Experiencing Greek Antiquity at the Acropolis

I first became compelled to visit Greece during my undergrad studies as an Art History major. Many of my Art History courses emphasized Greek Antiquity, and its undeniable impact on both contemporary art and the connection of art to collective memory. While learning about the construction of Greek society through its art, I needed to personally experience the ancient history of one of the most visited attractions, the Acropolis, and admire the architectural details of its ruins.

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Parthenon on the Acropolis, 2013

The Acropolis is a 5th century BCE complex that sits on an elevated outcrop overlooking the city of Athens. While the Persian Invasion  of 480BCE on the Acropolis negatively transformed it’s landscape, a renowned sculptor, Pheidias, helped fulfilled the visions of a powerful statesman, Pericles, for the reconstruction of the sacred site.

This citadel has become synonymously viewed as an icon of democracy and the birth of western civilization.

One of the most important structures on the Acropolis is the Parthenon. It’s a classical-style temple that was erected for the warrior goddess, Athena. The temple has Ionic characteristics and is supported by Doric columns. Where the Parthenon currently stands, an older Athenian temple stood but was ruined during the Persian Invasion.

When I backpacked for 2 months around Europe in 2013, I booked a ticket to Greece. On my second day in Athens I went to the Acropolis. The walk towards the citadel’s ruins filled me with anticipation because the nearby streets encircling the outcrop offer numerous vantage points of it.

Although I arrived before noon, the site was still congested with tourists. In hindsight, I’m glad I wore appropriate footwear that would accommodate the steep slopes, dusty terrain, and slippery marble.

At this time, all of the Cultural Heritage workers on site were unpaid due to Greece’s economic crisis. Signs and banners were hung throughout the site informing tourists about their hardships.

In 2013, the Parthenon was partially hidden away by scaffolding due to an ongoing restoration project led by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This project started in 1983, and is to ensure the integrity of the architecture and stability. The Chicago Tribune recently posted an article that states the restoration is nearly complete and provides detailed photographs of the accomplishment.

Don’t miss these noteworthy places at the Acropolis:

  • The Entrance
  • Propylaea
  • Erechtheon with the Caryatids (read more about one of my Art History professor’s interesting research concerning the hairstyles of these women)
  • The Temple of Hephaestus
  • Athena Nike Temple

In addition there are two museums in Athens worth a visit. The first is the National Archaeological Museum, which displays famous Greek artifacts and paintings. When I went to the National Archaeological Museum I was blown away by the size of its collection and explored for over 2 hours. The second is the Acropolis Museum, which faces the Acropolis and houses artifacts collected from the site for conservation purposes. Replicas of the original extractions are at the Acropolis.

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View of Athens from the Acropolis, 2013

Exploring Cinque Terre

While traveling in northern Italy, specifically the Liguria region, a visit to Cinque Terre is a must!

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Manarola

Cinque Terre or “Five Lands” is comprised of the following fishing villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. These five Mediterranean villages are built onto the cliff-side terraces and are known for their pastel homes with brightly-painted shutters, jaw-dropping coastlines, and hills filled with vineyards and citrus orchards.

While some villages are sleepier than others, between all five is a diverse selection of wine, trattorias, monuments, and places to explore.

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Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the most well-known village, and has a variety of shops and restaurants on its main road, Via Colombo. Manarola is a hillside village located on the coastline surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. A nativity scene can be spotted within the vineyards of Manarola.

Corniglia is the tiniest village that is situated on a plateau overlooking the water and is encompassed by vineyards. It also seems to be the least popular because the path from the train station requires a walk up 300+ stairs. The village, Vernazza, surrounds its harbor and still has architectural traces of its past as a defensive fortress against the Turks. Although Monterosso was my least favorite, it is popular with the locals and travelers for its beaches and also the Old and New Towns.

Travelers have two options to explore this area – ride the train or hike the connecting paths. While a hiking trail is a great way to be immersed within Cinque Terre, hikers can be prevented from using the trails from either the impact of landslides or preservation endeavors.

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Vernazza

Fortunately I visited Cinque Terre during the off-season of November, and took the train from Genoa to La Spezia. Since didn’t struggle against hoards of tourists, I explored Cinque Terre at my own pace. I should also mention that in the morning I started out with a hat, sweater, and rain jacket, but quickly shed the clothes during the mid-afternoon’s humidity.

While Riomaggiore and Manarola were my favorite villages because of their picturesque qualities, the locals in Manarola were incredibly friendly. I took the train between Riomaggiore and Manarola because a previous rainfall caused landslides on these trails. I was able to complete the trails between Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza took approximately an hour to complete, and offered scenes of the dramatic coastline and vineyards decorating the hills. At the end of this hike was a stunning panoramic view of Vernazza. The path between Vernazza to Monterosso was more even but took longer than the previous hike. By the end of the day, I was exhausted from exploring and hiking.

Although Cinque Terre is a well-known tourist site, it doesn’t disappoint. It lives up to its excitement and will continue to draw in tourists due to its beauty and history.

You can learn more about visiting this fascinating World Heritage Site here.

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Monterosso

Männlichen Gondola Ride, Views of the Swiss Alps

While staying in Interlaken, Switzerland, my friend and I decided to visit Männlichen. Located within the Swiss Alps, Männlichen stands at 7,687 ft and has the longest gondola ride in Europe. We heard that this ride and hike offered some of the most beautiful views in this part of Switzerland.

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We took the train from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald, and transferred to Grindelwald Grund. Grindelwald Grund has awing vie

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View from Grindelwald Grund’s train station

ws of Lauterbrunnen Valley and Grindelwald. We rode the gondola from Grindelwald Grund via Holenstein to the top of Männlichen.

Surprisingly, no one else rode in our 30 minute gondola ride up the mountain. Below our cablecar and throughout the mountainside, there were many cows with chiming bells, a few homes tucked away, and hikers.

When our gondola deposited us at the top of Männlichen, there was a restaurant, a playground, picnic tables, hammocks, and plenty of area to explore and enjoy the breath-taking views of the Swiss mountain range. Our surreal viewpoint from Männlichen was of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

We took an easy hiking trail from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, which offered more dramatic scenes of the mountain range. This walking path is narrow and is appropriate for the width 2 to 3 people because of the close edges. Although we went in the middle of July, there was some remnants of snow along the hiking trail.

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Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg, we took the log train to go back down the mountain. However, it is possible to ride the highest train in Europe from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfrau, fondly referred to as the “Top of Europe”.

48 Hours in Iceland

During my first trip to Iceland, I realized that it truly is a land of ice and fire.

When I went in the summertime, theres a midnight sun that refuses to set completely. The darkest it ever became resembled twilight. It was just before 8pm when I arrived at my hostel in Reykjavik, but since it was June, I was able to enjoy the city until midnight because of the sun. I wasn’t the only tourist taking advantage of the evening’s light.

Since I was jet-lagged I only lasted the few hours, but I saw Hallgrimskirkja, Reykajavik’s iconic church with it’s prominent statue of Lief Erikson, and the Prime Minister’s Building. I walked the popular shopping street, Laugauegur, and also sat at Faxa Bay to soak in the views of the gorgeous volcanic mountain range of Esja.

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Þingvellir National Park

On my only whole day in Iceland, I went on the Golden Circle Tour with Gateway to Iceland, which is a popular tour to do from Reykjavik. I found that the tour guide, Gauti, was upbeat and incredibly knowledgable.

  • Þingvellir National Parkthe landscape here was full of Purple Alaskan Flowers and the peaks of the mountains were speckled with snow. Its not only home to the largest lake in Iceland, but also the Great Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian Plate straddles the North American Plate. Walking through the park, you can spot the fissure within the earth.
  • Gullfoss waterfalla site I found comparable to Niagara, but with views of mountains and glaciers in the far distance.
  • Haukadalur geothermal area – this is an interesting stop with diverse geysers, but most notable are Strokkur and Geysir.
  • Secret Lagoon hot spring nature bathunlike the Blue Lagoon, this is a natural hot spring. Although the facilities were small, it had an intimate and relaxed vibe. The water smoked against the cool afternoon air and the hot spring’s walls were (unexpectedly) lined with thick multi-colored algae.

On my last day with only a few hours remaining to explore, I visited Reykajavik’s Opera House, Harpa, which resembled the interesting architecture of the opera houses in Oslo and Amsterdam. I wandered more of the street Laugauegur, the downtown area, and purchased Rúgbrauð (dense rye bread that has been cooked in the earth beside a geothermal spring).

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In the late afternoon, I was on my way back to the airport via the shuttle.

While I only had about 48 hours to explore Iceland, I really enjoyed myself and plan to return.

Here are some additional suggestions for the Reykajavik area:

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier
  • Puffins and/or Whale Watching Boat Tour

Top 10 Sights in Scotland

Did you know that in 2017 Scotland was voted the most beautiful country according to Rough Guides?

While it’s no secret that I lived in Glasgow to complete my postgraduate studies  – Scotland quickly became ‘a home away from home.’ During my year as an expat, I was fortunate to explore much of this country. I couldn’t resist falling in love with it’s dramatic landscapes, moody weather, complex history, endearing people, and especially, the late sun in the summer evenings.

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  1. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle – Both sites are considered to be in Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations. Parts of the ruined albeit impressive castle date back to the 1200s. Urquhart’s present condition reflects the turmoil it faced during the Wars of Independence. It’s easy to spend a few hours exploring the castle, and it’s surrounding area.
  2. Isle of Skye – I’ve visited Skye twice now. Once onboard a tour bus and again with a rental car. If you can – opt for the rental car. Every time I made the winding journey through the highlands, I made a pitstop at Glen Coe. While at Skye, I was able to see the town of Portree, the Fairy Pools, the Storr, Dunvegan Castle, and Caisteal Maol.28643150_10156771769248797_59557975_o
  3. St Andrews – When I day-tripped this coastal city, it was a rare summer day. While I was at St. Andrews’ Castle, I went in the medieval underground mine and 28722110_10156771747908797_1203095003_ncountermine. At 5’1″, I felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable in these mines, but I’m glad I saw such a rare site. Beside the castle is a coastal path, and also the gothicCathedral nestled within a gravesite. I made a quick stop at the University and also the ‘Old Course’. There are some places that one immediately feels a connection to, and this place did it for me. Upon leaving, I felt some regret at not doing my postgraduate studies at St. Andrews University, but Glasgow was a great experience.28536774_10156771769303797_1587794413_n
  4. Edinburgh – the free art museums, Old Town, Princess Street (and its gardens) with a view of Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, and Calton Hill/National Monument. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t forget to go to enjoy a coffee from the Elephant Cafe, and check out the graveyard that inspired J.K. Rowling. If you can, go to the annual Fringe Fest during August to experience the wonder of the Military Tattoo. The military show is complete with light displays awash all over the castle and a firework show. If not, try to visit the Christmas Market from November to early January.
  5. Glasgow – While I studied at the University of Glasgow, I adored it’s campus and location in the West End. The Main Building was nearly used for Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter movies, and more recently, it was used to film scenes in Outlander’s third season. The West End’s atmosphere is encapsulated by boutique shops, quaint pubs, fairy lights overhanging Ashton Lane’s cobblestone streets, Kelvingrove Park and Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. Much of Glasgow is comprised of sandstone and Victorian architecture, and the shopping in City Centre.28535115_10156771733518797_1464088437_n
  6. Stirling Castle – I spent half a day with my friends touring this stunning castle, which you can read about here. One of my favorite parts was walking along the castle’s wall and enjoying the views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. The castle offers interactive games, models of the castle, costumes, informative exhibits, movies, and actors.
  7. Isle of Arran – Since I’m passionate about Archaeology and Art History, I felt compelled to visit this Neolithic site. Before the standing stones, the site originally had wooden structures and was used for sacred rituals. On a rushed excursion via train and ferry, I visited the Machrie Moore Stone Circles with a best friend. You can read about our crazy adventure in a previous post.28642925_10156771733108797_1203021121_o
  8. Loch Lomond (& the Trossachs National Park) – The first time I ever saw Loch Lomond was from  a small Scottish village called Luss. The area around Loch Lomond promises various hiking trails, but you can also take a boat ride. Loch Lomond is not far from Glasgow and it’s easily accessible by ScotRail.
  9. Oban – a quaint fishing village with many shops and harbor views. Enjoy a tour and drink at their infamous  Distillery.
  10. Jacobite Steam Train – it’s nearly an all day activity, but it’s a leisure one! It deposits you at Mallaig for a few hours, which provides you enough time to enjoy a coffee or a late lunch, and explore the tiny town. Onboard the train you’re able to buy snacks and various Harry Potter fan items. While riding the train, make sure you’re aware of  witnessing the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the island where Dumbledore died. Tickets for purchase are available here.28537598_10156771733798797_1428303766_n

Savoring Sicily

Have you been to Sicily yet? Have you considered going? Sure, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples are great, but standard tourist sights. I’m not saying skip any of those, but I don’t know why Sicily hasn’t become a HOT destination. In fact, the only types of tourists I met were from Eastern European countries, students/Erasmus students, or Italians (from the it’s larger counterpart). In this post I’ll detail my favorite Sicilian destinations.

To be honest, before I committed to a Workaway program at a hostel in Catania, I never thought much about visiting Sicily.

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View of Mount Etna smoking from a terrace in Catania, Sicily (2013)

My first introduction to Sicily was when I was younger. After my dad recounted the story of my great grandfather leaving an obscure village in southern Italy called Bocchigliero, he pointed a finger to an island off of Italy’s foot on a map. He warmly referred to Sicily as Italy’s soccer ball (or should I say football? Sorry, I am American after all).

Sicily is nestled within the Mediterranean and offers beautiful beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, delicious wines (please try Nero, like now), and fascinating archaeological sites. Sicily is a blend of ancient cultures because the island was conquered only a few times (ie. the Spanish, French, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Phoenicians, Arabs, and British). These conquests are evident in their architecture and historical sites. If you’re interested in learning more about Sicily’s history, visit here – the material is broken down in a digestible manner.

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Smoke emitting from Mount Etna’s crater

Recommended Sites to visit in Sicily

  1. Catania
    • Located on the eastern part of the island, and is the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I’m biased about Catania because of my month-long Workaway at a hostel mere steps away from its most prominent square, Piazza del Duomo. In the this square is the Catania Cathedral are great cafes, the Fontana dell’Elefante, and the daily Fish Market. Nearby is a lengthy shopping strip, the University of Catania, and Bellini’s theatre. This place is an Art Historian’s fantasy because of the breath-taking baroque architecture. There’s also a variety of places that feature live music and nightlife and because of the students.
  2. Mount Etna
    • The largest, active volcano in Europe. Yes, I hiked all the way up and back down the volcano. Yes, it was arguably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done, and yes I wanted to die. Was it worth it? Yes! I value this photo because it shares my accomplishment. If you hike it, wear good shoes that don’t ‘breathe’ – the volcanic rock and debris will sneak into your shoes and become incredibly uncomfortable after hours of trekking.  Also take it easy if you’re not used to that kind of altitude. It sits 10,991 feet above sea level.
  3. Agrigento Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
    • A UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to 7 Greek deities – Zeus, Juno, Heracles, Concordia, Asclepius, Pollux, and Vulcan.
  4. Taormina
    • This town is also on Sicily’s eastern coastline. Taormina is known for its incredible beach, Isola Bella, and its ancient Greek Theatre. It’s Old Town is quaint to explore, and provides picturesque sights to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
  5. Scala dei Turchi
    • A natural limestone rock formation on the coast of Realmonte. Since we took local transportation and walked to Scala dei Tuchi, it was a little difficult for us to find it. While the sunset was incredible, it’s best to go early in the day because we missed our last bus and hitchhiked back to the bus station.
  6. Alcantara Gorges
    • This gorge is very close to Mount Etna, and approximately an hour long drive from Catania. The gorge was crafted thousands of years ago by the volcano’s lava, and the river that winds through the gorge cut into the hardened rock to create it’s textural geometric appearance. Although I went during a humid autumn day, when the cold evening settled in, I saw the best starry sky. Also, please be careful of leeches!
    • You can find more detail about this site in a previous post.

If you’ve travelled to Sicily before, comment with some of your favorite spots! I’d love recommendations.

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Scala dei Turchi

3 Days in Ibiza – Off Season

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Dalt Vila – Ibiza Old Town

On our first day– we wandered around Ibiza Old town or Dalt Vila, which is a recognized UNESCO site. We received complimentary maps with walking routes at the tourist office in the centre. The old town is vibrant with pale colors, turquoise harbor views, and medieval architecture. The main castle is from 16th century and it’s one of the main sites but there are various bastions peppered along the cobblestoned pathways, Baluard de Sant Bernat, Baluard de Sant Jaume, Baluard de Sant Pere, Baluard de Sant Joan, and  Baluard de Sant Taules. The panoramic views of the Med and the city below are absolutely breathtaking. During the late afternoon, we took a ferry over to Formentera, a neighboring island. Honestly the boat ride alone was worth it by itself. There are views of Dalt Vila, Es Vedra, and many other parts of the island with dramatic slopes and sandy cliffs. The island itself was more quiet than Ibiza itself. Unfortunately the island was larger than we perceived – we didn’t have enough time to rent bikes, and the water was infested with red tide.

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View near Cova de can Marca of Sant Miguel

During the second day – we rented a car. We started out at the northwest part of the island at Cova de can Mara. Although history about the cave was intriguing, I wouldn’t recommend the bioluminescent cave. During the tour there was a light show intended to impress the visitors -except we all stood there confused. The cave cost 10 euros and last about 20 minutes. When I left – I felt scammed. Anyways – we went to eat lunch at the nearby beach, Sant Miguel. Next, we passed through the  port of San Antoni as we headed along the coast to the hippie area of Cala d’Hort, which offers expansive views of Es Vedra. As the folklore goes – Es Vedra is known to attract a lot of oddities (seek more information here). It’s the third most magnetized place on the planet. At the end of our day, we went the sunset coast and sat along a cliff’s edge to watch the sun set in the sky at Sunset Ashram in Cala Conta (Cala Comte). In fact, the parking lot overlooking the coast was the busiest spot we encountered during our road-trip.

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At Cala d’Hort with Es Vedra in the background

Since we flew out late in the afternoon on our third day, the first part was dedicated to relaxing on the beach in Talamanca. We caught the bus there and walked our way back to Ibiza’s port to catch the bus to the airport. In comparison to the various beaches explored the day earlier,  I wasn’t as impressed. Despite the nearby sounds of construction (off-season), I did enjoy myself and dozed off during while sun-bathing (sunblock was applied). 

Personally – I’m glad I didn’t go to Ibiza during its peak tourist season. I enjoy dancing – but I know during the summer the clubs are active. If I did go back during the tourist season, I would like to check out the Zoo Project. The sunny island was a necessary reprieve, before tackling our remaining finals.

Here are 5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza during the Off Season

5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza in the Off Season

At the end of my final semester in March I visited Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. One of my European friends inwardly cringed and demanded why I was going during the ‘winter’ season and not waiting for summer (ie. May to possibly September). She claimed it would be cold and there would be nothing to do, however this was not the case at all.

  1. Obviously – costs are relatively inexpensive (approx. 40-60£) compared to the tourist season (approx 128-275£). Ryanair offered an impressive last minute flight from the UK that was too good to ignore. However the lack of sun in Scotland provided additional incentive to book the trip. We found there were a variety of accommodations with fair prices.

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    Canons overlooking Old Town in Dalt Vila
  2. With a lack of tourists, the atmosphere is quiet, as opposed to coming during prime travel season (summer) in which all of the clubs are in full effect. When we visited for a few days – the vast majority of fellow traverlers were families. Areas like Dalt VilaPort San Miguel and Cala d’Hort were calm with few people. Honestly – it was the true essence of a reprieve.

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    Es Vedra photographed from Cala d’Hort Beach
  3. At the finale of March, we wore our bathing suits on the beach. In fact, I returned to Glasgow with a cherry nose and honeyed skin. At between 60-75°F, the days were comfortable enough to wear a tank paired with a skirt or shorts, but the evenings required a light jacket or jumper at around 55°F.

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    Sun slowly setting at Cala Comte on the sunset coastline
  4. During our stay, we rented a car for less than 50 euros for a full 24 hours through Avis, which included full insurance.  Most tourist sites aren’t accessible without a car. Between the two of us it was cheaper to book a car than to go on a tour that only went to 1-2 sites. We toured Cova de Can MarcaPort de San Miguel beachSan Antoni, Cala d’Hort to view Es Vedra, and Cala Comte (Cala Conte). The roads were not crowded, besides near Dalt Vila, and the majority of people were locals driving to work. This was ideal as we had downloaded the maps on my friend’s iPad, however whenever we lost satellite (85% of the journey) we relied on the combination of my roadmap, the road signs, and asked locals for directions with my basic understand of Spanish.

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    Ibiza Old Town from ferry ride to island of Formentera
  5. Although most clubs aren’t yet open during the spring – there were parties, spring festivals, and open shops around Dalt Vila. We weren’t at a loss of things to do for the duration of 3 days. I detail our 3 day itinerary in this (post), however we wished we had an additional night to visit more of the island.

However, here are somethings to keep in mind before booking a trip during the off season…

  1. Hotels or low-key shops outside of Ibiza’s immediate city centre/Old Town might be closed until summer or under construction.
  2. The busses are far and fewer in between. Instead of coming every half hour, they were scheduled to come every hour, however the busses were often late with a nonchalant tranquillo attitude. We stayed outside of Ibiza at a beach front accommodation in Playa d’en Bossa, and felt stranded whenever the bus refused to show.
  3. If you want to do sightseeing outside of Ibiza and its immediate centre, you will require a car. The bus system near Ibiza remains close to the heart of its central tourist hub. WARNING: some roads along the coastline are winding, which may make individuals susceptible to motion sickness feel ill (guilty).

Check out my 3 day itinerary here 🙂