National Garden, Athens, Greece

Two Week Intensive French Classes in Montpellier

I was lucky enough to take intensive French classes in Montpellier because after Madagascar, there was a lot of uncertainty – would I actually go back to London? Would I move back to California* like I’ve been dreaming about for a few years now? Look for another position in the field with a more robust health care system? Or even take a few months off just to focus on language?

Then I got offered my current position back at MSI and the decision was made. I’d be moving to London and happily back in with G! I had a few weeks to play around with before my start date, and learning French is something that has been on my list of goals for years. It would be a huge career boost, and despite taking a course at MSI in early 2018, I still felt like I lacked even the most basic building blocks of the language. So I decided to book in for an intensive two week course in the south of France at LSF French school. I decided on this school because of price, location (I’d never been to the South of France, I liked the small size of the city, and the weather was meant to be lovely – though I had terrible luck in that regard), and reputation – it had loads of excellent reviews.

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

French Classes in montpellier

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Host Family Life

I stayed with a host family which is very out of character – I highly value independence and privacy. I did it because it’s meant to offer the best opportunity to learn French, and while I don’t regret having done it, I wouldn’t again.

Pros:

  • You can practice French in a natural environment with people who have to be patient with you. You’ll learn how people speak colloquially, learn words about everyday living that may not come up in class, and be exposed to the language basically 24/7.
  • You can see how locals live, which is something I think is important when visiting a new place – to get outside of the tourist bubble. I was quite far out and had to take a 25-minute metro ride into the city centre every day, and while this wasn’t ideal it did allow me to live a bit more like a local than tourist.

Cons:

  • Every family is different, and you’re inserted right into someone else’s family. Two weeks is a bit of an awkward amount of time. It’s difficult to get close, but you’re right there there for long enough to feel a bit involved – there was some personal drama with the host mom that happened while I was there that I was a bit caught up in – very awkward when you’re an outsider who doesn’t speak the language.
  • In my experience, the expectation was very much that I would spend as much free time with the family as possible. I spent 90% of my time in the library studying, and I think my host mother felt a tiny bit put out by this. I didn’t sign up for catered food, but started feeling guilty if I didn’t eat with the family every night anyway (with my own food obviously), and even at nearly 30 years old, they very much wanted to know my whereabouts at all times.
  • I think the biggest issue I had was that I came in as a complete beginner. The family didn’t speak English, and I think a few decades ago the model would have worked where I’d have been forced to gesture until I could speak, and then speak and build from what I was learning each day, etc. Instead the host family used Google translate to communicate with me. I did eventually ask them to at least speak the words as well, so I could hear it in French, and it wasn’t terrible both seeing it written out and hearing it out loud. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that right away, and for a while it felt like the only things I was learning were from listening in on their conversations to each other.

These things all might be very expected for a host family, and even desirable for some people. It’s also just one experience – I’d stayed with one other host family when I was in Guatemala for a few weeks in 2010, and in that instance we had breakfast together every day, but there were no expectation to spend free time socializing together. They were very happy to help when needed and would have a chat in Spanish at the end of most nights, but I still felt quite independent. That wasn’t the case here, and I think will be hard to know what kind of situation you’re getting before arrival.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

What Can You Learn in Two Weeks?

A lot, actually! I was lucky that I was in a small class (there were only four of us) and we were all really motivated to learn. We also came in at complete beginner, so were luckily all at nearly the exact same level. I had class from 9 – 12:30 every day and then and extra 90 minutes in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spent every afternoon in the library studying, and the library was usually quite full. When I came back I joined an A1.2 class in London, was pushed up to the A2.2 class the next week, and that was actually the right level! This is the result of London labelling classes as more advanced than they are (I found the same thing when I tried to do Spanish classes here as well), but also due to my time at LSF – I really did come back quite good. I learned far more in two weeks than I expected. I’ve since forgotten loads, but I know with a bit of dedicated study, my new class at MSI, and hopefully a few more trips to LSF, I’ll get there.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Looking to take French classes in montpellier?

I have a lot of good things to say about LSF. I think they’ve nailed the model, have excellent, well trained teachers, dedicated students, and I 100% plan to go back to the LSF for French classes in Montpellier in the future. I think language lessons can be extremely hit or miss, and I am really comfortable telling you LSF is a hit. They know what they are doing – they aren’t the cheapest but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and if you’re serious about French this is a place you can go to improve. Also Montpellier is not a bad place to spend some time! It’s got a gorgeous old town, is a small-sized city, perfect for learning a language, generally has fantastic weather, and has great food. What more could you want?

Montpellier, France

*This would have been difficult to do as I don’t have health insurance in America anymore. If I got sick now, it would be nearly impossible to move home with my family to receive care. Another reason America’s HC system needs overhauling and another reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming primaries and election!

Santorini Hike

Why I Didn’t Like Santorini

First let’s acknowledge that I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to have been able to visit Santorini at all. However, if you travel frequently, you’re bound to visit a few places you like more or less than others. Santorini was one of those places I liked less. That said, it is gorgeous and I’m sure quite a few people feel the magic there that was lost on me. It’s also worth noting that we planned to spend 24 hours there, but due to an ferry strike were unexpectedly there for 4.5 days.

Oia, Santorini

My biggest issue was the amount of tourists in Santorini. For example, take the photo of Gareth and I below. To get it, we had to wait in line for 15 minutes , and once you got there if you took too long people shouted at you. It was stressful and packed and really (for me) took away from the beauty.

Oia, Santorini

Likewise, the sunset was gorgeous. However, to get a good spot you need to arrive about two hours early. This photo was taken 90 minutes before the sunset and believe me it only got more and more busy. Afterwards, it took us about 25 minutes to get back to the road due to the crowds.

Oia Sunset

Every picturesque location was filled with professional photographers doing photoshoots with tourists who had hired them. Everyone was dressed extremely well, and the entirety of Oia felt like one big photoshoot. Like the the main reasons tourists in Santorini were there was just to get a photo of themselves there.

Oia, Santorini

I spent about an hour doing the same, mostly because we needed (free) things to do to fill our time. Then I got fed up with the whole vibe and put my camera away for the next few days. We left Oia, which felt unbearable, and moved down to Perissa which was far less touristy. It was more of a beach town. We spent a day sitting under an umbrella on the black sand beach, having a completely different trip than the Oia focused one we had planned.

Santorini Black Sand Beach

I think I have a fairly high tolerance for tourists. I’m from Martha’s Vineyard and while I much prefer the winter, I adjusted to everything being crowded long ago. I went to Cinque Terre last August and was told I’d hate it due to all the tourists at that time of year, and again not only did it not bother me but it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever been. There were 100 times more tourists in Santorini than in MV or Cinque Terre.

Oia, Santorini

I’m also going to be a bit controversial and say that while there were many gorgeous parts of Santorini, I don’t think the overall beauty compared to anything we saw in Paros or Crete. There are cheaper, quieter, and more beautiful places to visit in the Greek isles. I think if you only have a limited amount of time, I’d really suggest leaving Santorini off your list!

Santorini Sunset

Santorini, Greece

So I’m going to keep in real… Santorini wasn’t my favourite. I’ve been to quite a few places in the world and am bound to find a few that aren’t my cup of tea – and after not loving Morocco in 2015, I had an amazing travel streak until finally visiting Santorini in 2018.

Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece

That said, you may love it and we did some great things there. So without further ado, my guide to Santorini!

Things to do:

Hiking

The best thing we did in Santorini was the hike from Thira to Oia. It takes around three hours and is really gorgeous. There are about three steep uphill segments, and other than that it’s not physically challenging. It starts right by Hotel Atlantis and takes you through Thira, Imerovigli, and along the caldera to Oia. Go as early as possible – we finished around noon and the last 30 minutes the sun was so high it was a bit difficult.

Santorini Hike

Sunset

Watch the sunset at Oia Castle. It’s an incredible view, but plan to get there about 2 hours early – we brought books and beer and the time went by fairly quickly.

sunset in Oia, Santorini

Photoshoots

It seemed like absolutely everyone was focused on getting that perfect IG shot, and many had even hired professional photographers to bring them to all the best places.

Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece

Books

One of the magical bookstores of the world exists in Oia called Atlantis Books. If you’re an avid reader don’t miss out.

Atlantis Books, Santorini

Beaches

Santorini isn’t known for its beaches, but the most famous ones are the black sand beach, the white sand beach, and the red sand beach. The red sand beach is currently closed and unsafe due to a rock slide, and the white sand beach is only accessible by boat. We spent a few days at the black sand beach and really loved it – you can rent two lounge chairs with an umbrella for 10 euros for the day, and it was walking distance from our hotels in Perissa. Our other favourite place to swim was Amoudi Bay in Oia. It’s so gorgeous and the perfect place to cool off after a long hike!

Santorini Black Sand Beach

Where to stay: Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

The main options are Oia, Fira, or Perissa. We spent one night in Oia and it was beautiful and very convenient if you’re only there for a short time and sticking to that location. It’s also more expensive and doesn’t allow any escape from the crowds. Thira is lively, where the nightlife is, and a great location if you’re exploring the entire island. Perissa is for those who are mainly interested in the beach or who want a cheaper/less crowded holiday. It takes about an hour to get from one end to the other, so it’s not terribly big and you can easily stay on one end and visit the other.

Santorini didn’t compare to Paros or Crete, but it was somewhere I’d been dreaming of going since I was a child and I’m really happy to have been able to visit. And next time I go to Greece I can focus on some of the less touristy islands!

A Weekend in Paros, Greece

Paros was my favourite part of our time in Greece, by far. Paros was everything I dreamed Greece would be – small winding streets, white washed buildings, picturesque beaches, a small town feel. If you’re trying to decide where to go in Greece, trust me that Paros should be one of your stops (Matt and Maggie I’m talking to you!).

Paros, GreeceParos, Greece

What to do

Day One

Our first day we woke up and went straight to the port in Parikia where we met up with Petros from Regaki Boat Trips for our day trip around Paros and Antiparos. To be honest, the first 30 minutes of the trip I was questioning what I’d signed us up for. The boat was slightly crowded, no one was talking, it was rocky getting out of Parikia, and I didn’t see how we’d make it through 8 hours.

Paros, Greece Boat Tour Paros, Greece Boat Tour

Then we arrived at our first stop, which was some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We had a swim, came back on the boat, and it was just late enough to start partaking in the open bar. From then on, it was such a wonderful day. People loosened up, we all made friends, and were basically transported to the best swimming and cliff jumping locations around whilst eating and drinking to our heart’s content.

Paros, Greece Boat TourLogistics: The boat departs at 10:00 am and it costs 55 euros per person. Brunch and a late lunch are included, as well as all the wine, beer, and soft drinks you want. You get back to Parikia between 5 and 6 pm, and again I highly recommend fitting this into your schedule!

Day Two

Rent an ATV for your second day, which makes the island so much more accessible. Head straight to Paros Park and hike to the lighthouse before the sun is directly overhead. The views are stunning and when we went I think we only saw about 5 other people. It took us about an hour round trip, but we sat by the lighthouse for about 15 minutes to read in the shade – and on the way back we wandered down to a little cove and took a dip!

Paros Park Lighthouse, Greece Paros Park, Greece Paros Park, Greece This area is super cool and if you’re there on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday, you should definitely check out their free open air movie theatre.

Paros Park, Greece

Grab lunch at Anemos Taverna before relaxing at for a bit at Kolymbithres Beach. This is one of my favourite beaches in the world, tied with Vernazza in Cinque Terre. I love stone beaches, and while this one did have sand, there was enough stone to lay out on, and the views and clear water were just incredible.

Kolymbithres Beach, Paros, GreeceKolymbithres Beach, Paros, Greece

From there head inland to Lefkes. This town is quintessential Greece. Greeks seem to put so much weight into small gestures to make things lovely. If house had chipped paint or a visible water cooler, they would make sure to put flowers next to it. It wasn’t about making everything modern and new, but making the old as beautiful as possible. I really appreciated it.

Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece

In the centre of town is the gorgeous Agia Church and Kafenion where you should stop and grab a snack or at the very least a drink. The owner is so nice and the little square is a gorgeous place to sip some wine and soak in Greece.

Lageri Beach, Paros, Greece

On your way back to Naoussa, detour a bit to get to Lageri beach. Despite being one of the most famous beaches on the island, when we got there we had it almost entirely to ourselves – only four other people on the whole beach! Have a great last swim before going to home to shower and get ready for a night out in Naoussa.

Where to eat

Soso is meant to have the best food on the island. We didn’t make a reservation which is definitely needed, so can’t confirm first hand. But everyone we spoke to loved it.

Soso Restaurant, Paros, Greece

Soso Restaurant

Romantica was delicious and run by a local family.
Vitsadakis on the water was huge and had slightly less ambiance, but was surprisingly delicious – if you go here, get the lamb.
Paradosiaka has the best Loukoumades on the island and not a place to miss!

Where to drink

There are quite a few cocktail bars as you walk the winding streets, but our favourite was Sante Cocktail Bar. It has delicious cocktails, and was cuter than the others – it’s in the centre and surrounds a big tree that is lit up with lights and candles.


Moraitis winery is meant to be lovely and a great way to spend a few hours.

Where to stay

Your main options are Parikia and Naoussa. We stayed in Parikia our first night as we didn’t arrive until around 11:00 pm and were leaving from there at 10:00 the next morning for the boat tour. However, as soon as that was over we moved to Naoussa where we spent the next two nights. Definitely stay in Naoussa. It’s smaller, more pristine, and has so much charm. Parikia is a port town so is quite large and bustling, and much less picturesque than Naoussa.

Naoussa, Paros, GreeceNaoussa, Paros, GreeceNaoussa, Paros, Greece

We stayed at Bocamviglies which I would recommend. We had ocean views, a beach almost entirely to ourselves, and were only a ten minute walk from town.

Bocamviglies

Best Beaches

Lageri, Kolymbithres, and Monastiri are advertised by tour companies everywhere on the island. You could go through a tour, but by staying in Naoussa and renting an ATV, they are incredibly easy to get to on your own. I do agree with the tour guides though, they are the best beaches on the island!

Paros

Paros was dreamy. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, the island was the perfect size and had just the right amount of people. Have you been to Paros? What did you think?? I feel like it’s still a relatively undiscovered secret and now I just want everyone I know to go so they can also see how great it is!

Sunset, Greece

A Week in Greece Itinerary

Guys, the countries left on my 30 before 30 list are dwindling right down! When I made that list 3.5 years ago, I didn’t think there was any chance I would come close to visiting all the places on my list – and now I’ve just crossed off my third to last location!

I’ve wanted to go to Greece since about 2001, when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was first published. 17 years later and I finally made it!

We had 9 days and in that time we visited Athens, Paros, Santorini, and Crete. Due to an unexpected ferry strike, we had far less time in Crete (and much more in Santorini) than we had planned on – but I’d recommend following our original itinerary.

Athens

Athens Acropolis

We had just over 24 hours in Athens, and used that time to explore Plaka, climb to the top of Lycabettus Hill, and (of course) stopped by the Acropolis. I wasn’t expecting to love Athens, but I really did – it felt young and artistic but still quite traditionally Greek. Given our short time in the country we wouldn’t have traded anything out to stay longer, but Athens is definitely a city where you could happily spend a lot longer than 24 hours.

Paros

Paros, Greece

Paros, Greece

Our three days in Paros were the highlight of our trip, without a doubt. Before going, so many people had told me it was their favourite island, and now I understand why. It is the perfect size, is set up for tourism but not overcrowded, feels authentically Greek, and has some incredible beaches. While there we did a day long boat tour around Paros and Antiparos, rented an ATV and drove around the island, and hiked up to a gorgeous lighthouse. If you’re deciding which islands to visit, definitely include Paros on your list.

Santorini

Santorini, Greece Sunset Santorini, Greece

We originally planned to be in Santorini for just over 24 hours. I really wanted to go, but had heard it was extremely crowded, expensive, and commercial due its popularity. 24 hours would have been perfect, but we ended up being there for about four days due to a ferry strike – and that, to me, was much too long. I’ll explain why later, but it just wasn’t the island for us.

Crete

Elafonisi Beach, Crete, Greece

Our 4 days in Crete had become a day and a half, which was disappointing – especially once we arrived and realised just how beautiful the island is. I definitely want to go back to Crete and spend more time there, but I think we came up with a great itinerary for the time we had. The highlight was spending a few hours at Elafonisi Beach, with its amazing views, clear blue water, and PINK sand!

Greece was incredible. It lived up to my expectations and more – I wasn’t expecting to love the food so much. I’ve had Greek food before and enjoyed it, but it tastes so, SO much better there. I don’t know why – maybe the quality of the produce? But Greek yogurt, Greek salads – things I like but don’t love elsewhere were things I went to bed dreaming about in Greece. Honestly – I might like actual Greek food more than Italian food (never tell my dad I said that).

One of the best parts of Greece are the endless islands to discover. While I can’t really imagine anything topping Paros, I want to go to Folegandros and Milos – and spend more than a day or two in Crete.

Have you been to Greece? What were your favourite places? We only just returned and I’m already desperate to go back!