We recently attended our very first TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) conference. It was exciting to us because, even after nine months of writing a travel blog, we didn’t feel like “official” bloggers. Really it’s a self-appointed title and can mean just about anything. Some people blog just for themselves, as a way to keep in touch with family and journal about things that are important to them. The other extreme are very professional blogs that can be highly monetized (you’ve seen the banner ads) with bloggers working hard to use the blog to make a living. Our blog is more the former. We wanted to write about our journey, stay connected to our family and use it as a olive branch to others who have chosen a life or a passion for travel. After leaving the conference, I can say that we have accomplished that and have also found so much more.
One of our first steps in preparing to enter into the TBEX blogosphere was to sign up for some preconference events – and there were a ton to choose from. Everything from a late night of Greek dancing to attending a local fashion show. We had heard about pre and post TBEX events, but just like the conference, came away with experiences that surpassed our expectations. Here’s a round up of the events we were lucky enough to attend:
Athens Wine Tasting
We took a bus ride to a winery, stopping along the way to enjoy a nice view from Athens from the mountains above while surrounded by pine and olive trees. We arrived at the Papagiannakos Winery and were greeted by the owners, Vassilis Papagiannakos and his wife Antonia, whose family has been producing award-winning wines for generations. We were given a tour, provided with a wine-making tutorial and were lucky enough to be there during the bottling process. All very fun, but really we wanted to taste the wine! And taste we did.
We were treated to 6 tastes of the maker’s varietals and given a tray of bread, cheese and olives to enjoy along side. The most interesting wine had a faint pine resin flavor that was interestingly produced by adding pine resin — an old tradition. When asked which was his favorite, Vassilis initially refused to answer, saying “these are my children, you cannot ask me to choose.” But after we were able to coax the winemaker into joining us in tasting I was able to get him to admit that his favorite wine was the Savatiano because it is the first that his family began to produce. By the time we left we were all sitting around sipping wine together and one of our group, Brett from Our Tasty Travels, was providing Twitter advice and had changed the winery’s profile picture. Good times! Thanks to Athens Walking Tours for this experience! You can learn more about this tour here: Athens Wine Tasting Tour
Greek Cooking Class
I’ll admit straight off that we did this class right after our wine tasting experience. Possibly this put us in the best frame of mind to enter a Greek Restaurant and to cook away the early evening with Maria. Her larger than life personality matched the bright yellow interior of the restaurant.
She had no trouble at all handling the tipsy camera toting crowd. When Maria tells you to fold the grape leaf, you do it. If she says to roll a sticky greasy ball of dough in your hands, that’s what you do. The food was wonderful and simple. Maria explained that it’s not about the number of ingredients, it’s about the quality of what you use. Our van driver, on the other hand, had much more trouble handling the crowd — herding us back on the bus because we didn’t want to leave. Thanks to Athens Walking Tour for providing this wonderful experience.
Street Art Walking Tour
We met Manolis who took us on a tour of the street art around the neighborhood. Manolis had a challenging job on his hands as quite a few times the group of bloggers and videographers scattered in order to get a good shot of the pictures that we found – unable to stay still in order to hear his narration.
Despite this challenge, Manolis (who himself is a street artist) was able to provide us with an insider’s view because he personally knew or knew of most of the artists. For example, he was able to show us the works of Sinow, who expressed his sorrow after losing a girlfriend by painting her image all over Athens. And then switched to insects and other objects in nature when he had finally moved on.
Athens One Day Cruise in the Aegean Sea
Sixteen of us signed up for this tour and none of us really knew what to expect. The boat turned out to be very large with comfortable seating – which was quite fortunate as the trip out to the first Island, Hydra, took 3 hours and the seas were a little rough.
Once on Hydra we met the mayor of the Island, who gave us a history of the Island and explained that given the limited resources on the island (it is a big rock and unsuitable to grow crops or sustain livestock), they were needing to turn their attention to tourism in order to thrive. According to the mayor, they had a choice to take an offer a few years back from Richard Branson (of Virgin) who wanted to build a hotel on the island. The community rejected his offer and decided that retaining their heritage, strict building laws and lack of powered vehicles on the island were more important. The fact that there are donkeys do all of the heavy transporting makes quite an impression.
They plan to start new activities such as classes and the ability to stop over for a one night stay as part of the island tour in order to encourage more visitor. After our brief walk around the island we all left feeling like we would have loved to stay for longer.
We had a buffet lunch on the boat and then stopped off at the Island of Poros where we wandered for about 40 minutes.
The boat ride also took us to the Island of Aegina where we were able to view the Temple to the Goddess Aphaia built in the 5th Century BC.
On the ride back we were invited to attend a greek dancing show which ended up having an audience participation portion. This is not usually my thing and I have to admit I wasn’t enthusiastic about the whole thing. But by the end I was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my face. Can’t really give a better recommendation than that.
With all of those activities and time on the boat it was a long day (we left at 8:00 a.m. and arrived back in Athens at 8:30 p.m.). I can imagine that if we went over the summer and were able to glide between the Islands while working on our tan it would have been even better. Thank you to Athens One Day Cruise for providing this experience.
The TBEX conference itself with all of the speakers and fellow bloggers was a wonderful experience for us. We have met quite a few kindred spirits and feel all the more committed to our new full-time travel lifestyle and our blog. Without the blog, I believe that our experiences would still be meaningful to us. But sharing our expiriences though our blog has given us an introduction to people and adventures, such as the preconference TBEX events, that will enrich our travels tremendously. Hmm…. TBEX Costa Brava and TBEX Bangkok this year? Hope to see you there.
As I write this I’m on a train heading toward Meteora. Yep, another trip offered to us as part of our TBEX conference experience. Looking forward to seeing the monestaries perched impossibly high on top of mountain sized pillars and to discover all that this historic sacred place has to offer. What an honor.