The Semiramis Boutique Hotel: Art Deco in Athens

Is it Athens, Greece? Or is it South Beach, Miami? While staying at the Semiramis Hotel your GPS would tell you the former. But the day-glo colored lobby filled with beautiful people, the ubiquitous pop art and the pastel swimming pool area filled with the scent of suntan lotion is enough to convince you of the later.

Yes, everything about the Semiramis is undeniably cool. But it is as certain that this boutique hotel not for everyone. Its in-your-face design, its vibe and its location are the best reasons to stay here — and the best reasons not to.

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5 Temples & Monasteries
on Perilous Cliff Sides

To monks, the monastery represents the victory of good over evil. To travelers, it represents the victory of architecture over gravity.

Spot Cool Stuff previously reviewed five towns on cliff sides — villages where drinking and driving . . . or drinking and walking . . . or simply walking could be especially perilous.

Following up on that, here are five religious buildings—a shrine, temple, church and two monasteries—built at a cliff’s edge. Gaze down the rocky drops from these structures, and out upon the magnificent vistas they offer, and perhaps one can’t help but believe in God.

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The World’s Best Bakeries

Spot Cool Stuff loves finding good bakeries on our travels. Spontaneously coming across one while exploring a village or city neighborhood can make an ordinary walk special. But some bakeries are special in their own right and worth purposefully seeking out — either for the quality of their baked goods or for their interior design or for the atmosphere of being there or for some combination of all those.

Below is our review of eight such bakeries. We hesitate calling them the “best,” since the world has many bakeries and we’ve only been to a relatively small handful. But each of our selections has some superlative feature that’s well worth a detour when traveling nearby.

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Europe’s 6 Best Running Events

You don’t need to be as fast as the Kenians. You don’t need to challenge “Ultramarathon Man” Dean Karnazes on a 100 miles race. Running a marathon or a half marathon or a shorter race is more a personal challenge than a struggle against the clock. And you can enjoy the tourist experience as well, it’s called sightseeing on the run. Crossing the Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Marathon or entering the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens will leave you breathless (OK, that maybe be the exhaustion) and offers a more vivid memory of the city than thousands of pictures.

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5 Cool Cargo Ship Cruises

Conjure an image of what’s it is like to go on a cruise. Are you picturing buffet dinners? On-deck spinning classes? Retirees playing shuffleboard? Many cruises really are like that. But if you’re looking for a different sort of cruise scene consider traveling by cargo ship.

Cargo ship travel is the un-cruise. There’s nothing fabricated about it. Every day thousands of freighters ply the high seas. Some of them have extra state rooms and accept passengers to tag along for the ride. This is as “real” as travel gets.

Of course, cargo ship cruising is not for everyone. Cargo ships don’t have swimming pools, evening entertainment, rock climbing walls or organized mixers on Lido decks. Go on a cargo ship cruise and there might be as many as four or five other paying passengers like yourself. Or, you may be the only one. And while cargo ships often have comfortable sleeping quarters they’re unlikely to be luxurious.

To book passage on a cargo ship you can go directly through some shipping lines. But we recommend working through a travel agent that can vouch for the quality of the food and accommodations and can make sure your itinerary includes sufficient shore leave time. One of the best agents for cargo ship cruises is Intrepid Travel. Here’s a look at their five cool cargo cruise ship itineraries:

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The Island of Miracles

Once upon a time, fishermen off of the Greek island of Siphnos noticed a glow under the Aegean Sea. When they trolled the spot they were amazed at what their nets brought up: a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The fishermen brought the Virgin Mary icon to Chryssopigi, a small seventeenth-century monastery church on Siphnos located at the end of a spit of land jutting out into the sea. The Virgin of the Golden Spring soon came to be regarded as the protector of the island.

The Virgin’s protective powers were evidenced several years later when pirates, who regularly made life miserable for residents of islands in the Aegean, stormed the Siphnos shore chasing a group of nuns who were on their way to the Chryssopigi monastery. The nuns prayed as they ran with the pirates close behind. As the nuns reached the church containing the Virgin there was a great rumble, the neck of land connecting the church to the main island split open, and the pirates fell into the sea.

And that’s how Siphnos came to be known as The Island of Miracles.

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