Discovering Renoir’s estate in the South of France

This post is for my pops-in-law Richard Swartz, who is a great artist and would have appreciated this. Pops, wishing you were here!

The impressionistic French artist Renoir lived in Cagnes-Sur-Mer (South of France) the last 12 years of his live. We visited his estate, his studio and an impressive view of the sea and olive orchard from his house.

Flying with a big balloon.. ie. Paragliding!

We spent 2 days at Grenoble. Thanks to my friend Severine’s encouragement, we decided to try Paragliding at St. Hilaire, a village outside of Grenoble. Apparently it is a very popular place for paragliding in France and Europe.

Getting reading to jump!

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIyW4ACRteo]

Taking off

This is when Brendan was up in the air, shooting from above.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x073a-XCKHY]

We spent the night at my friend Marie-Sophie’s house in Grenoble and had the chance to attend a ‘block party’, as it happened to be the National neighbor’s day in France. People were hanging out, local band playing popular music, and dancing. A perfect way to spend a Friday night!

Pinch pinch, We are in the Greek Islands

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Greece for 10 days. The weather has been perfect and we keep on finding ourselves saying ‘wow!’ throughout the trip.  Trying to soak up everything we see and experience as we know this is temporary. I guess that’s why they call it vacation.

Here are some highlights of our trip:

Red beach – we had to hike up the rocky cliff to arrive at this hidden gem. The water is clear and the rocks are red, contrasting against the blue sky makes it picture perfect!

Million dolloar sunset from our hotel balcony

Scooter ride to Oia to watch the sunset:

Our next stop was another island near Santorni called  Ios. This is a less known island but equally gorgeous. 9 euros and 1 hour of ferry ride later, we arrived in Ios. This is where we were stuck in traffic from goat crossing. I felt like we were in a movie, in the middle of goats. The sound of the bells on their neck is music to my ears, listen..

Driving through the windy mountain roads of Ios feels like a mixture between driving through Bryce Canyon (with their rock formation) and Switzerland (with the nearby islands almost look like the Alps), with the back drop as the deep blue Aegean sea. It is truly breathtaking. Pictures cannot do justice.

Thanks to TripAdvisor which we relied on religiously to find the best places to stay via social media (traveler’s comments), we stayed at Liostasi Hotel and Spa. It is now one of my favorite hotel to stay in the world! Our trick of getting great hotel deals is by calling the hotel the day before to book the rooms. We’ve been able to save about 30% on top of the already lowered low season rate. (Not advised during high season.)

While at the hotel, we met a Greek photographer George Lizardos, who was there visiting his good friend, the owner of Liostasi Hotel.  We sat by the pool and chatted with Mr. Lizardos while watching the sunset.  He was an interesting person to speak to. He got his big break when he submitted his photo to Nikon (using his father’s manual camera) for a world-wide competition 30+ years ago when he was only 17 years old. Mr. Lizardos won 2nd prize amongst 300,000 other photos submitted. From there, the rest is history. Mr. Lizardos was commissioned to capture the look, feel and character of many luxury hotels in the Greek Islands. Some of his work included Cavo Tagoo , Sunrocks, Katities, and where we stayed Liostasi Hotel. What I learned from George Lizardos? Simplicity is the key to good living! He only works on projects that he is passionate about, then he takes 1 to 2 years off. Note to self: Need to find a job like that.. Mr. Lizardos is in the process of building his dream vacation home in one of the Greek islands, one made out of pure earthy material with 60 windows. The home is designed entirely by him, including the furniture. George said that he would invite us there once complete. I should have had that in writing.  Stay tuned..

We are now in Mykonos, 2 hours via catamaran from Ios, 28 euros pp. Didn’t like the hotel we stayed at the first night, the host was nice enough to let us check out early. We are now checked in at the Pelican Art Hotel . It is right in the Mykonos town, with modern and colorful decorations and most of all, great service! The best part is that we are paying 60 Euros per night, half of where we stayed last night for a much better place. We’ll be here for a few days before heading back to Athens.

Oia,The Best Place to See Sunset

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is exploring, without a plan. We have been operating without a cell phone nor a watch. It took a few days to get used to it but it is liberating living without a schedule! I know this is not reality so I am soaking up our unstructured days as much as I can before going back to D.C. where we call home.

Today we rode our scooter toward the North part of the island, where there are red cliffs on one side and the Aegean sea on the other. I know I sound like a broken record, but the view is spectacular and we are not taking it for granted.

25 minutes away via scooter, we arrived in a famous town called Oia. this is a village where buses of tourists get dropped off to see the sunset. While waiting for the famous sunset, we strolled around Oia village and found an art gallery exactly how I would imagine one look like in Santorni:

A glimpse of Oia prior to the Sunset,

I saw Santa vacationing in Santorini!

After 3 days in Fira, we packed up our scooter and off to the Southern part of Santorini in a town called Megalohori. It’s only 15 minutes away via scooter. This area of Santorini is famous for it’s winery and another spectacular view of the volcano and the Aegean sea. Because this is not yet the high tourist season (which starts on June 1st), we are able to find nice hotels with a view with a reasonable price, about 100 US$/night including breakfast and tax.

Gotta love the Dunkies in Santorini:

Megalohori is about 10 minutes away from the nearby black beach, Perissa. The beaches are black because of it’s fine black and gray pebbles on the beach. It is beautiful, though I can imagine during the hot summer days the black sand will get very hot and therefore make it difficult to walk on the beach bare foot.

The highlight of our day was definitely when we spotted Santa at the seaside restaurant where we had lunch! I was going to sneak a picture of him laying by the beach cabana, but I decided to give him some privacy as he only has 6 more months to rest up before Christmas.

My trip diary to the Greece

This is the 5th day of our 2 week trip to Greece. So far our experience has been beyond expectations. The people are warm and genuinely nice. Shop keepers at the tourist areas are not pushy and always greeted you with a smile. Food is fresh and fairly reasonable. We have been able to have a sit down meal for 2 for around $25. Not bad!

It took us 2 days to get our schedule in sync with the 7 hours time difference form the US – East Coast time zone. The 2nd day we woke up and said ‘Oh My God!’, as I looked at the clock and that says 15:58 (almost 4pm). Feeling lazy and a bit quilty for loosing an entire day, we rushed out to visit the Acropolis and wondered around Athens for the next 5 hours.

Getting around in Athens is fairly painless. Their metro system is extremely clean and efficient. Traveling via public transportation in a foreign country is a great way to get a taste of the local living. Just because we may look like a tourist, I don’t neccesary want to act like one.

After 2 days in Athens, we got on a one way plane trip to Santorini. Despite of leaving 3 hours before the flight, we managed to arrive at the gate 10 minutes before the plane takes off. Thanks to the demonstration/protest  at the city center. We had to jump off of our bus, run (with our luggages) for about 20 minutes to the next metro stop. 6 metro stops later, we had to get on the taxi and thankfully made it to the airport with seconds to spare.

It was all worth it when the 1 hour plane ride arrives at a small airport of Santorini. You can feel your blood pressure instantly lowered as the plane touched down and you look out and see the sea and some palm trees. The vew only gets better and better. Below is a quick clip of our first arrival at our hotel, the Blue Dolphin. (which I recommend highly). We stayed in a cave. Yes,  CAVE! It gets chilly at night but was definitely fun.

Our cave room:

The wonderful host Dionisis who greeted us with a history of Santorini at the hotel terrace

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F22dokvdas&feature=channel

July 4th weekend – My trip diary to the French Riviera

My weekend started with a quick run at Cap d’Antibes along the Mediterranean, my favorite funning path in the whole world.  (imagine this view the whole path, then add the sound of small waves hitting the rocks)

In the evening, we went to a great party hosted by HP where there was great music (by HP bands) and delicious food. To continue the July 4th celebration, we went to a cowboy party at Monaco. (Monoco is about 40 minutes away from my sister’s). We spent the weekend there, hanging with the posh posh. I don’t have the desire to be like the people in Monte Carlo when I grow up, Knowing a few works for me 🙂

This is my last weekend in France before going home. I had a great time the last 2 weeks. Thanks for allowing me to share my travel experience with you.

Day 7 & 8 – My Trip Diary to the French Riviera

We woke up early for a day trip to Marseille, which is a 2.5 hour train ride. The city is very different than the Côte d’Azur. It is the 2nd largest city in France, after Paris. Though it doesn’t offer the Eiffle Tower or the Louvre museum, Marseille is for people not afraid to discover a real place with real people, where you can see how the French really lives.

Our train ride home was scheduled for 10pm. After close to 3 hours of delay, we arrived in Antibes (our stop) at 2 AM. Unfortunately, somehow we missed our stop and ended up in Nice. At 2:30 AM in the morning, there was no taxi, no bus and no more train.

While finding a solution to home at wee hours in the morning at the Nice train station, we were both exhaulsted and nervious. We met some colorful people to say the least. The most memorable person in particular, was a woman named Antoinette. She hates her name because of it sounding so formal. Antoinette was holding a plastic bag with half of watermelon and some peaches while chatting with a man at the bus stop outside of the train station. As she was describing the bus schedule to us, I realized that she was very pregnant. Antoinette was extremely friendly and offered to walk us to find the street we were looking for. During our walking conversation, we learned that Antoinette sleeps during the day in order to avoid the heat (as most people do not have air conditioning) and hangs out during the night when it is much cooler and quieter in downtown Nice streets. Not a bad idea. I don’t know if she has a job or family, all I know is that this tomboy like curly bown hair woman who smiles with a dimple made me smile in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

Ultimately we got in touch with my sister Pei’s friend who lives in Nice (but without a car). We crashed in his place for 4 hours until the next morning when the bus is available to take us back to Antibes.

Day 8 – I slept most of the day and was still tired when I got up.