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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back to Mykonos by Margot Justes

Yesterday and today I listened to singer Nana Mouskouri and the music brought back many memories of Greece. I will be back in Mykonos in October and this time plan to spend the whole day seeing what I missed last time, because I went to Delos instead.

I thought I'd share a few memories with you. I did post this blog before, but it has been a while. So here it goes, fond memories of Mykonos.
The water lapping the shore, the beaches along the coast primed for tourists, the cafes and restaurants all facing the deep blue water, the caress of a gentle breeze, the radiant sun warming your soul; all is well with the world. At least the world of Mykonos.

I only spent about three very short hours in Mykonos, but they were memorable hours. I walked the length of the beach in the center of town and of course stopped in the obligatory shops, just because you have to stop, it's the touristy thing to do, and never let it be said I'm not a tourist. Nor were the cafes neglected, just in case there were any questions about my coffee addiction, I happen to love Greek coffee, sweet. Very sweet.

It has been said that Mykonos is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades. It's history is vague, but somewhere around 1207 and 1390 the island was ceded to the Ghisi family, there is also mention that at some point in time the inhabitants turned to piracy. By the 18th century the island established an economic presence and today tourists provide a great deal of economic prosperity.

There is more to the rich and vibrant island, but I'm only writing a blog, among the treasures are some 400 churches, the most renowned among them is the Virgin Paraportiani, and of course the famous Windmills, as they beckon the ferries, boats, ships and anything else floating in the water. Up close and personal they are huge and oddly welcoming.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Being a Tourist by Margot Justes

I often wonder how most people tour a big foreign city. How do they prepare? Is everything left to the tour company, with that extra half day on their own? Or do tourists venture out on their own?

I'll be in Rome in four months and have already selected specific sites I do not want to miss. I've visited Rome but it was many, many years ago and I want a refresher course.

I've selected three walking tours, my favorite way to see a city and not get lost. A map is very handy, if you know how to read one, for me that is a useless effort, I can't read maps, and if on my own, North happens to be wherever I'm facing-not a good thing. However, I'm not afraid to ask a stranger for directions, and I do carry a small city map with me, after being told which way to go and where to turn, I can generally find my way.

A few years ago I was in Berlin with my daughter, she was there to do research, and I had the days to myself. The morning I wondered about the city, and of course I got lost but in the process I discovered some wondrous little side streets, stopped for a delicious cup of coffee and wound up at Check Point Charlie, from there it was an easy walk back to the hotel. I had a terrific time.

I digress, back to Rome, I've selected an afternoon walking tour to get familiar with the city and its monuments, one evening walk, sort of a lover's look at romantic Rome, and of course given Rome's age I'm sure there are a few ghosts and goblins scattered around, and I aim to find them with the help of a guide of course.

The must see stuff I do first and I leave myself some breathing space for the unexpected treasures, a cafe, a sit down on the Spanish Steps, a small neighborhood church, an art gallery, all those delicious incidental discoveries that are so memorable.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Boutique Hotel or Chain by Margot Justes

When travelling do you choose the all familiar feeling of a well known hotel chain, or go with something a bit different, an unknown?

In the US, I stay with the familiar, it's home and I want that familiarity in the hotel. I want my expectations to be met. I'm not one for bed & breakfast type of places, I prefer the anonymity of the hotel. I once stayed in a bed & breakfast, and once was enough. I don't find them romantic, I find them intrusive but that is my personal preference. At home, give me a good well known hotel any day of the week.

That being said, in Europe, my preferences change, I choose the boutique hotels, the unknown names. I find them charming, sometimes worn with age, some sporting facelifts, but the essence is the same, they reflect the romance and adventure of the city they live in.

Hotel Lutetia in Paris is one such place, Art Deco meets the Belle Époque, it's at the center of Paris, easy access to most sites and a 40 minute walk to the Rodin Museum.

The Royal Crescent in Bath, England is another such delight. It is part of a small chain of the Von Essen Hotels, each one is unique, old architecturally significant buildings and castles have been converted to magnificent hotels.

Take a chance and look for the unique, not the familiar. Prices vary based on the season, go off season-like airfares, hotels are discounted.

In many cases if you travel to and plan on spending a few days in a major city, you can book a vacation through the airlines. There are some lovely prices included in the hotel and air package, even half day tours to get you acquainted with the city. My favorite way of finding a new hotel is simply to Google hotels in a specific city and do a bit of research on line.

Local transportation is easy and you do not have to speak the language to get around, but learn a few words of the local language, and be careful and aware of your surroundings. Be a vigilant tourist, whether it's at home or anywhere else in the world.

I don't like to take tours ala the 'If this is Tuesday it must be Belgium' premise. (Funny movie by the way.) If I'm going to Paris, London Rome, Berlin, Hong Kong or Venice, any major city, I stay put a few days to get to know the city and its pulse.

Check prices on-line sites like Expedia, (not a big fan) but don't forget to deal directly with the hotel. I e-mailed the Crescent hotel in Bath and got a fantastic price, they had a special off season rate that was unbeatable. Now, I get e-mails from the Von Essen hotels notifying me of other deals. They have a terrific medieval castle in Edinburgh, Scotland I plan to visit soon. Falconry and archery anyone? Never tried either one, but certainly plan to do so in the very near future.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris