Introduction to Cretan Music

If you have visited Crete, it is most likely that you have been to a Cretan feast or wedding. Besides Cretan food, which will be featured in a future article, the reason that you keep searching for events like these is Cretan music – and the opportunity to say “Opa!” with a deep smile! Cretan music is wild and interesting. Melodies that seem endless, one after the other in complicated 7/8 or 9/8 time, sometimes monotonous and archaic, sometimes almost ecstatic. And with an oriental influence which cannot be missed.

The principal instruments in use today are the lyra and the laouto. Lyra is a small three-stringed pear-shaped fiddle held upright on the left knee and bowed horizontally with a bow (which in earlier times had bells on it) held in the right hand. Laouto is a large lute closely related to the Arabic oud with four courses of double strings made of steel, and movable frets made of nylon filament. One of the interesting aspects of the lyra has to do with the fingering technique of the left hand. Unlike the violin and most other related instruments, the strings are not pressed by the fingertips of the left hand, rather they are merely touched lightly from the side by the back of the nails. It resembles a violin, but is played by grazing the strings with a fingernail and plays the main melody. A theme is repeated with an infinite number of variations and embellishments.

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The Cretan lyre (lyra)

Apart from the lyra and the laouto, other instruments can also be found in Crete.  In the mountainous areas of central Crete a small bagpipe known as askomandoura was at one time commonly found, and in the urban centers, a small long-necked lute similar to the saz called boulgari was prevalent. In the eastern regions around the Sitia area a small double-faced barrel-drum known as daoulaki was the main instrument accompanying the lyra. The askomandoura, boulgari, daoulaki, and sfyrohabiolo (a small flute) are all very near to extinction, although some young musicians have, in recent years, taken them up.

Cretan music has often singing as well, with the singer and the lyra leading the melody alternately. The verses mostly consist of Mantinades (or Kondylies), which are 15-syllable couplets with a lot of humour and spirit. They are often created spontaneously and deal with love, nature or worldly affairs, sometimes spoofing members of the audience. There are Mantinades for every occasion. The pieces of music can be drawn out for as long as desired, by repeating the second half of the stanza together with the first half of the second stanza. The original form of making music is met at most Cretan festivals. Even young people are mostly interested in it, in spite of the existence of pop music, and there are even complete orchestras of lyras in the cities. The lyra is an exacting instrument to play, and with hard work and talent it can bring a masterful virtuosity to its player.

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The Cretan Laouto

Cretan traditional music is very complex due to the fact that many civilizations, at various periods of time, have intruded and inhabited the island: Venetians, Saracens, Turks… Moreover, after 330 B.C. Greek civilization followed two trends, one following Alexander the Great (in the East) and another following the Roman trends (in the West). Crete was a colony of the Byzantine Empire and occasionally also received many refugees.

All kinds of music that the various cultures have introduced to the island have stayed there and created a chaos of sounds. The Cretans have combined and embellished all these kinds of music and created all these beautiful songs we can hear up until today, like rizitika (‘rebel’ feast music), amanes (popular musical genre originated in Ionia and famous in Smyrna, which includes an instrumental introduction, two lines sang with long melismas on the word aman, and a faster instrumental refrain) and Erotokriti (folk songs based upon the celebrated love poem Erotokritos by the Cretan Poet Vincenzo Cornaros. It contains upwards of 10.000 lines, equal to 5000 verses, composed in the 16th century).

Most of the music of Crete, however, is dance music which is played at local festivals (panigyria), weddings, baptisms and other such festive occasions. These dances are usually quite fast and require considerable skill on the part of the dancer, but also restraint and finesse. The main dances are the Malevyziotikos, the Pentozali (slow and fast), the Sousta, and the Syrtos. Other dances do exist too, but for the most part they can be considered to be sub-categories of those fore-mentioned. The remainder of the Cretan repertoire is comprised of songs which are not intended as accompaniment to dance.

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Cretan dancers

The musical tradition of the island of Crete is one of the most active and vibrant traditions to be found anywhere in Europe today. Despite this fact, however, not many people are aware of it, and even fewer know very much specifically about it. Regrettably ethnomusicologists, both Greek and of other lands, have done painfully little serious research into the subject of Cretan music, with the result that there is effectively very little reliable information concerning it readily available in print. We hope this will change in the future.

by MySunnyEscapes.com Team

***based on Ross Daly’s articles (http://www.rossdaly.gr)

The Wildlife of Crete

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and hosts numerous plants and animals. Its size (8,336 sqkm) and the diversity of its habitats support a wide variety of wildlife including fascinating reptiles, a large number of bat species and some unique mammals. During the prehistoric period, Crete was inhabited by bison, pygmy elephants, pygmy hippos and wild cows. Bones from these creatures have been found in caves around Crete. In the Minoan period, 3000 – 4000 years ago, wildlife and nature were a major feature of art and illustration. The most common animals to be found on Crete these days are domesticated farm animals such as dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, sheep, pigs and chickens. However, those who will explore the island will be happily surprised by its endemic species.

Native animals are rare due to the reduced habitat on the island. Clearing has had a profound effect on the ecology of Crete, and the dry Mediterranean soil and forests take a long time to regenerate. The island is now dominated by grazing and agriculture; mostly olive and grape production. There are also a growing number of greenhouses for other vegetables such as tomatoes. These traditional agricultural areas don’t hold much habitat for native animals and birds. Hunting has also had a profound effect on both mammal and bird populations, and is still common today although protected by law. The Cretan character does not bend well to legislation and the message is not getting through to everybody regarding the low populations of many creatures still hunted in the mountains.

Below there are some of species that can be found in Crete. How many of these have you seen while being here?

Kri  Kri
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The most famous of the Cretan animals is the mountain goat named Kri Kri (Capra aegagrus cretica). These wild goats are thought to have been brought from Persia thousands of years ago. Most zoologists now treat the goat as native to Crete and make a distinction between the Kri Kri and domestic goats. Cretans identify strongly with the mountain goat in his independent, tough character that can survive in the rugged Cretan mountains. The Kri Kri is known as the “wild one” agrimi, αγρίμι. Many symbols of the Kri Kri and names in their honour can be found in Crete. The Kri Kri is a protected species and in 1962 the Samaria Gorge National Park was declared in part to protect these mountain goat herds. Population programs have also been undertaken on some of the larger Cretan islets such as Dia islet (north of Heraklion), Thodorou islet (opposite Agia Marina) and Agii Pantes islet (near Agios Nikolaos). The conservation status of the Kri Kri is “vulnerable”. The threats to its population are human disturbance such as recreation/tourism, which is currently ongoing, harvesting such as hunting/gathering which is also ongoing and changes in native species dynamics, such as breeding with other goats, which is also ongoing.

The Lammergeyer
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The Lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), which may grow to 102-114 cm in length and has a wing span of 2.5 m, is the largest bird of prey in Europe. Almost exclusively a carrion eater, it feeds largely off the bones left by other vultures after they have had their fill (which explains its other Greek name of kokalas, or boner). It drops the larger marrow bones from a great height onto rocks to break them, choosing specific spots, known as spastres (or breakers). Crete today hosts a dwindling population of 20-30 individuals. A conservation program underway is attempting to save the last remaining birds.

Fourogatos
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A few years ago the Cretan Wild Cat (Felis silvestris agrius) was considered a “ghost animal”. The legend took flesh and blood when it was first captured in 1996 giving a new perspective to the origins of the Cretan fauna. Scientists are now testing whether the wild cat existed on Crete prior to its separation from the mainland, or was brought for domestication by the first settlers, but later it ran wild again.

Sea life
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The sea life is abundant around Crete’s coast with amazingly colourful fish, happy to share their environment with swimmers equipped with a simple mask and snorkel. It is possible to stand in the sea just off the beach at places such as Elafonissi and Vai and enjoy the sight of these beautiful creatures as they swim around your feet.

The Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) is a very important visitor to Crete and one who needs the protection and consideration of Crete’s human visitors. These magnificent reptiles, marvelously adapted to life in the sea, make nests and lay their eggs on several beaches around Crete. In Crete the highest nesting densities are found in Rethymnon, Chania and Messara Bay. The Caretta-caretta is an endangered species and it needs the help of us all. The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (ARCHELON) initiated an intensive tagging program in 1982 and is doing a great job so far.

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The Monachus monachus (Mediterranean Monk Seal) is one of the world’s most endangered mammals and one of 3 species of Monk Seal. It once swarmed through the Mediterranean and adjoining Atlantic while the other 2 species were common in the Pacific and Caribbean. These represent the only genus of seal found in tropical seas.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal gave its name to two ancient cities, Phocaea in Attica and Phocaea in Asia Minor. Their population today is estimated in 500 seals.

Final thoughts

Crete enjoys a unique natural beauty. However, it needs the attention and consideration from all of us, both locals and visitors, in order to remain this beautiful destination. When it comes to native animals, nowadays most of them are endangered. It is in the nature of true Crete and the Cretans to respect nature and wildlife and many individuals and organizations play their part in protecting endangered species and ensuring that no more species are put at risk. We, as locals who respect and admire all these little miracles that we see every day around us in this beautiful island,  strongly encourage you to respect and treasure Crete when you visit; this way Crete will remain the beautiful place that you love to return to.

by MySunnyEscapes.com Team

The Greek Easter

Greek Easter! Dyed eggs, candles, mageiritsa. We are sure that most of you have heard about these Easter customs. But let’s have a deeper insight about what Greek Easter really means to Greeks.

The meaning of Greek Easter

Easter (Pascha) is the fundamental and most important festival of the Christian Orthodox Churches. Every other religious festival in their calendar, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to, and illuminated by, the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfillment and fruition. Easter is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ’s ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty.

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Cracking the red dyed eggs

Preparation and celebration of Greek Easter

Preparation for Easter begins with the season of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, alms giving, and prayer, Orthodox Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday, the most austere day of the year. People gather in church every evening throughout Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and on Holy Saturday, the night of the Resurrection.

Holy Thursday is the day for dyeing eggs red. The egg, is a symbol of life, while red is the color of life.

Good Friday is a day of mourning. The drama of the death of Christ is followed with great devoutness. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross, wrapped in linen and put it in the Bier (Epitafios) symbolizing the tomb of Christ. Late at night the bier is carried through the town or village. A band or choir playing or singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by the cantors, the clergy, women bearing myrrh, the altar boys carrying the liturgical fans, scouts and guides, and the people of the region, who sing the hymns throughout the procession. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfumes on the epitaphios (bier), holding lighted candles in their hands.

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Epitafios – Symbolizing the tomb of Christ

On the evening of Great and Holy Saturday, the Midnight Office commences an hour or two before midnight (The Midnight Office is one of the Canonical Hours that compose the cycle of daily worship in the Eastern Orthodox Church).

At its completion all light in the church building is extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the stroke of midnight. Then, a new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the perpetual lamp kept burning there, and he then lights candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation. Then the priest and congregation go in a procession around the temple, holding lit candles, chanting:

“Χριστός Ανέστη εκ νεκρών,
θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας,
και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι,
ζωήν χαρισάμενος”

which means:

“Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life”

This procession reenacts the journey of the Myrrh bearers to the Tomb of Jesus “very early in the morning”. After circling around the temple once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors. The priest reads a selection from the Evangelion and makes the sign of the cross with the censer in front of the closed doors (which represent the sealed tomb).

He and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the temple and paschal matins begins immediately, followed by the paschal hours and then the paschal divine liturgy. The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is read at matins.

After the dismissal of the liturgy, the priest may bless paschal eggs and baskets brought by the faithful containing those foods which have been forbidden during the Great Fast. Immediately after the Liturgy it is customary for the congregation to share a meal. The traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.

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The traditional Greek tsoureki. Just delicious!

Why come to Crete to celebrate this event?

People who think about visiting Crete often ask: When is the best time to visit Crete?

There are many answers to this question, but for people who want a unique experience of the real life in Crete and Greece, we would suggest them to choose the week of the Greek Orthodox Easter. Easter is the most important holiday of the year for the people of Greece. Easter is always in Spring and nature is most beautiful at that time. The weather is good, neither cold or too hot and it is perfect time for hiking or traveling around. Perhaps it is not the best time of the year for spending a day at the beach but you will experience the wonderful Greek Easter customs and religious ceremonies.

Throughout the Holy Week, the atmosphere on the streets is somewhat divine. People feel the sadness because Jesus Christ suffered and was crucified but this sadness makes people come together. They gather at homes, dining all together since they feel this is the right thing to do. It is love, after all, that is profound during the Holy Week.

In addition, it would be a great time for travellers to witness the true Cretan hospitality. They will have the opportunity to dine with locals, experience the local customs (such as the Epitaph, the ceremony celebrating the resurrection of Christ, taste the famous and delicious spit lamb). Pascha is the most important festival in Crete and unique things happen that every traveller should experience at least once!

by MySunnyEscapes.com Team

Greece through the eyes of a photographer

What inner strength would urge an artist to leave his country and move to Greece? Is it a different sense of happiness? Or an entire re-evaluation of life principles? Here is an interview with photographer Angelos Asklepiades, who offered us a beautiful insight into his point of view.

a sigh of bliss

Angelos, even though you are from Belgium, you chose a Greek pseudonym. What is your connection with Greece?
My Greek pseudonym is Άγγελος Ασκληπιάδης (Άγγελος: messenger of what I see and photograph, Ασκληπιάδης: due to the role of Asklepios in my life).  I was enchanted by Ancient Greece when I was very young.  I visited Greece for the first time in the 1970s and fell in love with the history, the art, the sun, the nature, the islands, the sea and the people. Traditions and rituals abound in Greece; they are kept alive and this seems to be the most natural thing in the world here, whilst in so many other countries they are rapidly disappearing under the pressure of globalisation. There is something pure, raw, unchangeable and very courageous in the soul of the Hellenes.

Spetses

So, you decided to move to Greece permanently?
Yes. Since last year I live in Argolida, Peloponnese. I’m a middle-aged man, but only since I came to live here I realised what happiness is, and I feel that this is my true home. I have actually found what I had stopped looking for: a sense of belonging, of finding my destiny, of finding a true meaning in life. I owe everything I know and treasure to Greece.  The way we think (in categories), logic, poetry, storytelling, metaphors, theatre… It was all born here.  I returned to the source.  Greece is so much more than a holiday country with beaches and archaeological must-see sites.  It is a total experience of freedom, tranquility, and harmony with nature.  Yes, I am in love with this country.

The Eternal Olive Tree

We know that your studies were relevant to Ancient Greece. When did you realise that you wanted to dedicate your life to photography?
As a teenager, my love for Ancient Greece was so big that I decided to study Classical Philology at university.  I have a Master’s Degree and I wrote my thesis on Neo-Platonist philosophy.  I have worked in different fields and places, sometimes in universities, sometimes in IT, but my love for Ancient Greece lingered on and never disappeared. Ten years ago I decided to dedicate my life to – what a friend of mine calls – “showing the world what the world itself cannot see anymore”.  I started making photos.  Images of what I was feeling when I entered certain places, trying to make emotions visible in images that are created by capturing light into a darkened box and stopping time itself by freezing any movement. In the past my work was exhibited in international venues and places like Switzerland, France, England, Spain, Argentina.  But the photographs I am now making here, in this country of light, are quite different.  I am at the beginning of a new road which is now leading me into the heartland of the Mycenaeans, but I hope to move around much more in the future and capture the very soul of every region and island of Hellas.

the life of statues

Of Trees and Stones

Tell us a few things regarding the photography workshops that you run in Argolida. Do you think that photography is easy? Can everybody take photographs?
Making a photograph using a camera is not difficult. Developing a photo is not difficult either.  Instead of making these workshops into boring technical lectures, I always try to teach “in the field” about far more important things like Point of View, composition, and how to express yourself in your own photos.  I do my best to help people train their photographic “eye”, which is infinitely more important than whatever camera gear they might want to buy.  As in many forms of art and creativity: “Less Is More!”. Photos are never a truthful representation of reality.  They are always an interpretation, as the photo is made by the photographer with a certain intention, and as the final image is always “interpreted” by the viewer. My workshops focus on landscape and architectural photography, but other subjects are treated also.  A typical day during those workshops consists of a visit to a well-known site or town in the morning, an afternoon making photographs in nature, mostly in places very few people know about.  And in the evening we review our photos and learn how to post-process (edit) them.

Winter in Argolida
What is your message to people who want to focus on art photography? Is this an easy path to follow?
Following this path is like following your heart or following a vocation. It is easy to begin but very hard to persevere, because very few people will understand what you are doing or why. I think the answer for me lies in a quote by Jack Kerouac (an American novelist and poet):
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”― Jack Kerouac

Of Trees and Stones

If you are interested in buying fine art print of Angelos’ photographs or attend his photography workshops, you can send an email at garden.of.the.muses@gmail.com

Do not miss to view his portfolio here: http://gardenofthemuses.myportfolio.com

Garden of the Muses (colour) square small The above photos were kindly offered to us by the artist. All the rights are reserved.

Greetings in Greek – Kalimera, kalispera and much more..

Greek words On a request from some friends I was asked to explain the greetings Greeks use during the day. I take this opportunity to explain for those who are not familiar.

ΚΑΛΗΜΕΡΑ / Καλημέρα (Kalimera) = good morning. This is used from early morning till midday. On the other hand if you use the two words separately Kali (sou /sas) mera = have a good day. This can be used as a parting greeting again till midday. Alternatively also in parting Να έχεις / έχετε μία καλή μέρα (Na eheis / ehete mia kali mera) = May you have a good day. The remainder of it. [eheis (singular), ehete (plural)]. A very colloquial but friendly and joking greeting for the morning is Kalimeroudia. To be used only among people you know well. Others will not be offended but they will be surprised of how good Greek you know.

From 12.00 onwards it is Καλό μεσημέρι (Kalo mesimeri) which is used up until 15.00-16.00 wishing good noon, but in Greek it also conveys the wish to have a nice lunch and a nice siesta. Especially as a parting greeting.

From about 16-17.00 it is customary to use Καλό απόγευμα (Kalo apogevma) = Good afternoon. This can be used till about 18.00, especially during summer that is still daylight on. [Από-γεύμα = after lunch]

From before dusk ΚΑΛΗΣΠΕΡΑ / Καλησπέρα (Kalispera) = Good evening, is used and which can be used till late. Sometimes it is also used as late as 24.00.On this occasion the greeting of Kalisperoudia can also be used like Kalimeroudia, especially amongst friends. When joining someone or a group especially just about before sundown it is best to use Kalispera. It is never Kalinichta or Kalinychta. I have seen this many times used wrongly by people. Although your good intention is apparent the greeting is wrong.

Upon leaving someone we use Καλό βράδυ = Kalo vradi if it is early in the evening and certainly before midnight. Καληνύχτα (Kalinichta or Kalinychta) is always used when departing from a company or a friend and the meaning is to have a nice and uneventful rest of the time before you go to sleep. The additional wishes may be used after kalinichta: Καλόν ύπνο (Kalon Ypno) = Sleep well and Καλό ξημέρωμα (Kalo ksimeroma) = May you have a happy awakening in the morning. Also, Όνειρα γλυκά (Onira glyka) = Sweet dreams.

I hope these explanations can cover the subject and even if you make a mistake we know that you mean well and it is taken as such. Have a good day my friends and I hope I have enlighten you in some simple way.

By Pavlos Spingos

Kleftiko recipe

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Kleftiko is a delicious traditional dish, mainly cooked in northern Greece. It’s main ingredient is pork or beef and is so easy to prepare! Really! So easy! So, let’s start.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg pork (boneless) into small pieces (or beef if you prefer).
  • 1 green pepper into small pieces.
  • 1 red pepper into into pieces.
  • 400 g white mushrooms (agaricus)
  • 300 g graviera (yellow hard Greek cheese) into small pieces.
  • salt, pepper, oregano.
  • 3 tbsp mustard.
  • 3 tbsp olive oil.

Preparation:

  • In a bowl put the pork and put salt, pepper and oregano and mix.
  • Then put the mustard and oil.
  • At the end put the peppers,cheese, mushrooms and mix them all together.
  • Place the mix in baking bag or use aluminum foil and greaseproof paper.
  • Close it, make two to three holes on top using a fork, put it in a pan with nothing inside and bake for 2 hours at 200 oC.
  • Enjoy!!

MySunnyEscapes.com Team

Tourist or traveler?

Chinese tourists in Paris

Is there a difference?

Do you consider yourself as a tourist or a traveller? Here is some food for thought. For many there may be no difference between a tourist and a traveler. You wish to relax, escape from the daily routine thus choosing a place (after a lot of planning?) to spend your vacation. So far so good. But the way you experience your holidays is what classifies you to one of the two categories mentioned above.

Let’s spot these differences

A tourist is someone who focuses on visiting all the popular sights that are featured on travel guides. Holidays feel right for a tourist as long as he has taken too many photos in order to prove he/she has been there. A photo of the Eiffel Tower is a must. So is the Colosseum or Sagradia Familia. Usually, a tourist purchases a holiday package including air tickets, accommodation, transportation etc. He/she constantly follows the group and takes photos of the beautiful monuments. When they return home, tourists have only photos and souvenirs to remember.

A traveler is someone who wants to learn as much as possible about the mentality and everyday life of the locals. To him/her, tradition is something that must be explored and learned and experienced. The local cuisine must be tasted as well as the local cafes and bars. Where do the locals spend their evenings? Where do they dine? Where do they go swimming? The answers to these questions a traveler seeks. In order to succeed such a thing, a traveler will avoid popular spots and try to experience the local life instead using locals as a travel guide.

What makes a good tourist/traveler?

Being a good tourist is a piece of cake. Just consult a couple of travel guides and follow your group to the most popular sights and colorful restaurants and stay in a lovely hotel near the city center. However, this way you may miss the reasons that make the destination you have chosen to spend your holidays unique. As a tourist all places will eventually look the same, have the same aura. For example, what is it that makes Paris different from Barcelona or Athens? Is it the Eiffel Tower, Las Ramblas or the Parthenon?

On the other hand, being a good traveler takes time and effort. Forget the “must-sees” and get ready to broaden your mind! As soon as you arrive in your destination, act spontaneously. Take your time to make sure that you enjoy each sightseeing you choose to visit. Use public transportation or rent a car and wander around the city. Choose a restaurant crowded by locals and eat there. But most importantly, talk to the locals as much as possible to make sure that you will learn first-hand about the genuine not-to-be-missed things that make this place unique.

In conclusion

So, on your next trip try to avoid big 5-star all inclusive hotels that apparently prevent you from enjoying your holidays the best possible way and rent a house and a car and ask for customized tours that will give you the opportunity to live like a local.

MySunnyEscapes.com Team