Author: Gretchen

Ancient temples, island escapes and mountaintop monasteries: 7 days in Greece

One of the biggest challenges I had while planning my trip to Europe was how to spend seven days in Greece. The ferry connections were bewildering, and since I was visiting in the off-season (November), it was even harder to determine whether certain ferries were running.

This itinerary offers a little bit of everything –the history and awe-inspiring sights of Athens, the scenery and hiking of incredible Meteora, plus the must-see island of Santorini.

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Why travel solo? 10 reasons to take on the world by yourself

I’ll admit it —when I first decided I was going to travel alone through Europe and Southeast Asia, I was terrified. The thought of spending four months by myself, traveling through foreign countries surrounded by a bunch of strangers who didn’t speak the same language sounded…scary. Friends and family telling me how dangerous the world was didn’t help much —according to popular opinion, if I wasn’t killed in a terrorist attack or raped in a dark alley, I would be lucky to arrive back in San Francisco as a travel-hardened survivor of sexual harassment, rampant pickpockets and mosquito-born illness.

Epic hike: the monasteries of Meteora, Greece

If you ever get the chance to visit the stunning rock formations and monasteries of Meteora, Greece, don’t miss it. Meteora, which literally means “middle of the sky,” “suspended in air,” or “in the heavens” is a region of spectacular monolithic stone pillars in northern Greece. Occupied by monks since the 14th century, the six gravity-defying Greek Orthodox monasteries of Meteora sit high above the village of Kalambaka, offering a vista of Greek religious history, eye-popping scenery and confounding structural engineering. You’ll find yourself wondering, “How on earth did they do that?” at every turn.  Apparently, God doesn’t require a building permit. Getting there There are daily bus connections and trains from Athens, and bus connections to Thessaloniki, Delphi and many other cities in Greece. I recommend using the website Rome2Rio to map out your transportation. If you’re visiting Meteora on the weekend or during high season, it’s smart to book your transportation ahead. Once you arrive in Kalambaka,  it’s a half day hike to visit all of the monasteries via the trail that connects them, …

Salzburg: city of music

I arrived in Salzburg at night, in the rain and was immediately lost. Luckily, a kind local went out of his way to walk me to the hostel I had brilliantly decided not to book in advance. Apparently, Salzburg is the place to be on a Friday night in October in Austria, because this large hostel didn’t have a single bed left. The receptionist handed me a map, scribbled a bus number on it and circled a point far across the city where she said they might have a hostel bed. Back into the cold, rainy night I went. After several more mistakes that ended with me trudging in circles (hey, it was a roundabout), I finally staggered into the hostel around midnight, three hours after arriving in the city. “Yes, we have one bed left,” said the nice young guy working at the reception desk. If I’d had any energy left I would have jumped over the desk and hugged him. Instead, I handed him my passport. I spent the next two days roving the city of Salzburg, entranced …

Prague: city of a hundred spires

My first impression of Prague was an intriguing blend of Russia, Paris and San Francisco. It was raining and there were cable cars, the beautiful city was spread along both banks of a river, and the colorful baroque buildings were topped with bulbous spires. In a disastrous plot twist, I dropped my iPhone in the hostel toilet, majorly impacting my ability to navigate and communicate while traveling solo. Since getting my unlocked phone to work in each country had been a point of anxiety up until the great plunge of October 8, I couldn’t help but think this was the universe’s way of stripping away another layer of my security and challenging me to exist without the comfort of a screen separating me from the experience of traveling in a foreign country. The food in Prague consisted of meat and pastry dough combined in various forms, with beer almost counting as the third major food group. The Czechs drink more beer per man, woman and child than any other country in the world —30+ liters more beer per …

October reading list

My last-minute Kindle purchase has turned out to be a great thing. As a solo traveler, it’s nice to have a library of books to turn to during those inevitable moments of downtime…waiting for a bus, long train rides and hideous lines  (or ‘queues’ as they’re called in Europe) at tourist attractions. Especially since my phone only works when there’s WiFi, and really, I’d rather be reading a book than scrolling through Instagram. Here’s what I’ve been reading on the road this month: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer   Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts Warrior Goddess Training: Become the Woman You Are Meant to Be by Heather Ash Amara   An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon I can’t figure out how to watch Outlander Season 2 outside the US, so An Echo in the Bone is the perfect antidote to my travel-imposed droughtlander. If anybody knows, message me!   Become What you Are by Alan Watts

8 perfect things to do in Paris

Here are a few of my favorite things I did in Paris, in no particular order: Sacre Coeur Climbing the steep hill to Sacre Coeur left me breathless. When I stepped inside this immense cathedral I felt awed by the grandeur. Arriving at sunset was an extra treat…Paris was awash in golden light. I brought a picnic dinner and sat on the grass to enjoy my feast with a view, then stayed until dark to watch the city begin to twinkle. Arc d’Triumph  A short subway ride from Sacre Coeur, the Arc d’Triumph was impressively large and gave a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower and the wide boulevards of Paris, laid out below on interlocking axis. I found myself thinking, if city planners back then knew how to lay out such a beautiful, livable city, why don’t modern city planners apply some of these same ideas? As the Eiffel Tower twinkled in the distance, I savored a moment of being fully present. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I had begun my journey. Beneath the Arc was the …

Paris

Paris was a photograph come to life. Narrow cobblestone streets were lined with bistros and cafes, overlooked by tall 19th century apartments with windows fronted by wrought iron balustrades, intersected by canals and river walks, while the Eiffel Tower and the Arc d’Triumph stood sentry over the city.

A delayed bon voyage

After an unexpected plot twist set my departure back a day, I was eager to start my journey through Europe and Southeast Asia. My first destination? Paris. I hadn’t even left home yet, but the world of travel was already teaching me some valuable lessons. C’est la vie. Lesson #1 — Avoid flying on a budget airline. Lesson #2 — If ignoring lesson #1, triple check your departure time, especially when the budget airline you are flying on changed the departure time by shifting it forwards almost 12 hours in a cryptic email with departure times listed without AM or PM. Lesson #3 — When you have missed your budget airline flight to Europe and need to book a last minute flight because no refunds or rescheduling, airline miles are a girl’s best friend. So, how did it feel to embark on the trip of a lifetime, one that had been several years in the making and had taken countless hours of planning? It felt a little bit like the nervous excitement on your first …

Weekend Getaway: Ojai, California

For those of us living within the smoggy confines of Los Angeles or Orange County, the need to break away for a weekend of fresh air is a common occurrence.

Hey, sometimes you just need to see a tree that’s not a palm tree.

Searching for somewhere that’s a short drive away from LA, but feels world’s apart from Hollywood, the 405 and South Coast Plaza? Try Ojai.