A Travellerspoint blog

Mykonos: Old Town

Windmills, Gyros, & Donkeys

September is considered the end of the season in Mykonos, yet the town is still fairly crowded with cars, four-wheelers, scooters, and an occasional bus. The bustle is part of the fun as you wander this small, picturesque place. A short ride from Ornos, where we were staying, the first place we wanted to see was the famous windmills. Mykonos is nicknamed the windy island and is part of the Cyclades group in the Aegean. The windmills were built in the 16th century and were used to mill wheat. Now they serve as backdrops for photos. Sitting on a small hill, they overlook the small area of town known as Little Venice.
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Mykonos Town is also known as Chora-everything in Greece has more than one name-and has a reputation as a party town. It is also a shopping town. Shops range from touristy trinket traps to the high end glamour of Louis Vuitton and everything in between. Wandering the pretty tile and cobblestone streets and window shopping (lèche vitrine as the French say) is a great way to spend an afternoon.
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There are endless places to snack, have a cool drink, or a full meal at a church turned pizza place.
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And what trip in Greece would be complete without a gyro?
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If you get too tired to walk and don't want to take your chances on a scooter or a motorcycle, you could always try a donkey ride.
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Posted by teethetrav 14:19 Archived in Greece Tagged mykonos town_chora_windmills_greece_orn Comments (0)

Mykonos: Ornos Beach

Return to Travel

We dreamed about visiting Greece for a long time before we went. The pandemic made that dream seem as though it would never happen, but in September 2021 we left the US armed with a folder full of documents (vaccinations, Covid 19 tests, PLCs, and more) and headed to Greece. After a long flight from NJ to Athens, we boarded a 30 minute flight to Mykonos, found a taxi and headed to our apartment in Ornos. We picked Ornos because reviews said it had the best beach on the island. The reviews were right.
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Mykonos is crowded and hot in July and August. By September, Ornos Beach is perfect. The weather is warm and breezy and you can have your pick of beach lounges if you are willing to pay 30 euros for two chairs and an umbrella. If you're not, there is section of beach where you are free to park your towel and enjoy the same gorgeous views for free.
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The beach itself was family friendly and there were ample restaurants at every price point. After scrutinizing menus, we opted for the seafood temptations of Kostantis. With seats overlooking the water, we spent the late afternoon into the evening enjoying appetizers, sharing main dishes, and delicious Greek wine. We sampled grilled octopus, sea urchin salad (which isn't really salad), fried zucchini, and grilled vegetables with cheese. Everything was fresh and delicious.
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The water was calm and the views of the harbor kept changing as boats came and went. You could hop on a charter which would take you to one or more nearby islands. We chose to relax and swim or work on our tans on our lounges and order cool drinks with friendly wait staff happy to deliver them.
Ornos Beach is popular with locals, as well. Right after we left this appeared in the local papers. A famous Greek singer performed at a local wedding and decided to hang around for a few days. It wasn't the last time we just missed a celebrity on this trip. After we left Athens, none other than Sting showed up with Eric Burden! So close!!!
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Posted by teethetrav 19:28 Archived in Greece Tagged mykonos_ornos_ornos beach_kostantis_konstantinos argyros Comments (0)

Greece! Return to Travel

Hoops & Hospitality

Any visitor to this site loves travel and has been affected by Covid19. Whether we were kept from visit family and friends, or couldn't scratch the wanderlust itch, the pandemic has touched us all. If staying put was the worst of it, that was a small price to pay since the pandemic has taken a much greater toll on millions of lives and businesses.

Citizens of the US were not permitted in most countries until recently. My daughter and I began to plan a trip to Greece more than six months before the ban was lifted without knowing if we would be able to travel. I was careful to only make refundable reservations since I was burned by an airline booking company and a tour company (Bamboo Tours--see previous blog). Both cancelled in 2019 and I have yet to receive a refund from either one. However, I am thrilled to report that we did not have to cancel Greece and that we had an amazing trip in September 2021 which included Mykonos, Santorini, and a final stop in Athens. There were, however, a lot of hoops and enough paperwork to make it feel like I was taking a course for credit. We took four flights and a ferry each with complicated requirements. Or so they said.

The US State Department had Greece on its high risk list of places it did not recommend visiting. We decided to ignore the warning since we were going in shoulder season after most of the tourists and tour groups had left. The weather was still warm so we would be able to eat our meals outdoors. After six months of planning, until a week before we left we still weren't sure our trip was going to happen.

A week before we left, the European Schengen recommended closing the doors to US citizens again due to the high rate of Covid 19. Happily, Greece did not impose the ban on US citizens. We did, however, need to provide proof of vaccination. We also received multiple, conflicting emails from United about whether or not we needed a Covid test to enter. We got one to be sure we could get on the plane. I'm still not sure we needed the test. Greece also required a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before flying to show where we would be staying in case we needed to be contact traced. Further research showed that any time we flew or took public transport within Greece, we could be randomly tested. That never happened. We did need to test negative before returning to the US. Athens airport has a testing facility that we booked online while still in the US. There were a few more hoops, such as a lengthy form to fill out and bring on the ferry. No one ever asked to see it, but we had it ready. The were many hoops we jumped through in order to travel again were worth it. Greece is as beautiful as it is hospitable. The people, the scenery, and the food are well worth the extra travel precautions.

We flew out of Newark Airport which was fairly uneventful. Everyone is required to be masked in the airport and on board. However, no social distancing is enforced in the airport or going through security. Fortunately, it wasn't very crowded and since all international flights require passengers to be vaccinated, we felt safe.

After we landed in Athens, we waited to board our next flight to Mykonos, our first destination. We booked a small apartment in Ornos with a kitchenette. We did not want to rent a car and I checked with the hotel to see if we could manage without one and he assured me we could. We couldn't.
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It was an adventure. Our place was at the top of a hill and there was no way to get anywhere without a vehicle. The place had a beautiful pool and a view of the windsurfing beach. The helpful hotel manager gave us a few rides and we planned our days so we didn't have to move from place to place often. Taxis took us wherever we wanted to go. Taxis in Mykonos run on island time so there was usually a wait. Also, there are not many taxi services available which is a good thing to know if you do not want to rent a car. Here are some views from our place in Ornos. It was the start of an amazing, long-awaited trip.
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Posted by teethetrav 13:33 Archived in Greece Tagged greece_mykonos_ornos_travel restrictions_covid19_plf_ Comments (0)

Bamboo Tours: Beware of Karma

The Trip to Thailand That Never Happened

Over the years, I've only posted one other time to warn people about a company. I love to promote travel, good hosts, good hotels, good places to go, restaurants, and friendly tour groups such as Rabbies in Scotland and Gate 1, two of my favorites. Unfortunately, I have had my worst experience ever with a group called Bamboo Tours. To be clear, I still haven’t traveled with this company. I write this to warn other travelers to be aware that if you book with them you risk losing your money. Their policy is NO REFUNDS even if they cancel for Covid 19 as they did with my tour, twice. While travel bans are not in anyone’s control, the way a company handles cancellations certainly is. They not only won’t refund my money, they are deliberately hiding a no refund policy despite displaying a public image as a warm and fuzzy company. They are mean-spirited and non-responsive. Here’s what happened.

We can all agree this was quite a year. Like most of the readers here, I had multiple trips planned for 2020. All of them were cancelled due to Covid 19. I received refunds from everyone except Bamboo. My refunds came from companies big and small: United Airlines, small airlines, hotels, and Gate 1. Bamboo refuses to refund until 2023. I should have known better than to pay in full, but the price was right for a week retreat in Thailand. It was going to be my first stop on a three-week trip to southeast Asia. Here’s their pitch:

“We are proud to introduce the first official Young@Heart global RETREAT 2020! And you are personally invited, after all, is it a young@heart event without you? The time has come for us to create a platform for our Young@Heart family to meet up, share ideas, have bonding experiences, and most importantly share some adventure and fun! As we have always stated we're not old, we're just getting started!
This is not a tour, this is a collective Young@Heart movement! Welcome to THE RETREAT 2020!
Join us in Thailand, the bustle of Bangkok & sandy beaches of Hua Hin ocean resort between April 21st - 27th 2020.”

Sounded lovely. But by February of 2020, Covid 19 was already moving through southeast Asia, so the tour group cancelled and rebooked the tour for 2021 which was reasonable. Here we are a year later and Covid 19 is still rampant, which is not the company’s fault. They rescheduled again for 2022. This time, I requested a refund. I was told I have a credit and if I couldn’t travel by 2023 they would refund my money. They stated it’s in their contract. I asked for a copy and never received it. Keeping my money may be legal, but it sure isn’t ethical. Bamboo Tours will have my money in their account for FOUR years when they were the ones who cancelled the trip. There’s more.

Many people post their Bamboo trip plans on Facebook in one of Bamboo’s groups. I posted comments on Bamboo 50+ and stated that the company does not give refunds. In light of Covid 19, I suggested that the travelers be aware of the policy before they take the risk and book. Due to my warnings, which are factual, I was banned from the site. I messaged the administrator (see below) and received the following messages from Bamboo:

You sent Yesterday at 9:52 AM. (From me):
If you are comfortable with your policy, why have you blocked any comments on the post? You cancelled my trip last February and I rebooked. Since that trip is not happening, I fail to understand the ethics of keeping my money until 2023. It may be legal, but I am from the US and am not permitted in any country you travel to. Besides, the only trip I was interested in was the retreat which is not happening. Isn't it better to refund my money than to have a disgruntled customer for life?

Their reply: Dani Bamboo
Facebook

Dani Bamboo sent :
Hi Tina! I have blocked the comments and have blocked you from the group. Our group is made for positivity and people excited about their upcoming tours. This is an extremely stressful time for everyone and most people only have their tours to look forward to.

I am also from the US and although we are not able to travel right now we will be. We have tour dates all throughout 2021-2023. This is why the refund policy ends in 2023 because you can rebook a tour anytime between 2021-2023.

Lastly we do have a new retreat date. It is for April 18th 2022. We also have many Thailand tours you could choose from as well.

If you have any questions you can be sure to contact the team at bookings@wearebamboo.com.

I find her replay ironic and funny. The group is “made for positivity” so for telling the truth about the policy, she kicked me out. I wrote back and told her I would be blogging about my experience and received this reply.

Dani sent Yesterday at 3:18 PM
As I have mentioned above I had to remove you from the group as you were being disruptive to those excited for their adventure.

You are welcomed to join the group again but you do have to follow our groups guidelines of being kind and courteous.

You cannot comment on every persons post saying beware of no refunds. What you are saying causes confusion. Especially to those who had to move their tour dates due to covid.

Again if you have any questions or concerns be sure to email the team at bookings@wearebamboo.com

So truth is not "kind and courteous." She had to remove me. I cannot comment and tell people their policy. I am causing confusion. Here is the mission statement of the company:

“Wherever we go, whatever we do, let's make it the best it can be for everyone. Simple. A founding principle of Bamboo.
Karma means action, work or deed;[1] it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual.
Bamboo Karma means our actions, experiences, tours, and deeds have only a positive cause and effect! Our intent and action influence our world for the betterment of all humanity!”

Wow. "Simple," huh? Not simple if you want a refund for a trip that has been cancelled by the tour group twice. Karma. That’s amusing. I too believe in Karma. They blocked me on Facebook from warning others of their no refund policy. They refuse to give me a refund. We’ll see how long it takes for Karma to kick in.

I did write to “the team at bookings@wearebamboo.com" as Dani suggested. After several weeks, I received no reply.
So there you have it. No where on their website does the "no refund" policy appear. I have no written statement that verifies this. The company seems to operate under multiple names. Bamboo is active on Facebook under several names: Bamboo, Young at Heart , Bamboo 50+, Bamboo Travel, Bamboo Travel Club, Bamboo EcoTours, We Are Bamboo.

There are many positive reviews of the past trips with Bamboo. But if you book, be aware you will lose your money if they cancel. And if you try to warn customers, you will be considered unkind and discourteous.

Posted by teethetrav 13:51 Archived in Thailand Tagged bamboo do_not_use_bamboo_tours young_at_heart bamboo_50+ bamboo_travel Comments (2)

Travel Inspirations: A Series

Italian Espresso & Cappuccino

Travel inspires me in a myriad of ways. Each trip, whether foreign or domestic, leaves me altered in some way that is reflected in my home, my cooking, my writing, and my way of life. In the past, I've only written about my journeys. For this sporadic series, I am going to write topics such as what I've brought back from my travels, what has made my travels easier, and even a recipe now and then. To be clear, no one is sponsoring me or paying me to recommend any products I may mention.

My first subject is Italian espresso. I am a coffee perfectionist. I never drink from the office coffee pot,nor do I order coffee when I'm out unless I know exactly what kind it is. At home, coffee is made exclusively in my own espresso machine. I do however love boutique coffee places, such as Porto Rico Importing Co.. They have two locations in Manhattan and one in Williamsburg. There, bags and bags of beans cast off intoxicating scents that surround my brain, leaving me drunk with desire for freshly ground, freshly brewed Columbian coffee.

But I digress. While other blogs can tell you about the glorious scenery and foods of Italy, this post is about espresso. On my first trip to Italy one of my first stops was the enchanting city of Siena. Certain travel moments remain frozen in time and one of my favorite memories is the first morning I stood at a bar and ordered uno cappuccino et uno brioche con marmelade. The small thrill of being understood when I spoke Italian was immediately overshadowed by the taste of the beverage and the flaky freshness of the croissant, followed by the explosion when I bit into the center of the pastry and the orange jam exploded in my mouth. As soon as I scooped the foam from the bottom of the cup with my tiny spoon, I ordered my second cappuccino. I went back every morning. This is still my routine every time I come to Siena.

In Italy, cappuccino is only appropriate at breakfast. Period. No exceptions. You drink it standing, not seated at a cafe table. If you are seated, you might as well wear a sign around your neck stating: TOURISTA. Depending on how late in the morning it is, you may see others at the bar indulging in alcohol, a "spritz," which is considered a mid-morning pick me up. It's usually made with Campari, prosecco, seltzer, and served over ice. At lunch, there is wine. No wonder Italians siesta in the afternoon. When they awake, there is a need for an espresso to revive them.

Italian espresso changed my life. Specifically illy brand espresso. Every time I left Italy, I cried as I drank my final airport illy. Then, I had an epiphany. No matter the cost, I would order illy at home. If I couldn't live in Italy, I could drink Italy. I was over the moon to discover that my favorite Italian beverage had a subscription service and would deliver my beloved espresso to my doorstep every month. After extensive research, I purchased my espresso machine, one that can also make cappuccino and steam milk. In the interest of saving my bit of the planet, I did not want plastic capsules which are available to fit certain machines. I decided to try the ground espresso as well as pods.
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I discovered that not only did I love the product, I was thrilled with the company. There is a family who owns the company and Andrea Illy is a conscientious man who strives to keep his coffee high quality. As a regular subscriber, I have been rewarded each year with a gift. One year, it was sweet porcelain cups. Another, it was a thermos. But the best reward of all is the continued quality of the product as well as the responsive customer service. If you call, you get a human!
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Every morning I make espresso. The mere thought of my Italian, indulgent coffee bliss gets me out of bed every morning. It's not just me. The first thing family and friends who visit ask is if I would mind making them an espresso. With pleasure.
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As if I wasn't impressed enough by their coffee, illy recently sent me the below email explaining their continued commitment to sustainable coffee:

"On May 18, 2018 Illy was in Colombia to celebrate an important moment for the country, and our company: A victory that's helping integrate the ex‑revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) into the nation's economy through the production of high quality, sustainable coffee.
For four decades, much of the project farmland had been used to cultivate ingredients for the illegal drug trade that financed the FARC group's operations. Now this land represents an investment in peace, following the end of the violent insurgency in the area.

We are proud to share that our chairman, Andrea Illy, met with representatives in Colombia to sign an agreement of understanding that established, among other things, a system to help share illy's best agronomical practices with as many as 600 former FARC guerilla fighters.
We agreed to purchase coffee lots that meet our standards
directly from the group.
Words From Our Chairman:
“We want to tangibly contribute to the complex peace process, working alongside the people and the organizations that are joining forces to make this happen.”
- Andrea Illy

Although the coffee is imported from many places such as Columbia, the tradition feels Italian to me. Every morning when I sip my espresso, I am transported back to an early morning in Siena. Cerulean blue skies contrast against the dusty red of the brick and clay that built the city. Vendors are outside washing their sidewalks, opening their shops, and preparing for their day. Windows are open and the clatter of breakfast dishes and morning chatter float above the narrow street as I walk to my favorite cafe to stand and drink my lovely breakfast cappuccino. Ciao!
Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think! www.illy.com

Posted by teethetrav 06:56 Archived in Italy Tagged espresso cappuccino spritz siena_italy sustainable_products sustainable_coffee illy Comments (1)

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