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!

 

A Day in Chicago by Bike

Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. Technically, I landed at O'Hare but spent most of the weekend in Great Lakes, Illinois (about 40 miles north of the city) where my sister lives. 

Women and Children First

 

Our weekend was full of toddler fun: the Betty Brin Children's Museum in Milwaukee, family swim time, rainbow cupcakes, and toddler music class. As has happened previously on trips to visit them, I reach my limit of suburb time after about 3 days. I need the energy, diversity, and craziness that a city brings. So on Saturday March 17th (yep, St. Patrick's Day), I took the train into Chicago for a day in the city.

The previous time I was in Chicago I explored the city by Divvy bike. This worked out pretty well, as Chicago has a good density of stations. Planning to do the same this time, I reached out to "Bike Twitter" for recommendations on must sees, eats, and dos in the Windy City. 

I was surprised by a message from Elsbeth Cool, the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery. She offered me one of her fleet bikes to ride for the day, a Tern Vektron.  She told me she was just off the blue train line in Logan Park, and being the transit savvy person I am, I figured "No problem. I'll just transfer and be there shortly!" 

Elsbeth Cool

If only it was so easy. l spent the majority of the train ride trying to figure out how to transfer from the UP-N to the Blue L line, a feat which is apparently impossible. I asked 4 people on the train how to do it- none of them knew. Eventually I decided I would get off at the closest stop to Logan Park and make my way from there.

Getting off the train I was suddenly awash in a sea of St. Patrick's Day revelers. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago is a BIG deal. Oh shit. My sister was right - going to the city today was a big mistake and I'm going to have to deal with drunks all day. 

Quickly enough, however, the throngs caught their Ubers and Lyfts and were on their way to Wrigleyville or Downtown Chicago for the real party, and I was left to my own. Thankfully, in Chicago, the Transit App works incredibly well and has train, bus, bike, and carshare integrated. I discovered that a Divvy station was less than a block away, which I could then ride to Logan Park!

I've been seriously spoiled by the free-floating bike share model in Seattle and forgot how annoying it is to redock at a specific station every 30 minutes. I slowly and deliberately made my way to Logan Park, with the help of Google Maps. (Hat tip- the bike directions on Google are usually pretty spot on!) I found another Divvy station a few blocks from Elsbeth's house, dropped the bike, and walked to her place.

She opened Four Star Family Cyclery out of her basement last summer and business has been humming along steadily ever since! She works to get families on bikes that a practical alternative to traveling by car, which usually means electric cargo and family bikes! 

I was loaned a Tern Vektron for the day, which is a super cool folding electric bike. While Chicago is super flat compared to Seattle, having the electric assist meant I could get further and explore more with less effort. Winning!

Ukrainian Village

I set off with the intention to explore a few different neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and Logan Square. I slowly made my way throughout the neighborhoods, stopping for photos, an occasional beer, and one really good baked potato at The Shelby. Seriously, if you're ever in Chicago, check out their baked potatoes. 

As far as bike lanes go and feeling safe on the road, Chicago wasn't the best. Many of the bike lanes on the major streets are solidly in the door zone (as with every other city), however, Elsbeth gave me a great tip to ride a block or two over from the main street and I would find quiet residential streets. She was 100% spot on and I spent most of my time on side streets. 

During my day, I stopped at many businesses, but two of them I want to briefly highlight.

The first is BFF Bikes, a neighborhood bike shop that I've followed on social media for years. They're a full service bike shop, but with a focus on women's specific apparel and bikes. When I rolled by on Saturday afternoon, they were in the middle of their 4th Anniversary Party with treats and a solid crew hanging out inside. I was warmly welcomed and had a great chat with some local riders and the owner. If you're in Chicago, I'd encourage you to swing by their shop.

BFF Bikes

The second business is a bookstore called "Women and Children First." I first visited this shop last year on my visit and fell in love. Unabashedly feminist and political, this local bookstore is a gem. With tables dedicated to trans* literature, highlights by authors of color and a welcoming, positive vibe, I think I could spend all day in here. (My undergrad degree is in Women Studies after all. This is my feminist dream come true!)  I browsed for a while and eventually picked up "Tell Me More" by Kelly Corrigan, a mug, and a Black Lives Matter button.

IMG_0227.jpg

From there, I rode back to Elsbeth's place, dropped off the bike, and was on my way back to the train. I think in total I rode somwhere between 15 and 20 miles, but I'm not really sure. The ease of the bike I was loaned along with the flat, grid streets of Chicago made it easy to just keep going. 

I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time with my sister and nephew riding alongside me!

Upcoming Posts! Hong Kong, Setting your own Pace, Gear Reviews and Camping Hacks

I have a goal to be more regular with posting - it turns out people enjoy reading this little blog I've put together. In that spirit, I'm going to attempt to be public about some upcoming posts I've got planned. 

While I'd like to tell you what order they're going to appear in, let's be honest, I'm probably the most disorganized person you'll ever meet and I'm going to write in whatever order I damn well feel like.

So here are a few things that have been percolating in my brain as of late:

  • Hong Kong! I went on a fabulous just-for-funsies trip to Hong Kong in February and I'm dying to show and tell stories and photos from this trip!
  • Setting your own Pace/Riding Your Own Ride.  There's a thing in the thru-hiking community called "Hike Your Own Hike", which basically boils down to do your own thing to ensure self-satisfaction and well-being. Over the past few years, many of my bike camping trips have been solo or with a smaller group, so when I do go on a bigger ride, it's a hard line for me to find between sticking with the group for the shenanigans and riding my own ride. (More on this in the post.)
  • Gear Reviews & Camping Hacks  - How do I eat real food when camping? What heavenly sleep system have I fallen in love with this season? (Seriously, it's dreamy and I absolutely love crawling into at the end of a long day.) Just some tips, tricks, and little things I've picked up along the way of a few seasons of doing this thing.

Ruby Beach, on the Washington Coast where I camped a few weeks ago in the pouring rain, but stayed nice and cozy.