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Let’s all move to Porto. Azulejos— colorful, hand painted tiles—cover every imaginable vertical surface. The Duoro River snakes along the southern border of town, spilling into the Atlantic Ocean. Blissed out golden sunset views beckon from the Ponte Dom Luis I. And, there are no wildfires. All good reasons to live there, right? Also, my Portuguese is really coming along so I’ve got us all covered.

Azulejos

Azulejos made their way to Portugal in the 14th and 15th centuries from Spain via North Africa. Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto (or Oporto in Portuguese), has particularly embraced these hand-painted tiles. From the city’s southern riverfront to the hilly northern neighborhoods, from watch repair shops to Carmelite convents, tiles grace every city block in an explosion of colors and designs.

The Rio Duoro

The majestic Duoro river winds down from Northern Portugal’s border with Spain, through the hillaceously stunning Duoro Valley wine region, out toward the coast where it divides the city of Porto from the (no-longer so small) fishing village of Vila Nova de Gaia. Six bridges span the Duoro River through Porto before the water spills into the sea. For ultimate river glory, walk the Dom Luis I Bridge as the sun sets into the Atlantic and the city of Porto turns solid gold. Do not resist the selfie opportunities.

The Ribeira (riverside in Portuguese)—Porto’s UNESCO world heritage neighborhood that borders the Duoro—is home to the Sé Cathedral, the 14th-century Igreja do São Francisco (Church of St. Francis), and medieval cobblestone streets. After the obligatory tourists sites, enjoy a view-rich riverside ride on the Line 1 tram (departing from Infante stop in front Igreja de Såo Francisco).

The tram is totally tourist, but just roll with it. Cruise the electric rails up the river bank to hop out at Jardim Passeio do Alegre. Then walk (or take an electric scooter!) to Lapa Lapa for the darling boho brunch scene that really had me needing a caftan. At Lapa Lapa, like everywhere in Portugal, make reservations.

Hot tip, on the tram, sit on the left or stand. The right hand seats have the least water views. 

Eating Porto

Pastries, cured pork, salted, dried cod (bacalhau), and the bonkers Francesinha sandwich are culinary staples in Porto. Definitely eat at family joints, but a progressive meal of regional specialities from upscale food hall Mercado Bom Successo is an easy place to start. Also, go to Venham Mais Cinco  (thanks Autumn + Guy!) for their prego sandwich. Once you recover, walk into virtually any cafe for a Francesinha—arguably the meatiest, fattiest, fry-iest creation in the world with ham, steak, fresh sausage, linguisa, cheese, a tomato-beer sauce and a fried egg on top. I left that sucker alone.

Butter-rich pastries are everywhere and it goes without saying you’ve gotta try the Touchino do Ceu—a sugar sweet squash and almond-based dessert cooked with lard. The name in Portuguese means Pig from Heaven.

City Strolling

In Porto, and most places, we begin with a free walking tour (tip your guide!) to orient ourselves and take in major sites. After seeing the Sao Bento train station, the Dos Igrejas, and the rest we were free to roam the city. I adore Porto’s history, but also love its modern life, its tile-covered neighborhoods, charming coffee shops, friendly residents, and nooks and crannies. You can’t get that from a guidebook, you just have to wander.

Cedofeita (both a street and neighborhood) is perfect for city strolling. Sip espresso at the mid-century fabulous O Consulado, shop the well-curated consignment and secondhand clothing stores, find jewelry and regional food products at CC Bombarda, then have a craft beer in the secret back garden of Catraio. (Or, if you’re like me and don’t drink, have a Lemon Pedras Salgadas…my new favorite mineral water). After, stroll the scores of contemporary art galleries lining Rua de Miguel Bombarda (but, like, plan ahead because no galleries are open Mondays and only sometimes Wednesdays and definitely only after 1:00pm and before 6:00pm, etc.).

Then, venture further afield. Go wild! We did a wonderful urban hike through Gaia with PortoCampo which took us into tiny back alleys with breathtaking views, past aged port wine warehouses, and through romantic, abandoned farm manors. Boavista neighborhood has the Bom Successo food hall, the Cemetery of Agramonte (with fabulous statues and beautifully gothic mausoleums), and the architecturally glorious Casa da Musica. Walk and discover!

Museo de Serralves

Spend an afternoon at the fabulous contemporary artland of Fundação de Serralves. This 44-acre campus includes the Serralves Museum (we love a modern art museum), the amazing (peachy pink!) art deco villa built in the Streamline Moderne tradition, an elevated wooden tree-top walk, outdoor sculpture gardens, an art cinema, and rotating exhibitions from an excellent mix of contemporary Portuguese and international artists. The restaurant museum and tree-lined Serralves park cafe are also dreamy.

Porto Pink

There is so much pink in Porto and I love it. Arguably some of the pink is faded red, and there’s a healthy amount of peach in the paint and tiles, but it’s fun to make up nicknames and Porto Pink has a real ring to it. From grand homes on Rua da Cedofeita to ramshackle barns in Vila Nova da Gaia to wall tiles wearing pops of fuchsia, the buildings of this city are not afraid to rock the rosa. May we all be inspired.

Day Trips from Porto

Portugal is relatively small, but each new region has its own culture, culinary specialties, church extravaganzas, and architectural styles. So fun and easy to explore if you have rental wheels. In our two-week Porto stay, we took day jaunts to the medieval town of Guimarães, saw the Catholic religious complex of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, visited Ponte de Lima with its medieval bridge and faced the biggest plate of pork innards I’ve ever seen my wife eat, explored the annual International Garden Festival in Ponte de Lima (thanks to a hot tip from Autumn!), and took in sweeping Atlantic Ocean views from the Santuário de Santa Luzia in Viana do Castelo before driving through beachy outpost towns back down the coast to Porto. Each adventure was less than 90 minutes away.

The Social Factor

I love so much about Portugal. The language, the chill nature of the people, the beautiful and unique regions, the Pedras Salgadas bubbly water. Certainly Portugal has work in regards to reconciling current-day racism and a painful colonial history (they began the transatlantic trade of enslaved people from Africa). That said, I greatly appreciate the wide-ranging protections for LGBTQ folks, the astronomically small number of gun-related deaths, the (relative) lack of people living on the street thanks to effective drug treatment programs and the Basic Housing Law which ensures housing as a citizen’s right.

Maybe it’s the social policies, maybe it’s the beautiful hand-painted tiles, but of all the many wonderful places I love on this planet, Portugal is only one of three places my body has told me: we should live here.

Of course I want to live everywhere. Of course I love many places. But it’s as though a molecular piece of me fits better when I am in Portugal.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Where does your body want to be?

Jet lag is a merciless beast. Flying frequently doesn’t mitigate the pain of hurtling body and brain across multiple time zones in one sitting. But weird beauty awaits in the early morning streets of Copenhagen for the sleepless, the weary and the brave.

I woke up at 1:51am Copenhagen time, anxiety brain in full gear. It was a dark night of the soul, full of ego crises and work panics and deathly aloneness while my sweet wife slept at my side. Sleep meditation apps are useless in the face of rapid time zone change.

WebMD tells me to avoid exposure to early morning sun so as not to fuck up my circadian rhythms even more, but that’s hard when the Copenhagen summer dawns at 4am and the Danes don’t believe in blackout curtains. My eye mask is no match for the flood of light in this flat.

By 4:30am I was sitting down to meditate. By 5:30am we were out the door, in hunt of the city’s best pastry (dare we say danish) shop that reportedly opened at 6am.

Encounter 1. Botanical garden in full summer glory with nary another guest. Could be because we wandered in an unlocked gate at 5:45am and the park didn’t open until 8:30am. What do these people do with 4.5 hours of sunlight and a city that’s still asleep?

woman in all black wearing pink shoes stands on a white wood bridge over a pond
Don’t mind the clashing pink socks and fuchsia shoes. It’s a miracle I’m not in jammies.

The quiet air and brick buildings, the ivy framed windows and bicycles lining the streets are picturesque northern Europe. I was thinking the still morning was the calm before the storm, but of course the storm is all on summer vacay—that lull time in European countries where the gang goes to the country house and coffee shops close till mid-August.

 

brick row houses with ivy and flower covered gates and bicycles out front
Sweet little row houses.

 

The Botanical Gardens were just a ruse, really, to get us walking across town to Sankt Peder’s Bageri, Copenhagen’s gluten masters since 1652. It’s been 7 years since I’ve consciously eaten gluten, a health choice based on vanity, a friend’s encouragement, and my attempts to improve my useless digestive system. This morning at 7am I knowingly chucked that choice. See exhibit A below:

Apparently danish pastries are Viennese in origin but the Danes are doing a hell of job with the concept. The black sandy looking one was filled with a slightly sweet almond paste that made me real happy. Potential gut destruction aside, the walk through the streets of Indre By neighborhood prior to Sankt Peder’s 7am opening was a delightful re-introduction to the nightlife I can no longer stay awake long enough to participate in.

A nice couple stopped mid-walk 10 feet ahead of us (after she kicked the toilet paper off her shoe) and dove into a doorway for a 6:45am full exposure, sweet love making session. I’m not sure if they just met, but her red plastic heels looked terrific in the morning light.

A group of young men, too wildly over exuberant for the quiet streets invited us to join them, not sure where they were going or leaving from, but my pink socks weren’t ready for the party.

A crabby English lady saw her preferred pastry wasn’t ready at the bakery and refused to wait outside the door with us until it opened.

All this to say, a night without sleep generally makes me stabby in the brain. But the gorgeous blue skies, the cream cheese frosting, and the beauty of young love makes it all worthwhile.

redhead in black clothes and pink shoes poses like a gargoyle in a brick doorway.
Can’t beat ’em? Join ’em.

Brought to you by coffee:

an overhead shot: two lattes sit on a wood slatted tableby _Annie_Crawford

If you go to Chiang Mai please visit the Maiiam Museum on the outskirts of town. Even if you’re visiting Chiang Mai for the ancient temples, the rich cultural history, or to start off on a trek, the Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum is a big deal. Here’s why.

Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know until I am presented with more information. The Maiiam museum opened my eyes about the incredible talent of contemporary Thai artists and the relative lack of visibility that Thai artists receive on the international art scene. The artwork housed in the Maiiam museum is amazing, plus, the space is architecturally gorgeous and their cafe and bookshop are fabulous. Just grab a Grab (Thailand’s Lyft-like app) and hop over there.

woman entering Maiiam museum

I love contemporary art. I like how I feel when I stand next to big colors and big courage and the ability of different artists to transmute big emotions into something tangible. A light turns on inside me.

pink and grey oil painting hanging in maiiam museum of a woman and dog seated in pink flowers under the moon

When we travel, we seek out art and we visit museums. And while we’re museum-ing, we notice that certain artists are everywhere. In addition to the Warhols adorning almost every major modern art museums, there are other artists who are ubiquitous. For example, in the span of a few years, we’ve seen Anselm Kiefer in Copenhagen, Paris, San Francisco, L.A., and New York. His pieces are massive—scorched landscape murals and torched airplane hull installation art—the muted destruction of post-WWII Germany as experienced by a child. Everyone who is anyone has their hands on his stuff. It’s fascinating, and it’s also everywhere.

My wife and I remark that surely he is the art world’s most recent darling, but I wasn’t grasping the bigger picture of who wasn’t hanging on the walls. Where is space for the rest of the (non-Western) world when the same artists are showing up time and again?

At the Maiiam museum a light went on. (Side note: their past exhibit, Diaspora: Exit, Exile, and Exodus in Southeast Asia was phenomenal. More on that in a minute. First, I always have to use the bathroom.)

Inside the Maiiam’s bathroom was a photographic reproduction of a guerrilla art installation by artist Thitibodee Rungteerawattanon. In 2010, the artist smuggled contemporary Thai artworks into the men’s bathroom of the Tate Modern in London. He covertly installed the works in the bathroom and then photographed the exhibit, titling it ‘Thai Message.’ His commentary was clear—was this the only space for these Southeast Asian artists in the international art world?

photo of printed modern art artist's manifesto
Letter outlining the project in English and Thai. Photo: thitibodee.tumblr.com

Sometimes I get so used to looking at what is given to me to see that I forget to question what isn’t being shown. There is underrepresentation by non-Western artists. We are shown a sliver of works by a disproportionately small group of artists. How can this cultural hegemony be shifted? Some of that shift can start with me looking deeper than just accepting what is presented to me. Thanks Maiiam museum, for sparking me.

Speaking of internationally unsung artists, Diaspora: Exit, Exile, and Exodus in Southeast Asia is phenomenal. The exhibition features modern artists depicting the experiences of the many groups of people whose lives and cultures have been shifted and/or harmed by movement. My wife and I were crying.

One particularly moving series of portraits was by Hmong artist Pao Houa Her. Born in Laos, her family escaped the violence of the Laotian ‘Secret War,’ fought in tandem with the Vietnam War. They eventually settled in Minneapolis and she began documenting the idea of identity for Hmong Americans. Her ‘Attention,’ series showcases Hmong Veterans who fought alongside U.S. troops, but didn’t receive military recognition or honors until 2018—over 30 years after the Vietnam war ended. The men are photographed wearing self-sourced medals and uniforms. The photos are beautiful, dignified, and honestly so heartbreaking.

I wish I could tell you about each artist and each collection.

Modern art photography portraits of Hmong veterans of the Secret War
Hmong Veterans, ‘Attention’ series, by Pao Houa Her
Photo of mixed media modern art featuring a black and white photo with graphic color overlays

While I had narrowly thought of Thai art in terms of the kingdom’s Buddhist history and its glorious, golden statues, the opportunity to visit Thailand gave me a chance to see how much I’m missing when it comes to contemporary Thai (and Southeast Asian) art.

Clearly, there are internationally renowned Thai artists, like Navin Rawanchaikul and Rirkrit Tiravanija. And Bangkok itself is modernizing so rapidly that contemporary art is a natural response to the shifts. To that end, the Bangkok Biennial—a response to the exclusivity of events such as the Venice Biennial—was launched in 2018, and showcases Thai and international artists in a range of venues throughout the city.

So modern Thai art is claiming its rightful space on the international scene, but this exhibit opened my eyes to how complacent I am in accepting what is offered to me. (Side note: I’m fascinated by the work of the Guerrilla Girls to bring more visibility to women and minority artists.)

Woman in a white skirt standing amongst a modern art installation of hanging textiles and video media
Who is making your clothes? What is their experience like?

What I’m trying to say is, when you’re visiting Chiang Mai—a visit to Maiiam Museum is a must. Get a ride using the Grab app and don’t go on Tuesday when it’s closed.

Reflective selfie in front of Maiiam museum's mirrored exterior

A trip to Crete means a trip Greece’s largest island, and the birthplace of the mythological Zeus. Gorgeous beaches, snow-capped mountains, velvety olive oil, and hyper local honey abound. Driving across this beautiful island only takes a few hours, but you’ll experience a whole range of ecosystems.

Crete is not as touristed as islands like Santorini and Mykonos, so you can find beautiful vistas and stunning white beaches without the hordes of people. That said, it’s still a famous island in Greece and you’ll still find tourists, so read on for lodging and travel tips that will take you out of the “package tourism,” zones. My wife and I just had a weeklong trip to Crete (out of a three week adventure in Greece) and I’ve got all sorts of tips.

Taking a trip to Crete?

Here are my recommendations for the best things to do on Crete.

  1. Visit the best Crete beaches
  2. Visit Chania
  3. Soak up olive oil culture and eat local honey
  4. Tour the Palace of Knossos In Heraklion
  5. Visit this cool coffee shop in Heraklion
  6. Crete Travel Logistics
view of a mosque from across a bay

Visit the best Crete beaches

Want to visit the most beautiful beaches in Europe? All of Crete’s beaches boast clear water, dramatic coastlines, and mountainous backdrops…so you can’t really go wrong. During summer (especially July and August), the wild and strong Meltemi winds blow from the North. The mountain ranges running east to west on the island temper these winds, making the southern beaches less blustery. This means, if you’re looking for super chill, head south.

Personally, Balos Lagoon enraptured me. It’s on the northwestern tip of the island and holy mackerel it’s gorgeous. Visiting Balos Lagoon is a must. Please be really gentle and respectful when you go, as it’s such a glorious natural asset and it deserves love and care.

panorama of the turquoise waters and white sand of balos lagoon

Ways to visit Balos Lagoon:

  • Rental car: We had a rental car for all our adventures. This means we stopped at least 14 times to take pictures of road goats on the very bumpy, wildly steep, dirt road out to Balos Lagoon that was probably intended only for 4-wheel drive vehicles (not our wee economy car)
  • Boat: Ferry in from Chania or Kissamos. Here are one and two companies that provide the service, although I haven’t tried either
  • Hired taxi: Pretty much any hotel or lodging will find you a tour guide or hired taxi. Be sure to get a van if you go in a group, otherwise you may end up walking. We saw a four-pack of ladies walking down a particularly steep and rocky section of the dirt road. Turns out the Mercedes taxi they were in was bottoming out
  • Bus: From Chania or Kissamos, you can take public transit. It’s roughly two hours from Chania to the car park at the top of the site. Here’s the public transit site for Crete. I think

If arriving by land, you’ll have to hike down a steep, rocky path to reach the lagoon 3/4 mile below. The path is not wheelchair accessible or stroller-friendly at all. We saw two poor dudes schlepping a stroller full of baby stuff down the hill and it looked miserable. The climb back up is steep, but totally doable for most fitness levels, just be sure to wear sneakers. This is not a flip flop-friendly path!

Bonus Road Goats!

There are so many mountain goats. I stand by the extreme cuteness of these sweet, furry beasties. They just clamber up on stuff so dang much. I especially like the goat who took up residency in the honey booth, patiently waiting for customers on the drive to Balos Lagoon.

What to do in Chania

No trip to Crete is complete without a stop in Chania, a charming city where you can see the mixed bouquet of cultural influences that have shaped the island. Thanks to a strategic trade position in the Mediterranean Sea and luscious natural resources, pretty much every nearby power has fought to control Crete over the years. After the decline of the ancient Minoan civilization (the oldest known civilization in Europe) the island was ruled by the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman Empires (and even pirates). Each of these groups left a distinctive architectural, religious, and social impact on the culture. In 1913 Crete became a part of independent Greece after centuries of outside rule. The small, historic city of Chania sums up these influences and is the perfect landing place for the start of your Crete adventure.

  • Explore the breakwater and maritime museum
  • Walk through the old city
  • Scope out the Yali Tzamisi mosque
  • People watch from the harbor cafes
  • Have dinner in the historic Jewish Quarter

Maritime Party

Explore the Maritime Museum if you’re so inclined. We ducked into their exhibit which recreated a Minoan sea vessel and I was boated out after that.

Walk through the old city

Stroll Chania’s old town and around the historic Venetian harbor which was built between 1320-1356. Look for the domed mosque, Yali Tzamisi, built during the 17th century when the city was under Turkish rule. The historic site now houses intermittent art exhibits. Next, walk out along the breakwater to reach the Lighthouse of Chania built in 1570 and also get fab photos of the harbor and old city.

People watching in Chania

The cafes lining the harbor make for an excellent afternoon resting spot to enjoy a cappuccino freddo (the local summer fave of espresso over ice served in a rocks glass. Cold frothed super creamy whole fat milk floats on top. Dreamy.) Cafe Remezzo has a sweet view over the street scene and is perfect for sipping and people watching.

Darling boutiques line the cobblestone streets behind the harbor. You’ll find locally made goods (olive oils, honey, handicrafts) and typical tourist trinkets. It’s a lovely stroll through the pedestrian streets. You can’t really get lost in Chania, so just turn away from the water and wander. An evening meander through the cobblestone alleys is also a great way to find cute cafes to have a progressive meal.

For dinner pop into Enetikon Restaurant right next to the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter. It’s just off the main tourist drag, feels cozy and inviting, and we loved the live Greek folk music playing during dinner.

We stayed at Notus Hotel in Chania for one night. Our room was modern, clean, and lovely. Our work requires reliable high speed internet, so whether we’re hoteling, Airbnb-ing, or doing a home exchange that’s the first priority. Notus was great WiFi speeds. For our next trip to Crete, we’d probably base ourselves off the south end of the island. The remaining week on the island we stayed in a home exchange up in foothills outside of Stalos. Here is a view from our porch:

All in all, the city’s charm makes it a perfect place for exploring the Northwestern region of the island—including its magnificent beaches and olive oil tasting.

Soak up Crete’s Olive Oil

Oh my gosh I love Cretan olive oil. It’s buttery and smooth and everyone drinks it like water.

Olive trees grow everywhere on Crete, covering over a quarter of the island. They line the winding, mountainous roads, they’re carved into artifacts from the ancient archaeological sites, and their fruit is the foundation for every Cretan restaurant. Olives are central to all parts of Cretan society from ancient religion to culture to diet to present day economy. In fact as far back as 3,000 BC the Minoan civilization cultivated olives commercially. Needless to say, Cretan olive oil tastes fabulous. The small but mighty Koroneiki olive reigns supreme on the island.

Ancient Olive Tree

Start with a visit to the world’s oldest olive tree—purported to be approximately 3,000 years old. It’s a lovely drive up into the mountains (everything is a drive up into the mountains as Crete is essentially beaches and crazy gorges and hilltops that turn into mountains). The small, but sweet, Olive Tree Museum of Vouves provides historical and cultural context for the beautiful old beast of a tree. Go say hello.

Modern Olive Oil Production

Next, schedule a tour (7 euros) of Terra Creta. Holy moly we adored this behind-the-scenes look at modern olive oil production. Old and new ways truly mix in this most Cretan of experiences. The facilities feature modern technology customized to work with small-scale, family farming production. The individual farmers drive their individual harvests in their personal trucks (olive branches and all) for processing each season.

Olive oil really is the heartbeat of the Cretan society. It was beautiful to learn that generational olive farming families can survive and thrive in a global economy so dominated by large agricultural companies. After the (truly fascinating) tour we tasted olive oil. Warm, swirl, sniff, sip, aerate, swallow. Repeat. Cretan olive oil has a mellow, less spicy flavor than many of the Italian olive oils we tasted last year. If you want to visit Terra Creta, there are three tours a day, but you have to book ahead (even if only the day before) to participate. Honestly, if we did another trip to Crete, I think we’d center it around olive oil (okay, yea, and beaches too). 

Palace of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos is at the heart of Greek mythology. It’s where Icarus flew too close to the sun while escaping the labyrinth and the dreaded minotaur who guarded the entrance. The palace was also said to be the home of King Minos.

History of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos built by the ancient Minoans, and that civilization thrived between 2000-1350 BC. The area, however, had been occupied since 7,000 BC. I love visiting historic sites where great civilizations once ruled. Seeing my sweet, minute part in the grand scheme of time is humbling. It’s also fun for the imagination to envision what life at (now crumbled) ornate palaces once looked like.

The palace architecture was influenced by the Minoan’s trade with Egypt and beyond. Clean lines and open design made it a far different look than the castles that would come in later years in Europe. The Minoans had plumbing (they piped in fresh water from a nearby mountain), they dealt with sewage and sanitation, and had bathing chambers. There was art and culture and celebrations. They maintained foreign relations and they loved and revered olive oil.

 

Tips for Visiting Palace of Knossos

If you’re visiting the Palace of Knossos (or any archaeological site, really) here are suggestions to make your experience more fun:

  • Hire a guide! Whenever people approach me outside of a cultural site, I usually feel a little on guard. In this case, it’s totally legit. Licensed guides hang in front of the palace entrance and organize groups of up to 8 people who speak the same language to take part in their tour. The tour cost is separate from the palace entrance ticket (which is 15 euros). As of May 2019, a tour cost 80 euros, so they’d organize groups of 8 with each person paying 10 euros. If you dislike the GP (general public) you can pony up the 80 euros for a private guide. Without the guide, this would have been a lovely pile of rocks. With the guide, history, art, and architecture came to life.
  • Go in the afternoon. Yes it will be hotter, but almost all the tour buses leave by noon so you’ll have way more breathing room. If you can’t bear the heat, go very first thing when it opens
  • Bring a sunbrella. Don’t worry about looking like a nerd. Sunbrella makes being outdoors in the summer sun bearable. And you’re protecting yourself from sun damage, so, win-win
  • Bring water. Keep hydrated, sweetheart
  • Wear comfy shoes and sunscreen

Crop Coffee in Heraklion

After you immerse yourself in Cretan history, stop for a cappuccino freddo (iced cappuccino) or a cold microbrew at Crop in the port city of Heraklion. It’s walking distance from the center of town but feels tucked away like a little city oasis. Inside you can scope the coffee roasting and their microbrewery doo-dads. The outdoor patio made us feel like we were definitely hanging with the cool locals.

Trip to Crete Travel Logistics

From airports to rental cars to driving on Crete, here are a few tips for getting to and around the island.

Driving a rental car

Don’t be scared to drive in Greece. There is a fair amount of lane straddling, but in general having wheels allows so much more freedom to visit sites around this mountainous island that you will really be able to maximize your time and have more freedom to visit sites that are off the beaten path. My wife and I lovingly termed the Italian/Greece manner of hugging the middle or side lane as lane straddling. Also, most roads on Crete being one lane, slower cars are expected to lane straddle into (what we in California consider) the emergency shoulder. It’s normal for cars to cozy up to your backside if you’re going too slow and they can’t zip past you in the one lane. You’ll get the hang of it! Most of all, don’t let the idea of it deter you from driving during your trip to Crete.

We booked through Enterprise and it was easy as pie. We have a credit card that covers rental car insurance in (most) foreign countries so we save money on paying for coverage through the rental car company. A compact (automatic) rental in late May, with two drivers, for 8 days cost $224 usd. This was relatively steep, but so worth it for the freedom it provided.

Flying to Crete

There are 3 international airports on Crete (which is wild considering the island is roughly 160 miles across its longest point). We flew in and out of Chania from Athens on Aegean Airlines. Tickets were ~ 80 euros. Prices can increase during July and August, and will of course be lower in low season. Tickets were ~20 more to use Aegean airlines, but we were able to earn miles with our go-to airline, and safety ratings for Aegean were far better than for some of the cheaper flights such as Ryanair. Either way, airfare for a trip to Crete is pretty affordable. 

Flights are 30 minutes (ish) and will likely have turbulence so hang tight. But despite being hopper flights you can check baggage so if you, like me, adore outfit options you don’t have to worry about fitting it all in a carry-on. Heraklion and Sitia are the two other airports. Heraklion is on the Eastern side of the island so choose your airport based on your lodging and plans.

Ferries

Ferries between Athens and Crete take 6-8 hours, depending on winds, currents, etc. I personally wouldn’t do a trip to Crete via ferry simple because I am prone to seasickness, but if you love the romance of the open ocean (and have the time to spare), have at it. 

Elafonisi, the famous pink beach sand of Crete

 

 

We like traveling where people are encouraged to be openly in love, so we researched LGBTQ rights before going to Singapore. Like many places, it’s a mixed bag. Read on for pretty photos of Singapore and my interested, but undereducated, take on Singapore politics and laws. 

Row houses with colorful shutters.
Rainbow row houses in Singapore

Regardless of who you love, I think most tourists probably feel safe in Singapore. It’s a safe-feeling place.

As for romance, well, the world is funny about sex and love. There are rules and laws and, then, passive loopholes. In Singapore, two men can be imprisoned for same sex love, under Penal Code 337A (“Outrages on decency”), but the law is rarely enforced. You might think no harm no foul, but of course it’s harmful to announce that someone’s love is a crime. It puts a damper on romance. 

View of water feature in Singapore with SuperTrees and Ferris Wheel in the distance.
Lush and tropical Singapore, with over-the-top water features.

Although same sex marriage isn’t legal and LGBTQ rights aren’t exactly celebrated in Singapore, the city-state has a progressive streak in their conservative society. There’s Oogachaga, a vibrant LGBTQ center with a proud presence. There’s an annual pride parade (but only for Singaporean citizens, so don’t think of making this your destination party place). There are gay bars and openly gay people. Trans people are legally recognized and permitted to marry people of the “opposite legal sex.” Public opinion is slowly shifting around LGBTQ rights (as of 1/2019, six in 10 people aged 18 and 25 believe same-sex marriage is not wrong), but that don’t make it easy.   

Singapore city skyline with a man in a white shirt and a woman wearing a yellow dress and hijab.
Singapore, future city

Singapore is a wild demographic mix with four official languages: Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. With the languages come four unique cultural traditions and religious beliefs. These coming out stories, (as reported to Vice) show how LGBTQ youth from Singapore’s different cultural backgrounds struggle to find their way in conservative Singapore and their conservative homes. 

Woman standing in Chinese Buddhist Temple doorway, smiling.
Thian Hock Keng Chinese Temple

As two married ladies we’re safe in Singapore. There are no laws against lady + lady love (why are governments always so scared of men?) but our marriage, although legal in the U.S., isn’t legally recognized in Singapore. That means if my wife took a job in Singapore, I would have to apply for and get a work visa separately to be able to live with her. The government wouldn’t grant me a visa to live with her as her wife (as they would with a lady + man marriage). Good thing we’re not moving to Singapore. 

View of tug boats and Cavenagh Bridge over canal in Singapore.
Cavenagh Bridge (1869), from the patio of the Fullteron Hotel

So, although the government says no to our marriage, our local friend explained that most people either A) don’t care, or B) are too polite to react to same sex love. At the Fullerton Hotel, no one batted an eye (although they did double check, “Are you sure you don’t want two queens?”) when we checked into our king size room. On the streets, no one appeared affronted when we held hands or otherwise acted married. 

Front view of the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore
Canal-front Fullerton Hotel

Visually, Singapore is beautiful, like a dream of what Vegas might hope to be. (If Vegas had fresh water and a less slippery soul, that is. Relatedly, capital punishment—by long rope hanging—is the penalty for drug possession, so people are less likely to party so hard as Vegas. But I digress.) 

View of Singapore skyline, ferris wheel, and Marina Bay Sands, and ArtScience Museum.
The Marina Bay Sands hotel and lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum

Singapore’s architecture is stunning. Each building more elaborate, futuristic, green, spectacular than the last. The colonial past is also present in buildings, so a strangely harmonious mix of old and new winds through the waterside town. There’s crazy money in Singapore. It’s a tax haven for multinational companies and international business is booming. 

Hanging gardens outside of a glass-covered hotel.
Loved the gardens and design of the Parkroyal on Pickering

Speaking of architecture and housing…in an intensely controlling and apparently effective social peace exercise, the Singaporean government implemented their ethnic integration policy in 1989 via the Housing & Development Board (HDB). 

The government balances the number of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and ‘Other,’ people that live in each of the publicly funded, high-rise, high-density housing blocks. Larger HBDs are like mini-towns with recreation areas, clinics, markets—all contained within. The policy hopes to prevent insular communities, isolationism, and potential tension between cultural groups by essentially forcing different groups to live together. As of 2018, over 80% of Singaporeans lived in these HBD, so the government does really get to choose your neighbors.

The strategy seems to work. For such a range of religions and languages, there seems to be relative harmony. And while the government forces integration, it also celebrates each ethnic community and offers equal city space (cultural neighborhoods), event time (parades for religious holidays, etc.) and opportunity to each group. No one is favored over the other. 

A written sign explaining the history of Mosque Street in Singapore
One of Singapore’s cultural neighborhood designations

 

A sign reading Pagoda Street
Chinatown, another cultural neighborhood
Sign reading Little India Arts Belt
Little India

In that same vein, the Singaporean presidency has to be occupied by the Chinese, Malay, and Indian / “other” communities in equal balance—meaning some years there may only be eligible candidates from one ethnic group if they haven’t been elected to presidency in recent years. I don’t know how it works in real life for the inhabitants of Singapore, but on paper it all seems so fair. 

Festive banners hanging over a city street in Singapore
Little India street decorations

To be fair, Singapore didn’t become an independent country until 1965, so there was plenty of time to learn from other countries’ mistakes. Certainly Singapore has been accused of being authoritarian, but people also seem to have a really high standard of living. Hopefully LGBTQ laws will change soon. 

Takeaway? Singapore is gorgeous. It’s completely over-the-top. It’s expensive (aside from the amazing hawker center street food) and it absolutely is a great place to go. As long as you don’t want to live there with your wife. 

My next post I’ll share pics from and tips for walking the cultural heritage trails, gorgeous street art, and eating street hawker food. 

Two women walking on a verdant pathway
Wife + friend strolling Maria Bay Gardens
Glass enclosed waterfall overlooking Singapore Bay
Marina Bay Gardens Cloud Forest
Woman standing in front of reflective sculptures
I love a good sculpture pose
Singapore skyline
Singapore skyline
Rainy night, woman walking with umbrella under a sign reading Merlion Park
Iconic merlion moment

Goodbye, Singapore

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