August 5, 2020

Greek Islands – Sunset in Santorini


When my family and I visited the Greek Islands last summer, specifically the island of Santorini, there was one place the locals kept referring us to, Oia. According to the Greeks, this small town has the best sunset view on the island; I was instantly intrigued. What photographer would pass up the opportunity to snap some pics? Furthermore, what traveler would pass up an adventure? None that I know off. So, we were off. Since we were staying in Fira, the main city on the island, it was only a twenty-five minute drive to this picturesque village, making it a wonderful little day trip.

With my mother driving, me navigating the map, my sister snacking in the backseat, and my noni (that’s Italian for grandmother) complaining she had to pee, the ride there couldn’t have been more entertaining. Three generations of Reale women trekking through the island’s grasslands, with a winding dirt path as our compass, it’s lucky we didn’t kill each other or even better, end up at sea.

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As we entered the village, there was a small parking lot as well as a few paved streets that several cars parked along. The parking lot is not overly large, so I recommend heading into town earlier rather than later, undoubtedly you’re not the only person interested in this small town’s charm, and especially at sunset. As we walked up through the town’s narrow streets, it became clear this was a walking town. It looks small because the streets are so slim and clustered together, but in actuality, it was a decent walk from one side to the other. Amazingly, Oia is filled with cafés, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and souvenir shops, yet it still maintains a quaint calm environment. Its houses and buildings are mainly painted in white and blue, but there are the occasional pale pinks and yellows. The center square is rather small, but it houses a rather large church, and as you walk across the square, away from the church, you approach a beautiful Cliffside. From here, you can see the volcano as well as the island of Thirasia.

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During our stay in Fira, we visited Oia twice. Both times, our goal was to eat at places that had balcony seating and a clear view of the skyline. With people standing on the stairs to our restaurant, patiently positioning their cameras, and tourists and locals alike waiting for the sun to set, it felt like the entire town was holding their breath in anticipation. Once the sun started to set, the cameras started flashing and most people eating took a moment from dinner to take some of their own pictures, including me of course!

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On both nights the sunset was gorgeous, and totally worth the trip out.

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The skyline was splashed in yellow, orange, red, blue, purple, making it look like a painting rather than real life.

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The second night we ate dinner there, we met a couple that loved staying in Oia as much as we loved visiting. Since we were visiting in June, I was expecting every town on the island to be overflowing with tourists, but amazingly the couple reassured us that it had been a relaxing get-away, and oddly quiet. If I ever get the luxury/ privilege of revisiting this fantastic island, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a hotel here for a few nights.

Santorini, Greece – My Date with a Donkey

My little friend

Of all the adventurous things to do in Santorini, taking a donkey ride down the side of the volcano was one of the best. Donkey’s, mules, and horses are part of what give the Greek islands their charm. What used to be the main form of transportation from the old harbor to the town of Fira, is now a cultural pastime.

My fellow travel mates and I were lucky to stay in a gorgeous hotel at the very top of Fira, and so it was only a short jaunt over to the holding area that kept the donkeys. Naturally, we smelled them before we actually saw them. Once we came through the clearing, I was amazed at how many donkeys were actually standing in front of me.

IMG 14301 1024x768 Santorini, Greece   My Date with a Donkey

We approached one of the older men feeding the donkeys and yelling in Greek. He said we had two choices: one, was to ride the donkey down and then take the cable car back up or two, take the cable car down and ride the donkey back up. There was a group standing behind us, so we decided to join them, and head down the cliff-side on donkeys. We paid the man five euro each, and then he told us to pick out a donkey.

This one instantly caught my eye. What a cutie! For some reason, I always thought donkeys were like camels and that they spit, kicked and bit (shows you how much I know about animals), but I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly he was.

IMG 14291 1024x768 Santorini, Greece   My Date with a Donkey

After I managed to situate myself on top of my new donkey friend, the old man tied all of the animals to one another, forming a line. My sister was in front of me and my mother was behind me. When our line started to move, I could feel my donkey’s hooves slip on the slanted cobblestone walkway, and I had a brief moment where I thought I was going over the side of this very beautiful cliff. What a way to go eh? Luckily, my new little friend caught his balance, and trotted the rest of the way down perfectly.

IMG 14491 1024x768 Santorini, Greece   My Date with a Donkey

With the mid-day sun tanning my back and the magnificent mountains and ocean glistening in front of me, it was as close to perfection as you could get.

IMG 14341 1024x768 Santorini, Greece   My Date with a Donkey

During our final days on the Islands, I found out that the donkeys are used in traditional Greek weddings; the bride will ride a well-dressed donkey to the church, reception and then home. As adorable and stylish as this ride may be – Just a guess but I do not think it would be a big hit in Boston for my wedding.

Although I’ll be wearing my white dress in the good old USA, it won’t be my last visit to Santorini, and definitely not my last donkey ride.

IMG 14431 1024x768 Santorini, Greece   My Date with a Donkey

Interlaken, Switzerland – Ziplining- Heights are so NOT my thing



As I have mentioned in several posts, heights are not my thing, and yet I find myself continuously trying to face my fear of them. For half my life flying was a process. I’d have a panic attack waiting for the plane to take off, and once it was in the air, I would have to drug myself with sleeping medication just to survive the trip. Then when I moved to England and started traveling around to different countries, flying became second nature. Sometimes I’d even take two flights a day. So, you can imagine my surprise to find that my fear of heights hadn’t diminished in the least, when I attempted to zip line.

Whenever someone in the past had told me they have gone zip lining, I instantly pictured a tropical setting, with someone at the top of a mountain strapping you into a harness, flying over the treetops of a jungle, and then sliding into the finish point, where another person unclips you. I envied those people, thinking about how beautiful the views must be as they sliced through the air; feeling completely free and weightless. My experience in Interlaken, Switzerland didn’t exactly go as smoothly, but it’s definitely an experience to write about.

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It was the last day of our weekend trip to Interlaken, Switzerland, and a group of people had decided to go to a place called Seilpark. Both guides from Bus2Alps and locals alike agreed it was worth trying if you were looking for something fun to do at a lower price. With only a few hours to spare before heading back to Italy, I decided to join in the fun.

zipline 400x200 Interlaken, Switzerland   Ziplining  Heights are so NOT my thing

Getting up there

The main activities center in town, literally around the corner from Balmers Herberge Hostel, where they sell all of the snow sports equipment, was the meeting point. A van shuttled customers to and from the park throughout the day. As our van ventured out of the city and towards the countryside, I started to get anxious, like I always do when things involve heights. How high would I actually be? How sturdy is the line? Has anyone died on this thing before? What the hell did I sign myself up for? And by the time we pulled up to the site, I had decided I was never making a rash decision while intoxicated again.


From the ground looking up, it actually didn’t look too intimidating. The Park had created an elevated obstacle course, using the surrounding trees to build wooden platforms as resting points. Overhead, there were people tightrope walking from one tree to the next, others were clinging to nets or making their way across circular wooden planks fifty feet in the air. It looked like the course consisted of obstacles testing ones endurance with zip lines intermixed, rather than just zip line.

IMG 4326 1024x768 Interlaken, Switzerland   Ziplining  Heights are so NOT my thing

After being helped into a harness and given a set of gloves, the guide explained that the entire course was made up of blue and red bungee wires. Blue meant it was a zip line section, and red meant it was an obstacle section, which told you which set of clips to use off of your harness. He explained there were eight different rope trails connecting over 50 platforms of height, ranging from beginner to difficult, and you choose accordingly. The one rule of the course was to always be clipped in, and with the ten minute explanation we were on our merry way.

As I approached the first course (one of the easier ones listed) all I could think about was “I can’t believe I don’t have a guide with me. If they knew how clumsy I am, they would not be letting me do this alone.” I tried to swallow my nerves, and climbed up to the first wooden platform. The minute I started to walk across the tightrope, I knew I had been stupid to wear fashionable boots rather than rent grungy hiking sneakers, bad life choice.

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The difficult part about the courses, are that you can’t just quit in the middle, or turn around and go back; you have to keep pushing forward, facing the obstacles until you finish. Although all of the obstacles push your body to be agile and alert, two of the sections really freaked me out. One obstacle in the easier course, where you had to walk across circular planks, had me fearfully frozen in place, holding onto the bungee cord for dear life. This forced me to break the rules, and use my zip line to get across to the other tree, rather than painfully walk. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this is how much of an idiot I looked like:

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The other moment, where I questioned my sanity, was when I was standing 70 feet in a tree about to zip line across a stretch of land. I actually think Paragliding was less scary than being up in that tree. I was inches away from peeing myself, when friends on the ground talked me into clipping myself in and just making the jump. I closed my eyes as the wind whipped my face, and although my nerves were shot, once I got to the other side, I felt empowered.

IMG 4337 1024x768 Interlaken, Switzerland   Ziplining  Heights are so NOT my thing

I’m not going to lie, this obstacle course was definitely a challenge, both mentally and physically, for me. Like most things in life, some people will excel at it and others may find it takes them a little longer to complete it, but the goal is just to finish. Sometimes it’s good to take a risk and push yourself. At 69 francs a person, it’s definitely an adventure worth taking.


Interlaken, Switzerland – Canyon Jumping- Channeling my Inner Daredevil

IMG 3564 400x200 Interlaken, Switzerland   Canyon Jumping  Channeling my Inner Daredevil










If you thought skydiving, bungee jumping, or running with the bulls was scary, you’ve never heard of canyon jumping. I hadn’t either until I started planning my trip to Switzerland. Apparently they only do this adrenaline-rushing death defying free fall in two places in the world: Interlaken, Switzerland and Queenstown, New Zealand.

The Original Alpin Raft Company in Interlaken is known for servicing the canyon jump year round, sending a van to pick up the jumpers at their accommodation. Although I am petrified of heights, I had considered making the jump with some of my friends, even at 129 francs a person, which for a backpacker, is a bit expensive. I wanted to mainly make the jump to prove to all of my friends and family back home I could do it, but in the end I decided I may have a heart attack in mid air if I threw myself off of a cliff, and I’m too young to die.

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Canyon Jump Platform

Although Canyon Jumping is not my ideal adventure, my friends were blown away by the experience. After signing a death waver (yes, I’m serious) and walking onto a metal grated platform almost 300 feet in the air, any person would be feeling the fear. One by one my friends stepped into a harness that wrapped itself around their torso, and got a thick rope clipped to the front of them. That’s it, a rope; no professional strapped to your back or a parachute, a single strand of twisted fiber is meant to save your life, that’s reassuring eh?

When it was my friend Jen’s turn she looked at the group of jumpers, waved, walked towards the edge, did the sign of the cross, and jumped. After dropping the 300 feet, a five second free-fall to be exact, the rope swung her quickly through the narrow canyon. From above, her body looked like a rag doll being jolted around; it was one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen. Two of my guy friends actually held onto cameras while they jumped, so they could film the trip down. Don’t ask me how they did it, because if it was me, I would’ve chucked the camera the minute I jumped, glued my eyes shut, and screamed bloody murder, if not throwing up on the way down; yea, I’m that girl.

After the rope comes to a stop, the jumper is lowered to a bridge/ walkway nearby, where all of the daredevils wait until the group has finished taking the plunge. After we returned to our accommodation, I asked her what it had felt like, what had gone through her mind as she jumped off the ledge, and she said, “I literally felt like I had just committed suicide, and wanted to turn around and grab something, anything.”

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Oh Man!

Some other friends spent the weekend on ATV’s, paragliding, snowboarding on glaciers, and undoubtedly they all felt that canyon jumping was the best thing they did. Every one of them. So either I have a bunch of crazy people as friends, or there is some fun to this sport and I just can’t see past the height thing. Regardless, if you are a thrill-seeker this is a definite experience worth crossing off the bucket list.

So, I’m going to leave you with this: It’s recommended to wear bright colors, so that they look better on the photos, but I think it’s just a way for them to identify the body’s when this thrill seeking death trap is over…think about it.

Interlaken, Switzerland – Trip Summary- Plucked from a Painting

Plucked from a painting
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When a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her on a trip to Switzerland in November of 2011, it took everything inside of me not to place the bottle of red wine I was holding back on the market’s shelf, grab her arm, and head straight for the airport. For me, Switzerland had always been an intriguing country; with the chocolate and fondue, and beautiful scenery, how could you go wrong? But my trip to this breathtaking country exceeded all of my expectation, making it one of my favorite trips of the last year and a half.
IMG 4192 433x325 Interlaken, Switzerland   Trip Summary  Plucked from a Painting
Although typically I organize and book all of my trips, this adventure was done through my friend’s study abroad program in Florence. The company was called Bus2Alps, which travels to Switzerland from Florence, Rome, Paris and Munich. Although we rode a bus from Florence, Italy to Interlaken, Switzerland that lasted about 8 hours, the company did a great job of accommodating the students and guests. Bus2Alps gave us the choice of two popular hostels in town, Balmers Herberge (which is ranked number one on several sites; having a full bar and dance club downstairs) and Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof (which is a five minute walk from Balmers, and a more modern, quiet accommodation). Since Bus2Alps gave all of the guests’ free admission into the bar/nightclub at Balmers, I decided to stay in the Villa for the weekend.
interlaken overhead 400x200 Interlaken, Switzerland   Trip Summary  Plucked from a Painting
  With the help of Bus2Alps, I was able to sign up for   weekend excursions and activities at a discounted price. When I had originally signed up for the trip, I thought Zurich was the place to be; the place that truly embodied the Swiss experience. Not having heard much about Interlaken, I was slightly apprehensive. Surprisingly, it proved to have a little something for everyone.
An hour outside of Zurich, this small sleepy town with a population of a mere 5,429, provides activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow shoeing, and night sledding for those winter lovers, and even extreme sports like canyon jumping, zip lining, hang-gliding, bungee jumping, rock climbing, skydiving, and paragliding for the risk-takers. They offer private lessons for beginners, and take experienced skiers to a glacier up north. If sports aren’t your thing, Interlaken also rents out ATV’s, bikes, and small two-door vehicles to gallivant around the city in. Located in central Switzerland, in between the two Alpine lakes, Brienz and Thun, Interlaken offers Scenic hikes up through the Swiss Alps, relaxing Alpine spas, and trips up to Jungfraubahn, also known as the top of Europe.
The crystal blue lakes, brown and white capped mountains standing side by side, and random waterfalls scattered throughout the land make this location a stunning vacation spot. Small log cabins are perched on cliffs as you climb to higher altitudes, and the buildings in the local towns resemble gingerbread cut-outs. As you walk out of the center of town towards the mountains, have your camera ready, because the combination of the colorful landscape with the array of paragliders floating down to the ground is spectacular.
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Interlaken Ost, is the main train station in town, providing trains that travel out of town as well as up the mountain, stopping at Winderswil. In Winderswil, there is a funicular that travels even further up the mountain to a quaint little town called Lauterbrunnen. I went up the mountain in search of a good hike, and Lauterbrunnen provided just that. Once one exits the funicular station at Lauterbrunnen, it becomes all too real that this little town is perched in a valley on the Alps. Massive rocks tower above you on the right and green meadows stretch out to more mountains on your left. Breathtaking waterfalls pour out of nearby cliff faces almost 1000 feet in the air. With 72 waterfalls in Launterbrunnen, it makes the small resort town look like it was plucked straight from the jungle. There are several seasonal accomodations and restaurants that make this area worthwhile. Since I was looking to take in more nature than city, it was recommended to me to hike from Lauterbrunnen to Murren. As you walk more out of the town and more into the mountains, there is a path that provides benches along the way to stop and take in the unbelievable view. The path weaves up two different hills, ultimately stopping at a tram that takes hikers back down to Lauterbrunnen, if they choose not to walk. Overall, the cost of transportation up to Murren and back down to Interlaken Ost was around 27 francs, which is equivalent to 30 UD dollars.
Typically, Switzerland is known for their watches, chocolate, cheese, army knives, cow bells, cuckoo clocks and woodcarvings. Luckily, most of these goods can be found in the local souvenir shops, ranging from lower scale to higher quality. The main street that runs between Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost Railway stations, called Hoheweg, has several souviner shops lining the sidewalks. Places such as the “Swiss Knife Center” have a wide range of knives for sale, and “Bucherer” offers up an assortment of traditional Swiss brand- name watches, including the lower-scale Swatch. Often times, you can buy a watch or Swiss army knife in one of the Souvenir shops, and they will engrave it for free. Unfortunately, I was unable to make my way over to Brienz, which is 30 minutes by train from Interlaken Ost, but they are known has being the center for Swiss woodcarving.

swiss chocolate 400x200 Interlaken, Switzerland   Trip Summary  Plucked from a Painting


The locals pride themselves on having the best sweets, so be on the lookout for an hour chocolate show, where you can taste-test and learn how Nestle creates such yummy goodness. I was able to attend one at Schuh, which is also located on Hoheweg, for a reasonable price. After the show your ticket becomes a 10 franc voucher to purchase some chocolate.
Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world. And although I knew this country was going to be expensive, I wasn’t prepared for how expensive the price of living actually was. Typically the exchange rate is better than when I went last Thanksgiving, but I will warn fellow travelers that between excursions, daredevil activities, and eating, the wallet can take a beating. In my opinion, this trip was worth every penny, and although I have been to other places for cheaper, nothing really compares to the Swiss experience.

Interlaken, Switzerland – Paragliding

Paragliding in Switzerland

309806 2420652599959 1360740268 32690690 627628853 n 400x200 Interlaken, Switzerland   ParaglidingWhether you’re afraid of heights or not, Paragliding is one of those activities I insist you try at least once in your lifetime. Ironically, I am petrified of heights, and yet when I found myself in Switzerland looking up at a sky filled with hovering parachutes, I figured what better way to see the countryside than from the air. Plus, how many people can really say they got to paraglide through the Swiss Alps?

Interlaken, Switzerland is famous for paragliding, and it seems to be an activity that runs year-round. I booked my ride through Paragliding Interlaken, located at Hoheweg 115. When the big day arrived, a van picked me up outside of my hostel. They drove us 20 minutes up a mountain to an area called Beatenberg Amisbuhl. We were told this starting area was 800 meters above Interlaken. Yeah, my nerves were definitely a bit jittery at that point.

The crew gave us our backpacks, and we walked a little further up the mountain to reach the parachutes. The sun glistened off of the snow-capped Alps, and a light set of clouds calmly settling above the city.

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Once I got my helmet on and was strapped into my parachute and to my instructor, I was ready to go. He counted down, we ran as hard as we could, and once we caught wind we were off.

IMG 41311 1024x768 Interlaken, Switzerland   Paragliding

It was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life. Initially, I was scared to let go of the measly string that was holding me to my parachute, and I refused to look down. But once I stopped thinking about the height and my fear, it was amazing to feel how calm and quiet everything was.

It was Thanksgiving weekend, and surprisingly it hadn’t snowed, making it difficult for some of my fellow travelers to do the crazy snow sports’ they had anticipated doing. Locals told me I had made the best choice by going paragliding because I had the perfect weather to do it. As the cold air nipped at my face, I couldn’t help but smile. Between the iced-over lakes and rolling green hills thousands of feet below me, I felt like it was all just utter perfection.

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After my instructor answered his phone, while steering the parachute (who knew you could get reception above the clouds? I definitely need that network.) he pulled out a camera on an extendable pole, and snapped a few pictures of me floating in the air.SDC138221 768x1024 Interlaken, Switzerland   Paragliding

Later he took a video of me, but with the wind blowing into the speaker it is a little difficult to decipher. Halfway through the video, (when I start squealing) that’s when he decided to flip my parachute into loop-de-loops. I had him stop after the first one, because I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle it.

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As we got closer to the open meadow, my instructor told me I would need to start running once my feet hit land again. Although it was somewhat complicated to run while my parachute was still filled with air, my instructor and I managed to land in unison.

Paragliding in my opinion is absolutely worth the money (170 francs). Even though this may be a little steep for the average backpacker like myself, the views are undeniably beautiful, and the ride is a once in a lifetime experience. I honestly believe it is the best way to see Interlaken. It’s one thing to see everyone floating down from the sky, but it’s even better when you decide to take the risk and ride yourself. Carpe Diem!