Vacation And Reflections

Welcome back to Zero Day Finance! I’ve been pretty MIA for the past 2 weeks because I was extremely lucky, and went on a cruise of the Mediterranean with my fiancee’s family. This was my first time in Europe, first flight longer than 5 hours, first real airplane meal, and my first cruise. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. While traveling, I encountered people significantly different than myself, and I got to see how they lived. I was definitely hit with some culture shock, and reminded of how very lucky that I am.

Layover in Zurich

The first part of my trip was a 5 hour layover in Zurich. We decided to leave the airport and head into the city to explore and eat lunch. I was very nervous that we wouldn’t get back in time to catch our flight, but we obviously did. Zurich is an extremely affluent city. Walking around, I saw at least 50 cars that cost more than $200,000. We walked into a store that we didn’t recognize, and their t-shirts cost $400. Throughout the whole 3 hours we spent walking around, I only encountered one homeless person asking for money. I wish I had a few Euros to give him.

It was also extremely difficult to navigate because all of the signs were in German, and not many people helped us out.

zurich train station

Train station in Zurich

4 Hours in Venice

After we left Zurich, we landed in Italy. We spent the night at a small hotel and ate fantastic pizza. We probably ate double the pizza that regular people eat, but we are a large group of Americans. Walking through the neighborhood, there was a lot more poverty. All of the cars were smaller, people mostly drove Fiats and small Golfs. Most of them were old and in disrepair. Everything was extremely cheap: the 8 of us in our group had a full dinner for about 100 Euros total.

After a terrible night’s sleep (my hotel room’s air conditioner didn’t work and my room was 28 degrees C), we took a bus to Venice for a few hours before the cruise left. Venice is extremely gorgeous. Completely full of tourists. Like completely, the ratio of tourists to locals was maybe 19:1. We did the typical tourist things and walked around, bought some cheap “made in Italy” leather bags, etc. When it came time to use the bathroom, we stopped by McDonalds!

Everything was extremely cheap here, and the food was incredible. I think we had lunch for 3 that cost less than 20 Euros, and we had multiple sandwiches each, sparkling water, etc.

venice water

My fiancee’s sister and my fiancee enjoying the view

italy venice pizzeria

Cute pizzeria that we did not eat at

Getting On The Boat

After Venice, we took the people mover back to the boat. We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, an incredibly massive ship. At least the biggest one that I’ve seen. Going through security sucked, but it felt great to finally be on the ship and have a room with functional air conditioning. We also had a sea view room, although no balcony. Once we got on the ship, we had dinner and all passed out. Jet lag going East is very hard to deal with.

I ended up waking up around 7 AM so I walked around the ship with my camera, and took a bunch of these photos. The next two photos are taken of Montenegro from the ship. The whole coastline is gorgeous, one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen. I seriously spent 2 hours just watching the ship pass by, looking at all of the small cute towns on the coast. It took a solid 10 minutes trying to take this really artistic selfie, and it came out pretty well. You can sort of see me (gasp!), but the blurred out effect of the background looks incredible.

Montenegro coast

Cruising down the Montenegrin coast

zero day finance selfie with montenegro in background

Taking a quick selfie

Tendered Into Kotor

When I found out we were going to Kotor, I made a really nerdy smile. KOTOR = Knights of the Old Republic, a Star Wars videogame that I really enjoyed as a teenager. Anyway, Kotor and Montenegro are so incredibly beautiful. Sadly I don’t remember the town where I took this photo. We drove in a bus from Kotor through the mountains and poor villages and ended up at the expensive resort areas.

Driving through Montenegro, our tour guide said that they still feel the effects of the world recession. The average wage in Montenegro is about 500 Euro per month, and the biggest industry is tourism. I really got that feeling when we had to wait 45 minutes at the dock for one of our group members. We were approached by at least 25 different tour guides trying to get our money. While we were driving through the countryside, I saw many half-finished homes. A lot of the single family units had small gardens, presumably to grow their own fruits and vegetables. It was extremely obvious that this country is still dealing with economic problems.

The first picture is extremely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is some lighting effect because the photo is a little over-exposed. Maybe my fiancee will help me out and fix that, but we’ll see. The third picture in this section is my favorite. I call it “Bye bye, Kotor.” I took this while we were being tendered back to our cruise ship. It took a lot of patience to compose the shot right, and I’m very happy that it came out well.

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Beautiful mini beach in Montenegro

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Cats sleeping above a store in Kotor, Montenegro

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Bye, bye, Kotor! Such a beautiful view

Corfu For Some History

Our next stop was Corfu. Corfu is a very small Greek island where they grow olives for olive oil, and also kumquat. We stopped at Achilleion which is a house build for Elizabeth of Bavaria. She had a really nice house! It is themed around Achilles, and includes a significant amount of paintings and statues. The views from her house are absolutely stunning. I really like the photograph I took of the flowers, although there is some light distortion near the sun. I hope I can get it fixed!

After the tour, we went to the touristy area and got lunch, New Yorker style. We were running low on time but hungry so we went up to a restaurant that looked great and asked if we could be served in 20 minutes. These people must have been from New York, because they sat us, served us drinks and cooked a full round of food for hungry people in about 15 minutes. It was also the best food that we ate on the trip, by a mile.

achilles statue

Proud Achilles in Corfu

wounded achilles

Wounded Achilles in Corfu

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Pretty flowers and bug overlooking Greek islands

Heading Over To Athens

The next leg of our trip took us to Athens. Athens was kind of meh. It is a city that holds great historical value, but we were with a few thousand tourists, couldn’t see much, and we spent most of the time driving through busy streets. Kind of felt like Manhattan with much smaller buildings and fewer police. I did take a few good shots, though.

I will say that we ate a pretty damn good lunch, lots of seafood.

flowers athens white green pink

Flowers in Athens

 

athens greece

Looking over the city of Athens

Mykonos

Mykonos was my second favorite excursion that we went on. The downtown area is incredibly beautiful. We spent a solid hour and a half walking around with our tour guide, and barely covered half a mile. We got to see main street, the shops, the windmills and “Little Venice.” Definitely took the most photos here, although the sky is all messed up again. Plz help?

I will say that everything was extremely expensive here, especially in the tourist areas. On the other islands, things were obviously more expensive, but not this expensive. We didn’t end up eating here which was unfortunate. My fiancee’s sister took her own tour of the island with her boyfriend. They rented an ATV and drove around the whole thing. There are only 10,000 people on this island, that is 40,000 less than my hometown in New York!

We also visited Delos and spent the majority of the day there. This… kind of sucked. I do like history, but we spent 3 hours on Delos looking at the same bricks. It is obviously a very historically important site and we saw a lot of great things. Even learned some history, but 3 hours is a lot, and everyone on our tour would have rather spent more time exploring Mykonos.

mykonos harbor

Harbor in Mykonos

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Alley in Mykonos

little venice mykonos

Little Venice in Mykonos

balcony corfu white blue

Amazing balcony in Corfu

mykonos harbor

Another view of the harbor in Mykonos

mykonos houses mountainside white green roads

Houses on the mountainside of Mykonos

delos mosaic greece

Original mosaic on Delos

Last Stop: Kefalonia

Our last stop took us to the port of Argostoli on Kefalonia. This island is the prettiest destination that we went to. Our tour was extremely efficient and punctual. Our tour bus drove us through the towns and up the mountains where we did a wine tasting (a waste of 60 minutes unfortunately). After that, we took a 30 minute ride to a cave whose roof collapsed during earthquakes a few decades ago, revealing an underground lake. The lake was much smaller than I thought, but I did get a really cool picture (and GoPro video).

After that, we headed to a small fishing town and ate lunch at this incredible sandwich place. Unfortunately they ran out of a lot of ingredients. Like mozzarella cheese. Seriously, who runs out of mozz? But the sandwiches were good, and their pastries were even better. I’m a huge sucker for sweets so I really enjoyed this. We ate a wonderful lunch looking out at sailboats doing their thing (enjoying the weather I guess?)

From there, we drove another 45 minutes to the most gorgeous beach that I’ve ever seen. The sand was white, and there were those small pearly white rocks you see in the movies. The water was crystal clear and you could see all the way down to the ocean floor. Our tour guide warned us about ocean currents taking us out to sea, so we immediately jumped into the ocean and swam out 30 yards. It was an incredible experience, and I don’t really have many pictures from it. Some things are best left as pictures, others as memories. This one fits the latter category.

argostoli underground lake cave

Underground lake in Kefalonia

argostoli beach rays feet ocean water clear

Catching some rays in Kefalonia

argostoli white sand beach perfect clear water

Picture perfect beach in Kefalonia

argostoli cave ocean water

Cave in Kefalonia

beach tree ocean water blue serene greece argostoli

Viewing the beach from the mountaintop

Heading Home

After we left Kefalonia, the ship headed back to Venice. We had our last meal, said goodbye to our waiters (Perla and Pande, you are awesome!) and packed our stuff. We only forgot a few things on board the boat, maybe we’ll get them back? Not sure to be honest.

Coming back to America was difficult because of the jet lag while traveling. We landed in New York around 9 PM, so we were dead tired because our bodies thought that it was 3 AM. But, I woke up at 5:30 AM the next day and felt great, and I’ve stuck too that schedule ever since. Going on this cruise was an incredible experience, and it has let me see other parts of the world, albeit through a very touristy, privileged lens.

As an American, I live in an extremely rich country. I take so much for granted that I never even thought of. When I heard that the average wage in Montenegro is 500 Euro a month, I was taken back. I make more in 1 month than they do in a year. While we were in Athens, our tour guide told us about how people had trouble paying for their 500 Euro a month apartments, where I would kill for a nice apartment at that price. I’m glad that I got to see different perspectives while I was on this trip.

I also got to learn that cruises nickel and dime you for everything. All of the excursions cost extra $$$ and they aren’t cheap. If you want to drink anything other than water or bland coffee, you need to buy a drink package that starts at about $15/day for basic soda + coffee, and tops out at $55/day for premium drinks. They also make it hard to get water so you pay for their $5/bottle offerings. They also charge you $13.50 per person per day gratuity and add it to your bill at the end of the cruise. Not something that I expected to pay, but now I know.

Somehow this post is 2000+ words, I didn’t realize that I wrote so much. Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed the pictures and hearing the perspective of a privileged American. It’s time for me to get back into the financial blogging game, so look out for my next “What I’m Reading #4” on Saturday, and I’ll have a post comparing the advantages and disadvantages of Roth vs. Traditional retirement contributions on Monday!

Good Hunting,
David


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6 comments

Courtney @ YourAverageDough

The trip sounds amazing! I love all the pictures 🙂

Thanks!!

“I was definitely hit with some culture shock, and reminded of how very lucky that I am.”

Absolutely! Traveling is great for the experiences, the sights, the food, and the people. But I think the main benefit someone gains by traveling is breaking free from the American bubble-life. You gain a real appreciation for just how absolutely lucky you are to be from a stable, wealthy country. And yet, the people you meet are HAPPY! Makes you frame your own life slightly differently.

I appreciate your write-up and your trip takeaways – sounds like you really enjoyed it! 🙂

I really did enjoy it, thank you. I haven’t really experienced that much culture shock. The most was my first visit to LA, walking through some of the poor districts. The same goes for Baltimore. There are so many people living in poverty. It is very easy to see the difference between the “haves” and “have nots.” When I was in Montenegro, our tour guide told us the average income is only $500 a month, but people are still happy and have hope. They still spend time with their families and that is the best they can do, and it makes them happy.

Lily @ The Frugal Gene

AHHH now I wanna go on a cruise so bad! I never went on a cruise before but it’s a lot of food right? We have loads of flight mile/points but to tell you the truth, I sort of hate planning for trips. Just let me on a boat with food and we’re good. You should have made a travel vlog! How’s the food on Royal Caribbean? O_O

It was my first cruise so I didn’t know what to expect!

It was a ton of food. Buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want. But you can go to the “regular” restaurant for each meal also and have a waiter. Food was mostly very good, although there were some nights where the choices were fairly bland. I gained a solid 5 pounds during the 7 day cruise, even with walking 3-5 miles a day on excursions. I took about 1200 pictures so this is only a small taste. I didn’t want to make everyone’s browsers crash.

My future mother-in-law asked us if we wanted to sign up for another cruise in 2019. This one is on the newest Royal Caribbean ship and it’s massive. 18 decks, something like 4 football fields long. We would have said yes, but I’m getting married next year and not sure if my fiancee will have enough PTO to do it. I get the typical “unlimited but responsible,” whereas she gets 10 which sucks.

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