We kicked the month off with our annual Spurlin family reunion at the Virginia Creeper Trail. And I have to say, I think this year was one of the best ones yet. We always are laughing and cracking each other up, but this year, we took it to another level. Per the usual, we occupied all of the creek-side cabins as well as the entire lodge. I think there were about 30 of us there this year. Everyone took turns cooking meals and we had a blast riding the trail. However, this year, when all of the cousins went out to the Damascus Brewery for our annual tradition, Edna joined us, which added a new element of fun. She tried to teach the guitarist there some kid’s song about a moose and she also completely blurted out the wrong lyrics to the Hank Williams Jr. song, “Family Tradition”. It had all of us dying laughing. Janet, our resident teacher, even blessed us with her presence of reading some very inappropriate children’s books that were on the shelf at the brewery. The owner even kept the brewery open for us after they were officially closed and was playing some awesome ’90s hip hop jams, so of course there was dancing involved. It was so much fun! The next day, some of us were planning on going hiking, but the weather had other plans. So, we went shopping at the local boutique and then headed over to the distillery. Each night culminated in the requisite bonfire, s’mores, and this year dance parties were the icing on top, along with tons of glow sticks and twerking lessons by Izzie! Everyone painted beautiful river rocks that we scattered about the property and kept some for Kyle and Cammy’s upcoming wedding. We gathered around in a circle and dedicated our time to those we have lost in the family. I know this year was especially difficult for Janet since Mitch was with us just one year ago. It is times like these that you really understand what is important and that is family. We always have the best time on these trips and this year took the cake!
I had dinner with Julie at 131 Main and as always, spending time with her is one of my favorite things to do. She is such an amazing friend and is one of the funniest people I know. On July 4th, we went to the Bartley’s house for dinner and then bounced over to the Borello’s house for a cocktail before heading to Ballantyne Country Club for fireworks. Hanleigh took an Arts Experience Camp that she enjoyed, we had dinner at Firebird’s with Aunt Patty, Uncle John, and Mimi to debrief their tips and tricks from their recent trip to Greece, and we enjoyed dinner at Phyllis and Jay’s house (neighbors). Hanleigh spent the day at Carowinds with Cooper, Kyle, and Cammy while we were lucky enough to watch Chewie, the most adorable Goldendoodle. He may be the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever seen!
We met with Shannon, our travel agent, to get our final documents and tickets for our Greece trip, Hanleigh attended the Lantern Festival with her friend, Sam. She also enjoyed an awesome afternoon at Carrigan Farms, jumping into the rock quarry, and I had a fabulous dinner with Kendall at Spice. Brayden continued her field hockey practices in anticipation for tryouts and began treating a stye on her eye that hopefully would be gone in time for our trip.
On Wednesday, July 12th we started what would be the beginning of an incredible bucket list trip of a lifetime. For nearly a year, I have been spending countless hours researching islands, excursions, restaurants, activities, hotels, etc. in Greece. Originally, we were deciding between Italy and Greece, but airfare ultimately was the deciding factor. And thanks to using all credit card points, our airline tickets were completely free, and really cut down on the cost of the trip. When we had settled on Greece, Trent had this awesome and sweet idea to see if my mom wanted to join us. Ever since I’ve known her, which is all my life, she has always said that if she could go anywhere, it would be Greece. So, when we reached out and asked her, it was a resounding yes!!! I enlisted the help of our travel agent, Shannon, who was instrumental in guiding us through how to bounce from island to island while using the ferry system. She also took care of booking all of our private transfers from and to the airport and ferry terminals. This was key to a seamless transportation experience! We flew from Charlotte to Philadelphia and during our three-hour layover, we worked, played cards, and purchased walking “to-gronies” (negronis), then hopped on the biggest plane the girls had ever been on for a non-stop flight to Athens. Everyone did great on the plane and was impressed by the quality of the food and drinks! Luckily, these days, there’s plenty of entertainment options on the plane, however for this flight, the best thing we could do was to get some sleep since it was a red eye and we wanted to hit the ground running when we landed. Our flight was uneventful (the best kind), we landed safely in Athens, left our bags at the bell desk at the Elia Ermou Hotel, and then went to Ella’s for one of the best meals we had. It definitely takes the cake for the best greek salad ever (and we tried greek salads at nearly every single meal), and they also had amazing grilled kabobs. By the time we were done, our room is ready, so we went back, unpacked and the four of us explored the Plaka (shopping) area while Mom took a break back at the hotel. We returned to the hotel and then the five of us went to the rooftop restaurant and bar, where the view was beyond incredible and looked directly at the Parthenon! It was absolutely breathtaking!. The four of us (mom’s feet were bothering her) headed to dinner at Ovi, which had one of the best pizzas and salads ever. We were eating really well so far! The next day, we woke up, had an amazing breakfast at the hotel, and then began an awesome tour of the Parthenon and Acropolis. The architecture and history behind what it took to build those monuments was absolutely mind-blowing. To think that they brought limestone from six miles away, that all of it was carved by hand, and the whole thing took over 10 years to build was astounding. And, all in the name of honoring the gods that they worshiped. We listened to our guide through little earpieces as she told us about the history of this amazing monument. Then, we were free to go explore on our own. We tried to locate our hotel from the view, but couldn’t find it among the sea of buildings. Athens really is so expansive and such a sprawling city. After we toured the Parthenon and the acropolis, we rode around in a bus and got to see the Olympic stadium, followed by the Acropolis Museum, which was incredibly impressive as it was very carefully thought out by the designers to mimic the different stories from the ruins all the way up to the pillars of the goddesses who they honored. They actually closed the Parthenon after we were there because it was 105°. Meanwhile, we were enjoying lunch at the Gods’ restaurant and there was actually a news crew interviewing one of the waiters about the extreme heat. Later on that evening, we saw that we were actually on the news…at least Trent and Mom’s heads were briefly. We toured around the Plaka some more and then had dinner at a place called Fani’s. It was a really warm night and our food that evening was good, but did not hold a candle to the lunch that we had the day before.
The next day, we enjoyed breakfast and then headed to the airport to fly to Mykonos, one of the world’s most notorious party islands. More on that later! The flight was a quick 40 minutes and we made our way via private transfer to the San Marco Hotel, which was just fabulous. It was a tiered hotel with typical blue and white decor that was perched above a hillside overlooking the Aegean Sea. There was a great pool for the girls to play in, so we spent that afternoon relaxing and sunbathing. That evening, we headed to Mykonos Town and walked to Little Venice to see the adorably painted, seaside village with the water lapping at the homes. This is where we watched the sunset and also listened to the low rumble of dance music. We walked past the windmills and had one of my favorite dinners at a place called D’Angelo. Everything was incredible, especially the dessert, which was a Nutella-filled calzone dusted with powdered sugar. It was divine! We made our way back to the hotel and then the next morning, Brayden and I woke up early and went to Go Dive Mykonos at Lia Beach where we would basically have our own private dive masters to take us to scuba dive the wreck of the Anna II. It was awesome and I loved watching Brayden’s expressions underwater as she was in complete awe during her first wreck dive, and it was a big one at that…203 ft. to be exact. We saw about 100 little baby barracuda toward the end of the dive and our second dive was a little less exciting, but just as relaxing. We made our way back to Paraga Beach, where we met up with Trent, Mom, and Hanleigh. They had reserved four beach loungers for us for the day. We were waited on, enjoyed lunch, and then decided we would see what was going on at the place next to us…Kalua. This was the type of place that gives Mykonos its reputation for being a party Island. I think we went over there around 2:00 p.m. and didn’t get done dancing until 5:00 or so. I asked the bartender, before we brought the girls over, if there was an age limit to come to the club (it was just an open-air beach restaurant/bar), and he said any age was welcome. There were a couple of other kids there, but not many. Mom proceeded to get hit on by an overserved Greek man, Hanleigh was in awe of what all she saw, Trent danced and took it all in, and Brayden had a couple guys come up and dance with her, but we kept our eyes on them. At one point, Mom and I got up on a table and danced and we were having the time of our lives. It was hot, it was sweaty, the cocktails were flowing, and the smiles/laughter were endless. We had such a great time that afternoon and I think we got the partying out of our system. We had an earlier dinner that night at Tasos Taverna, which was right next to the beach club. It was just easy to go ahead and eat there and we all enjoyed some aperol spritzes and fresh seafood, and of course gyros (these were also a staple at every meal, although more times than not the meat was not wrapped in a pita, but rather served on the side and your choices were pretty much pork or chicken…not lamb like back in the U.S.).
After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast and then made our way to the ferry port for what we thought was going to be a two-and-a-half-hour ride. Unfortunately for us and everyone else on board, it ended up being a four-hour tour due to the very high seas and the fact that our ferry was smaller, it could not navigate the waters as fast, which basically extended the nausea of about 40% of the passengers the entire time. And by that, I mean that people were throwing up all over the place. Trent had his earbuds in and was watching videos on his phone to avoid seeing all the chaos that was going on, Mom got sick, I was giggling inside at all the madness and Brayden was also trying to look away from what we saw. I felt really bad for the guy that worked the concession stand on the ferry because his other job was to clean up the mess. That ride was definitely not for those without sea legs! We finally arrived to our hotel, the Artemis, around 9:30 p.m., so we didn’t end up eating dinner until around 10:00pm, but it was also delicious. And, this may be one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in next to Eden Rock in St. Barts. It is beautifully appointed and so comfortable, with amazing views. We even had a Starlink sighting that evening. The next day, we woke up, and Mom’s foot was still bothering her, so she decided to stay at the hotel for the day while the four of us went exploring. We saw it all! We started at Sarakiniko Beach, which is comprised of humongous limestone seaside cliffs that mimic something that should be on Star Wars or the Moon. Usually, people jump off the cliffs into the sea, but it was so rough that day that everyone just observed and took in the beauty of the ocean. There are also these caves to explore as well, which we did. Then, we hopped in the rental car and headed to Firopotamus Beach, where the four of us jumped off a little bit of a sketchy platform about 20 ft. above the water. We were all a little nervous, but we watched others jump before us before we decided to join in on the fun. We then went and had lunch at a place called Medusa, which is notorious for having a long line, but it was well worth it. Apparently, a party of four will get seated quickly than a party of two. Who knew? While we are waiting to be sat, we did some exploring, Hanleigh loved on some kittens, and we enjoyed seeing the adorable fishing village of Mandrakia, complete with fresh octopus drying on a clothesline, of which I ordered for lunch. Our view from our table was incredible and we just soaked in the beauty of mother nature while we feasted on fresh calamari and other delectable dishes. After that, we made our way to Tsigrado Beach, which can only be accessed via a small path in a crevice between rocks and then down a tiny ladder, which puts you onto a very small beach. It was visually stunning, and we spend some time swimming in the ocean…throwing Louise around and watching people jump off the cliffs. We made our way back to the hotel and ventured to Astakas Cafe (in Klima) for dinner, a beach-side restaurant that seemed to have not the best food overall, but the salad was delicious and so was the company and the view!
The next day, we hopped on yet another ferry, but this one was much more enjoyable. Before we boarded, we saw an entire family running toward the ferry platform, whereby the husband jumped right on as it was sounding i’s horn, only to leave his wife and two kids in the dust. The ferry attendants quickly made him jump off. What a jerk! We were laughing our faces off watching this unfold. This ferry was much larger, we had an awesome business class table area, and the journey was only two hours long. This time, we ventured to the idyllic island of Santorini. The ferry system there is so reliable, but also very comical to watch how quickly the load and unload passengers. We compiled all the tips and tricks that our family and friends who had been there before had given us, and made our way down to the luggage area so that we could quickly disembark. When the gates opened, and I saw the gorgeous cliffside white villages and my eyes teared up as I expected. Just as we had grown to expect over the course of our trip, we were greeted by a private Mercedes sprinter van, bigger than we needed and very luxurious, and whisked away to the Senses Boutique Hotel in Imerovigli, where we had the Master Cave Suite, our own hot tub and private patio. That night, we ended up renting a car to take us to the Venetsanos Winery. Thank goodness the concierge at our hotel gave us a heads up that it would have cost us about double the amount if we had taken a taxi there. So, throughout the duration of our stay in Santorini, we rented a car for 24 hours at a fraction of the cost it would have been for getting around the island via a cab. The winery provided us with a tasting and a couple charcuterie boards, which filled our bellies for the evening. The next day, we were picked up again and taken down to Ammoudi Bay to embark on a half-day cruise of the Caldera, which is basically the large depression that was formed 3,600 years ago when the volcano erupted. However, the last time that happened in Santorini was in 1950. We went swimming in the hot springs, (which were more like warm springs) and then went snorkeling. There were a few people in our group who were determined to jump off the boat and touch the bottom of the ocean floor, so we enjoyed trying to do that as well (although, it was pretty deep). Our catamaran was awesome because it only held about 20 or so people, which is much better than those cattle call boats that have nearly 100 people fighting their way to the bucket of rum punch. We rounded our way past the Red Beach, the Akrotiri lighthouse, and then made our way back to the hotel. That night, we hiked from Oia (the picturesque city with the white buildings and blue domes) back down to Ammoudi Bay and passed by donkeys and their poop, all while navigating in the extreme heat. It was all worth it for the most amazing view from dinner at The Ammoudi Fish Tavern, where we feasted and had fun interacting with our waiters while we asked them how to translate “travel chicken” into Greek! Kotopollo Taxiview!!! The next day, we went to the the ruins of Akrotiri, which were absolutely unbelievable. It was so hard to comprehend how a city that is 4,000-years old was so sophisticated and handcrafted. I always think that we work hard and then I’m put in my place when I visit sights like this and see how difficult they had it, yet how they made so much out of so little. We then made our way to the Koutsogiannopoulos Wine Museum and learned how the Greek harvest their grapes and then had the ultimate treat of sampling a few of their wines. That evening, the four of us and to dinner to Rastoni, a cliffside restaurant in Fira with the most amazing views ever! Perched from up above, we watched as all of the catamarans made their way northwest to watch the sunset. This was an awesome way to cap off our final night on the west side of the island. The next day, we ventured a little bit closer to the airport, but to the southeast side of the island to a hotel called Santo Miramare. On the way there, our driver apologized for being late, but it was because he had witnessed another reckless driver on an ATV get launched off after having had an accident and that person died in his arms. So extremely sad, but I’m saying this because we were told how dangerous those ATVs are and even how more lackadaisical some of the drivers can be. I want to give a shout out to Trent for having the cojones to rent a car and drive us around. He did an incredible job navigating the roads and keeping us safe. We spent our last day in Santorini just chilling out by the pool and swimming in the ocean, complete with the beautiful black sand beaches. We then had dinner at a roadside, outdoor cafe dining alfresco, called Chili Beach Bar. Yet again, another incredible dinner. I think Greek food maybe one of my new favorite types of cuisine. It was an early night for us that evening as we had to leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. to get on a 5:30 a.m. flight to Madrid. After crossing the pond back home, we landed around 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday, got unpacked, and then I heard the best quote ever from the rest of the family that they felt fine and weren’t jet lagged. Fast forward a couple hours later, all of them were passed out on the sectional by 7:00 p.m. This was definitely a bucket-list trip and one that I will carry memories with me forever and ever. Thank you, Greece, for being one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in on Earth, with some of the best food and the kindest people. We cannot wait to return and are already talking about which Islands we will visit next!
Once reality set back in, Hanleigh had an orthodontist appointment, Brayden went and saw the Barbie movie with some of her friends and began applying for late summer jobs, and Charlie had another lesson to keep her in check and improve her behavior. I enjoyed an awesome evening at my friend, Michelle’s house, where a bunch of us made homemade pasta and shared lots of laughs. The next night, we hosted some of our closest neighbor friends at our house for dinner as well. The next night, I had a date night with Hanleigh at Queen City Craft and then we saw the Barbie movie where we got all dressed up in all pink. It was such a great movie! The next day, Trent and I enjoyed massages at the Ballantyne Hotel and then had some lunch and cocktails by the pool. Hanleigh started a two-week High School Musical theater camp, which she was super excited about and Brayden had a week preparing for and kicking off field hockey tryouts for school. Woo! It was a busy month and so incredibly amazing. We’re already off in la la land dreaming about where we’ll go next!!!
- Trent took her shopping for back-to-school clothes and asked her if she wanted to go to Hot Topic to which she responded, “Hot Topic? No, that store is for emos!”