Category: Family & Friends

Traveling with a Toddler – Crete, Greece: Chania, Rental Car Adventures and Villa Irene

I skipped writing yesterday because my eyes were closing as I tried to type last night. Yesterday was also a travel day, which is a guarantee for exhaustion, even when traveling without a toddler. And of course, WordPress has opted to change its entire editing process mid-trip. Hurray! Forgive any misalignment – I hope you know me better.



We packed lightly with plans to wash everything for part two of our trip

We flew from Athens on a short flight to Chania airport in Crete. The service on the flight was impeccable. While only a 50 minute flight, we were on a large plane with plenty of leg room and served not only a beverage but also cookies and mints. Aegean and Olympic Airlines have a special check-in lines for families (no wait), and bump you to the head of airport security screening. What’s usually our most stressful part of travel was a breeze.



Porto Veneziano, Chania, Crete

Porto Veneziano, Chania, Crete

Our first stop in Chania was to see the Porto Veneziano (Venetian Port) where there are 17 dry docks dating back to 1597 when the Venetians occupied this part of Crete. Three of the original docks have been renovated and converted into a museum and cafe. We stopped to enjoy a cappuchino to offset our early start to the morning. They even made a steamed milk just for our daughter, which of course she spilled all over the stone floor.

Three of the dry docks were converted to a museum and cafe

After our coffee, we went for a leisurely walk along the harbor with the goal of finding a nice spot for lunch. The water is crystal clear despite the harbour being filled with active fishing boats and other commercial enterprise. We saw a few men fishing and others feeding the pigeons. It’s a warm and slow way of life here. Just what we’ve been looking for given the chaos of our past year.



Rows of taverns and cafes line the port
The Maritime Museum of Chania offered more than was expected given its low price tag of €3/person
Grecians appreciate the pigeons as playmates rather than pests

The Maritime Museum of Chania is located on the west side of the harbor, an easy walk from the free, public parking lot. At only €3/person, it’s worth paying the fee just to gain access to the elevated view of the port and lighthouse. If you have the time, there is an indoor portion to the museum with displays explaining the history of the Venetian occupation, shipbuilding process and artifacts discovered during recent renovations.



The Egyptian Lighthouse of Chania
Climbing to the highest vantage point
The port was fortified for battle with large walls and well-positioned canons
The Maritime Museum is great for kids who want to explore as well as learn

After the Maritime Museum, we walked through the alleys of old Chania, just to make sure we didn’t miss any better lunch options. It’s cliche, but we always like “going off-road” in other countries because you can get away from the Tourist traps and see more local life. I often find this is where the photographic gems hide, too.



Stairs to nowhere with a pub below
Yellow alley

We’d spent the morning exploring what we wanted to see, so we knew our daughter would need to run around and let out some energy. Fortunately, along the walk from the parking lot to Porto Veneziano, there’s a small but scenic playground perfect for kids age 2-10 years.

Driving Southwest to Villa Irene in Livadia, Crete

After the playground, we packed ourselves back into our rental car for the adventurous drive to our AirBbB in Livadia, Crete. Amir has researched the drive well in advance of our trip, so he knew to expect winding, at times, trecherous roads. It’s definitely an adventure for daylight, and also requires an SUV.

The road is narrow, requiring one car to yield to another when two approach at the same time. Similar to our drive in Cornwall, England, there are many hairpin turns and near-misses involving livestock – in this case goats and sheep.

While the drive was heart-stopping, it was also breathtaking, with small moments of beauty revealing themselves with each turn. It’s most comparable to driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California, but with small villages, livestock and weathered townspeople dotting the way.

Villa Irene in Livadia, Crete

Our AirBnB was difficult to find given there are no street names or house numbers. Restaurants and homes are known only by their name, which is feasible when the villages and population are small. Our AirBnB host, Maria, had given us an address for our GPS, but unfortunately that plan failed as we rented a TomTom with our car, and she had meant Google Maps via a smart phone. We solved the problem by calling her on the phone the old fashioned way and reading aloud the limited signage and landmarks we could identify. Despite our navigational issues, we arrived without our projected one hour window, before sunset, and with time to relax.



Villa Irene
Second floor balcony
Master bedroom and balcony

We found Villa Irene though a simple search on AirBnB. The listing had an icon identifying it as “usually booked” – it caught my attention. At just $164/night off-season, it’s a bargain. You can check out the details here. The only negative mentioned about the place is its remote location. But, after just one day here I can say that while it is remote, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do. If you want extensive shopping and nightlife, this is not it. If you want nature, amazing views and authenticity, Villa Irene is your spot.

At the risk of sounding like a promo for the place, here are a few more photos from around the property.



Stone exterior with Mediterranean blue accents

Green space with safety fence

#1 Toddler loves the swing set by the olive tree
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Outdoor dining space

Traveling with a Toddler – Athens, Greece: Local Food & Market Tour

When we went to Florence, Italy last summer, one of our favorite experiences was a market tour and cooking class through In Tavola . If you’ve never done one, they are an affordable way to get a taste of a wide variety of local meats, veggies, cheeses and other products. You have a local guide who knows the sellers and restauranteurs who will prepare you samples and small plates of their best dishes.

For $58/person, we booked a 3 hour tour with Marina through AirBnb. This was dollar for dollar, money well spent. No charge for kids under 2 despite the fact that she sampled everything.

We met Marina at 10am in a City Square just a few blocks from our hotel. Unlike our tour in Florence (10-12 people), this tour was private. I’m not sure if that’s the case because it’s off season or if it’s private year round, but it worked to our advantage as many of the places we visited were small with tables for only 3-4 people each.

Stop 1: Creme Royale

Our first stop was to learn about the process of making filo pastry dough by sampling different savory pies. At this shop, they offer pies featuring 3 different kinds of filo. We enjoyed cheese pie with a flaky filo and a spinach and leek pie with a thicker filo.

Assortment of pastries and pies at Creme Royale

Watching filo dough made outside of Creme Royale

My urge was to eat every delicious scrap in front of me, but I know we had at least 5 more stops ahead of us. We took the leftovers with us in a small paper takeaway box.

Stop 2: Zarkadian Meat & Cheese Market

I should have taken notes here because we tried more new things than any other stop. The butcher was friendly and generous. We sampled a feta and a goat cheese along with cured olives, spiced meat and salted and seasoned camel. Yes, camel.

Zarkadian Market offers an assortment of cured meats and cheese

The butcher put together a generous cheese and charcuterie plate served with basil seasoned toasted bread pieces, white wine and water. Our daughter devoured the cheese.

Toddler-friendly fare

The plate was so generous we were only able to finish a little over half of it. Our daughter started to grow restless, so I took my last swig of the simple dry white table wine, and we moved on to our next destination.

Stop 3: Mocca Coffee Shop

Through our Netflix travel show binge, we’d also identified “sand coffee” as a must try while in Athens. We were delighted to discover our next stop was to experience exactly that.

Metal coffee pots are buried in sand warmed to 200C

First, the coffee is ground to the finest setting and added to the small pot. Water is added, and the mixture stirred. Unlike filtered coffee, the grounds remain directly in the drink. The pot is placed in hot sand that is over 200 degrees Celsius until the water boils. It’s stirred just once to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom. Just before it boils over, it’s removed from the sand and placed on a tray, ready to serve.

In the traditional Greek fashion, we sat, slowed down and savored our coffee as we watched others in the cafe chat politics and catch up with old friends. Mocca is the place where locals meet to catch up and unwind.

Stop 4: Varvakios Market

Wherever you travel, if you decide to do a food tour, always pick the one with a market tour. You’ll always find the freshest and most exotic local ingredients, plus if you enjoy photography, there’s plenty of inspiration.

We didn’t sample anything at the meat market, mainly because everything was fresh and nothing cooked. In Florence we tasted raw sausage and were scolded by an Infectious Disease colleague the week after. At least we can avoid the epidemiological doghouse this time.

Fresh salmon and octopus

The central portion of market is meat and seafood, while fruit and veggie stands fill the outer ring.

Fresh vegetables and seasonal fruit

As we walked through the market, I was again reminded just how much Greek people love little kids. So far since we’ve been here, our daughter has been offered (read handed) chocolate, lollipops, pastries and today in the market, a banana, oranges and a strawberry. All for free. The people, more-so elderly men, just love to see the face of a little one light up. The people are generous.

It pays to be cute

Stop 5: Της θεάτρου το στεκι

For our main meal, we walked just a few blocks to Της θεάτρου το στεκι (Tis theatrou to steki). Marina worked with the chef to select a few dishes to best represent what they had to offer. We dined on roasted eggplant, muscles, feta spread, butter beans and sardines.

Stop 6: Serbetia

We finished off the day with dessert at Serbetia, a small dessert shop specializing in both traditional Greek and more modern pastries, tarts and cookies.

Marina gave us a choice between traditional baklava and a cream filled baklava. We opted for the latter. It did not disappoint.

As we finished dessert, we knew our tour was coming to a close. Wrap up was easy – everything was paid in advance on AirBnB, so no awkward pauses waiting for extra tips or hassle of trying to make change.

After the food tour we headed back to our hotel for a siesta. We had hoped to catch the Archeology Museum this afternoon, but we learned the hard way that it closes at 3pm during the off season. Make sure you check your times if you plan to go.

Instead I searched Google for a rooftop bar with great views of the Acropolis. My favorite thing about the European lifestyle is slowing down, sitting on a patio, people watching and enjoying cocktails and good conversation. A for Athens had great reviews and was open. We set out to find it.

Amazing views of the Acropolis from the rooftop bar at A is Athens

We are turning in early this evening as we have an early flight to Crete tomorrow morning.

Handmade soaps

Traveling with a Toddler – Athens, Greece: Acropolis Museum and Ridiculous Breakfast

We’ve slept like rocks for two nights in a row now. We’re staying at the Grecotel Palace Athena, a small boutique hotel with modern, funky design. Evie sleeps in the pack n play provided by the hotel. We have a large balcony with a view of the square where we played with the pigeons yesterday.

This morning we set out on a mission for breakfast. We binge-watched travel shows on Netflix and YouTube to plan our trip. One spot that surfaced on every show was Stani. Known for their fresh dairy and honey breakfast/desserts (fine line here), there are two staples to try. The Greek yogurt with honey and nuts and the simple cream with honey top. We didn’t even make it to the loukoumades or baklava.

Chilled cream with honey on top

Greek yogurt with honey and nuts

After breakfast, we walked to the metro station and rode it three stops on the red line to Acropolis Museum. The metro was easy to navigate, even with a stroller.

The metro is easy to navigate, even with a stroller

The Acropolis Museum opened in June 2009 and had won numerous well-deserved awards. As you enter, you walk atop a glass floor that lies above the ruins of the old city . There are circles within circles, rooms, fountains, walls, staircases. All of the functional elements reveal themselves if you look closely enough.

Ruins beneath the Acropolis Museum

As you enter the Museum and walk up the steep ramp to the exhibits, you get to peek at various frescos and statues – an amuse-bouche to the main course.

There are three main floors to the museum, with the first floor housing a visiting exhibit, the second floor endless sculptures, and the third floor an experience in an of itself.

These statues were originally painted with natural dyes

It’s interesting to think about how we view these ancient civilizations through the carvings they left behind. Why did they choose to carve what they did? they chose the story they left behind. Many of the fresco carvings depict romanticized versions of battle war or opulent feasts.

I was left wondering what wasn’t depicted. What was the boring day to day of life in Athens in 480 BC? We see only these romanticized scenes and snippets. Is what these artists did that much different than what we criticize people for doing today with social media? Showing only a glorified and glamorized version of ourselves?

Battlefield scene

As you reach the top floor of the museum, you suddenly realize you are inside a modern rendition of the Parthenon. There are 17 columns spanning the longest side of the museum, and in between each are carved marble blocks which were once part of the upper ceiling of the inner portion of the Parthenon. The pieces were excavated years after the ammunition explosion that destroyed much of the structure. Also from the top floor, huge glass windows allow for parallel viewing of the real deal.

Photo credit: Amir Louka

The Parthenon as seen from the top floor of the Acropolis Museum

View from the reading room overlooking the sculpture floor

I do have to give a nod to the museum for having my all-time favorite family changing room on the first floor of the museum. Complete with changing table, toys, kids table and hand sanitizer, it was everything you need right in one room. It was also nice that all three of us could go in together since changing a diaper on a two year old often requires four hands.

Family changing room at the Acropolis Museum

We opted to walk back towards our hotel rather than taking the metro just so we could see some new sights and grab a small snack along the way.

Enjoying a game of “High 5”

Every hour on the hour, there’s a changing of the guard at the palace. We decided to catch the guards and then head to the National Garden before sunset. They have a large playground with swings and slides, and entrance is free.

National Garden

National Garden near sunset

Healthy, green palm trees in January

On our walk back from the National Garden, we stopped for dinner at Diporto, another hidden gem we discovered during our Netflix binge. There’s no sign and no menu. A true hole-in-the-wall place, you just walk down into a basement with paper-covered tables, wine barrels and not a word of English. You sit down and are served within 3 minutes, which is easy to do when there’s no choice of what to eat.

The kitchen at Diporto

Cabbage, orzo with tomato sauce and chickpeas- all served family style with bread and wine.

The only choice we made was to have “vino” with dinner or not. Not red vs white, just “vino.” We stuffed ourselves full for a mere €18.

And as the life of the toddler parent goes, we were warned by our little, “I need poop.” Diaper changes have been the rate limiter to a lot of things these past two years. Diporto for all its charm, didn’t have a restroom nevertheless a changing table. We settled up and headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow we’ve booked a food tour – as if we haven’t been eating enough already!

Trying the Turkish hot street drink, salep

Local mom & pop bookstore – the only book in English

Many restaurant patios have nearby birds, perhaps for ambiance?

Every street has a fresh juice bar where you can pick your own fresh fruit and veggies and have them blended right in front of you

More blue skies and 60 degree weather

Traveling with a Toddler – Athens, Greece: In-air Emergencies and The Acropolis

It turns out late January is an excellent time of year to visit Greece. Technically “off-season,” it’s still 60 degrees with sunny skies and greenery all around, just minus about 1/2 the tourists one usually encounters in peak season.

We flew Dulles–>Heathrow–>Athens with an itinerary we thought perfect for our almost 2 year old. An overnight transatlantic flight on British Airways followed by a shorter flight arriving early afternoon into Athens.

Don’t forget to download episodes of a favorite show in case of no internet access

Asleep on the floor while DaDa helps a stranger

We’ve flown together as a family of three on at least 4 occasions in these two short years. Our daughter is usually a good flyer, but I still have PTSD from our trip last summer to Italy when she screamed for 6.5 hours straight. I’m happy to say she was a delight on the way here. Entertained by Peppa Pig and endless crackers, she hardly fussed a bit. What we didn’t expect however, was the call for help on the plane.

“If you are a Doctor of Medicine, please press your call bell.” I half thought I’d dreamt the overhead call. Just over halfway through our flight, my two co-travelers were both sleeping, and I’d just closed my eyes. I jabbed Amir. He awoke startled, pressed the button, and we waited. About 5 seconds. A calm but concerned flight attendant arrived and told us a man up front was having a medical event and they were attaching the defibrillator. What I had assumed was a simple syncope or low blood sugar event was clearly more serious.

“My wife and I are both emergency medicine doctors, we can go.” We decided that he would go, and I would stay to watch our daughter. After thirty minutes, a different flight attendant came to update me. “The man is 82. He stopped breathing. Your husband will be tired when he returns.”

I knew then what the outcome was. We were only 4.5 hours into our flight, still an hour away from the nearest airport where you can safely land a 747. The story of what happened in between is not mine to tell. We were required to stay in the plane for 2 hours after landing to give statements to police. As such, we missed our connecting flight to Athens. The British Airways crew were so apologetic, but we felt it a small price to pay to delay our holiday a few hours to have the opportunity to put our training to use. If only the outcome could have been different.

Amazingly we all were asleep by 10pm Athens time and slept all night and into the morning until 10am. We’d missed the delicious hotel breakfast of fresh coffee, yogurt and fruit, but we were well-rested and ready.

If you have a baby or a toddler, and don’t have a CitiMini stroller, you must be missing out on how easy getting around can be. We’ve taken this thing to California, the Bahamas, Italy and now Greece. It’s survived the pummel of airport baggage handlers across the globe and can even tackle the crooked sidewalks of The Fan District back home in Richmond. If you plan to travel with young kids, don’t be afraid to travel with a good stroller. Strollers and car seats are free to check.

CitiMini is easy to carry in case you hit unexpected terrain

Whenever we arrive in a new place, we like to walk around first to get a feel for the location, people, safety and maneuverability.

Athens has an insane amount of graffiti. Most cities attempt to take down graffiti as soon as it goes up. There’s a threshold you cross where once there’s a certain amount it’s accepted, just part of the area. It’s peculiar to see the juxtaposition of 2500+ year old ruins with this century’s modern art.

Graffiti, mural and cityscape

From down in center city near our hotel, we walked up towards the Acropolis. The incline wasn’t as severe as it seemed when looking up from below.

Walk up to the Acropolis, looking back towards city center

We stopped along the way to refuel and taste some local sweets. We enjoyed coffee and pastries hand-piped full of Nutella.

Amir teaching the finer points of coffee and donuts

We stopped to say “hello” to a few of the numerous kitties who live just outside the Acropolis. They are quite friendly and appreciate the music of the street musicians.

Making friends

We reached the top of the hill and the Acropolis. You can purchase a 5 site pass for $30 euro which lasts 5 days and gives you access to the major historic sites. We also opted to hire a guide to walk with us and narrate the history.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Boba carriers are good for up to 45lbs, so our 30lb toddler can rest comfortably

Maybe too comfortably

Our guide Cuina, a native Athenian, was a wealth of knowledge

The views from here were amazing. You can see the whole city and even the Aegean Sea.

Throughout the millenia, the Acropolis has been rebuilt. Limestone is the older part on the bottom with marble more recent (400 BC)

They recently moved these statues into a museum we will see tomorrow. Replicas now sit where the originals once did.

Our guide was kind enough to take photos for us along the way

While our guide said the tour was 1 hour, at hour 2 our daughter was getting restless, and we still had more to see. We politely cut our tour short and carried on by ourselves.

Aegean Sea

Only 22% remains of the Parthenon

The rest of the day was spent tasting local cocktails, exploring hidden side streets and fresh seafood.

The restaurant owner eats outside near the kitties and the birds

Amir providing a guided historical tour

Grape leaves and local beer

Grecotel Pallace Athena

Someone was too tired for seafood dinner. More for us.