#travelhacks to Kythira (and, by large, to any other Greek island)

This Monday marks the beginning of the last full-blown week of summer. Next Friday autumn officially kicks in. (Can you believe?!) It was a great summer for me. I was blessed with a chance to swim in the waters of Greece, Tunis, Adriatic Sea (Croatia and Montenegro) and, just a few weeks ago, at the feet of the Korean peninsula, in the strait of the Pacific Ocean between the Sea of Eastern China and the Japanese Sea. Idly laying on the beach, listening to the music of the waves, playing with sand and breathing in, greedily, the salty breeze, I was contemplating the ranking. Mediterranean Sea, to me, will always be the best. And the bingo on available flights, amazing food, scenery of all kinds and – relatively, depending on the island! – relatively sane prices is Greece.

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The coast of Kythira, Greece, savage and free

Here goes to this summer paradise – #travelhacks to Kithyra. Most can be applied to pretty much any other Greek island with understandable exception of Mykonos and Santorini.

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Dreamy and Savage: Kythira Beaches

One of these days, I sent Sophie a work-related email and got her (all-related) auto-reply. “I am OOF enjoying the Greek islands”, it says. Right, the Greek islands.

Kythira is the opposite of Mykonos: lavish green instead of sunburnt yellow, solemn and empty instead of busy and packed, rural instead of commercialized. (It is also about one third price of its well-known contender, which is worthy of consideration in the middle of summer). I love Mykonos too, it is just a very different kind of holiday: festive and trendy instead of quiet and authentic. The only common point between the two is the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean will always be the best sea in the world for me. And I keep on thinking, all the world known islands on this sea: Mykonos, Sardinia, Santorini and Ibiza, of course, used to be like Kythira some fifty years ago. Pure, savage and empty, open only to the eyes of people who wanted to wander into the unknown looking for beauty.

Diakofti beach, the one with the only 4 star hotel on the island, Kythira Golden Resort, is the Côte d’Azur of the island. Is it primarily famous for its white sandy shores, the only beach of this kind on Kythira. The ship, sank according to the hotel owner, by the drunk Russians and now the famous landmark of the island, is a pleasant sight. Diakofti is also known as the best family destination, so we admired it for a moment and kept on driving.

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Diakofti beach, Kythira, Greece

Here is a sacred map of the islands’ treasures. I kept it because there is no chance of getting a better one on the island (or maybe even another one). Given to us (as you can see by a subtle product placement) by the same lady at the same hotel, it has all of Kythira’s beaches: the stony and hidden Chalkos, the lively and touristic (if the word touristic is applicable to Kythira at all) Kapsali. There is Firi Ammos (two of them, actually) with its secret lake Kaki Lagada and Kaladi with its 150 stairs. And Avlemonas, with gorgeous and unusually deep waters, surprisingly cold in early June.

Kythira Map

I would keep the map, too, if I were you: it also has the island’s best restaurants on it.

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Kythira: The Pristine

– Pigeon, where should we go this May? – I was jumping with excitement anticipating our annual trip with Sofia the way a small black car jumps on MyTaxi app when an order is confirmed. (I remember one friend asking us: “But why, why do you call each other pigeon?” The world might never understand best friends but together, best friends will understand the world.) – How about Malta? I have never been.

– I have been, I would go again… What about Spain? Check out the top beaches I sent you.

– Spain, mmm… – Somehow I have never connected with Spain. I love Barcelona – but then we already went there together, – had a good time at Tenerife (more than a decade ago, running away from November in Finland), and was absolutely not impressed by Madrid. And Madeira. – Or we can go to Montenegro. You know, because when else would we have an opportunity to travel there on an exploratory mission, and who else would sign up for it?

Or I can take you somewhere romantic, where the green dissolves in the blue, a place with gorgeous beaches, nature, waterfalls and serenity. And the Greek food, of course. Like Kythira.

A few weeks later we were boarding what turned out to be a very small plane (with barely any luggage head space, a note to a savvy traveler) to Kythira, a tiny island a short flight away from Athens.

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Wandering in the forests of Kythira, Greece

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Tunis: The (Hidden) Gems

A promised sequence of Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things: The (Hidden) Gems. The hidden gems of Tunis are its restaurants (at least, three of its restaurants) and the biggest mosaics museum in the world, Le Bardo.

The surprising fact is that restaurants are not a big part of the Tunisian culture (coffee shops, on the contrary, are). Food is big in Tunis but people mostly eat at home, cook at home, buy already prepared delights for home and entertain at home. An exception to that are sandwich shops, which are many, (apparently) delicious and as diverse as a sandwich shop can be. That’s why I have marveled that much at Dar El Jed, Fondouk El Attarine and The Cliff.

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Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things

The first thing that the mind links with Tunisia is the sea. This post is not about it. Well, not exactly. The sea has been been such a great power in the country’s history, culture and soul that Tunisia is unthinkable without the sea. This post is about the the capital, Tunis. I have decided to split it into two parts: The (Obvious) Great Things and The (Hidden) Gems.

The things Tunis is best known for are Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and The Souks. Why talking about them if they are so well-known? They are still stunning.

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One of the famous blue doors of Sidi Bou Said, Tunis

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#travelhacks to Bali

I am launching a new category on A Girl with Geography: #travelhacks. Travelhacks are the most useful travel tips I got before taking off to my new adventure – or the things I wish I knew before I went. All gathered in one place, a shortcut to your greater travel experience.

I will start with Bali, a place I put on my travel map a few weeks ago. I loved my time in Bali, and largely thanks to the great travel advice I got from all of you before going (and while being) there.

  1. Fit in between. The second best travel advice I got on Bali was to go there mid April: just after the rain season ends and the main tourist season starts. From Google maps, Bali seems like a pretty manageable place distance-wise, with some 15-50 km between the key sights. Only that it might take you more than 1h to make these 15 km, and that’s outside of the main tourist wave! If you don’t want to spend much of your time stuck in traffic, come before everyone else does. The prices are better, too. Which leads me to the next point.
  2. Don’t even think of driving there on your own, especially with a car. That was the best advice I have got, and I am forever grateful for it. Not only there are traffic jams that can only be cut through some 1 lane path through the rice fields for both ways traffic, not only the driving is on the left side of the road, not only the cars compete with scooters which all the foreigners think they can ride. Not only the roads are narrow and live by its own rules. They are often closed because of the religious ceremonies which happens all over the country in its numerous temples, leaving you the rice field road or the mountain road as an alternative option. So really, don’t. Instead, take a driver for as much as 45 EUR/ day, tolls, car fuel and pathways knowledge included.
  3. Bluebird is the only legal taxi company in Bali. So if you need to take a cab (for example, when you are going to a restaurant in a city you are staying), ask for this one. (Do the same to come back from that restaurant.) Everything else might charge you wildly. There is a Bluebird desk in Denpasar International Airport, so take it from there. Uber works, too, but is not accessible in all the areas: for example, in Jimbaran, the beach with the most stunning sunsets, the closest you can get with an Uber is a 10 min walk from the beach. But then, you can’t get there with the Bluebird taxi, too. The only way to get out of Jimbaran is its own hijack taxi – so negotiate. And be tough. P.S.: Uber is charging 26,000 IDR, or something around 3,5 EUR for 1 hour of waiting: an option you might want to use.
  4. You don’t need a visa for a stay less than 30 days. Even if the official websites, slightly outdated, say that you do. I have diligently passed by the Visa counter on arrival to learn that. Just go to the Immigration.
  5. Chose location to chose experience. There are two main resort areas in Bali: Seminyak and Nusa Dua, both with the beaches. Most of the familiar hotel names are concentrated there, with the exception of the Four Seasons, stashed on the slopes with boutique hotels and small villas, away from the sea. Unless you surf, sea is not really the reason to come to Bali and pools are usually a better choice (never thought I would say that). However, Nusa Dua and Seminyak provide for spacious green areas with increased security (and fountains on every corner), which cater to tourists only. Arguably, you won’t experience the real Bali (think little cozy streets with street side cafes, bars filled with music and locals, massage salon on every corner) there, but you will also be free from everything that comes with it (think traffic jams, compromised air conditioning and no pools/ small pools). Your call.
  6. For fruit juices, go for local and ask for no sugar. Apparently, Bali people think that life is better with some sugar in it (a lot of sugar in it, actually), and generously add it to the tea, coffee and fruit juices. (Sort of how the Americans feel about ice.) Ask to free your juice from it to feel the flavour, and go for the local fruits: mangos (depends on the season), coconut, melon, watermelon, papaya (if you like papaya, of course). Orange is not a local fruit, and orange juice might well be not what you have expected. Fruit smoothies are great, too. A personal favourite is mango.
  7. Stock on wine. In general, alcohol is a doubtful substance in Bali, as everything foreign to locals and catered mostly to tourists is. Cocktails can be pure ethyl and wine… At best, wine will be very expensive – think 4-5 times the price you would pay in Italy or France (for Italian or French wine, if you are lucky enough to find it). Australian wine is usually ok, even though even Australian wine starts at around 30 EUR/ bottle (in a supermarket that is). We found a decent local white wine for 20 EUR (from the winery shop in Bali Collection, a shopping complex in Nusa Dua). You get the idea.
  8. Pet the Luwak. Luwak wild cat, the main source of the expensive coffee in Bali (and probably the most expensive coffee in the world because of the way it is made, more on that later) is pictured as a savage animal at coffee plantations where it is kept in a cage (though the owners promise to rotate Luwaks and keep each animal locked for no longer than 3 months). However, the sunset temples, especially Tanah Lot, offer you a different picture: fat and happy Luwaks the pets, sleeping all over the small cafes and letting you touch their coffee smelling fur. Still go to the plantation for the coffee and tea tasting sessions, they are great, reasonably priced and often offer fantastic views. But to cuddle the Luwak, look elsewhere. And don’t trust the image of a fierce animal.
  9. Believe in sun burn. Bali sun really burns. Even before the main tourist season. I am generally very sun resistant, tan quickly and never burn, but a few hours on the first day (with 30-50 SPF) got me waving good bye to my skin a few days later. So bring your strongest creams (a small bottle of Nivea would cost you 25 EUR from a local store) and apply generously.
  10. Do mental accounting. As in the U.S., the prices you see in Bali are never final and are subject to a local tax and service fees, which, unlike in the U.S., vary wildly (from 11 to 30%) even in the same geo location. So plan for that when spending (or planning what to spend on) – and read the fine print.

These are my travelhacks to Bali (some of them are really hard won!). In my next post, I will share my travel route and places to see in Bali. What are your travelhacks?

🙂

Cherry time in South Korea

It has been almost a year since I have this blog, and I am realising (now, looking for tags) that it does not have a single post on South Korea. Which is surprising, really, because for 13+ years South Korea remains, together with Paris, another constant in my life, a place where I always come back to. All this time it has been a home to my parents, but it is a long story, and I should tell it in one of my Chapters. For now, I’ll just say that I am in love with this place – madly and for so many good reasons. Since more than a decade, I am witnessing its rise, its growth and, now, its glory. Sometimes I even feel myself part of Korea’s success – and I am very proud of this small country and grateful for all the moments of happiness I have shared here with my family.

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Cherry blossom in South Korea

For all the 13 years (and counting), I came to experience cherry blossom for the first time this April. Cherry (in Korean, 벚나무 or “kotkot”) blossom is a narrow window of opportunity that opens up once a year for a week, sometimes two. God forbids to call it sakura here: even though, I suspect, it was planted by the Japanese, any reference to that time of military occupation of Korea spurs anger even more than half a century ago. (Another enemy is China: every sand wind or storm blows from there, as do hacker credit cards attacks). Cherry blossom is a magical time in Korea: the entire country stops working and starts taking pictures. There is a train station is a small city where my parents live, which is attracting crowds these two weeks: it literally stands in cherry trees, and every time a train is passing by, flower rain starts – to the delight of the crowd and fireworks of camera flashes. This train station was closed this year – to avoid accidents with the most enthusiastic photographers, waiting for the magic at the train rails.

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Cherry blossom in South Korea

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Cherry blossom in South Korea: the creek

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