7 reasons you’ll love Sri Lanka

Judy Poliva is the Product Development Manager at Friendly Planet Travel. She traveled to Sri Lanka to plan our new Best of Sri Lanka Tour. She took some time to write about her favorite parts of the adventure, and here’s what she had to say:

In February, I traveled to Sri Lanka to plan a brand new Friendly Planet adventure. It’s important for me to experience first-hand the sites, hotels, food and transportation, so that I know exactly how the trip will feel for our travelers (and it’s my favorite part of the job too!). Not only was I not disappointed, I completely fell in love with the country. From the bustling modern capital city of Colombo, to the tea highlands and game safari, there was so much to savor.

As I prepared for my trip, it occurred to me that despite having visited and planned tours for many destinations, I really didn’t know very much about this small island nation south of India. I discovered that it’s a wild and ancient destination known for its lush rainforest, tea-growing highlands, diverse wildlife and world-class Buddhist ruins—with a history dating back to 3,000 years ago. And while it’s an up-and-coming travel destination that has made the “must see” lists of various well-regarded travel publications like Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler, it hasn’t yet breached the beaten tourist path, which is great news for world travelers who revel in the newly discovered places that offer authentic cultural experiences. Here I compiled some of my favorite experiences from my trip to give you a better idea of what Sri Lanka has to offer.


1 The Colors

You’ll first notice the incredibly vibrant colors when you wake up in the morning, and they’ll stay with you every second of every day. There are infinite hues of green;  from the lush jungle vegetation thriving in the warm and humid climate of the lowlands and middle elevations, to the deeply saturated green of the tea plants in the highlands, to the ubiquitous rice paddies, cashew and rubber trees and coconut palm that populate the country.

Then there are the sparkling lakes that perfectly compliment the dominant green landscape. Construction of these reservoirs dates all the way back to the fourth century BC, the purpose of which was codified by the ancient Sri Lankan monarch, Parakrama Bahu the Great, who said: “Let not even a drop of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man.” The tanks, irrigation channels, sluices and embankments built by by-gone Buddhist civilizations create a living landscape today, collecting water to meet not only the irrigation needs of present day Sri Lanka, but the navigation, recreation, and bathing needs as well. In fact, it’s surmised there is no denser concentration of ancient irrigation systems anywhere on earth: not even in Greece or Rome!


2 The Wildlife

Speaking of concentration density, did you know that Yala National Park in southeast Sri Lanka has the highest concentration of leopard on the planet? If leopard spotting is your goal (no pun intended), then Yala is your best bet for finding and viewing the elusive cat. You’ll also have the opportunity to see wild Asian elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, and yes, even peacocks—talk about colors! Ironically, the park used to be a hunting ground for the elite under British rule, but now it’s a protected area accessible to safari-goers hunting only for Instagram-worthy photo-ops.

And of course, no trip to Sri Lanka is complete without about a million and one encounters with monkeys. Obviously you will see monkeys in the wild jungles, but you’ll also see monkeys at your hotel, monkeys in the city, monkeys on the road, and monkeys at many tourist sites. (But please don’t feed them.) Also, resist the urge for a monkey selfie. It’s absolutely best for you and the long-term well-being of Sri Lanka’s monkeys if you snap your shots from a healthy distance.


3 Food

Sri Lankan food is colorful, aromatic, and bursting with unfathomable flavor. The country is most well-known for its rice and curry dishes. These curries vary in flavor and heat (remember, you can always ask for mild spiciness if you are sensitive), made from seasonal vegetables, chicken or beef, and even dried fish. Curries are usually accompanied by sambals, the Sri Lankan version of the Indian pickle.

The hopper came from humble beginnings and is now very trendy. It’s a puffy, crepe-like pastry made of coconut milk batter cooked in a round bottom pan with an egg in the middle and is a breakfast delicacy. And don’t forget to try lamprais, rice prepared in broth with sour aubergine (eggplant) or chicken curry, wrapped in a plantain leaf and gently baked. Fruit is fresh and abundant. There are more varieties of bananas, different sizes and flavors, than I have ever seen. One my best experiences was drinking fresh coconut water from the shell, then scooping out the flesh for a tasty snack.

Then there are the spices, the prime culprit responsible for the color, smell and flavor of all Sri Lankan cuisine. The use of these spices is indispensable to cooking, and you’ll see them stacked in wicker baskets in kaleidoscopic colors in the markets and adorning the tables of many a kitchen. Cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cloves—the unique character of each spice is the perfect metaphor for all the unique experience you’ll encounter in Sri Lanka.


4 Fortresses & temples

There are several renowned ancient fortresses and temples in Sri Lanka, but two of my favorite were Sigiriya, and the Temple of the Tooth.

Sigiriya is a fortress built on a 200 meter majestic rock tower that holds court over the surrounding valley. Walking through the beautiful gardens, then climbing through the enormous carved lion’s paws that guard the entrance to the royal staircase, then finally making it to the pinnacle of the fortress and staring out over the ruins to the celadon valley below, you really start to feel like King Kasyapa, the ruler who built Sigiriya.

Back down on the ground, in Kandy, you can visit the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist temple. This very accurately named temple holds a tooth relic of the Buddha, and according to local political lore, whoever holds this tooth holds governance over the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, so maybe the legend is true. You be the judge! This meticulously detailed temple with a pristine, whitewashed exterior shelters an interior that is anything but.  Inside you can lose yourself in intricately patterned walls of gold and vermilion, gilded Buddha statues, saffron robed monks and sky blue murals.


5 Ceylon Tea

You’ve probably heard of Ceylon Tea. You can buy it in most supermarkets here in America. But did you know the tea takes its moniker from the former name of Sri Lanka under British colonial rule, Ceylon? And these days, tea is one of the primary exports of this small country, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to steep yourself in tea culture and bring fragrant, tasty tea back as souvenirs.

I visited the highlands of Nuwara Eliya, taking a scenic train journey from Kandy. Watching the saturated green hills rolling by from the train window, seeing the woman tea-pickers expertly removing the leaf tips from the bushes and tossing them into their woven sacks, then learning the process of how tea is produced at the plantation, was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my trip.

Then I got to drink a cup. So fresh, delicious and straight from the source.


6 The People

Of course, the sites, wildlife and food are terrific, but the allure that drives me onto a plane to fly halfway around the world is always the people I’ll meet when I arrive at my destination. Sri Lankans are warm, friendly and hospitable. Smiling faces greet you everywhere. Many locals wear traditional dress, saris for women and sarongs for men. Children, dressed in school uniforms which are often white (how do they keep them clean?) tumble into the streets when classes let out. Street stalls with colorfully dressed vendors line the main roads of towns and villages, selling fruit and snacks, pots and pans, tools and parts, everything a household could need. I was fortunate enough to be in country on a full moon, or Poya Day which is a monthly public holiday, when entire families make a pilgrimage to a Buddhist temple and visit local parks, shrines and attractions. It’s the best time to indulge in one of my favorite travel pastimes,  people watching.


7 Gems & traditional crafts

Sri Lanka, since biblical times, has been world famous for its gemstones, and in particular, brilliant blue sapphires. I visited a museum and lapidary to learn about the process of mining, cutting and polishing the stones, then turning them into gorgeous jewelry.

Sri Lanka has several other traditional crafts, including masks. Culturally, these masks have depicted gods or animals and have been used in ancient rituals. Nowadays, the masks are used more for dramatic adaptations and dances; however, the same artisan families that produced the masks centuries ago still do so today. In a similar vein, there are local artisans who create batiks, or handmade, colorfully dyed cloth panels, as well as wood carvings and lace products.

Though these days the crafts exist more for the tourists and visitors than the locals, they do have their roots in the history and culture of Sri Lanka, and they offer the opportunity to indulge in another of my favorite travel pastimes, shopping.


There are many other aspects of Sri Lanka that make it a wonderful, emerging destination for eager world travelers. During my visit, I discovered a truly magical destination, and I absolutely intend to return soon for a second visit. If you’re ready to experience Sri Lanka for yourself,  check out our newest tour!

What you should know after the Ecuador earthquakes

Ecuadorian woman

I recently returned from a press trip to Nepal, where I accompanied a small group of journalists to check out the country after last year’s devastating earthquake. While there, I got an up close and personal look at what it means to live in a country that depends upon tourism for its livelihood, and how crippling it is when the tourists stop coming. Like Nepal, Ecuador has just suffered a massive earthquake of its own, and while the effects of the quake in the major tourist areas of the country are not as significant in Ecuador as in Nepal, there is a real fear among Ecuadorians that travelers will cancel or simply not book trips to the country.

Like Nepal, Ecuador’s people are poor, and they rely on tourism in a big way. The country’s major tourism centers, Quito, Cotopaxi, Cuenca, the Amazon, the Galapagos, to name just a few, have been spared the earthquake’s devastation, which appears to have been limited mostly to the country’s central coast. In most of the country, hotels are functioning normally, airports are open, and touristic activities are continuing as usual.

Friendly Planet has an extensive program to Ecuador, and fortunately, none of our itineraries have been impacted by the earthquake. All of our partners in Ecuador are fine, including our passengers who were in Quito at the time of the earthquake, and our tours are proceeding as usual. I’m happy to report that despite dire predictions that tourism to Ecuador would crash after the quake, we have not had any cancellations, and reservations continue as usual.

If you’re planning a vacation to Ecuador and the Galapagos, please take a moment to read this short piece by Laura Dannen Redmen of Conde Nast Traveler.

5 Incredible Creatures You Might Find in Borneo

Limestone pinnacles, Mulu National Park
The opportunity to travel to faraway exotic destinations gives us unparalleled personal access to cultures, plants, animals and ecosystems we can’t experience at home. On this Earth Day, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate one of the most exotic, wild and scenic locations on our planet, Malaysian Borneo—a destination we’ve grown to know and love over the many years we’ve visited.

Borneo villagers © Tourism MalaysiaThe deep and mysterious jungles of Borneo have played host to headhunting tribes and giant man-like apes—and they are rumored to be the true setting for Mogli, Baloo and Sheer Khan in The Jungle Book. But for the modern-day explorer, Borneo is a unique treasure trove of biodiversity where the opportunities for discovery are limitless.

You can travel through scenic countryside lush with verdant rice paddies and tropical orchids. You can explore quaint tribal villages where entire communities live in a single longhouse and some still hunt by blow dart. You can discover birds with plumage that defy imagination, flowers with colors you’ve never conceived, and one special, orange primate that will hold a place in your heart forever. We are incredibly lucky to still have a place like Borneo—a place that maintains its unexplored, off-the-beaten-path feel while still being accessible to travelers like us.

And because of the untamed nature of the island, many species of rare, indigenous animals call Borneo home. So in honor of Earth Day 2016, we’ve compiled a list of five incredible creatures you might only find in Borneo.

1 The Bornean Orangutan

Every traveler to Borneo undoubtedly seeks profound encounters with orangutan, the most well known of the island’s inhabitants, with Borneo and Sumatra being the only places to view them in the wild.

The name itself is telling: orang meaning “person” and utan meaning “forest” in Malay and Indonesian. These “people of the forest” reside primarily in trees, building elaborate nests constructed of foliage and branches night after night. Noted by scientists for their intelligence, compared to other great ape species, orangutan use and make tools for different tasks, such as scratching their backs with a stick, or protecting themselves from the sun with giant leaves forming a canopy over their heads. An estimated 54,000 Bornean orangutan survive in the wild, offering plenty of opportunities for you to have your own chance encounter with these extraordinary animals.

Pygmy Elephants
2 The Borneo Pygmy Elephant

You can’t get much cuter than a pygmy elephant, also unique to Borneo. Even the fully matured pygmy elephant has a baby face with giant ears and a long tail that sweeps the ground. Partly because of their docile and passive nature, people long believed these miniature elephants were descended from a domesticated herd belonging to the Sultan of Sulu. Thanks to modern genetics, we know for sure that the pygmy elephant is a bona fide indigenous Borneo islander, which somehow got isolated some 300,000 years ago from its slightly larger cousins in other parts of Asia.

Sumatran Rhinos  Photo by Charles W. Hardin
3 The Sumatran Rhino

Even rarer than the pygmy elephant is the Sumatran rhino, the smallest living rhinoceros and the only Asian rhino with two horns. Also known as “hairy rhinos,” these endangered animals live in isolated pockets in the dense mountain forests of Borneo. There are so few left that they have only been spotted on infrared cameras. Until recently, that is, when the World Wildlife Federation was able to capture a young female Sumatran rhino—the first physical contact with humans in 40 years—with the intention of moving her to a protective sanctuary. Unfortunately, the young rhino died of a leg infection caused by a snare from an earlier poaching attempt. However, as a very thin silver lining, her successful capture and attempt at rehabilitation served as a crucial first step in an eventual long-term program to bring this species back to life.

Sunda Clouded Leopard
4 The Sunda Clouded Leopard

Another rarity of Borneo is the clouded leopard, a medium-sized wild cat found in the lowland rainforest areas, named for its stunning coat of large, cloud-like spots. Genetically unrelated to leopards as we know them, the clouded leopard of Borneo and Sumatra was reclassified in the last 10 years as a species distinct even from its mainland Malaysian clouded leopard cousins. On Borneo, the Sunda Clouded Leopard ranks as the largest predator on the island yet its hunting strategies, as well as breeding behaviors in the wild, are little known.

Spectacled Flower Pecker  Photo by R.E. Webster, Oriental Bird Club5 The Spectacled Flower Pecker

In 2009 biologists discovered a bird species previously unknown to science in Sabah, located in “the heart of Borneo,” a vast, biologically diverse rainforest area in the center of the island. The spectacled flower pecker flaunts white rings around the eyes and a white tuft resembling a stripe down its chest. It rarely flies beneath the canopy, preferring instead to feast on fruit high in the trees, and has yet to be seen again since the first sighting (This image is the only one we could find!). The Spectacled Flower Pecker highlights an amazing and encouraging fact about Borneo: scientists discover an estimated three new species of wildlife every month.

Unfortunately, as with many tropical areas around the world, the rare and exquisite flora and fauna of Malaysian Borneo are losing their habitats due to deforestation for commercial timber and the planting of palm oil plantations. And the increase in these activities has also enhanced the illegal wildlife trade, as cleared forests offer easier access to remote areas. We hope after reading this you’ll consider the absolutely incredible array of animals on Borneo, and everywhere on earth, and think about our responsibility as humans and world travelers to preserve them—on Earth Day and beyond.

Interested in traveling to Borneo? While we can’t guarantee sightings of the spectacled flower pecker or Sunda clouded leopard, we do offer two tours to Malaysian Borneo, with itineraries designed to immerse you in the incredible flora, fauna and human cultures of this exotic island. Check out those tours here.

7 Surefire Ways to Beat Jet Lag

Beat jet lag

One of the best things about international travel is just that: it’s international! You’re crossing cultures, you’re crossing paths with new friends, you’re crossing off that bucket list…but unfortunately, you’re also crossing time zones. And the last thing you want while exploring the ancient sun temple of Machu Picchu or absorbing the grandeur of the Taj Mahal is a bout of jet-lagged induced drowsiness dragging down your travel groove. So here are some of my best strategies for overcoming jet lag, gleaned from 35 years of travel to faraway time zones.


1Overcoming jet lag begins in the days (or nights) prior to your departure. Even though it’s hard to be organized enough to be well rested before you depart, you should try hard to get quality sleep before your overnight flight. It’s easier to deal with jet lag if you’re not overcoming several nights of poor sleep before you’ve even begun your trip.


2Try to simulate your new schedule (the one you’ll follow at your destination) starting a couple of days before you depart. If you’re going east, try to have dinner and go to sleep an hour or more earlier than usual. If you’re going west, do the reverse and try to wait until later to have dinner and go to bed.


3Reset your watch as soon as you take off. This is a symbolic move toward your new time zone, and it will help set your perspective toward thinking later (or earlier). It’s a psychological “trick” that helps keep you focused on the time zone at your destination.


4Do not drink alcohol during your flight. Instead, drink water, and lots of it. Staying hydrated is very helpful to your body, which in turn is helpful in coping with jet lag.


5Try to sleep on the flight. Avoid the temptation to eat a heavy meal that is often served at 11 PM or even later, followed by a movie. Put on an eye mask, use your headset to listen to relaxing music and settle into whatever sleep you can manage. Every hour you rest during your flight is an hour you won’t miss when you arrive at your destination.


6When I arrive after an overnight flight and find myself 7 or 8 hours ahead of my normal time zone, I stay awake until it’s time for bed in my new time zone. This is really important, even though it’s hard to do. If you can make it until 8 or 9 PM on that first night, you’ll have taken a big step toward overcoming the jet lag that can spoil your trip for days. The next day, when you awake, you’ll be ready to explore and enjoy your adventure. If you typically have trouble staying asleep the first night or two when you travel, consider taking a mild sleeping pill. While it isn’t a good idea to rely on chemical sleep aides on a regular basis, they can be helpful in getting you through the first night or two without middle-of-the-night pauses.


7Eat lightly the first full day or two in your new time zone. Your body is expending lots of energy accommodating itself to the new time. If you eat unusual or heavy foods on that first day or two, you’ll be stressing yourself, and you’ll be facing middle of the night wakefulness rather than peaceful sleep.

Downton Abbey Christmas 2016: Bittersweet Endings to New Beginnings

Liz in LondonLiz Hutchins is a Reservation Agent at Friendly Planet Travel and an enthusiastic Downton Abbey fan. Liz took our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball with London tour in 2014 and absolutely loved it. We asked her to blog her thoughts about the tour, and here’s what she had to say:

Well, fellow Downton enthusiasts, it’s been a wild ride. With the close of the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, we were left with a happy ending and a sad, but fond farewell to our favorite characters. It was wonderful to see the weddings, the birth of Mr. Bates and Anna’s son, and finally a triumph for Mr. Barrow. We all had so many things to appreciate, and now, with the series behind us, it is time to look ahead. What better event to look forward to, than our annual Downton Abbey Christmas Ball!!

Of course, when faced with the amazing opportunity to take this tour two Decembers ago, my thoughts went to the most important aspect of this special event…

What the heck was I going to wear?

We were advised that for men, a suit and tie is required. For women, “Cocktail Attire”. My first instinct was to go for period costume. I was thinking about something from the 1920’s, and close to the costuming on the 3rd and 4th season of Downton Abbey. A good compromise would be to wear a simple, but elegant black dress, and then to find a necklace or some accessory as a nod to my favorite fashion era. It was helpful that I have a vintage costume jewelry collection, but as we move into summer and fall, lots of flea markets and yard sales will be coming up. Those are the best places to find excellent pieces, and for very little money.

Heading to the Ball!BUT, being the dedicated Downton fan that I am, I had my dress custom made, by Bobby Goodrich, of Bobby Fabulous Designs. I kind of held back. I mean, my dress did have a cape, which was amazing by the way…but I think I could have gone a bit further. Upon seeing my travel mates, in their evening finery, I was downright jealous! Some had beaded vintage 1920’s style gowns, more than a few wore opera length gloves, others were bedecked with tiaras, diamonds, and pearls, and one couple had matching white tie tuxedos. The Dowager Countess would have been so proud!

With the plan for my special outfit all settled, I turned my mind to the interesting and enjoyable things to do during my time at leisure in London.

When it comes to a decadent way to spend an afternoon, a champagne high tea is tough to beat. It’s such a treat to get dressed up, and have a lovely glass of bubbly while you select your tea. They then bring it out in such a beautiful tea set, traditionally accompanied by scones with clotted cream, tiny pastries, and tea sandwiches. You will have a Champagne Tea included with your fellow travelers this year. If you would like to arrange one on your own however, there are hundreds of hotels in London that offer this service. Keep in mind a couple things when picking which one you will enjoy.

G. F. Trumper shop Photo by Ewan MFirst, most of the well-known establishments will be booked up on weekends, so always make sure to have a reservation. Tea time is traditionally around 4 pm, but it’s totally acceptable to have tea for lunchtime, too. You can make online reservations, and if you take care of it 30 days or more from the day you want, you should be able to get a confirmation without a problem. Secondly, make sure the place you choose is well reviewed. TripAdvisor will be your best resource for this.

Another thing I loved was the shopping—especially Geo. F. Trumper. I know it’s a little strange for me to be excited about a Gentleman’s Barber and Perfumer, royally approved since the late 19th century, but bear with me. In Curzon Street, this little shop is known for having some of the best soaps, scents, skin care and shaving equipment. The packaging is worth the money alone, but the quality of their products is superb. You can get a proper straight razor shave there, but if you are a lady like me, you’re there for the holiday gift opportunities.

Of course, we are ultimately here for Downton, right? While in England, you’ll have the free time to visit some must-see Downton filming locations:

Prince Albert Memorial, Hyde Park Photo by AlbyPrince Albert Memorial: It will probably be too cold to have a picnic at the memorial like the Allsopps and Levinsons, but don’t miss this beautiful and important monument. You would also be within walking distance to the Princess Diana memorial fountain, and Royal Albert Hall is right across the street.

Rules Restaurant: Visit this historic restaurant used in three scenes of the show. Relive another moment of Edith with her first love Michael Gregson, as they met for lunch when she first considered writing for his magazine. Then imagine having a toast to Rose’s upcoming wedding, as she, Tom, Edith and Mary all had lunch there together. Lastly, you could always have a quick drink before dashing off, like Edith and Bertie before the magazine deadline.

Oxfordshire Cotswolds: For serious Downton fans, you can visit the towns they used for many locations, like the Crawley family home, Downton Cottage Hospital and Downton parish church.

Highclere Castle © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLPFinally, one question I get all the time since I have been to the Ball is, “Where can I take photos at Highclere?” You will have the option for photos in a few places, and I have some suggestions as well. I recommend going to the lobby early before your pick up at 4pm. This way, you can have a drink at the hotel bar and get to know your fellow travelers before you leave. How will you know who is going to the Ball? Well, just look for the other impeccably dressed passengers, and it’s likely they are with our group. The hotel lobby had a lovely Christmas tree and made for a great backdrop for photos. Now you will also have the opportunity of being photographed in front of the tree at Highclere Castle, but it’s a bit pricey; you should budget about $50 minimum for a photo to be printed and mailed to you. Another photo op will be in front of the Castle at night. When you drive up, you can’t help but “ooh” and “ahh” when you see Highclere flood lit in the distance. You can take photos of the facade before you enter, but taking photos inside the castle is prohibited.

Highclere Castle Library © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLPI am so incredibly excited for anyone who gets to experience the Downton Abbey Christmas Ball this year. It is truly the trip of a lifetime for any Downton fan. If you have questions I didn’t mention, just give me a call at 1-800-555-5765. You can also email me at ehutchins@friendlyplanet.com. I hope to hear from you soon!

Even the familiar is foreign in Japan

Shinjuku, Tokyo
“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
– G.K. Chesterton

Imagine holding up a mirror and reflected back at you is everything you’re not.

Well, Japan is like that—which is why it’s so irresistible for those of us who yearn for travel experiences that make us question everything we thought we knew.

For one, they speak Japanese in Japan. Imagine that. English is not a predominant second language. In fact, outside of Tokyo, you’ll be hard-pressed to run into people who can actually converse with you. If you’re like me, this is all the more reason to go. IMHO Westerners are spoiled with English everywhere. Japan presents an opportunity to stretch ourselves in ways that few industrialized countries demand of us.

Oh, and the street signs? The train system information? The packaging on the things you buy? All written in Japanese! Folks, this is as foreign as it gets. You’ll be completely out of your element, and that, for those of us who really travel, is what we’re after, anyway, right?

Another thing, Japan is mostly Japanese. In this homogeneous society of 125 million, you’ll be a minority. Regardless of your race, if you’re not Japanese, you’ll be far outnumbered. It’s a startling experience if you’ve never had it before. And if you’re tall, you’ll feel like a giant in Japan. If you’re of medium height, you still might feel like a giant in Japan. (Sometimes like a big lumbering oaf, too.)

If you’re still with me, if you’ve got a sense of humor about all of this, book your trip and pack your bags. Japan is about to show you who you’ve never been.

What the mind can conceive, the vending machine can achieve

Over the last decade, the West has seen things like canned coffee showing up in places like Starbucks or the local convenience store. Thanks to Japan’s vending machine culture where rows of brightly lit machines offer every variation on hot black, hot black with milk, hot black with milk and sugar, cold black and on and on—with similar variations on tea—we’ve adopted some of these options for ourselves.

But just when you thought you knew a little something about Japan, betcha didn’t know what a few hundred yen can actually get you from a jidōhanbaiki (vending machine).

Try cold beer, canned or bottled, right out of the machine up until 11 p.m. at night. Need some eggs? Grab a dozen from the vending machine. Heck, get some boiled ones, too. Fresh produce, like bananas, daikon (Japanese radish) and negi (green onion), by the bundle, from vending machines. Toys, in case you forgot a gift for the kids, like Legos and Jenga, or a bouquet of flowers for your honey. Umbrellas, always handy, right out of the machine. Going fishing? How about some live bait, right there in that vending machine. You can even buy live crab and lobster from a machine. Then there’s the ladies underwear (and a whole range of questionable items we won’t get into here), along with flip-flops and even toilet paper, coarse or fine, you get to choose.

And what’s really refreshing is that the machines always seem to work. They accept coins as well as bills up to 1000 yen (US$10) and reliably spit back your change.

Faster than a speeding bullet train

Hold onto your hairpieces, the modern day shinkansen runs up to 200 mph. Since it made its debut just before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, it has transported more than 10 billion people with zero derailments or fatalities. As with every other form of transport in this country that relies heavily on mass transit, the bullet trains run perfectly on time, down to the minute, as orderly and reliable as everything in Japan.

And you thought it was all sushi and ramen (think again)

Don’t get me wrong. Sushi in Japan makes sushi “at home” seem like an impostor. And there’s nothing like a ramen shop to cozy right up in Japan.

Eat like a local: But while you’re seeking out the culinary experiences you thought you’d have, the locals are hanging out at izakaya (kind of like a Japanese tavern) throwing back drinks and supping on inexpensive eats like goma-ae (vegetables tossed in sesame dressing), yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu in broth), tsukemono (pickled vegetables), and all manner of salads, sashimi, and noodle dishes. Look for the red paper lanterns that glow around the entrances to izakaya. When you duck in, you’ll have the option to sit on traditional tatami mats and eat from low tables like the Japanese, or sit at the bar or at table and chairs. In the winter months, your host will greet you with a warm oshibori (wet towel) to wipe your hands, or a cool refreshing one in summer. Izakaya often offer all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat options for a fixed price for several hours. Food comes out rather slowly but dig right in and share everything. This is Japanese family-style eating at its best.

The eats on the streets: Popular around shrines and temples, and on festival occasions are yatai (food stall) that sell Japanese street food like takoyaki (a delicious dumpling with little bits of grilled octopus inside) bathed in a sweet brown sauce and okonomiyaki (meaning “cooked as you like it”), a Japanese pancake cooked with cabbage, shrimp or pork, and green onion, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, bonito (fish flakes) and seaweed seasoning. Also keep an eye out for mitarashi dango, mochi balls (made of rice paste) skewered on a stick and slathered in a sweet soy sauce glaze.
Nightlife in Yurakucho, Tokyo

Utterings, offerings, prayers and good luck

The Japanese aren’t particularly “religious,” yet a spiritual undercurrent guides them in daily life and through times of challenge as well as hope for family, children and self. The predominant religions are Buddhism, which made its way from India and China, and Shintoism, the ancient animistic religion that recognizes spirits or deities in every thing.

Your crash course in Japanese religion goes like this:

  • Sh is for shrine is for Shinto is for jinja, or jingu when used as suffix. You will always enter a shrine through a distinctive red torii (gate). And “sh” is also for shisa, the lion-dogs that guard the entrance.
  • T is for temple is for tera (or honorifically, otera, or dera when used as a suffix). You’ll always see a Buddha image at a temple and there’s usually a massive incense burner near the entrance. Wave some incense over you, or an affected area of your body, for healing.

Mind your manners at temples and shrines. Purify yourself with a ladle of water at the basin when you first enter. Keep your voice down. Observe any rules about photography. Take shoes off whenever you see other people taking shoes off. And always carry a handful of coins to toss in the offering box. It’s not required but it’s customary.

It may be awkward the first time you try to get the prayer sequence down. Ring the bell, bow, clap twice, bow again. And then you see some Japanese person doing it completely differently so you have no idea what you’re “really” supposed to do. But fortunately, nobody’s paying attention and the idea is to simply show reverence, say a prayer, and give it up to the kamisama (spirits) or Buddha or whoever happens to be listening from on high.

Shrines offer an opportunity to deepen your connection with Japan and do a little reflecting yourself. You can purchase omikuji (kind of like a fortune) for a buck when you first enter a shrine such as Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken were fond of writing these poems in 31-syllable form known as waka. He was quite prolific and left behind 100,000 such writings; his wife left a legacy of 30,000 herself. One such waka by the empress reads:

Let us be gentle, honest
Though we lack the worldly greatness
In the bamboo grove of life
To tower over all.

Another way to reach the heavens is to write supplications or thanks on an ema (little wooden board) and hang it at the shrine with hundreds of others, or write a kiganbun (letter to the deities), which you can place in an envelope with a small offering and drop in an offertory box.

Before you leave the shrine or temple, be sure to stop in the shop and pick up an omamori, a Japanese amulet. These beautifully brocaded charms cost around US$5 and are thought to bring good luck. Some are quite specific—for example, passing an exam or finding a spouse, or safety while driving or traveling—while others are for general good fortune and good health.
Ginkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto

Hey hey, it’s the Year of the Monkey

The Chinese zodiac with its 12 animals and their distinct characteristics permeates Japanese culture. Throughout 2016 you’ll see monkey-themed decoratives at shops and shrines. Unlike in Western culture, where people may or may not be “into” astrology, in Japan, people are in tune to the spirit of the year, depending on which animal it is. (By the way, if you were born in 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944 1932, 1920 or 1908, this is your year.) In 2017, it’s the Year of the Rooster and so on.

Saru is how you say “monkey” in Japanese. The term also means “go away” so according to an old saying, wearing red underwear during the monkey year can ward off unwanted things such as disease or financial hardship. This fun, widely held superstition makes for great gifts for the folks back home. Stop into a Japanese department store such as Seibu to view an assortment of monkey year red undies for men and women.

Lose your inhibitions and your ailments

We can’t emphasize it enough. If you really want to “see” Japan, you gotta get naked. Visiting onsen (volcanic hot springs) is a cultural tradition enjoyed by men, women and children of all ages. Because Japan is so volcanically active, there are several thousand onsen throughout this island nation, attracting tourists all year long. Business associates often go to onsen together to help strengthen relations between co-workers. Hadaka no tsukiai (naked communion) allows people to connect in a more relaxed atmosphere.

And because of its mineral content, onsen water is also thought to have healing properties. Different onsen in different locations may have an indoor bath with one type of water, a rotenboro (outdoor bath) with another type, and so on. Not to be confused with sento (public bath houses), which use regular heated tap water to fill the baths, onsen are more of a zen spa experience.

Again, be sure to mind your manners at the onsen. Cleanliness is key since everyone is sharing the water. First, you must wash and rinse yourself using the personalized shower stations that are situated away from the baths. (Pay special attention to your tush or you could get some glares.) As you tiptoe from the shower station to the hot spring, you’ll carry a scanty little towel that allows some modicum of modesty. Be sure to take the towel off before you dip in or, as some Japanese do, pile it on your head while you’re soaking in the water. Don’t wring your dingy cloth out in the water though. It’s very bad form. And, uh—no selfies, please!

Visiting onsen usually includes staying at a traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inn) but some, like Kurama Onsen in the Kurama Mountains north of Kyoto, offer day spa privileges for about $25. Less than an hour train ride from downtown Kyoto and you can be fully immersed, as it were, in a Japanese ritual.
Nasu Onsen, Tochigi  © JNTO

Think outside the karaoke bokkusu (karaoke box)

Public bathing isn’t the only way the Japanese unwind.

Whether you love it or hate it, you’ve probably never done karaoke like it’s done in Japan. While generally a reserved bunch, the Japanese do love to sing. Work relations soften, friendships form, romances evolve in karaoke bokkusu from Hokkaido to Okinawa. For about US$20 per person for two hours, you get your own private soundproof room, a handful of maracas and tambourines, multiple microphones, and a zillion songs in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean to choose from. Grab friends and family members for an unabashed evening of self-expression and soulfulness.

Sure play a mean pachinko ball

Any time of day, any day of the week, walk by a pachinko parlor and you’ll see tight rows of men (and increasingly, women), smoking heavily, mesmerized by a cacophony of sound and light as they fire tiny balls into a vertical machine, kind of like a pinball machine without the flippers, and wait for the balls to hit certain pins and land in certain locations, which then earns them more balls. The object is to win a lot of balls and then trade them in for prizes such as snack food or electronics. Most Westerners simply “don’t get it” but if you’re curious, you can learn how to play pachinko.

Casting call for geisha and samurai

Picture yourself in samurai or geisha garb, strolling through the streets of a bygone era. Now make it happen at Eiga Mura (Movie Village) in Kyoto where almost all of the Japanese samurai films, still popular on television, are created. You pay about US$22 for admission and an extra fee to be fussed over by professional make-up artists and get dressed up in traditional costume for an hour-long stroll around the movie sets.

Things to bring home

  • Kimono (traditional silk garment worn by women) or yukata (lightweight cotton garment worn by men or women)
  • Zodiac memorabilia
  • Noren (Japanese doorway curtain)
  • Chopsticks
  • Zabuton (Japanese floor cushions)
  • Amulets from shrines or temples
  • Japanese pottery

Japanese pottery, an acquired taste: Generally devoid of fancy decorations or colorings, Japanese pottery tends to be rather austere, which may at first appear “boring” to the untrained eye. Yet consider that the country has more than 50 pottery towns, each with their own distinct style of pottery sprung from a rich tradition of pottery making. Kyoto, for one, is known for its Kyo-yaki or Kyomizu yaki which has no particularly unique characteristics, but happens to be famous and sought after merely because it’s Kyoto-made, each piece lovingly crafted by a skilled potter (no mass market, machine-made wares here).

Recommended reading/watching

Lost in Translation with Bill Murray
Shogun by James Clavell

Getting to know Japan is like getting to know yourself. It turns you inside out. Stirs you up. And sends you home with a glimpse of self you never knew.

10 Super Cool & Totally Affordable Things to Do in Tokyo

The Tokyo Tower & Rainbow BridgeSaturday night in Shibuya against a backdrop of flashing neon ads and music from up above, walls of Japanese pedestrians stand ten people thick at each corner waiting to cross forward, back and diagonally once the light turns. When it does, a moving mosaic of people mingles in a remarkably orderly fashion through the intersection, and you find yourself wondering—like so many other weirdly wonderful moments in Japan—is this for real? In Tokyo there are a lot of people. Like 13,000,000 or so. It’s the world’s most populous city ahead, even, of Delhi and Shanghai. And as far as global cities go, Tokyo is uber hip. It’s uber everything, really. So shake off your jet lag and get ready to take a juicy bite out of the Big Mikan*. Here are 10 super cool and totally affordable things to see and do in Tokyo:


Cosplay1Behold the youthful dazzle on Takeshita-dori.

If you want to feel the pulse of Tokyo, go where the young people go. This narrow shopping street in Harajuku teems with young, trendsetting Tokyoites browsing the fashion boutiques and chattering away in the cafes and restaurants lining both sides of the street. On Takeshita-dori, teenagers dress up in cosplay (costume play), parading around as their favorite Japanese anime characters or going Goth with outlandish looks of leather, lace, dyed hair, painted faces and thick black eye liner. Giggling girls twirling frilly parasols go by in baby doll dresses and fancy pinafores, legs peeking out with kooky patterned socks pulled up over their knees. Giant bows adorn their girlie ponytails. It’s like stepping into your very own Japanese cartoon land.


A Tokyo "maid cafe"2Be a part of manga culture in Akihabara.

Akihabara district has been called Otaku Paradise, an oasis for Japanese pop culture nerds who come here to shop for everything anime, as well as games, manga (comic books), and the latest gadgets and electronics. Anime refers to the the Japanese animated cartoons loved by children and adults alike, and increasingly popular and influential outside Japan. Easily recognized by their characteristic wide-eyed people and animals (think Kimba the White Lion or Speed Racer), anime can be thought-provoking and imbued with life lessons.

Akihabara is also where “maid cafes” have sprung up, a cosplay phenomenon featuring young girls in French maid-inspired uniforms serving up tea, coffee and refreshments. Your maid will role play, never breaking out of character, as your very own servant.


Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku3Get assimilated at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku.

Mr. Roboto is alive and well in Shinjuku. You’ve never seen such a display of lights, sequins, girls on motorbikes, feathered headdresses and tiaras—a dancing, drumming robotic carnival involving people dressed up in bizarre animal costumes and performing nonsensical skits that nobody understands but will leave you enthralled, nonetheless. All for about US$70 plus another $9 for a meal. Reservations required, of course.


Meiji Shrine4Show some respect at Meiji Jingu.

The Meiji Shrine and public park is a spiritual tribute to the Emperor Meiji, perhaps the country’s most beloved leader who opened the doors of Japan to Western influence in 1868 after several hundred years of relative seclusion from the outside world. Meiji brought technological change as well as world literature and new ways of thinking to Japan. Here he is enshrined as a deity in Japan’s ancient Shinto religion, an animistic view of life in which there are spirits in everything. (Remember: Shrines are Shinto, temples are Buddhist.) Read up on shrine etiquette beforehand.


Mt. Fuji5Take the cable car up Mt. Takao (Takao-zan).

Just an hour outside of Tokyo, take the cable car or lift halfway up Mt. Takao, then climb the remaining 40 minutes to the top for a most exquisite view of Mt. Fuji. Visit the temples on the way back down the mountain, making offerings to Buddha and uttering prayers of thanks you didn’t fall out of the lift on the way down (no safety bar!). Round trip cable car or lift is less than US$10. Takao is also home to the Takao Monkey Park where a community of 50 monkeys frolic and perform for tourists.


Japanese bath house6Take a bath, Japanese style.

You’ll be able to say you really “did” Japan if you visit a local sento (public bath house) or venture to an onsen (spa-esque bathing in volcanic spring water). Bathing in Japan is a ritualistic experience that often includes a sauna, outdoor spring, whirlpool baths and massage options. Men and women bathe separately, but be prepared to get naked in front of the same sex, and quite possibly be ogled. Be mindful of shoe and slipper etiquette as well (you’ll wear different slippers for the bath than you wear for walking around the facility) and be sure to take a shower first. Plenty of shampoo and liquid soap is provided in the showers and you’ll be given a towel that’s about the size of a kitchen dish towel. There’s nowhere to hide! But once you slip into the bath, a wide-open steaming pool you’ll share with other bathers, close your eyes and luxuriate in one of the most blissful cultural experiences you can imagine—especially in winter! You can visit a Tokyo bath house for US$4–$22. Going to an onsen is a more luxe experience that usually involves an overnight stay in a traditional Japanese inn.


Nabe7Eat with the season.

In the winter months, especially, it’s customary to eat nabe, a Japanese stew that may consist of meat or seafood and a bounty of vegetables like daikon (Japanese radish), enoki mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and udon noodles. Every region of the country has its own variation on nabe and families often have their own renditions as well. Not to be confused with “noodle soup” found in ramen shops, nabe can only be had if you’re invited to someone’s home or you go to a place that serves it up, like Nabezo in Shinjuku and other Tokyo locations. For about US$17 you’ll feast like a local. A tasty bowl of ramen is good any time of year and you can easily spot a ramen shop marked with a short curtain over the door and patrons often standing at a tiny bar within. A hearty bowl of ramen is quick, cheap and tasty, and you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with Japanese so you can watch them slurping the noodles and drinking  broth from the bowl—all the etiquette lessons you’ll need to fit right in.


Edo-Tokyo Museum8Experience Tokyo through the ages at Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Step back in time to the Edo period (1603–1868) and wander through a fascinating, life-size exhibit featuring different “corners,” such as Aesthetics of Edo, Edo’s Four Seasons and Entertainment Districts, Commerce of Edo, and Theatres and Pleasure Districts. You’ll feel like you’re a part of the elaborate scenery complete with full-scale buildings, shops and home interiors, as well as models of festivals and bustling street life. You’ll then cross a wooden bridge into “Tokyo” and experience life and culture from the Meiji Restoration to modern day. At the Edo-Tokyo Museum, you’ll easily absorb 400 years of history in an afternoon for about US$5.


Spanish Fort, Mediterranean Harbor, DisneySea Photo by J. Miers9Get lost at Tokyo DisneySea.

While you might not think to go halfway around the world to an American-inspired amusement park, Tokyo Disney Resort does have a few surprises you won’t find anywhere else on the globe. Adjacent to the main amusement park (Cinderella’s castle and so forth) is Tokyo DisneySea, a nautical extravaganza catering more to adults. You can glide along in a Venetian gondola in the Mediterranean Harbor. On the American Waterfront, subject yourself to the Tower of Terror, a haunting ride that takes you to the top floor of a mysterious 1912 New York Hotel. Or spin and twirl in giant bumper boats in Aquatopia. It’s about US$60 for a day-pass at Tokyo Disney Resort.


Bob Sheppard live at B-Flat Jazz Club, Akasaka  Video by Giarola7710Tap into your soul at a live jazz house.

An unexpected find in Tokyo is jazz culture, often in minuscule spaces where people go to simply hear recorded jazz or see a favorite performer on screen. For live jazz performances, the jazz houses host a bevvy of internationally known musicians and groups, as well as local performers. When the music starts to play, a reverence sets in and Japanese audiences tend to be immensely present to the music. To take in some stellar entertainment try B Flat, a jazz live house venue in Akasaka where you can enjoy two evening sets for about US$22. At Chigusa, a jazz café in Yokohama that’s been around since 1933, they play vinyl recordings, and you can put in requests. The venue has some live shows as well.


At the end of the day you’ll likely be shindoi (completely exhausted) and looking to kick back with a can of Kirin or a cup of hot green tea. So drink up, drink in, and get ready to do it all again tomorrow. This is Tokyo, man—and it’s for real.

* Mikan = clementine orange. The Big Mikan, as Tokyo is affectionately called, is Japan’s variation on the Big Apple.

The Galápagos: one big evolutionary party

Elaborate mating dances. Posturing and parading. Whistling and twittering. Lounging and basking. Such is the festivity of the natural world in the Galápagos Islands—where there’s always something evolutionary happening.

We can’t help but go all Darwin on you when it comes to the Galápagos, seeing as how the young naturalist’s visit to these islands in 1835 sparked a new conversation about life itself that is still ruffling feathers. From his observances of subtleties in animal adaptation in the Galápagos, Darwin determined that living things are shaped by the world around them.

The Galápagos Islands will feed your sense of awe and wonder.  It is here, and only here, that you’ll find the giant Galápagos tortoise, a 500-pound vegetarian that lives to be 150 years or more; the marine iguana, the only lizard that swims in the ocean; the Galapagos land iguana, poor thing, according to Darwin, from its “low facial angle (has) a singularly stupid appearance”; the Galápagos penguin, the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild; and the “true” Sally Lightfoot Crab that tiptoes nimbly across rock and sand.

Then there are the blue-footed boobies flaunting their cerulean feet for all the single ladies. These guys court, mate and nest all year round—talk about a party!

So what else do 95 species of birds, mammals and reptiles do for fun on the 13 main islands that make up the archipelago?

Galápagos island action

San Cristóbal, where Charles Darwin first touched down, was turned into a penal colony for mainland Ecuadorian prisoners in 1880. Today it’s a free for all of frigate birds, sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas and blue- and red-footed boobies. Punta Pitt at the far eastern end of the island is home to a raucous bunch of stag sea lions.

On Santa Fe Island the unruly sea lions sprawl such that you can barely get to the footpaths. Dining nearby on succulent prickly pear cactus is the Barrington land iguana, endemic to Santa Fe Island. The island’s finches feast on ticks and parasites off the backs of these cold-blooded creatures.

Geological wonders abide on Santa Cruz Island, itself a dormant volcano where you can explore lava tunnels more than a mile long and visit “Los Gemelos” (the twins), giant holes that were formed from a collapsed magma chamber.

Santa Cruz Island is also where you’ll visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, an educational resource center on everything Galápagos where you can learn about breeding of giant tortoises and efforts to save them.

For tortoises in the wild in greater abundance than all of the Galápagos Islands combined, head for Isabela Island where there’s a different tortoise species for every one of the island’s six volcanoes. The surrounding waters of Isabela also happen to be the best for spotting whales while the mangroves along the coast at Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black are home to the mangrove finch—a sadly dwindling party with fewer than 100 left in the world.

The Galápagos underwater party

The more serious revelers take it “underground.” Snorkeling just off shore you can peer into a see-and-be-seen world of frolicking sea lions, curious marine iguanas, tropical fish, plus rays, eels and sharks.

Scuba diving in Galápagos is exclusively for intermediate and advanced divers. Some of the hottest spots are Gordon Rocks where the hammerhead sharks hang, and Leon Dormido (also known as Kicker Rock), so named because the formation looks like a sleeping lion.

In the Galapagos you’ll wish the party never ended. The up-close moments with wildlife. The intimate experience of nature doing its thing. And you, the observer and the observed, part of the whole brilliant cycle of life.

It’s time to get this party started. Book your Galapagos adventure now.

Recommended Reading

The Beak of the Finch

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali noCaptionIn the Hindu world, Diwali is celebrated with beautiful lights, sweets, feasts, fireworks and general partying. It’s a time to shed light on the darkness, a metaphor for a victory of good (the light) over evil (the darkness). A deeper meaning has to do with light as metaphor for wisdom and enlightenment. Diwali is actually a five day festival, but the main event occurs on the Hindu month of Kartika, the first and darkest night of the new moon, and in our Georgian calendar, between mid-October and mid-November.

If you’re planning a trip to India or Nepal (or half a dozen other countries around the world), you’ll be in for a major treat if you happen to travel during Diwali. You’ll see families out and about in their new outfits, participating in prayers to Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) lighting lamps and candles inside and outside their homes, setting off fireworks and exchanging gifts with families and friends.

The holiday of Diwali is all about the lighting of lights, both external, as in flames, fireworks, and candles, and internal, as in becoming happier, wiser and enlightened. In gaining this wisdom, you find the way to a more fulfilling, richer life, both for yourself and for others. It’s a beautiful holiday full of meaning and blessings for everyone who participates, Hindu or not.

10 Reasons You Should Visit Greece Now

Mykonos, Greece1Without a doubt, Greece is comprised of some of the most beautiful islands in all of the Mediterranean. There are thousands of gorgeous islands to choose from, spread over just a few hundred miles. This makes Greece the perfect destination for island hopping.


Enjoying seafood in Crete2Foodies rejoice! In Greece you’ll find fresh seafood (and we mean fresh!), local produce and fruits, tender oven-roasted lamb, and the original feta cheese. And don’t forget the olive oil, wine and Ouzo!


Parthenon, Athens3History comes alive! Greece is the country that gave rise to Western Civilization and the birthplace of democracy, drama, art, science and philosophy. From the Acropolis in Athens, to Knossos Palace in Crete to the site of the first Olympic games in Olympia, Greece is filled with important historical sites and archaeological wonders.


Romance on Santorini4Romance is no stranger to Greece. Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or just looking for a romantic getaway, the charming island of Santorini is just one of the many perfect fairy-tale settings.


Meteora 5Greece is one of those destinations that truly has something for everyone (it’s also kid friendly). Whether you’re a history buff, adventure seeker, foodie, nature lover, or you’re just looking to soak up some rays on the white sand beaches, Greece is the place for you!


Canal D'amour Beach, Corfu6If you’re looking for breathtaking beaches, look no further! Greece has hundreds of diverse beaches to choose from for swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing.


Sunset in Santorini7The scenery in Greece is second to none. From lush gardens filled with olive trees, to the picturesque whitewashed villages in Santorini, to the rocky view of Mount Olympus, you’ll put that camera to good use.



Greek Man with Donkey

8Greek people are some of the friendliest, happiest people you will ever encounter. Despite the hardships the Greeks have faced over the years, they’re still as warm and welcoming as ever.


Heraklion market9Right now traveling to Greece is more affordable than ever. Tourism also happens to be one of Greece’s main industries, so you won’t be the only one benefiting if you decide to travel to Greece.


Caryatids porch, Acropolis, Athens10If you ask us, Athens is one of the most interesting and unique cities in all of Europe! While it’s one of the world’s oldest cities, it’s also modern and cosmopolitan.


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