A shout-out to some serious photo talent

I recently was in the need to update my head shots. Ah, the ubiquitous head shot. Something everyone needs, probably has, and most likely isn’t satisfied with. Enter, Verena. My boyfriend’s ultra talented sister, Verena, just happens to have a photography business on the side, and was more than willing to take them for me. I ended up LOVING the results. I have posted them below.

If you’re ever in need of photography, get in touch with Verena. She’s talented, funny, and all-around wonderful. Check out her website: http://www.vraduphotography.com for more of her work. You can also email her vr@vraduphtography.com

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Greece – Santorini – Pt. 3

Our third day on Santorini we opted for a sailing trip around the island. There are several  companies that offer this service on Santorini. We went with the Sunset Oia Sailing Day Tour. They offer a lovely service, and we had a really nice time sailing around the island. The package comes with unlimited food and drink, and the boat stops at three different places for you to jump off the boat and swim. This was my first time really sailing, so I was really blown away at how exhilarating it is!

The trip takes about 5 hours, and you end with a sunset. How much better can it get?

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Greece – Santorini – Pt. 2

Our second day in Santorini was to be spent doing two of my favorite things – sunning on the beach, and going to wineries for tastings. Santorini has several wineries to visit, and there is an option to follow a map to see all of them. I however, was on vacation, and visiting wineries is a little bit like work, so I opted instead for a morning filled with sun and the beach, followed by an hour or two at Boutari.

Santorini offers many beaches, but after a study of the map, Paul and I opted for the Perissa, the Black Beach. I had never seen black volcanic sand, so it was neat to see it. Warning – black sand absorbs heat! Your feet will burn. There were several points where I had to run from my chair to the ocean because the sand was so hot. Other than that, the Black Beach is lovely. There are chairs to rent for 5 euros, and a nice chilly Mediterranean to enjoy. Paul and I grabbed two chairs, and settled in for some relaxing beach time. I even got my hair wet!

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After the beach, we opted for some wine, and made our way to the Boutari Winery. Boutari has wine growing operations on many Greek islands, but has their home on Santorini. They are a large commercial growing operation, but their tasting room leaves a bit of charm left so it doesn’t feel overly commercial. The staff are friendly, and the wine selection offers a plentiful swath of Greek varietals. Order a tasting flight and an appetizer or two, and toast Santorini! I would recommend the Moschofilero and their Asyrtiko, both are lovely.

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For our second sunset, we decided to brave the crowds and walk to the tip of Oia. Everyone else on Santorini had the same idea. What a nightmare. So crowded, not that impressive of a sunset, and just people, everywhere. We took a few photos, but spent most of the time fighting crowds. If you’re on Santorini, walk through Oia in the daytime. It’s lovely, its exactly what it looks like on the postcards, and it’s not worth fighting the crowds in the evening for the sunset.

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Here are some photos of Oia in the daytime. Everything is such a startling white! It’s really lovely. It also looks exactly like you see on the postcards. But it’s worth a stroll through, at the very least.

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Greece – Santorini – Pt. 1

Santorini is everything you read about. It’s jammed with tourists, it’s alarmingly beautiful, it’s expensive, and it’s stunning. Arriving on Santorini by ferry, you’ll see just how incredible the island really is. It’s just gorgeous. As Paul and I rode in by ferry, we couldn’t help but notice the cliffs, and the white domes that dotted them. Santorini is just a beautiful place.

You can arrive on Santorini and take the public bus up from the Port. You can also rent a car, a scooter, a four wheeler, or a motorcycle. If you want to save cash, take the bus or a taxi up to your hotel, and then rent a quad or a scooter. If you want a little more flexibility and speed, rent a car. Please, all tourists, for the love of everything that is holy, don’t get drunk and drive your quad. Everyone thanks you.

Santorini has a few major towns along it’s main road. The most popular place is Oia, which is famous for it’s tourists, and sunsets. Paul and I stayed in Oia, in a charming hotel called Maria’s Place. Maria’s Place is a lovely spot, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Oia. It’s a short walk from the main town, but you will still get a good deal on the room.

Santorini is famous for sunsets. It won’t disappoint. We spent our first night at a winery, Santo Wines, taking in the sunset. Get here early, order some wine and snacks, and settle in for a view of a lifetime. Seriously, some of the most incredible views of the sun setting over the ocean I have ever seen.

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Cherry Blossoms

The Cherry Blossom Festival in DC is a very special attribute to our nation’s capital, and one I find particularly thrilling. The cherry trees along the Tidal Basin and around the DC metro area burst into magnificent bloom each spring. Many of the trees were a gift from the Japanese in the early part of the 20th century. Cherry blossoms have become part of the city’s identity, and are celebrated each year with a Festival, replete with a parade, photo competition and more. The more cynical residents of DC find this annual Festival tiresome, as the hordes gather to see the blossoms, clogging the Metro and covering the National Mall with trash. But for me, the cherry blossoms are one of my most favorite times of the year. There is a kite festival, a parade, different opportunities to understand Japanese culture, and, not least of course, absolutely breathtaking blossoms and views of our Monuments on the National Mall.

This is my 5th spring in the District of Colombia, and each year, I have made an effort to take in the Cherry Blossoms. This year’s blossoms were no exception to the rule, they were stunning. If you’re ever in DC for this time of year, I would recommend making time for this. Bring patience, as the crowds are quite frustrating. If you can see past the cliche’d tourists, and the rather folksy heady anticipation for something that will happen every year, regardless of how much you talk it up, you will enjoy yourself. Take a camera, and head down to the Tidal Basin and take in the Blossoms. Pack a lunch, and go with a few friends. Just see them. They’re just beautiful.

Since this is my 5th spring in the District, I’ve posted a collection of my favorite photos from the past 5 years of blossoms. I hope you enjoy.

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Greece – Crete Pt. 3 – Balos Beach

“You must go to Balos Beach” the man told us. A friend’s blog also told us the same thing. “To Balos, you must go early. No party party tonight as you get up tomorrow very early, at 7:00, get pastry, and drive there.” Our hotelier explained to us as he was making marks on a local tourist map that was totally not to scale, and largely useless. So, on the insistence of our hotelier, and by recommendation of our friend, we decided that our second full day in Crete would be spent partly on Balos Beach. 

Getting to Balos Beach isn’t just a drive, oh no, that would be too easy. But let me start at the beginning. We did get up, but weren’t on the road until more like 7:30. We stopped for pastry, as ordered, and Paul devoured some sticky sugary thing while I took down a green tea like I do every morning. Breakfast pastry is still something I don’t understand. But I hate fun, and sugar, so I’m basically un-american, and not who pastry is for anyway.

We headed up the coast of Crete, per the directions of our map, the map from our hotelier, and a bit of googling. We pulled off the main highway onto a more regional road, and drove through a small town. Following that small town we turned off onto an even smaller and narrower road, and off that road, an even smaller road/path that made it’s way along the base of a mountain and to the entrance to a state park. We paid to enter, and as we drove along, we wondered, “would our little car make it?” The road was treacherous for two reasons, the first being the rocks it was paved with, and the second being the fact that it was barely wide enough for our small rental, much less oncoming cars. You could not drive fast on this road. You could barely drive on this road! I have to hand it to our little Citroen rental though, it managed to make it up the mountain, and in second gear because we couldn’t go any faster than that for fear of blowing tires or bouncing off the side of the mountain, or both. 

The sea stretches beautifully to your right as your artfully steer your way along the winding road. Flocks of goats dot the mountainsides, and the only vegetation that seems to grow is thyme. There is thyme everywhere, and nothing else. These goats seem to stay alive, but I think thyme is all they get to eat because I saw nothing else growing. 

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We had been in the car nearly two hours, and had passed several very decent beaches on the way, and still, had not reached our destination. No, we were on a road that was barely fit for the goats that dotted it, and I wasn’t sure we were ever going to see this damned Balos Beach. “Are you sure this is going to be worth it?” I asked aloud. “Do we even have a spare tire for this car?” I was skeptical. Finally, a gathering of cars emerged and we parked. We were early, which was great, because it wasn’t crowded yet. But we still couldn’t see the beach. We put together our backpack, grabbed our water, and started to hike. Yes, you heard that right, hike. We had just driven nearly two hours, 40 minutes of them on a road that was not built for beasts much less cars, and now we had to walk? This beach had better be worth it I thought to myself. 

It is about another 25-30 minutes hike down to the beach. We had just driven up the mountain, only to have to hike back down it again. So off we went. The air was hot, dusty, and the dirt was a redding clay color. There wasn’t much of anything growing as we picked our way down a well-worn path to the famous Balos Beach. 

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Finally, we reached the edge and got our first glimpse of the beach. Oh, my, gosh. 

 

 

 

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What a view right? WRONG. It get’s better! And we still weren’t done hiking yet. 

 

 

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As you can see from the photos above, we still were on the mountain, and hadn’t actually made it to the beach. I swallowed my gripes from earlier that morning, and absolutely couldn’t wait to get down to the beach. As we hiked down the rocky mountain eventually turned into soft sand. We ditched our shoes and carried them and walked onto this magnificent beach. Oh my goodness I cannot tell you, the view, the water, and sand, it was absolutely marvelous. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. The best part though, honestly, the chairs. There were chairs! Even on such a remote beach, there were chairs and umbrellas for rent for, you guessed it, 5 euros. There are some things that Europe just has figured out. 

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We settled into two chairs, and got comfortable. We spent a gorgeous morning and early afternoon at Balos, and learned that the man who had insisted that we go to Balos was right, “you must get there early”. Around 1:00, the tour boats come, and unload hundreds of passengers who are also there to enjoy the beach for the day. We were fortunate to have had a couple of hours of the beach largely to ourselves, and a few other early risers. 

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The water was cool, the sand was soft, and we had chairs and our Kindles. Speaking of Kindle, if you own a 3G Kindle, you get service on Balos. I finished a book, and I was able to download another, right there by the water. I truly am a 21st century traveler.

What a magnificent place Balos Beach is. If you ever find yourself in Crete, make the time to drive and then hike to Balos. You will not regret it. If you’re less adventurous, or out of shape, you can take a tour boat. 

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Greece – Crete – Pt. 2

The trouble with the internet is that it’s made us both brilliant and lazy. We can know everything, but yet, we must rely on it to learn everything. It’s amazing for research, and trip planning, but sometimes, it doesn’t let us see the forest for the trees. I will admit that Paul and I relied on the internet just a little bit too much for our trip, and normally I would never admit to it, but in this case, the internet helped us out. When we arrived back at the hotel after a perfect day at the beach, we were famished. But where do we go for dinner? The old Venetian harbor is filled with cafes and restaurants, how does one choose? Well you ask Trip Advisor of course. 

Restaurants in the old Venetian harbor of Chania are very proud of their Trip Advisor rankings. They post them on their signs. “Ranked #3 on Trip Advisor!” Paul decided that we should go to the #1 ranked restaurant, and so we did. We walked from our hotel to the harbor, which took about ten minutes. The inner harbor is beautiful in so many ways. The ocean breaks against a sea wall that runs into the sea and stops at a lighthouse. The harbor is calm, with small boats bobbing lightly in the ebb of the water. The sun was starting to set as we walked in. We walked to the sea wall, and strolled along it for a few minutes. What a view. The inner harbor is dotted with restaurants and galleries and stores, and bustling with people. The boats were calmly moored, and the whole place had a chaotic calm to it. As the waning sun warmed my face, I tried to memorize this view I was taking in, hoping never to forget it. It was so lovely. 

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We ate at a fabulous restaurant, at a table at the very edge of the patio. It was maybe 20 feet from the water. I don’t exaggerate when I say that it was a divine way to spend an evening. Some song lyrics from “Some Enchanted Evening” come to mind when I think of this night. 

“Who can explain it”
Who can tell you why? 
Fools give you reasons, 
Wise men never try.”

The night was enchanted for me. As we sat at our table waiting for our food to come, I was struck by the fact that for the second time in just one day, I was exactly where I wanted to be, with the person that I wanted to be there with. As the sunlight slowly faded, and the streetlights flickered on to fight the darkness, there was a short time, just before the sun set, where the last of it’s rays gleamed on the water alongside the orangish light of the street lamps. From our table, we watched as the lighthouse turned on, and the sun gently disappeared. We did not have to move. We did not have to maneuver around others. We just sat, and sipped Greek wine, and watched the sun set. 

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Our food was delicious. Paul ate an entire fish, and our pork belly appetizer was so good that I don’t think I’ve ever had its equal. Who knew? The kitchen staff were also big fans of Adele, as I heard snippets of her album float over all night. (I’m telling you. Pop music is inescapable.) Also, we made friends with some local cats. 

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