Category Archives: Travel to my thoughts

Personal thoughts and photos

TravelMyth.com

I’m always happy to share new innovative solutions that make my travels better and even happier when these tools are built in my city from people I know well. My friends Stefanos Vasdekis and John Nousis have created Travelmyth, a hotel search engine that helps travelers discover unique hotels by recommending the best hotels according to their interests and preferences.

travelmyth hotels search

Travelmyth offers you the possibility, by using advanced algorithmic technology, to plan your next vacation based on your interests and not necessarily the destination, by “replacing” the cities of the world map with more than 50 hotel themes. Whether you prefer cycling over hiking, tennis over horse riding and vineyards rather than palaces, Travelmyth helps you decide or even better offers you the possibility to have it all in one “package” if you try a complex search.

The hotel search engine allows even the most complex searches among tens of thousands of destinations and more than seven hundred thousand hotels around the world, even if you are not sure where you want to go or where you want to stay. Visit the official page of travelmyth.com, select what you like most from a list of 55 hotel themes and then choose among the best hotels that are being recommended to you, from Australia to Argentina and from Africa to the most remote part of Asia. Hotels that are dog friendly or near kayaking sites, adults-only properties and former monastery hotels are only few of the choices available.

Another advantage of Travelmyth is the fact that the top choices and not the cheapest deals are being presented. After recommending the best hotels, the travel engine compares prices from several booking sites to make sure that you book the best hotel at the best available price. The hotel search engine also tries to explain why each hotel is being recommended, the important information that the demanding traveler wants to know. For example, if a user searches for castle hotels, she can find information such as when the castle was built and its history. Just like the travel agent who tried to help you plan memorable holidays before the internet took over.

Travelmyth was recently featured on The New York Times where Stefanos and John are presented as whiz kids and friends since high school (and now 35 years old) who started their first company as college freshmen in 1998, when the internet was still an unknown world for Greece. Since then they have averaged a new project about every other year. Some have succeeded and some have not, but through it all they have made enough to support themselves while reinvesting in their business.

At another recent interview at Travel Massive, Stefanos and John said that Travelmyth is the 8th startup they have built, so they used their experience to save time and money while building their product. As they both write code, the first step was to write the algorithm that ranks hotels, and then they had to build the user interface to then add content. In the meantime they have closed partnership deals with online booking sites such as Booking.com, Expedia and Venere, to be able to offer price comparison and monetize their service.

Last October Stefanos and John traveled to San Francisco for the eTourism Summit as TravelMyth was one of the 5 travel startup companies selected as “Bright Shiny New Objects: Promising New Products, Tools And Apps”.

Travelmyth was launched in October of 2014 and is now gaining traction mainly in the UK and Scandinavian markets. I’ve already added Travelmyth at my favorites since it was in early beta version and I use it for recommendations when I search for hotels. As the search results match with my interests, it really helps me to discover hotels that I might not have found at other hotel search engines. Give it a try at travelmyth.com!

The Spirit of Ios island is Alive

This year I found myself spending a few days in Ios island again. During the short trip from Santorini to Ios I met in the luggage area of the ship, a young kid from Scotland who was carrying two guitars. When I asked him why he had the guitars with him he told me that he was going to Ios to work as a musician and singer in a bar called ‘Circus Bar’ and invited me to go and hear him perform.

I don’t usually go out in the evenings when I’m traveling and taking photographs because at the end of the day I’m very tired, and all I want is a warm shower and  to sit down to study the photos that I have taken and work a little on the internet. But in Ios for the first few days it rained, so I wasn’t very tired. So on the very first night I visited the Circus Bar.

circus bar ios island greece

The first thing that struck me was that my new friend is a modest and polite youngster, but when on stage he transforms into a passionate performer who flows with his guitar and his voice (and breaks a few of the strings of his guitars every night ). The other thing that struck me is that the Circus Bar is a bar with mostly live rock music the like of which I have rarely encountered on the Greek islands and what is certain, apart from other things, is that it keeps the tradition of fun alive in Ios.

When I say tradition of course I mean my own personal experience of the tradition I encountered as a teenager for several summers on Ios, since the whole island was an ensemble that usually ended with instruments being played and songs sung from Chora to Mylopotas until dawn. At the Circus Bar you can experience this magical atmosphere of Ios. You can sip your drinks and your beers at very reasonable prices and meet the extraordinary people who are the customers, the artists and the staff who work in the bar.

For the three days I stayed on Ios I was at the Circus Bar every night sitting in my corner smoking outside the Bar, and besides Guy Hamilton I listened to Peter Byrne and Etienne Belin who I liked a lot (especially Etienne with their theatrical elegance) who I would recommend to listen to on the internet or even better go to Ios to hear them.

Circus Bar on facebook https://www.facebook.com/CircusBarIos

And some information about the artists

https://www.facebook.com/guy.hamilton.758

https://www.facebook.com/EtienneMusic

https://www.youtube.com / PeterByrneMusic

TBG rocks!*

In this post I want to just say a big thank you to two wonderful girls Elena and Marissa who had the idea to create the Travel Bloggers Greece and for everything they have accomplished so far.

Elena and Marissa

Marissa and Elena hiking at Montanema

I do not forget that they sent me the first email about TBG on January 4, 2015, and our first meeting with the other founding members took place on January 18. And look I write this post today on April 29, not four months later and see how many interesting things happens during that short period  thanks to these girls.

In a Greece that the knowledge about the internet is running out using facebook and all kinds of partnerships are from difficult to unachievable, TBG shows that collectivity is power.

After a big thanks from my heart to the other members of TBG who we all had the opportunity to know each other better on our trip to Montanema, i wish to Elena and Marissa to be always strong and creative and to continue to represent Travel Bloggers Greece with their unique style.

*This is a Elena’s phrase i dont want to steal the copyright!

I met Crete in Athens

On Sunday, March 15th I was invited with all  members of Travel Bloggers Greece to the opening of the retrospective exhibition of  the artist Alexandros Androulakis at the Grecotel Pallas Athena hotel.

androulakis

The amazing work of the artist from Rethymno was a real pleasant surprise for me. His works represent the modern world while having a purely Greek character rests firmly in the tradition of Byzantine iconography and Greece folk painters.

androulakis

A pleasant surprise was  also the buffet at the lunch that followed the opening of the exhibition which included only outstanding products of  the traditional Cretan dietThe food reminded family gatherings in my childhood holidays in Crete. All dishes were as if they had cooked by my grandmother or my  aunts. I met the tradition of Crete in Athens and was excellent that this happened to one of the most modern Athens hotels.

Travel Bloggers Greece

This Sunday, January 18 was an interesting day. I was invited to the first presentation of Travel Bloggers Greece at Pallas Athena a Grecotel boutique hotel in the center of Athens.

travelbloggersgreece2

During this first briefing Elena Sergeeva and Marissa Tejada the founders who had this wonderful idea explained to us in detail the objectives of Travel Bloggers Greece. Also the bloggers who attended the event we made a short presentation of our blogs. This was followed by lunch and a very pleasant conversation that helped us to know each other better. The first day of the presentation included an interesting limo tour but unfortunately some obligations forced me to leave after the lunch.

travelbloggersgreece3

Travel Bloggers Greece is a non-profit networking group with a mission to promote  the interests of travel bloggers that cover Greece as a travel destination. Travel Bloggers Greece  also wants to educate about travel blogging, promote authentic travel and the most important for me increased awareness of Greek travel destinations. For all these gentle goals I decide from the first moment to participate as a full member.

travelbloggersgreece

More information: Travel Bloggers Greece

My first SLR camera

When I think of my past in photography I can’t ever remember feeling such a sense of  satisfaction as I felt when I bought  my first SLR camera. It was a Zenit 12XP. The Zenit 12 was first released in 1983 and the XP model was intended for export and so it was named XP from the word export.

zenit 12xp

I bought my XP in 1987, in Athens, from a Russian immigrant paying a 1/3 of my salary at the time. I had been thinking about getting a SLR camera for years, but my economical situation didn’t permit me to. From 1984 to 1986 I served my military duty in the Greek army, so it was impossible for me to buy any such equipment. When I was finally dismissed from the army, and started working more consistently I bought a Honda 50cc moped and then a guitar with my first savings. The camera was my third serious investment.

This camera became my faithful companion for four years and we studied photography together on the road before I seriously took up photographic studies at the Focus School of Photography. I betrayed her in 1991 and dumped her for a Nikon FM2 and locked her away in a closet to be forgotten.

Poet or Photographer?

A short story

A new town, new school, first year in high school, new faces and tightly knit groups. The only good thing was that finally I was given the exclusive management of our family camera. The city was beautiful, I met Mr. Kostas one of the professional photographers of the city. From the first moment I liked him and the feeling was mutual. In his dark room it was the first time that I had seen a picture being developed in the developer tray. He used to fill my empty cassettes with  Fortepan 100 film almost for free. Having secured my supply of cheap films, afternoon walks with my camera became my favorite pastime and helped me not to think about the lack of friends.

It was autumn and it rained often. I started walking along the bank of the river that ran across the city. I took pictures of the running water, the stray animals of the city, the trees. Slowly I became more confident and started taking pictures of people who had shops on the river bank, housewives who were cleaning their yards and grandmothers who were gazing lazily at the flowing water, children playing. So it was here that I met Stelios with his long black hair, nose like a hawk’s beak, smeared hands, smudges on his clothes and face. When he refused politely my taking a shot of him, I told him that he was like the Indians who had a problem with being photographed. He had a workshop for motorcycles; his was the most stunning motorcycle I had ever seen. So I passed frequently and took photos of his bike or of his customers’ bikes waiting parked in line to be repaired, and sometimes I managed to steal a photo of Stelios, but from a distance.

poet or photographer

The days passed and slowly I became more acquainted with Stelios but he continued to deny my taking a photo of his truly. He treated me to coffee and I used to sit on the stairs leading to the upper floor only on the condition that I kept my camera in its case. The most beautiful photos are those that I didn’t take, especially while the sun was setting and inflowing through the great door of the garage. All seemed out of place, the metal, the figures of those standing at the door, Stelios girlfriend Anna would come to see him. He was impressed that I always had something to say on every subject. Even for the electronic ignition or the self-regulating valves. And that I always had a story to tell, either of my own or one borrowed from a book.

– How come and you know all this?

– I read them in books Stelios.

– Ah, so you like reading? You must meet my father, he will like you! Want to come to my place with me later?

Although I had ridden a motorcycle in the past, I must admit that my pulse was beating like a jackhammer and my adrenaline was pumping. He was speeding.

Introductions were made; his parents were kind and hospitable.

– Don’t speed Stelios!

– Eh mother I don’t speed… I open the throttle so you can hear me coming and prepare the dinner!

In the living room his father was waiting for us and there was the biggest library I’ve ever seen in someone’s home. The debate itself came on to books, the authors, and the lack of a good bookstore in town. I also realized how few books and important writers I had read, they were not even known to me. I started to read a new book every night, from those Stelios father suggested and kindly lent me.

 

Time passed. Stelios taught me how to ride a bike, he took me to great places, I showed him my photos, he didn’t seem excited about them and he liked my stories more.

– Why do not you write your stories down and become a writer? Are you gonna be a photographer?

One day I wrote a story about him and Anna, which contained my first poem. I showed it to him, he read it and his eyes filled with tears.

– You should become a poet, not a photographer!

 

Meanwhile, my reputation in the small world of my school had risen sharply. Due to Stelios, in all the shops of the city where the pupils used to hang out frequently, they knew me now by name; I had become his little brother, the protégé of Stelios and was treated as such.

Photography made me ​​popular with the girls; everyone wanted to be in my company on the field trips. I became the favorite pupil of the professor of physics who was also an amateur photographer.

Things were going well.

I was taking photos, writing, reading in frantic rhythms. Stelios always became sentimental with my stories, my poems. Anna liked my photos. His father being more an experienced reader advised me, correcting many of my spelling mistakes; my writing style was a bit nerve-racking for him.

 

The year passed like a dream, that summer was the best summer of my life. My drawer was starting to fill with photos, stories and poems. I convinced Stelios to register in a secondary school as he had missed a year, to finish and take the diploma. We went out on bike rides across the plains into some long straights many times with the tachometer in the red. I was shouting above the roar of the engine my new poems standing erect on the back of the bike, wild poems, or taking shots with a bulb. On moonlit nights we climbed the only hill of the town and then descended with the engine and lights switched off. Stelios was still teasing me.

– Why do you carry this camera everywhere with you? We said that you would become a writer.

He used to give me his bike to take a ride on my own. All alone! I was proud of myself!

I passed by the main square at 5 km speed and with some revs, everyone was waving at me.

– Hey Taki!

I took my first fall, I forgot to take a corner and in a spin and I found myself in a field, fortunately only my ego was bruised.

We went on a day trip with my school; Stelios had promised that he would come with Anna to see me. I was tucked into a ditch and was taking photos of some wild thorns and heard the bike coming from the distance, I got up, I was almost at the level of the road and I picked up my camera, I waited and when the frame was full, I took the shot.

Their hair was fluttering, their eyes were shining, Anna’s arms were wrapped around him … this was the best picture I had ever taken. I was happy!

 

One day while I was at school, there was a knock on our classroom door, someone was looking for me. It was one of Stelios friends.

– Stelios is in hospital, asking for you.

– In hospital? Is he hurt? An accident on his bike?

– They went by car to check a bike that had broken down, some people he knew had called him, and he thought not to go with his bike because it was raining. A truck crashed into them, its brakes couldn’t stop it, and it slid. Taki, Stelios is in a severe condition…

– How serious?

– Very serious! And the other two were badly hurt, but Stelios is worse.

At the entrance to the hospital I realized, Stelios was not there anymore!

I saw people gathered, shouting. I turned to leave, Anna was coming, and I grabbed her arm.

– Anna… Stelios is not here, let’s go…

After that, I couldn’t remember anything…

 

This way  we lost Stelios from a ruptured lung. He was 22 years old. His father kept his bike, rusting in the yard, I didn’t see Anna again, I hope she found a nice waist to wrap her thin arms around.

I went to his grave and burned all my writing. I became a photographer.

The camera film

 

A short story

I was watching the boats ropes being untied from its bollard on the quayside, instructions were coming over the loudspeakers on the stern, in my camera only three frames from the last 36 film were left, in my wallet was enough money for a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee. Once again my summer vacation on a desolate Greek island was ending. The return journey back to the port of Piraeus would last more than 15 hours. My first concern was sleeping space. I was walking around the boat to find an appropriate space and at some point I found a nice corner next to a staircase. I laid out my sleeping bag and sat observing the people. After a few moments, I put the camera to my eye, but the thought that I was down to my last 3 frames made me put it down again. The boat departed and the Sun came into my frame and everything became wonderful silhouettes.

the film

I got up and made my way to the bar to buy some cigarettes and a coffee with the last of all I had left, should I take it now or maybe save it for later? Being absorbed by this profound thought I was blocking the queue so I moved away, hesitated and was about to go back (should I get the coffee finally?) but the people in the queue behind didn’t allow me to rejoin where I had left, I had to wait again… at the end of the queue. Turning around to take my place, I heard a female voice.

– Would you like me to get anything for you?

– Aah Thank you very much, a coffee with some milk.

– Frappe?

– Uhm… a Frappe, yes.

I must have looked very lost, both surprised and lost at the same time. After a while and with the coffee in my hand. We introduced ourselves to each other.

– Nadia.

– Takis. Thank you very much, how much did it cost?

– Please, my pleasure, it’s on me.

We started chatting, Nadia was also returning from her summer vacation back to Athens and back to work. I asked her to join me in my corner where my sleeping bag was to drink our coffee together. Time passed very pleasantly with her. Her voice had a warm character which I found very soothing.

 

– I am travelling with my friend, who I have left alone for quite a while. I should find her and we may catch up later for another chat.

– Go, I’ll be around here somewhere.

And she was gone. I began to play with the camera again. I lifted it to my eye, framed a shot, and back down again, the 3 last frames made ​​me hesitate. A person caught my attention; I had him in my sights for a very long time, snap… I got what I wanted, my remaining frames had became two now. I became restless and got up to go for a walk.

Wandering around I soon found something to relieve my boredom, a guitar. I mustered a smile and asked its owner if I could borrow it a while. I sat and started strumming the guitar. People began to gather around, Nadia came with her ​​friend, offerings in the form of beer and wine began to arrive and the atmosphere became warmer and warmer.

The man who kindly lent me the guitar was a member of a band whose members were all aboard the boat as they were returning from a summer job on the island. Slowly everybody began to join in with our little soiree’. We now had a bouzouki, an accordion, a toubeleki drum and a female singer. The company grew increasingly. I left the guitar for a little while in someone else’s hands, I wanted to eat and drink something from the many offerings… not to go wasted. I sat next to Nadia who was still singing, she had a wonderful voice. At some point she told me:

– I must find a place to sleep tonight.

– Why? Haven’t you found anywhere yet?

– No.

– Come with me then to my corner, there is plenty of room and we can fit easily.

– Really?

– Uhm… do you think that I am trying to fool you around?

– I am going to arrange it and come back again.

 

They gave me the guitar again. The feast continued. Nadia came back.

– All is good; I’ve set up my sleeping bag next to yours.

– “Lay your mattress for two, for you and for me …” I sang my reply.

– And when are you planning to go to bed, sir?

– Uhm… first I have to finish the repertoire, ma’am.

– Oh we are saved now! We will get to Piraeus and you will still be singing!

– Nah, just in a bit…

– Okay I’m going, I feel a bit sleepy…

– Okay I’ll come in a little while too…

But the mood of the people would not settle for “a little while” and a little while became two hours. I eventually went to lie down too. Nadia was already sleeping. I fell asleep looking at a little piece of heaven.

 

The next morning I woke up facing a beautiful smile and a coffee.

– Good morning, we will be arriving soon; we have enough time for a coffee.

– Good Morning!

– How long did ‘in a while’ last night?

– Hmm…

– What hmm, you think I am foolish? I told you that you would be singing until we got to Piraeus!

– We haven’t even arrived in Piraeus yet. Nadia, are you becoming a bit desirous?

– Yes I have, do you have a problem with that?

– No, not at all!

– I’m going to see how my friend is doing and I’ll be back. Wait for me and we’ll leave the boat together.

– Ok, I’ll be waiting for you.

– Are you going to take care of my sleeping bag?

– Yeah, I’ll pick it up, don’t worry.

– I’ll leave my bag here, don’t get lost!

– Not gonna happen.

I got up, picked up the sleeping bags and watched the people. I began once again to play with the camera, two more frames left, probably one; I will save one for Nadia. Nadia didn’t come back. I waited until the ship was empty. After a few years n Aegina island, I gave the sleeping bag away to a Dutchman whose own had been stolen. Inside her bag there were hair clips and a pocket camera 110, with a used film. I thought it would be too intrusive to have it developed. I would come across it from time to time whilst moving from one place to another. Sometime after 20 years, I finally decided to have it developed. I retrieved the photos but the colors were awful, a reddish tint dominated. There was me, in all of them. Just as I was at the age of 21, playing the guitar and singing with a smile surrounded by people, faces tanned by the summer, smiling. Some are fuzzy; in some I have red eyes from the flash… or perhaps maybe a glint of what could have been.

Do I have the word ‘Photographer’ stamped on my forehead?

In addition to the thousands of photos I have taken which I still keep on record, I have shot several hundred photos which I don’t own, photos that don’t belong to me, photos I have not ever seen. I don’t know why – but it’s as if I have the word ‘photographer’ stamped on my forehead – and wherever I used to travel I would always come across someone who would ask me to take a picture of them with their own camera, usually a family, a group of friends or a couple.

two couples serifos island

Two couples Serifos island Greece

So it was in this way that for the very first time a very good camera model that I had only seen in brochures came to be in my hands. I will never forget the Nikon F2 that I held in my hands one summer up on the Acropolis to take a shot of a couple with the Lycabettus in the background, closely followed by my first Leica on an excursion to Delphi, a Canon A1 in Epidaurus and my first Digital camera on the island of Poros. But the day that got me thinking about these occurrences was a particular summer day a few years ago on the island of Santorini.

a couple lefkada island greece

A couple Lefkada island Greece

From the early morning of that day, everyone was asking me to take a photo of them. By noon I had already started to say’ Okay’ and smile broadly at anyone approaching me with a camera. On the beach, at the archaeological site of Akrotiri and in Oia I considered it a reasonable request, but in the afternoon while having a coffee above the Caldera, I realised that this story would not have an end. With my companion I had begun to comment about it and we began laughing loudly. Later in a tourist souvenir shop when the owners asked me to take a photo of them with some of their customers, I realized that this thing was chasing me. At night in a bar while having a few drinks, I was just waiting patiently for the moment to come – which inevitably it did, quite quickly – somebody from a group of friends tapped me on the shoulder to take a shot of them as they were dancing. The night had passed and on my way back home I told myself that Ok, that’s it, no more for today.  When all of a sudden a car showed up out of nowhere, deep in the wilderness and a couple stepped out and gave me their camera, naturally and somewhat in a state of disbelief I took pictures of them with a flash, having nothing but the night as a background.

In recent years because of digital photography and the Internet, I have changed the way I deal with people who ask me to take a photo of them during my travels. Usually, I take pictures of them using my own cameras (which most of the time, nowadays, mine are way better than theirs) and I ask for their email address and send these photos back to them by email, so as I can keep on record all the photos that I have taken.