because it is so centrally located and we had limited time on the island. It’s definitely not a beautiful town, but it worked for our needs. We stayed at the Fira Backpacker’s Place. We booked a private room through Airbnb.com. For $71USD a night, it is one of cheapest places to stay on the island.

The town of Oia is worth visiting and is the quintessential Greek town. If you are going for the day, I highly recommend going early in the morning before it gets too busy. Keep in mind it is incredibly expensive compared to other Greek islands and towns. The rest of the island has a lot to offer so don’t spend all your time and money there. We visited a few of the wineries (check opening hours if you’re there outside of the tourist season), hiking trails, and beaches. The bus system was very helpful, somewhat easy to use (with little help from the drivers), and was the only cheap thing on the island.

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We used the buses to get to some of the wineries on the island as well. We took the bus towards the airport/Kamari. On the route back, it stops near the town of Exo Gonia. There are a handful of wineries that are walking distance from each other. We visited Art Space Winery and Estate Argyros as well as Artemis Karamolegos, which also has a restaurant. Here is a link that helped us find all of the wineries.

 

 

 

Santorini, Greece

Naxos, Greece

We took a ferry from Kea to Naxos. We had planned to stay five nights and use Naxos as a base camp to visit one or two of the small Cyclades Islands. Neither of these plans went accordingly. The first night we were there, we stopped into the travel agency (which is also where you buy ferry tickets). I asked about getting to and from one of the small Cyclades Islands. I was told that, at this time of year, I could not get to and from any of these islands (Iraklia, Schoinousa, Koufonisi, etc.) in the same day. When I tried to ask more questions, I was rebuffed and simply told no. This was not the helpful or positive information I was looking for. Then, on the fifth night of our stay, we discovered there would be a ferry strike for the next two days. However, between these two unfortunate pieces of information, we thoroughly enjoyed the island of Naxos.

We stayed in the Old Town at an Airbnb.com for about $89 a night. While this was more expensive than I would have liked, it was a great location. We felt like we were living in a piece of history as the apartment was built into a structure that is centuries old.

We found some amazing little restaurants and bars in the Old Town of Naxos. One such restaurant has a logo of two fat men drinking. Even though we had dinner there three times, I never learned the name of the restaurant, but it was consistently delicious and I can highly recommend the meatballs and the carbonara pasta. Follow the signs; you’ll be happy you did. We also frequented a bar called Elia. It is in the Old Town and has a red door. It may look closed, but keep trying. The wine options are lovely and not your average young, Greek wines, especially when it comes to the reds. Also, the bakeries around town, even near the port, are great spots to grab a filling snack like spanikopita for around 2-3€.

When we ventured out of the Old Town, we found Nostimon Hellas among many other shops and restaurants. The restaurant takes a creative spin on Greek food and the service was very friendly.

We rented a car for two days while on the island. We drove to a few other towns and spent an afternoon hiking between five towns. We used this link to plan one of the hikes.

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A view from our hike around Naxos.
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After hiking, we stumbled upon this abandoned building complex that was covered in extremely beautiful graffiti.

The hiking route was well-marked once we were on the trail. When looking for other hiking trails and information on things to do around the island, these two websites were very helpful.

http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/naxos/
http://www.thisisnaxos.gr/eng/page.aspx?itemID=SPG1

Naxos, Greece

Kea, Greece

After a week on the mainland, my friend Rheanna and I returned the rental car to the airport and caught a bus to Lavrion. When I read online that you had to take a bus to the town of Markopoulos, I was concerned that we wouldn’t know where to catch the following bus to Lavrion. In actuality, it was quite easy. The bus stop for the KTEL (suburban buses) was outside the airport near the escalator that takes you up to the Metro line to the city. I also asked for help from the tourism booth inside the airport. Once we arrived at Markopoulos, we hung out and waited for the next bus. We weren’t at a bus station, just a corner in town where all the buses stop. The whole trip took under an hour, not the 2-2.5 hours that we were told. Check out this link for the bus schedule. I was surprised to find that the buses in Greece were on time consistently. I can’t say this would be true in high season, but it was in October.

We spent two nights on Kea in an Airbnb.com in the very small town of Otzias about 5.5km from the port town. We knew the buses were no longer running so we grabbed a taxi for 8€ to get there (after buying provisions in town).

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The view from our room rented through Airbnb.com.

In my opinion, Kea was too small to really need a car/pay for a rental car but being there longer without bus service would have been tough. We spent one day hiking the footpaths that, while not well marked, were enjoyable–taking us through pastures, over rock walls and fences, and sometimes into farmers’ backyards. The routes are marked, but we didn’t see any markers until a few hours into the hike. I used Google Maps and the location feature on my smartphone to help us along (thanks T-Mobile global coverage!). We hiked 2.5 hours up to the town of Ioulis, the capital of the island. It had more restaurants and shops then we expected, though a lot of them were closed this late in the year. We grabbed lunch and then headed down to the port town of Korissia. We grabbed an early and cheap dinner in Korissia (location coordinates 37.658647,24.311807). The gyros were 2€ each and the wine was cheap at 3€ for a half carafe.

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Along the way, I took a moment to turn around and look back on how far we had hiked.
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We didn’t find many of these trail signs, but here is what they look like.

In summary, I would recommend visiting Kea but before the buses stop running at the end in September. You could easily spend a few days hiking from town to town and swimming in the small bays around the island. Also, this site seemed to have the most accurate ferry schedule including the changes in low season.

Kea, Greece

Kalamata, Greece

After our Bulgarian adventures, we flew to Athens to meet our friend, Rheanna, for a few days of travel. We rented a car at the airport and headed for the town of Kalamata. We stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb.com for $75USD a night. The apartment was a 10 minute drive to Kalamata’s town center and five minutes down to the beach. While it was hard to find, it had an amazing view.

The view from our apartment was stunning.
The view from our apartment was stunning.

While in town, we ate at the Oino Cafe. Three of us shared five small dishes and drank wine for about 10€ each. It was delicious and a great change from traditional Greek dishes.

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Kalamata has a nice pedestrian area for shopping as well as a strip of bars and restaurants for hanging out at night. There are a handful of souvlaki shops with delicious pitas as well as very friendly staff. At about 5€ for a pita and a drink, they are great places for a good, cheap meal out. Kalamata definitely had lots to see and we definitely didn’t see if all. Check out the Kalamata page on Wikitravel.org for more information.

Kalamata, Greece

Bulgaria on a budget

When my husband and I started researching Bulgaria, we were excited about all of the places to see and things to do. We were also delighted at the affordable prices on hotels, rental cars, and attractions. In fact, a lot of fortresses, monasteries, etc. were free to enter. Despite our research, we were shocked at how cheap the costs were once we were on the ground.

We had budgeted $70USD a night for hotels, guesthouses, and apartments on Airbnb.com. The actual cost per night was closer to $40USD. We had budgeted about $60USD per day for food and drinks for both of us; that was a high estimate. Our first few meal portions were so big that we started sharing meals. Instead of each ordering a main dish, we would split a meat dish, add a veggie, and a salad or soup and be completely full at the end. We ended up spending closer to $30USD a day on food and booze. And with bottled beer costing 2-3BGN, we felt like we hit the jackpot. For those who like whiskey (as I do), check out Bulgaria’s Black Ram whiskey. I tend to order it with a Coke. While it’s not served together like a cocktail, they do give a hefty pour of whiskey (50ml is considered the small portion) and a small bottle of Coke. On average, this drink order cost $4BGN; not bad for a good, stiff drink!

Having learned about 100 words of Bulgarian (including words for Bulgarian foods) definitely made the trip more affordable and enjoyable. Reading Cyrillic is difficult, but it helped us feel more comfortable walking into an establishment where an English menu or asking questions in English were not options. Furthermore, 100 words of Bulgarian definitely endeared us to locals more than having no Bulgarian words at our disposal (though I am sure we were embarrassing ourselves constantly).

Bulgaria on a budget