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My Big Fat Greek Family Vacation, Part 2

Well, here we go again. My father made an announcement at Thanksgiving that the family would be going to Greece in 2020.  He would provide the accommodations, the rest of us just need to get there. We will be visiting the island of Andros, the same island my great grandmother was born on and the island we spent nearly a month on back in the summer of 2004.

The actual arrangements were left to me as the family travel agent. I was able to get in contact with our old friend and realtor, Yannis, who has apartments to rent on the beach in Batsi. The small apartment is four rooms: a kitchen, a small living room, a bathroom, and two small bedrooms. I think the total area was around 600-700 square feet. We managed to squeeze about 10 people in there that summer. The best part of Villa Zoe is its location. You are right across from the “Exemplarily Beach at Batsi.”

"The Exemplary Beach at Batsi"

“The Exemplary Beach at Batsi” – Andros Island, Greece

I did convince my father to book one of Yannis’ studio apartments directly above Villa Zoe as a space for overflow and the chance of some privacy.

The most important part about the trip is my father has offered to pay for all of his grandkids to make the trip and stay with them. I’m excited for them. The trip to Greece to experience our roots with my brother is one of the most defining experiences in my life. The photos that I took there were the first ones that ever wowed anyone and gave me confidence as a photographer.

I’ve been to Greece several times and the trip in ’04 was equally important. I took my girlfriend Amanda and we sat at the panorama café on Santorini and made calendars on napkins as we tried to decide when to get married. We hadn’t talked about marriage before, we just both knew deep down that was the natural course of our relationship. We each had found the one person in our lives we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. She had also managed to live with my family in very close quarters and not run away screaming.

I don’t expect anything so profound to happen to my nephews but Greece can be a magical place. After all, it is home to Aphrodite.

I will keep everyone updated on the planning of this big trip. I am sure that my entire family will rely on me to book everything. I’m sure you can look forward to some funny stories in the future about me being the travel agent for yet another big fat Greek family vacation.

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The New GEM of Cairo

I’ve always said that one of the most amazing experiences of my life was standing under the Great Pyramid in the burial chamber and contemplating the mass sitting over my head. The trip we took to Egypt is simply one of my proudest travel moments. The Pyramids were great but the treasures were long since moved to the Egyptian Museum located in downtown Cairo on Tahrir Square. The neoclassical building was built in 1901 and has long held the great treasures of the 7000-year-old civilization.

The museum is everything you’d imagine the Egyptian museum to be but along with the glass cases and large statues, the building is showing its age. The government has done its best to retrofit the exhibits with new technology to help preserve the fragile past, but they can only do so much. The 1.5 million tourists that visit the museum each year have taken a toll on the building and it’s been decided that one of the greatest historical collections in the world needs a new home in order to preserve it for the generations to come.

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Attribution- CC BY 3.0

The new museum called “The Grand Egyptian Museum” (GEM) will be the new home for the 120,000 artifacts featuring state-of-the-art climate-controlled housings for the collection. The new museum will no longer be located in congested Cairo, but outside the city at Giza near the Great Pyramids. And you don’t have to worry about a gaudy structure marring up the skyline near one of the most photographed locations on the planet. The Grand Egyptian Museum has a low profile and is designed to blend into the terrain.

The GEM Construction SIte
Attribution – CC BY-SA 4.0

The site chosen for the Grand Egyptian Museum is less than a mile from the Great Pyramids, and according to the 3-D renderings, it will provide amazing views of the Giza UNESCO site. Nested between the ancient Great Pyramids and the modern city of Cairo, at the junction between the dry desert and the fertile floodplain, the Grand Museum is a portal to the past. The museum complex will be built on a plot of land measuring approximately 117 feddans, about 480,000 square meters. A feddan is 4,200 square meters or 1.038 acres, making the site around 121 acres.  The modern museum will not only be the repository for ancient artifacts but it will also contain interactive experiences for visitors to help them immerse themselves in the grand past of Egypt and its Pharos. The estimated cost of the project is $550 million.

I’m not always happy about modern architecture and truly love the classic look, but I know changes are necessary now and then in order to preserve our past. The Greeks did that with the new museum of the Acropolis with great success so we look forward to walking down the hall of the Grand Egyptian Museum one day. The GEM is slated to open in 2020.

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Traveling Companions

We’ll keep this post short since it’s the holidays and many of us have better things to do than read a travel blog. You see on occasion on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram people like to take fun photos of paper cut-outs or coffee cups from their favorite shop or stuffed animals in the location they travel. We are no different. We began by taking photos of our green Baltimore Coffee & Tea cup years ago. We’ve even worn our hockey sweaters in the tropics to show our love for the Caps. I was out covering a convention in San Jose and came across a very adorable plush Godzilla doll. I quickly got carried away taking pictures of the adorable king of monsters.

When I was in NYC in trekked out to Times Square with a doll of Honey-chan, the mascot for the website I work for. The people back in the Tokyo Office got a kick out of it.

I know things like this might seem silly but when you travel alone a plush friend does seem to keep you company. So, do you travel with a “friend”? If you do tell us about it.

With all that said, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone and Happy New Year.

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The Upscale Apartment Experience with a Major Hotelier

You now have an upscale way to travel if you want your privacy and the service a large hotel chain can provide. After a five-month pilot program earlier this year, Marriott International has created Tribute Portfolio Homes. The undertaking in conjunction with private home rental company Hostmaker started offering private rental properties in London this year and has recently expanded to Lisbon, Paris, and Rome.

Hostmaker was already well established in the upscale private rental industry with 2,000 uniquely curated homes in places like London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Cannes, Florence, and Bangkok.

“We are always innovating to meet the evolving needs of travelers, and expanding into home sharing is an opportunity to deepen relationships with our most loyal guests by delivering new experiences designed to reflect how they travel,” said Adam Malamut, Chief Customer Experience Officer for Marriot International.

The upscale accommodations are posh but in some cases, a three-room apartment can still cost less than a stay at the Four Seasons in New York. If you are a frequent traveler you can even use Marriott Rewards Points toward your stay, an advantage you don’t get when booking with most short-term rental sites like Air B&B or VROB.

Nakul Sharma, CEO and founder of Hostmaker, said: “We are very excited to bring Hostmaker’s experience of operating in Paris, Lisbon, and Rome to Tribute Portfolio Homes. These brilliant destinations were the natural next step for a European expansion, and we can’t wait to welcome guests into our homes.”

You may be booking an apartment but you also get the sense of security of a major hotel given each home is thoroughly inspected and assessed for your safety. The perks don’t end there; selected properties feature 1 bedroom or more, full kitchens and in-unit laundry. Guests also have access to 24/7 support as well as an in-person welcome/check-in experience through Hostmaker.

Guests can book directly on TributePortfolioHomes.com as well as Marriott.com. Homeowners with premium homes in London, Lisbon, Paris or Rome can go to TributePortfolioHomes.com to learn about the consideration and listing process.

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A Quick Round-Up of Airline News

Shanghai, China

United Airlines submitted an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for authority to increase service between New York/Newark Liberty and Shanghai Pudong beginning in June 2020. If approved, United’s second daily flight will connect even more U.S. passengers to Shanghai from more than 90 U.S. and Canadian destinations served by United from New York/Newark.

British Airways at Heathrow

We don’t have to worry about Brexit impacting our flights. The United States and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement for opens skies post-Brexit. The current agreement is based on Britain’s membership in the European Union. The open skies agreement provides for uninterrupted trans-Atlantic service and ensures that alliances continue into the future.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic, a company that has always been considered one of the best for customer service, just got even better. The British carrier has become the first airline in Europe to be fully WiFi connected. The closest competitor is a year away from establishing WiFi. Virgin will also, with Delta Airlines, offer Wifi on a its transatlantic routes.

“From today customers flying around the world with Virgin Atlantic can work and play throughout their flight as we become the first airline in Europe to offer a fully WiFi enabled fleet.” Said Mark Anderson, Executive Vice President, Customer at Virgin Atlantic, adding “Innovation has always been in our blood and we’ve worked closely with WiFi providers to develop the fastest, most reliable connection across the Atlantic, and are the first carrier to offer WiFi between the UK and the Caribbean, China and Africa.”

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A Better Way to Sleep at an Airport

You know that travel can be exhausting, especially when it involves air travel. The common sight of people, often indignantly sprawled out on the hard carpet or across a row of seats in a terminal is something we have grown used to. A company called Sleepbox wants to give you a place where you can sleep, work, and recharge — and keep your dignity.

The Sleepbox is a micro-hotel. The eight-foot-tall rooms ranging between 30-45 square feet are soundproof and have a little storage space and memory foam mattresses (no bathroom or shower). You gain access by using the Sleepbox app or going to their website. The rates start at $25-$35 per hour depending on size. You can book an overnight stay (12 hours), capped at $120-$150.

The hotel space opens in Dulles International Airport’s Concourse A around December 7th, just in time to give you a place to catch a nap during your holiday travel.

Sleepbox is also in the process of opening a hotel at Atlanta Hartsfield International and several other non-airport related hotels in places like downtown Boston and Stockholm.

We love the concept and hope to take a test-rest next time we’re traveling through Dulles.

We just received some picture from SleepBox…

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Oh Christmas Tree

It may seem strange for some people, especially living here in the United States, but Amanda and I have never had a proper Christmas tree in all the years we’ve been married. The argument has been that we don’t have enough space and that I’m a bit of a Grinch and not a huge fan of the holidays. I know that my right to veto anything my wife wants is rather limited and should only be reserved for something I really care about. Our first tree is just one of those compromises that come with being married.

I had always been proud of our “Peanuts” Christmas tree, a small wire tree that looks like the one that Charlie Brown had in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Amanda, on the other hand, had always wanted a tree of a proper size.  She “asked” (and it’s in quotes because it’s more like she told me) if we could get a narrow artificial tree for our apartment. She pulled out all the stops, even noting that our cat, Storm, always loved to lay under her parents’ tree when she was just a kitten. I felt like when a kid asks for a puppy and the parent says “it’s your responsibility to feed it” and I left the assembly and decorating to her.

So for the first time more than a decade, a Christmas tree stands in the corner of my home. I promise there will be something more interesting than a spousal debate on the purchase of a seasonal artificial conifer in the post next week.

The 6′ Artificial Seasonal Conifer with Lights