Going to Greece? Skip the AirBNB

While I was in Athens I took two guided tours- one on foot and one on bike. Each explored very different parts of the city – the bike tour was focused on hidden gems and street art while the walking tour hit the historical highlights including the Ancient Agora, the Plaka, and the Acropolis.

“AirBNB doesn’t include breakfast” street art

“AirBNB doesn’t include breakfast” street art

Both tours were led by young male, native Athenians with history degrees from American universities who very clearly loved their home city despite its economic, political and social challenges. Aside from the gorgeous scenery, crazy traffic, and awe-inspiring history, my big take-away from these tours was the impact AirBNB is having on their local housing economy.

To be completely transparent, I stayed in an AirBNB in Athens. When I booked my trip, a coworker recommended I stay in a local hotel that she had enjoyed, but I shrugged off her advice and went for an AirBNB instead. I’ve had great experiences so far with the service –with highlights including a renovated trailer in Portland (with homemade edibles) to a working Carmelite monastery in Ghent, Belgium. Each has been unique and charming in its own way. So when the opportunity came to travel to Greece for a week, I did my usual and booked an AirBNB.


The unit I booked looked cute online. It was a newly renovated loft near Omonia Square – a “bustling square” in central Athens. Oh marketing copy- you’re so cute. Omonia Square was actually like Times Square before Rudy Guilliani’s efforts to clean it up in the early 1990s, without the bright lights. The ad showed a gleaming Jacuzzi in the bathroom, a view of the Acropolis out the front windows and exposed brick walls. The unit was so well advertised it was actually included in the new AirBNB Plus section – a curated pick of verified homes with “hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail.”

And truth be told, there was nothing actually wrong with the unit. The Jacuzzi worked, though I was limited to luke-warm water and a 20 minute time limit. There was also no toilet paper which I discovered in the middle of a poop, but as a saavy traveler I carry some with me. Technically you could see the Acropolis out the windows, but you had to look past a decrepit abandoned building next door to see it.

 But the biggest issue was me. As a solo female American traveler, I am used to fending for myself and typically love the independence that traveling alone brings. Finding food, entertainment, and daily necessities are part of the allure of solo travel and have brought me treasured memories from Mexico, Singapore, Germany, Sweden and Hong Kong. But for a few reasons, things just did not click for me in Greece.

As I quickly learned, Greece is a very social culture with a strong pride in providing welcoming hospitality. When you’re staying by yourself in an AirBNB you miss out on all of that.

On the bike tour, one of the murals we stopped by read “Your AirBNB doesn’t have breakfast.” Now, going into this experience I knew that and was ready for it. See, I’m used to crappy continental breakfasts in hotels that can (and should) be skipped in favor of a local greasy spoon or hip brunch spot. But I learned the hard way that this is not the case around the globe.

While other parts of Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong all had excellent breakfast options (I still dream about the congee I had in Sai Ying Pun), Greece thrived on coffee and pastries. Within a 200 meter block of my unit there were four coffee shops. Its also not an early morning city, so when my jetlagged body was ready for a substantial meal at 7am, I was shit out of luck.

Traditional Cheese Pie

I asked my tour guide on the walking tour where to get a good breakfast and he looked at me knowingly and said “You’re in an AirBNB, aren’t you?” He then went on to explain that all hotels in Greece have a full breakfast. If I was in a hotel, I could expect fruit, bread, eggs, yogurt and honey, and all the coffee I could drink.

He then told me about how the explosive growth of AirBNB in Athens has made it next to impossible to find an affordable place to rent. Similar to the issues cropping up in other cities, wealthy investors are buying multiple properties which are then being rented out at inflated prices to tourists. These units are then no longer available for local Athenians, where the average monthly salary is around 700 euros. As Greece emerges from their recent economic crisis, many people are being forced out of the city where they have lived their whole lives because of the scarcity in affordable housing.

The Growth of AirBNB in Athens. Note the rise in entire homes, not just private rooms

The Growth of AirBNB in Athens. Note the rise in entire homes, not just private rooms

Compounding the problem - Greece’s economy relies heavily on tourism. There is a 24% tax on all goods which goes to support infrastructure, restoration projects, and the government. This tax is levied on hotels, but not on AirBNB, causing all sorts of problems.

At this point in my trip, I still had 3 more nights to travel. Two of those nights already had AirBNB lodging lined up, one in Meteora and one near the Athens airport for my last night. If I could’ve cancelled without incurring a fee, I would’ve.

My unit in Meteora was a room in a local woman’s flat. She greeted me at the door with fresh, homemade pie and offered me to join her for dinner. She explained that I was staying in her old roommate’s room who had since moved away, but renting the room on AirBNB allowed her to continue to live in the flat. She offered local tips, a map, and sold guests a homemade olive oil/honey handcreme that I love. Staying with Iliana was a joy – though in similar fashion as before, I was left longing for breakfast and made do with pastries and coffee.

The second to last night of my trip I threw caution to the wind and drove to Galadaxi, a seaside town that came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. Reviews said it wouldn’t be hard to find a room, especially in the offseason and that I should be able to get a hotel room for 30-40 Euros. Sure enough, I landed at the Hotel Galadaxi, a super cute guest house 100 meters from the port.


Hotel Galadaxi

Hotel Galadaxi

The owner greeted me with a warm smile, showed me to my room and detailed his favorite places on a hand drawn map. In the morning, I was greeted with a delicious breakfast including three kinds of bread, yogurt and homemade honey, eggs, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Now this is what I’m talking about!  As I checked out , the owner gave me a jar of homemade marmalade and a magnet to “remember Galadaxi by” and a big hug. If I could’ve stayed another night, I would’ve.

A real Greek Breakfast

A real Greek Breakfast

My last night was in a run-down suburb of Athens close to the airport. Again, the actual AirBNB unit was fine, but I was wishing I had made a different lodging decision.

All of this is a long way of saying if you’re going to Greece, skip the AirBNB and stay local. The Greek economy is still recovering from the crash and they need and appreciate your tourist dollars. Not only that, but you’ll likely have a more enjoyable visit.

The owner of the hotel in Galadaxi

The owner of the hotel in Galadaxi

 More to come soon on the rest of the trip!

 

I went Mountain Biking!

We’re talking real deal, single-track, flow trail, front-suspension bike mountain biking! I know it sounds crazy and that’s because it absolutely was. But it was so much fun and I can’t wait to go again.


My new bike - the Marin Pine Mountain 1

My new bike - the Marin Pine Mountain 1

It all started with the WTF Bike Explorers Summit back in August. I took a CX Bike, the Masi CXGR bike that is on loan to me from Masi Bike. Even though I got the smallest frame they make, I still had to frankenstein the heck out of this bike to get it to fit me – putting a 650b wheel on the front with a big tire, leaving the 700c tire on back, shortening the stem. It still wasn’t great, but it was good enough to ride some trails (or so I thought.)

I totally thought this bike was more than sufficient for bikepacking (and it was), but I was immediately super jealous of everybody else’s setups. They had big squishy tires, lots of clearance, and suspension. Most folks were riding hardtail mountain bikes with front suspension and flat bars and loving it.

For some reason I was convinced that they didn’t make bikes like this to fit me. But here at the Summit were lots of other small people making it happen. Holy shit, there is a rad adventure bike out there for me, I just need to find it! And so the search was on.

Turns out, the search didn’t take very long at all.

Once I got back into town, I put the word out that I was looking for a hardtail bike. Through an online bike forum, I was pointed to a local shop that was blowing out all of their inventory to make room for winter gear. All of their bikes were 40%, making the bike I was interested in $700 – practically an unheard of price for this bike.

True confession time: I bought the bike after a five minute test ride, before ever really going mountain biking. At this point, I hadn’t even been on any beginner trails or taken a class. This could turn out to be a really dumb purchase, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

After more mansplaining than I needed about bike fit, I bought the bike and took it home. It then sat in my apartment for 3 weeks before I got up the courage to use it.

My first ride on it was at Duthie Hill Park. I’ve heard about Duthie for years now but never made it out there now. Holy cow have I been missing out. It is amazing. Beautifully built trails (well, the one I went on repeatedly was beautiful, but I’m assuming the others are as well), great signage, and easy to access.

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As an absolute beginner,  I rode the Bootcamp trail twice, which is the easiest trail there. It’s a one-way cross-country style trail, with lots of berms and turns. According to the stats, it’s 0.9 miles long, with 64’ of ascent and -69’ of descent.

Even though I had no clue what I was doing from a technical standpoint, I had a lot of fun. It was exhilarating to feel a rush of adrenaline from biking again. I can’t even remember how many years it’s been since I felt that!

The following weekend I went with a bunch of friends to Leavenworth, Washington to an out-of-town cyclocross race. I’ve only actually raced once, at Single Speed World Series PDX in 2016, but I still love hanging out and being cross-adjacent. This year, our group of friends rented a house in Leavenworth and spend Saturday mountain biking and Sunday racing/cheering our friends. With my new bike, I could actually join them for the mountain biking!!  

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The plan was to do a shuttle system –two people would drive us all up to the top of Tumwater mountain, then one person would meet us at the bottom and run a second car back up to the top. The thinking was that this would let us get a whole bunch of runs in on some of the most awesome trails in Washington.

Turns out things don’t always go according to plan.

The drive up to the top of the mountain took much longer than anticipated. Like 2 hours longer. One care even bailed on the way up and 4 riders rode half the way up. Not the worst idea and they made it up in the same time as the car.

Once we made it up and reassembled bikes, we got some last minute mountain bike tips from more experienced riders. I learned to put my weight back, brake lightly, and let some air out of my tires. Ooh yeah squishy time.

Finally, we were off to ride.

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Our group of ten varied greatly in skill, from my total newbie status to way more advanced riders on full suspension bikes. To not hold up the entire group, we split into a few groups, agreeing to meet up periodically on the way down, mainly before big turns.

I was by far the slowest in the group, but I went at a pace that I was comfortable with, especially given the advanced nature of the terrain we were on. (The trails we were on ranged between a Blue and Green rating, but they were technically the most difficult I’ve done.) For reference, we rode Freund Canyon and For the Boys (stupid stupid name.)

For some of the advanced riders, I think these trails were probably really easy and an opportunity to practice getting high on the berms. For me, it was heart-pounding, holy-shit I’m going-to-die-any-minute if I make a wrong turn kind of fun.

 As we progressed down the mountain, I learned to trust my instincts on the bike, trust the bike, and had a lot more fun. Going up and over little features was a blast, and I definitely see the appeal of mountain biking. Needless to say, we only went down once and retrieved the car later.

The variety of terrain we went through was striking – one minute it felt like we were riding through an alpine meadow and the next we were on a berm on the side of a mountain about to fall off. We rode through burned out forest sections and onto the side of a ski hill. It was fascinating and made me super curious to do more.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with my purchase and can’t wait to do more. I have yet to load it up for bikepacking, but am confident that it will do the job.

I don't like to fail...help me reach my goal!

Next weekend (after Labor Day) I'll be riding for the fifth time in the Bike MS: Deception Pass Classic! This is the one and only stereotypical bike event I do and every year, I feel like more and more the outsider. But who cares? I'm riding a bike for a good cause and it's fun! 

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First, the reason I'm writing. I need help fundraising! Each year I've done the ride, I've set a personal fundraising goal of $1000. This year is no different, but I haven't been nearly as successful in reaching that goal. I'm currently at $360 and need help reaching my goal! 

Please help me reach my fundraising goal! Donate here!!

Some of you might be scratching your heads at this point wondering why I choose to participate in this event, of all the possible mainstream bike events. Well, there are a couple of reasons.

  1. It's easy. My work has a large team every year and it's really easy to sign up and be part of the big team. The whole weekend is supported, including all meals and entertainment. All I have to do is show up and volunteers have already set up my tent!
  2. The route is beautiful. The ride starts in Mt. Vernon and goes through Skagit County to Deception Pass. They shut down the bridge for us so we can ride safely over the Deception Pass bridge, which is a rare treat.
  3. MS sucks as a disease. I count myself lucky not to have it. but I've had more than a few friends diagnosed with this sneaky little bitch of a disease in the past couple of years. The cause is unknown and there's no cure yet, but there is a lot of promising research.
  4. It's fun. Despite being heavily skewed towards upper-middle class men in lycra with really fancy bikes, the weekend is still a lot of fun. Everybody is incredibly supportive and positive, and I've never gotten more comments about my dynamo/basket/brooks equipped bike in one place ever. 
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Any support you can give is appreciated! And let me know if you'll be at the event. As much as I love hanging out with my coworkers, it's always fun to mingle among the other groups that are up there too.

 

No Fatty Left Behind - WTF Bikexplorer Summit Breakout Session

If you follow me on social media, you’re probably very aware that I spent the last week at the WTF Bikexplorers Summit in Whitefish, Montana. I’ve been gushing about this thing for months and now that it’s come and gone and been one of the best weeks ever, I have a lot to say about it!

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Hoo goodness, where to even start?! I don’t think I can even begin to write up my experiences of the week, as I could do a whole post on the food, my new friends, the Whitefish Bike Retreat facilities, the sessions, and the cool bikes that weren’t mine.

(To get an idea of other folks’ experiences at the summit, check out the hashtag #shredthepatriarchy on Instagram, especially those tagged at Whitefish Bike Retreat.)

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Instead, I’m going to write about the breakout session I facilitated on Saturday morning, “Creating Size Inclusive Spaces & Communities (aka No Fatty Left Behind.”)

First, an acknowledgement. As a white cis-gendered woman, I have a position of privilege in the bike community (even though sometimes it feels like I don’t.) As a blogger with a decent sized audience, I have a responsibility to use this privilege to help break down the systems of oppression, including racism, transphobia, colonialism, ageism, sizeism, fatphobia, and a bunch of other isms to make the bike industry more welcoming and supportive to all. To that end, I will call out injustices when I see them and may end up calling out brands/friends/colleagues in this process. Hopefully we can all be in this together and get better together to make the entire industry more welcoming, positive, and supportive for all.

I was really really really nervous to suggest this as a topic for breakouts. I didn’t think it would be well-received or that people would come. For one, I was one of maybe 2 or 3 visibly fat people there. But after I announced the topic at dinner, I had upwards of ten people come up to me and thank me for bringing up the topic. And while in the end, the session wasn’t super well attended (which is totally cool because there were so many other important conversations happening at the same time), the discussion we did have was really freaking beautiful and inspiring and affirming.

The name and inspiration for my session was taken from a hiking group that I joined this spring, Fat Girls Hiking. Fat Girls Hiking is a body-positive community group that goes on group hikes that are welcome to all genders, all sizes, and all skill levels. They host a number of hikes across the US where people of all body sizes and shapes are encouraged to join, where nobody is too slow or too fat.

From my involvement with this group, I have seen the joy and inspiration that has come from being with a truly inclusive community that is size inclusive. I firmly believe that the biking community could learn a lot from these best practices, so my breakout session was an attempt to spread some of these ideas and to have a dialogue with other leaders in the biking community about how to do this.

As I’ve discussed before, there are some very real challenges to being a bigger person on a bike, including finding a bike, clothing choice, and finding people to ride with. One additional challenge is the fear of acceptance – will the people I want to ride with accept me? Will they drop me? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the slowest person? On and on….

As ride leaders (or potential ride leaders), there is a lot we can do to help newer or less confident riders who may have larger bodies feel welcome at our rides, on our teams, and in our shops (or in our community spaces.)  Actually, these tips go for everyone – we all have body insecurities and these tips will go a long way towards making everyone feel a lot more comfortable.

Setting Group Expectations

I like to think that these are general best practices for all groups, but at this point, nothing surprises me.

  • Set a pace for the ride and stick to it. If you say on your event that you’re going to be going 10-12 mph with regroups after hills, go 10-12 mph and actually regroup.
  • Have a sweeper at the back of the group. This rider should know where the group is going, have some mechanical skills and be a friendly person to encourage anybody who gets dropped to finish out the ride.
  • Consider having 2 pace groups for larger rides or those with varying speeds. Start/end at the same spot but perhaps the faster group does more hills.
  •  Let the slowest person set the pace. Confirm they’re ok with this, but it can make for a fun change of pace.
  • Publicize the route ahead of time so folks can preview it and plan ahead for any hills or breaks if necessary.
  •   It’s ok to ask participants to refrain from diet talk, body shaming, and weight loss talk

Swag, Team Kits & Industry Influence

  •  If you are in charge of ordering team kits, make sure a large range of sizes are available. If you’re unsure what sizes are needed, ask people! Fat people know what size we need – it’s ok to ask us!
  •   Order from and support brands that are size inclusive. Perhaps before ordering, ask a company if they carry plus-size apparel, even if you don’t need it. If they don’t, consider asking them why.

There was a ton of other great conversation and discussion that happened. Unfortunately, my brain is on overload and I forgot a bunch of it. I would love to hear your thoughts about any and all of this, and any suggestions you might have for how we can be a more supportive community.

Xoxo,

Marley

Swift Campout 2018 - Not all Sunshine and Ice Cream

Sometimes I live a pretty charmed life. I have a good job, steady housing, food to eat, and friends and family who love me. In June, I was sent to Europe for work for 5 days and had the opportunity to extend my stay for some vacation time. More coming on those adventures soon (I promise), but over the course of ten days I had the pleasure of exploring Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Upon my return, I felt like my life was a shit show. I literally had hundreds of emails to read, piles of laundry, and the Swift Campout on the books for the following weekend. The sensible thing to do would be to cancel the camping trip and use the weekend to get caught up on life.

Guess what I did?!?

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Thursday and Friday were a whirlwind at work- catching up on emails, following up on everything that transpired in Europe, and getting adjusted to the 9 hour time difference again. I vacillated all day Friday about going on the trip, debating whether I really wanted to ride to Tolt McDonald Park or if I would feel overwhelming FOMO if I didn’t go.

In the end, the fear of FOMO (is that a thing? A fear of a fear of missing out?) won and I made the decision to join the group ride to the Swift Industries campout. The plan was to meet at west end of the 520 bridge at 11am and ride 30ish miles to Carnation. In theory, there would be 12 of us riding as part of a “chill group ride” and then meeting up with 55 other people at camp.

As I packed on Friday evening, I literally packed and unpacked 3 different bikes. For the life of me I couldn’t decide which bike to ride. ALL the cool kids would be at the campout, so I wanted to ride a cool bike. I also just picked up my new Masi CXGR bike that I’ll be riding in Montana this summer for Ortlieb’s Ride Beyond Stereotypes women’s bike packing event. While not a “cool” bike persay (it’s pretty bare bones and functional), I do need to get more saddle time in. I also really really really love the bike I bought for JR (the one I rode to Mt. Rainier.) Decisions decisions.

I eventually settled on riding my Surly Straggler, mainly because it has a rear rack and I can pack so much in those panniers. (Side note- remind me next time to pack less. Always pack less.) I also for some reason decided that I don’t like any of my shoes that I have been riding bikes in forever so I made a plan to go to REI the next morning before the ride to pick up shoes.

If at this point you’re thinking “what the hell, marley? You should know better than to overpack AND buy new shoes just before a ride!” You’re totally right. I literally did the textbook version of “What Not to Do.” Don’t do like I did – plan your shit in advance.

Ok, so back to the ride. Saturday morning, all packed up, got my new Five Ten Freeriders on (hey REI – why don’t you have the women’s version online? You definitely have them in store…) and on the way. I made a quick stop at my friend Amanda’s house for a little pre-funk and then met up with the crew from Swift Industries for the ride.

Loaded up and ready to roll

Loaded up and ready to roll

At the beginning of the ride, Martina went over the plan for the day. We’d ride the 520 Bridge and path into Redmond, then go up a big hill, and then be there. 30 miles, easy pace, no drop. She did ask for a volunteer to be the sweep, which I gladly stepped up into. As the slowest person on group rides, I don’t mind being sweep as long as I know where I’m going. That way nobody else has to feel bad about being slow or holding up the group- I can help shepherd them to where we’re going and everybody is happy.

The first 15 miles were uneventful. The group stayed together nicely, regrouping at the top of hills and before turns. We stopped for a picnic lunch just off the Sammamish River Trail and it seemed like the group was meshing together well.

Fancy lunch in the park

Fancy lunch in the park

At this point, we were making great time, especially for a group of our size. (The predicted 12 people had morphed into 25.) That progress came to a skidding halt, however, when I hit a patch of mud on the trail and totally wiped out.

It seemed like before I had even picked myself up off of the ground to assess the damage, there were tons of people at my sides offering first aid kits and water, making sure I was ok. Adrenaline is a tricky little bitch though and I insisted that I was fine. I cleaned out my road rash, adjusted my fenders, and wiped off the tears as we climbed back on our bikes to keep riding.

Maybe should've cleaned this wound a bit better

Maybe should've cleaned this wound a bit better

As the miles piled on it became clear that I wasn’t actually ok. My leg, fingers, and arm throbbed. Thankfully I hadn’t hit my head, but goddam did everything else hurt, and we hadn’t even started climbing the real hills yet.

Soon enough we turned off the gentle flat trail and onto a road called Union Hill Road. By this point in my cycling career, I know that any road with ‘hill’ in it’s name, will involve a climb of some sort.

Sure enough, we climbed for a few miles. As we were finally descending, I got a flat. If you remember from this post, my wheels were recently stolen. When we replaced them, instead of replacing with quick release skewers, we put locking skewers on. Turns out you should know how to use them before you need to.

At this point on the ride, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically defeated. As I struggled with my tire, the tears were streaming down my face. I was embarrassed to be crying over a tire, my road rash hurt, and I was hungry. Literally the worst.

Thankfully, a few of the women in the group convinced the rest of the group to go ahead, as I really didn’t want to rush to change my tire in front of 25 people I’d already held up. Four of us stayed behind and somehow managed to patch two holes with my wheel still on my bike.

You can change a tire while still on the bike. Not recommended, but doable.

You can change a tire while still on the bike. Not recommended, but doable.

Bike repaired, tears dried, food consumed we got back on our bikes to ride the last few miles into camp. Thankfully they were pretty boring, despite a wrong turn that gave us some bonus gravel miles and a pocket FaceTime to Hannah’s mom. Hi Mom!

We eventually made it into Tolt McDonald Park where we set up camp with the rest of the crew that had rolled in before us. Lots of folks checked in with me to make sure I was alright (special thanks to Mal for the relaxation mints ;)).

As always, there’s a special kind of magic that happens when you bike camp with strangers. Over shared snacks you tell silly stories and find common interests (besides biking) and make future plans for more adventures. By the next morning, it’s as if you’ve been friends forever. Bike camping is basically like a sleepover for adults.

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In this case, however, my injuries definitely put a damper on my trip. My mood was a bit of a bummer and I didn’t have the energy to bounce from circle to circle. I even ended up bailing on the bike ride home and snagged a car ride home. I’m glad I did, as even now, 3 weeks later the bruises and road rash are still healing.

So, cheers to Swift Industries for putting on another excellent trip. Here's hoping for a bit less eventful one next time.