Luxe Travel: Business Class Comfort on Blue Star Ferries

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The interior of the Business Class Lounge on the Blue Star Ithaki, Blue Star Ferries 

Headed to the Greek Islands on Blue Star Ferries? A Business Class ticket is worth every extra euro. When I traveled to Syros, a Business Class ticket on the Blue Star Ithaki was about €12 more than an unassigned Economy Class ticket. A nominal fee for guaranteed comfort, in my opinion.

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The view from the Business Class Lounge on the Blue Star Ithaki.

By the time I had my Business Class ticket in hand and boarded the ferry, the late arrivals with Economy Class tickets were having a hard time finding places to sit. I quickly bypassed the madness and headed to the quiet, spacious luxury of the Business Class lounge. I found a couch and table, ordered a green tea from the waiter, and made myself at home for the next 4.5 hours. Nobody sat in my immediate vicinity, which gave me ample space to spread out.

Travel Tip: Each ferry has a different layout, so know before you go or ask at the ticket kiosk. 

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Breakfast and Tea: Waiter service is offered in the Business Class Lounge, Blue Star Ithaki

On the way back to Piraeus, I purchased another Business Class ticket on Blue Star Ferries. Feeling hungry, I took advantage of having a waiter and ordered dinner from the a la carte menu at my table. Then I took advantage of that long, spacious couch to nap and didn’t wake up until we were docking in Piraeus.

I give Business Class on Blue Star Ferries two thumbs up for travel comfort!

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The Blue Star Ithaki arriving in Syros, Greece 

8 Tips for Visiting Thomas the Train at the Discovery Cube

A few weeks back, I was making the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles on 1-5 when I noticed the Discovery Cube in Orange County is currently hosting a Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails exhibit. This hands-on Thomas playground is in Santa Ana from October 4, 2014 to January 4, 2015. If your child loves Thomas and trains as much as our Little Guy, he or she will be in choo-choo heaven.

Our two-year old son loves Thomas and we hear about this train and his adventures nearly every waking moment of the day. When it’s time to sleep, we read the Little Guy a bedtime story, typically Goodnight Thomas, and tuck him into bed with his beloved Thomas the Train. Clearly, we couldn’t have picked a better exhibit for our first visit to the Discovery Cube!

If you’re considering checking out this exhibit with your kids, here are a few tips based on our personal experience:

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1. Parking: The Discovery Cube Orange County in conveniently located off I-5 next to a Westfield Mall. There’s construction happening around the museum. so parking is limited. Thankfully, we had no trouble finding parking at the nearby mall and the walk over was easy.

2. Lunch and beer: We stopped for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoyed a beer before heading over to the Thomas & Friends interactive exhibit. The mall has a number of restaurants and a food court, all within walking distance to the Discovery Cube.

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3. Weekends are crazy: If you do decide to visit the Thomas & Friends exhibit on a weekend, just know what to expect. We went on a Saturday afternoon and it was crowded until about 30 minutes before closing time. All the kids love playing with the giant train set, but unfortunately there aren’t enough trains for everyone. This can lead to attempted train grabs and tears. Be prepared.

4. Visit on a weekday and call the Discovery Cube before you go: Asking is an easy way to avoid the crowds.

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5. Bring the camera! You’ll get some great pictures of your little one exploring his or her favorite world. Grandma is expecting a photo!

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6. Stop glancing at your phone and get hands-on with your kid: I can’t believe the amount of parents I saw looking at their phones and completely ignoring the kids. This is family time!

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7. The exhibit is perfect for Thomas lovers of all ages: While our guy is a bit young to rebuild Percy’s wobbly wheel, he still had fun messing around with the parts and getting up close with another favorite choo-choo.

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8. Beware the departure tears: Have that bribe ready or another activity lined up that excites them… it’ll make your departure so much easier.

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#ImAnAthenian: A morning in Athens that changed my life

Taking in the city from a sidewalk café.

#ImAnAthenian Athens Sidewalk Cafe

As a tourist with limited time, it’s tempting to rush from museum to landmark and back to another museum. Yes, you’ve checked a plethora of things off your Athens Bucket List, but have completely missed experiencing the soul of Athens, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Europe.

“Athens, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Europe.”

On my first morning in Athens, I left my accommodations on the early side to have an opportunity to explore the streets and watch the city come alive for the day. I roamed the streets around Monastiraki and found myself drawn to an empty sidewalk café. I ordered a thick, strong Greek coffee and resisted the urge to ask for the WiFi password. Instead, I sat in silence and watched the square go from quiet to a bustling thoroughfare of commuters and visitors. I noticed that despite the area being popular with tourists, it had a distinctly local feel. Athenians, young and old, would stop to greet neighbors and exchange a few words. A group of women found their way to the café to meet friends for coffee. I’d get friendly greetings as they’d walk by to join their friends. “Yes, I’m an Athenian too!” I felt at the core of my being.

“…despite the area being popular with tourists, it had a distinctly local feel.”

Eventually, I found myself chatting with the owner about economics and the current state of tourism in Athens. Kostas told me about how his business struggled with the economic crisis, when weary travelers avoided Athens due to sensationalized media reports. Today, things are looking up and he affirmed “You can’t let news from 3 year ago affect where you travel today.” He continued, “Things have always been fine for tourists [regarding safety] in Athens, but unfortunately the media wants to sell news and it’s not good for the rest of us.” He urged me to spread the word and bring more tourists to Athens.

“You can’t let news from 3 year ago affect where you travel today.”

#ImAnAthenian sidewalk cafe

It’s fascinating how after an hour at a café in gorgeous Athens, the cradle of western civilization, I felt the embrace of my newly adopted city. It was only the first morning, but my mission for the week was abundantly clear: To grasp the pulse of the city and encourage more tourists to consider Athens as a destination.

“…I felt the embrace of my newly adopted city.”

The following week, as I was preparing for my departure from Greece, I received a message on the TravelPlusWine Facebook page, “Greece is very high on my bucket list…and your pictures and posts put it even higher! Safe travels home!”

“Greece is very high on my bucket list…and your pictures and posts put it even higher!

Although Athens might not see a flood of tourists tomorrow, the medium to long-term trickle effect of posting pictures and messages about Athens across blogs and social media channels, promises to be huge. #ImAnAthenian is emotional and the feeling is in the air… spreading across the globe, in part, thanks to a dynamite group of #TBEX bloggers.

“#ImAnAthenian is emotional and the feeling is in the air…”

Welcome to Athens! It offers visitors a 6,000-year history of worldly significance and glory. Today, the city is inviting us to become a part of its history. Yes, #ImAnAthenian. And I can’t wait to return.

“Today, the city is inviting us to become a part of its history.”

Video tour of my room at the Thermae Sylla Wellness Hotel

I’m still dreaming about my few days of rest and relaxation at the Thermae Sylla Spa Wellness Hotel in Edipsos, Greece. The island of Evia was easy to reach from Athens (only 3 hours by bus) and the check-in process was quick. Here’s a video tour of my room on the 4th floor of this 5-star spa resort:

 

What did I appreciate most about my room at Thermae Sylla?

  • The plush King bed
  • A powerful hairdryer
  • Power outlets conveniently located for electronics
  • Quality bath products
  • The bathrobe and slippers
  • A nice bath/shower with good water pressure
  • A safe for my passport, money, electronics, etc.
  • The welcome fruit and fresh flowers
  • Evening turn-down service

I also took a few photos of my room:

*** A special thanks to Thermae Sylla Wellness Hotel for hosting me! All opinions are my own. ***

How to deal with getting sick when traveling

It’s bound to happen sooner or later… you have to deal with getting sick when traveling. Here’s my story with a few tips. I hope you find it helpful!

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Centrally located accommodations with a view.

Syros was my first destination on my recent trip to Greece. I traveled to Athens from Los Angeles via Frankfurt and caught a few hours of sleep in Piraeus before catching an early morning ferry. By the time I arrived on the island of Syros, in addition to being exhausted from jetlag, I had a full-blown cold and cough. I was forced to rethink how I wanted to spend my solo-vacation. It came down to either forcing myself to go through the motions of sightseeing or mindfully resting to be well for the next leg of my journey.

I wish I could regale you with tales of wine and adventure on this majestic island. Instead, I chose to listen to my body and rest. I was so glad I did because it gave me the healing and energy needed to make the most of my time at #TBEX in Athens and later at Thermae Sylla.

Over the course of my four nights in Syros, I had time to consider the lessons of how to deal with getting sick when traveling. Here are a few tips:

Learn your local resources.

It doesn’t hurt to let your hotel reception or property host know you’re feeling under the weather, especially when traveling alone. They are an excellent recourse and it’s comforting to have someone watching your back, just in case. They’ll save you time by giving you directions to the nearest pharmacy (no aimless, lost wandering when you’re sick!) and recommending easy food options like take-out or even delivery.

  • My AirBnB host recommended a wonderful restaurant in town that specializes in home-cooked meals to go. I would buy enough for several meals and reheat in my apartment.

Assess what you want out of travel.

Do you want to see as many things as possible and sleep when you get home? Or, are you traveling to relax and be well rested when you return home? Once you understand your motivation, you’ll have a better understanding of how you should deal with getting sick when traveling.

  • My life at home is busy, so I embraced the relaxation.

Attitude is everything.

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How to deal with traveling when sick: Comfortable space is an important part of the healing process.

Not feeling well when you travel is a huge disappointment, especially when you’ve spent the money and used valuable time to fly around the world for an experience.  But remember: Your attitude can make or break the trip.

  • At first, I found myself frustrated by misfortune, but soon realized the good fortune to be traveling alone and not have anyone else to fend for but myself. I didn’t need to force myself to go sightseeing for the sake of another person.

Listen to your body.

If you give your body a day or two of rest, will it make the rest of the trip enjoyable? Do you need to see a doctor? What are your energy levels?

  • By my last day on Syros, I had regained my strength, spirit, creativity, and adventure. I took a long walk, got some work done, and was able to get started on a creative project. I resisted the urge to hop across the island for a hike, giving myself this one last day for a full recovery. Because of this, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my stay in Greece.

Space is important.

Maybe it’s mental, but surroundings help with the healing process. Beautiful, comfortable accommodations trump a dingy hotel with no view and an uncomfortable bed.

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I had all I needed to nurse myself back to health when traveling.

  • Whenever I book accommodations, especially when it’s for more than a night, I almost always take a look at the photos of the space (from other travelers), reviews, and video (when available). Knowing I was spending multiple nights in Ermoupolis, I looked for an apartment with a view and a comfortable living space. Of course, when I booked, I couldn’t foresee I’d be sick, but the beautiful space and view helped with the healing process as well as restoring my spirit.

Hot water is a lifeline.

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No matter where you travel, it seems tea and instant soup are a staple. Dealing with getting sick when traveling is more comfortable when you have access to a coffee maker, stove, microwave, or electric kettle. Traveling with a beverage heater doesn’t take up much space and can come in handy (while saving money) whether you’re sick or not.

  • If I’m on a car trip, I’ll pack my electric water kettle.
  • Otherwise, check in-room amenities when booking to see if it comes with any of the aforementioned items.

Always travel with the “sick kit” basics.

Vitamins, pain relievers, antacids, Nyquil, and Pepto-Bismol should always be in your bag. With that being said, most places in the world have pharmacies, so don’t feel the need to bring your entire medicine cabinet.

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Being sick when traveling led to the discovery of these delicious Greek cough drops

  • Save space by traveling with pills instead of liquid. I also put them in well-labeled Ziploc bags.

How do you deal with getting sick when traveling? Share your tips…

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