two days in athens

athens1
As I mentioned in my last blog post, the view from my room at the Athenaeum was of the Parthenon. Yes, the Parthenon. I can’t quite describe the feeling. The Parthenon is a fixture from textbooks, not something I’d ever really expect to see while lying in bed. But there you have it. If you want one of the world’s most glorious nighttime views, spend the night in one of the Athenaeum’s Parthenon-facing rooms. It is lit up at night, making it even more spectacular than it already is during the daytime.

I only spent two days in Athens and while my BF and I hustled to see the Parthenon on our first day, we simply couldn’t resist and paid another visit the following day. It was just that incredible. It was sweltering both days and it’s a bit of a climb to get to the top, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat and bring water. (I feel like I’ve provided this advice for almost every destination on this trip but it’s just imperative, especially when walking great distances in the scorching summer heat in Europe.)

There’s plenty to do in Athens but when your time is limited like ours was, you must pick and choose, especially if you want to see the Parthenon twice! When Seabourn Odyssey deposited us in the port of Piraeus, we jumped in a cab (the port is crawling with them!) and struck a deal with our cab-driver. For a pre-determined amount, he would tour us around Athens in his car for one hour. This was a great way to get a sense of the city before we set out on our own on foot.

We visited the old Olympic stadium and Hadrian’s Gate. The history here is palpable, the air is thick with it. And just like my trip to Israel, you can’t help but be humbled by it, by the knowledge that these ancient lands were the birthplace of civilizations, that our world today stems from those worlds.

Old-world history aside, I loved The Plaka, the oldest neighbourhood in Athens. Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap but the old streets are lined with restaurants for al fresco dining and all manner of shops, from big clothing stores to the boutiques of veritable artists. There’s a buzz in the early evening as tourists and locals alike descend upon the area for dinner but it’s pleasant, especially on warm evenings, to embrace (metaphorically, of course) the crowds and stroll leisurely through the streets.

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ahava: delights from the dead sea

ahavaI was just recently in Israel (I wrote about it if you missed it; check it out here) and unfortunately, I was so sick the day we visited the Dead Sea, that I missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Swimming, or floating, rather, in the Dead Sea was one of the exciting things I was looking forward to doing but when you’re sick, you’re sick! Instead, I spent the afternoon virtually passed out at a picnic table in the shade, about a five-minute walk from the sea. I just couldn’t do it.

Not only is the Dead Sea known for the fact that it’s the lowest point on earth (422 metres below sea level) and for the fact that you can’t sink in its waters (even if you’re a terrible swimmer, like me!) but the sea is believed to have major healing properties due to the mineral content of the water. Ahava is an Israeli cosmetics company that makes facial, body and skin care products using natural Dead Sea ingredients that restore skin’s health and moisture balance. Sounds good, right? The products are available in many stores but if you’re interested in trying them out, check out Bath & Body Works. The Body Delights Travel Sampler comes in airline-approved travel sizes and features a mud exfoliator, a mineral hand cream, a mineral foot cream, a purifying mud mask, mineral body lotion, a mineral shower gel, a flower mirror key chain and a white mesh lipstick case. For $12.50, how could you go wrong? Visit bathandbodyworks.com for more information.

ilana goor museum

ilana-goor-kitchenHow incredible is this kitchen? It’s in the Ilana Goor Museum in Old Jaffa, just outside Tel Aviv. The museum features an extensive collection of Ilana’s own works, (unique sculptures, furniture and other art pieces) and her personal collection of art from around the world. The pieces are a bit eccentric – not quite my cup of tea. But the space she has claimed for her museum-slash-gallery is spectacular. The old stone building, built in the 18th century is a converted hostel, now a gallery and is the artist’s part-time home. The rustic kitchen pictured here is used to cater events held out on the adjoining rooftop patio that just happens to, you know, overlook the Mediterranean. It’s worth a visit for the kitchen and the view alone. Ilana Goor Museum, 4 Mazal Dagim, Tel Aviv, Israel, Tel: +972 3683 7676.

tel aviv: streetside delights

What a great day! Walking the streets of Tel Aviv, there are visual delights at every turn. The city is in bloom and everywhere you’ll find a kaleidoscope of colour, flowers in shades that seem brighter and more beautiful than any I’ve ever seen. Bougainvillea can be found creeping along walls and fences all over the city.

bougainvillea
My day was spent leisurely strolling through the Carmel Market (Shuk Ha’Carmel), Tel Aviv’s largest marketplace. The long, winding street is lined with stalls selling everything from:

peaches
fresh fruits and veggies …

jerusalem-bagels
breads and pastries …

… clothing, DVDs and sunglasses. Carmel Market is open every day but closed for Shabbat.

On the walk back to my hotel, I walked along Nachlat Binyamin Promenade, an outdoor pedestrian shopping mall. Originally the textile center of the city, it still boasts shop after shop selling vividly coloured, beautiful fabrics that’ll excite the fashionista/designer in you.

fabric

david citadel hotel jerusalem

david-citadel-hotelI spent the entire day sick in bed. Ugh! Not how I imagined spending my time in Jerusalem. But I suppose these things happen. In fact, I’m surprised they don’t happen more often. Traveling has got to be one of the easiest ways to pick up a bug or virus. So, I missed a day exploring the city and rested up in my hotel. But it’s not a bad hotel to be stuck in!

I’m staying at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. Located in Western Jerusalem, this five-star hotel offers modern, luxury accommodations and breathtaking views of the ancient walls of the Old City. The decor is grand – from the vast marble lobby to the sweeping staircases and snaking hallways. The hotel has 384 suites and guestrooms and a variety of restaurants to choose from, including: Scala, The Seasons (pictured above), Yakimonotoo and the Lobby & Terrace restaurant, which offers great views during both day and night. Food is also served poolside.

My room is a generous size and the bed is super-comfortable. (Thank goodness since I spent all day in it today!) The walls are a bit thin, making noise from the hallway and rooms next door a bit of a problem but other than that, you’ll find everything you need here. Most importantly (for me, anyway!), you can get wireless Internet for 24 hours for 65 scheckels (that’s about $18CDN or $15USD).

There’s shopping nearby and a number of restaurants within walking distance. It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to walk to the Old City from here, making this hotel perfectly situated for most things you’ll probably want to do.

For more information:
The David Citadel Hotel, 7 King David Street, Jerusalem, 94101, Tel: +972 2 621 1111.

a walking tour of jerusalem

church-of-the-holy-sepulchrUpon landing in Tel Aviv, which I wrote about yesterday, I met with my guide Amir and we made our way to Jerusalem. It was a 35-minute drive. After a quick breakfast (hot chocolate and yes, another bagel), we commenced a walking tour of Jerusalem. Before I share with you the highlights, I must tell you that if you do a walking tour of this holy city, be sure to wear GOOD walking shoes (I love my Rockport shoes for walking!) and wear light clothes because the sun can get really hot. But be sure to bring a shawl or pashmina with you so you can cover up if necessary to gain entry to certain sacred sites. I just happened to have one with me, which was lucky, because I was told (quite brusquely, I might add) to cover up when visiting the Western Wall. (Surprising, since I was covered from head to toe, but for bare arms; I hadn’t changed since arriving from Toronto.)

Anyhow, it was an action-packed day, visiting some of the holiest Christian sites in the world. We visited the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested, we walked the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus walked carrying the cross on his back and finally, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. There are no words to describe what I felt there. This was only my first day in Jerusalem and I knew that this incredible and special start was merely an indication of all that was yet to come.