Last Stop: Athens

I realize that I never wrote about my last stop in Europe, which was to Athens, Greece. We flew there from the island of Santorini, which was only about an hour flight away. Warning: If you go to Athens in June, it is crazy hot. Many shops and restaurants close during the hottest hours in the afternoon (between 2 to 5 pm), which our Airbnb host described as a siesta-like period for Greeks.

There are many important historic monuments to check out in Athens, as well as cool flea markets and shops. As the capital of Greece and a major transportation hub, Athens is also a convenient place to do day trips from.

Here are a list of things to do (and around) Athens:

1. Acropolis of Athens

The main feature at the Acropolis is the Parthenon, dedicated by the Athenians to Athena Parthenos, the patron of their city. I highly recommend visiting this site in the morning, as it tends to be less hot since the sun hasn’t reached its full peak yet.

IMG_9112

2. Take a ferry to Hydra

Athens is close to many islands, one of them being the island of Hydra, which is located in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf. There are short hikes you can do in Hydra to some beautiful beaches, where the water is as blue and clear as the sky. A one-way ferry trip to Hydra from Athens takes less than an hour.

IMG_9424

3. Watch the sunset over the water

This is just one of those classic vacation things you must do in Greece. The photo below was taken while we were waiting at the dock in Hydra for our ferry back to Athens.

IMG_9472

4. Visit the farmers market in Athens

It’s a little hard to communicate with vendors, who for the most part only speak Greek, but the farmer market in Athens was quite an interesting and fun experience. The produce here is really cheap; for instance, I bought a large bag of plump, juicy cherries (around 3 lbs) for two euros.

IMG_8968

5. Explore Monastiraki

This flea market area is always buzzing with tourists and locals alike. There are tons of cool shops, cafes, bars, and souvenir shops to check out. I recommend trying a fish foot massage at Doctor Fish Athens, where you place your feet inside a tank and little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. The sensation was really ticklish at first, but it soon became soothing and even nice. My feet also did in fact feel softer afterwards.

IMG_9026

6. Buy some Greek sesame snacks & honey

We bought a lot of souvenirs, such as snacks and beauty products, to share with our friends back home. Most of the snacks we found in Greece contain either honey and/or sesame seeds. There were also a lot of olive oil products for sale in the markets; we bought cream and shampoo containing this ingredient, as well as some olive wood products.

IMG_9576

7. Explore Coffee Shops

During the hottest hours of the afternoon (between two to five), many shops and restaurants are closed and it also tends to get too hot to wander outside – making it the perfect time to explore Athens’ coffee shops. There are tons of really neat ones around the city, my favourite being the cozy Little Tree Books & Coffee.

IMG_8996

8. See the Acropolis at night

There are many restaurants with rooftop patios near the Acropolis of Athens, allowing guests to see the beautiful Acropolis light up at night. We visited Kuzina, as recommended to us by our local Airbnb host. This restaurant tends to get quite busy so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.

IMG_9189

9. Daytrip to Delphi

From Athens we took a day trip to Delphi, a famous ancient sanctuary about a two-hour drive away from Athens. The site is on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus, overlooking the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis. Showcasing monuments built by important ancient Greek city-statess, Delphi embodies Hellenic unity and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

IMG_9243.JPG

 

Must-Try Foods 

Not only is Greece absolutely beautiful, but the country’s cuisine is also phenomenal. From street souvlaki to grilled squid, everything I ate was incredible – and at prices that I know I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Here are some dishes you have to try when in Greece:

1. Gyro and Souvlaki

Gyro is a special Greek delicacy consisting of meat, onion, tomato and tzatziki sauce served with pita bread. The gyro meat is cooked slowly on a vertical rotisserie and is served as strips or small slices of meat. Souvlaki is also a Greek dish, but is prepared as small meat cubes and grilled vegetables on a skewer. A great place to try these dishes is at Sfika, a restaurant that serves some of the best grilled meats in the city, according to our local host.

IMG_9137

2. Greek Salad

Made with the perfect balance of feta cheese, crisp vegetables, and buttery croutons, the Greek salad at Kuzina Restaurant was absolute perfection.

IMG_9170

3. Greek Frappé Coffee

The traditional frappé coffee is a Greek foam-covered iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, water and sugar. The frappé has become a hallmark of Greek coffee culture, and is available in virtually all coffee shops across Athens. I got one at Coffee Island, which sells a real strong traditional Greek frappé for 1.10 euros.

IMG_9144

4. Asian Greek Fusion at Mr. Dim

This may sound almost silly, but this Greek Asian fusion shop called Mr. Dim served one of the best bao creations I’ve ever tasted. The tender, juicy gyros meat worked so well with the flavours of the Chinese sesame bao; even my Asian parents adored this fusion dish.

IMG_9486

5. Grilled Squid

I highly recommend the grilled squid at Smile Restaurant, a local family-run business. I normally don’t love grilled squid because it tends to be too chewy for my liking, but the texture of this one was amazing and grilled to perfection.

IMG_9533

6. Moussaka

This traditional Greek dish is either eggplant- or potato-based, and is layered with ground meat in a fashion similar to that of a lasagna.

IMG_8703

7. Koulouria Thessalonikis

These giant sesame bagel-like treats are sold everywhere on the streets in Athens for typically less than one euro. They’re deliciously chewy on the inside, and carry a fragrant toasted sesame taste – perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

IMG_8942

Happy traveling!

Advertisements

Coldplay in Toronto

Last Tuesday, I went to go watch the Coldplay Concert at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. I’ve heard amazing things about the band’s concerts last summer, so I was excited to go – yet I wasn’t too excited since my friends and I had bought the 500 row seats (basically the seats furthest away from the actual stage, all the way at the top of the dome.) The tickets were the cheapest we could find ($40) and we figured that we would still be able to hear the music anyways.

IMG_1840

After we arrived to the Rogers Centre and climbed an eternity of staircases to get to the our seating area, one of my friends happened to see her friend who worked at the Rogers Centre and walked over to talk to him for a little. Five minutes later, she comes back over and gushes, “I got us floor seats!!” Turns out that the people who previously bought those floor tickets got promoted to even better seats, so they were just extra tickets waiting to be given out.

If I am being completely honest, I wasn’t even sure what floor seats were (I usually cap the amount I’m willing to pay for any concert at $50.) But sooner than later, I realized that floor seats are basically where I can stand and lean close enough to touch Chris Martin’s arm.

21125035_10211547595020167_286084460_o

The concert was absolutely surreal, one of the best that I had ever been to. The band sounded amazing live, and I loved the graphics that went along with the different songs too.

21104465_10211547595060168_1723640026_o

The best part was that they gave each attendee a wristband that lights up in coordination with different songs. Looking around and seeing all the wristbands twinkling all throughout the arena was absolutely captivating.

21122844_10211547594980166_1932571073_o

I still can’t believe that it’s possible to randomly get promoted to floor seats from the 500’s, and I am so, so grateful for that guy whom I know nothing about except his name (THANK YOU NATHAN). Coldplay gave such a phenomenal performance; next time I will surely be willing to spend more than I had previously planned to on their concerts (haha).

8 LA Things to Do

There are some things in life you can only ever experience in Los Angeles, such as movie screenings inside a cemetery, or a food market where people line up for almost half an hour to eat deep fried shrimps from the inside of a pineapple. Either way, here are some things that I think are worth experiencing while in La La Land.

1. Cinespia

Cinespia is an outdoor movie screening in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (yes, a cemetery). The shows almost always sell out every week, and people often get to Cinespia right when gates open to reserve a nice spot for the movie. Visitors bring either their lawn chairs or their picnic blankets, as well as some wine and snacks. I even saw some people with a full-out buffet-style picnic spread.

A movie in a cemetery – I really don’t know where else you can find this.

IMG_0556

2. Rockin Roe Bowl at The Korean Mkt.

Poke has become a growing trend recently, but only in LA have I ever seen it taken to the extreme – filling rice bowls with colourful fish roe instead of the usual raw fish. I highly recommend this bowl (if you like roe), which is available at The Korean Mkt in Sawtelle. Everything else at this small shop is delicious too.

IMG_0577

3. Throwing exploding rocks on the ground in Chinatown

As we were strolling through Chinatown one evening, all we could hear was the sound of tiny explosions. They were too quiet to sound threatening, yet frequent enough to raise mild concern. We realized that a lot of children here had bought popping rocks – tiny bundles that make a small explosion noise when thrown on the ground – and were continuously smashing them on the ground all around the streets. We bought a small pack too ($0.25) to play with, since all the cool kids seemed to be doing it.

IMG_0665

4. Smorgasburg

This is basically where people get “instagrammable” food; lineups for the most popular vendors tend to have wait times anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. To be fair though, the two items that I tried (passion fruit strawberry shaved ice and Hawaiian shrimp pineapple rice) were both really delicious.

The Smorgasburg market is also in NYC, understandably.

IMG_0052

5. The Getty Center

Entrance to this stunning garden and museum is free and iPhone audio guides are also free for use. Many gardens that I’ve visited before had an entrance fee, so take advantage of this free opportunity!

IMG_0437

8. Buffet at The Dodgers Stadium

For ten more dollars than a regular ticket, you can opt to sit at the Coca Cola Pavillion at the Dodgers Stadium, where there are all-you-can-eat nachos, popcorn, hot dogs, peanuts, and bottomless soft drinks. Although the Dodgers lost the night I went, the buffet made it all worth it.

IMG_0476

Other places worth mentioning are the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday evenings for its Twilight Concerts, By Chloe for its amazing vegan “fast food,” Sqirl for its locally-sourced creative brunch dishes, and Fly Wheel, a cycle class that allows participants to compete by keeping track of their progress on a scoreboard at the front of their room.

Happy exploring in Los Angeles!

California Dreamin’

Despite it being my third time going to LA in the span of twelve months, I still love the city so much and am always able to find new things to do or new places to check out. Although I have to study while I’m here (GMAT cramming), it’s also become a good excuse to check out different cafes around the city.

Here are some of the places that I’ve visited over the past week:

On my first day in LA, we went to Melrose Avenue, which starts at Santa Monica Boulevard, at the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and ends at Lucille Avenue in Silver Lake. There are lots of cool shops, restaurants, and coffee shops all along the street, as well as cool graffiti (and the infamous pink Paul Smith wall). We went to Alfred’s Tea Room to try their Earl Grey boba tea, then settled down at Alfred’s Coffee to study for awhile.

IMG_9948

The next day, we went to Malibu Wines, a small park with nice seating area and booths selling wine tastings and bottles. Entrance is free, and visitors are welcome to bring in their own snacks. We tried a white wine flight; it’s always fun trying to decipher the different flavours of various wines. It’s not on the menu, but you can also order mimosas at the central booth in the park.

IMG_0001.JPG

After church on Sunday, we ate lunch at Smorgasburg, a market that only happens every Sunday in the DTLA area. It features really creative food vendors; we tried the Hawaiian Shrimp and a passion fruit shaved ice. Be prepared to wait in long lines at Smorgasburg!

IMG_0064

Afterwards, we studied at Verve Coffee in DTLA. This shop offers juice tasting flights, which is the ideal solution for people like me who can never decide on just one thing to order.

IMG_0102

In the evening, we went to the Grand Central Market, and ordered Thai food at Sticky Rice. This unassuming stall makes one of the best Khao Soi dishes I’ve ever had, and their portions are also quite large for the $10 price tag. We strolled around the area afterwards, and came across the majestic Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

IMG_0113

The next morning, we went to Santa Monica Beach, and I studied on the beachfront at Perry’s Cafe. It was nice being able to enjoy the hot weather and dig my feet into the warm sand while studying. Afterwards, we strolled down Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a nice street by Venice Beach with neat shops and cute cafes. A great place for ice cream on Abbot Kinney is Salt and Straw, which has really unique flavours, from olive & feta cheese to black tea & coconut stracciatella. The TOMS Flagship Store is also a great studying spot, as the back door of the store leads out into a grand patio with outdoor seating (and free WiFi).

IMG_0194

On Tuesday, we checked out Coffee Tomo in Sawtelle, which has the most amazing pretzels in all of LA. They bake them fresh, and the pretzels are so soft they almost resemble like a croissant on the inside. I recommend the sweet potato & cheese flavour, which oozes with sweet cheese and a taste of condensed milk.

IMG_0227

Afterwards, we went to Jimmy Kimmel Live in Hollywood. It was my first time attending a live filming of a TV talk show, and it was so exciting to see it all being carried out. The show has a “hype guy” who never actually appears on the show, but he’s in charge of hyping up the audience and making sure that the audience is clapping and shouting as loud as they can. By the end of the taping, my cheeks hurt so much from laughing, and my hands hurt from clapping excessively hard, but it was so much fun, and I’d definitely love to attend another one. We had to book the Jimmy Kimmel tickets a month in advance. Although the tickets are free, they run by a lottery system, so try entering for as many days as possible.

IMG_0286

In the evening, we went to the Comedy Store, which featured comedians David Spade, Tiffany Hadish, and Howie Mandel for the night. I didn’t think I could laugh anymore for the day after Jimmy Kimmel, but the comedy store was really, really good. I’d recommend it for a fun night out with some friends.

IMG_0208

With its perfect weather and endless list of things to do, Los Angeles is definitely up there on my list of favourite places in the world.