Take twice as much money…. as plans often change

Our first night in Greece and hit gold with the hotel, booked via Booking.com. Exhausted after a four hour flight, landing at midnight, we really thought we would need a comfortable night as at the time we had no idea what our forward travel plans would be. We were pleasantly surprised to be put in to an only just finished fully refurbished room at Kastro Hotel.

Until we could see what ferries were running to Santorini we could not book ahead any further, and sadly we could only get one night here, when our plans to go to the Cyclades straight away were thwarted by the fact that there are no ferries there until the 17 April. We fly home at 1am on the 18th.

As the primary reason for this trip to Greece is to fulfil the wishes of my mom, which was to have her ashes scattered in Santorini, we knew we had to come up with a plan.

So far, everything about this trip had gone so well. The cost of the flights dropped by £80. We were first through passport control at Crete which has never happened ever. There were no queues at Birmingham airport check in or security. We had left before all the hold ups in traffic around the airport. My hand luggage was not searched and swabbed as it has been done on the last three times departing from a UKairport. And we score this hotel.20140411-195935.jpg

I knew there had to be a solution, as there was no way that the islands would be complete cut off from, and here is the lightbulb moment, from the mainland. Of course, Piraeus.

Long story, cut short, we are going to Santorini, via Athens. Which has had a huge impact on our budget. The upside, is we get to Athens and visit The Parthenon.

This trip is really turning into my 1979 holiday, re visited. More expensive of course, but totally worth it.

We have had to move hotel, not so lush but overlooking the sea and 10 minutes from the ferry terminal. We sail overnight on 13 April, to Piraeus, tourist class, just like I did in 1979. I have booked  one night in an hotel costing €30 and then we sail to Santorini on 14th, returning on the very first fast ferry to Heraklion on 17th at 8pm. I only hope it all goes to plan, as we have a plane to catch 5 hours later.

 

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When preparing to travel part 2

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  ~Susan HellerSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

One t shirt, one pair of shorts, one dress, two pairs of linen trousers, two favourite holiday tops and one cover up/sleep wear. Rolled and ready.

Into a packing cube. Undies, socks, swimwear and sarong in another.

Add a cardie and into the bag they go.

Sandals, travel towel and silk sleeping bag liner tucked around the packing cubes.

Add toiletries, hat and bag for the day time. This is my second Healthy Back Bag, with lots of handy compartments and is big enough for an iPad, sunglasses, notebook and pens, all safely tucked away and organised.

These will go in hand luggage, also in packing cubes. Minimalist make up as you can see. New on my Kindle is a book by Dave Dean, Hammocks and Hardrives, The Tech Guide for Digital Nomads. I live in hope. Seriously though, Dave was a great help to me when planning my RTW trip and I would suggest if you are serious about travelling and being a digital nomad, he is the man!

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Same routine for the husband. Seven shirts/t shirts, one pair of shorts and one pair of cargo pants, plus sandals, towel and sleeping bag liner. I even managed to get an additional warm top in for us both.

Weight of case fully packed? 10 kg each and hand luggage 3 kg each, that is pretty good going I reckon. And if were not for silly Thomson airline rules we could carry this on with us. The only thing we would do different is buy shampoo or shower gel at the airport or destination.

Crete, Santorini and who knows where else, here we come.

When preparing to travel….

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  ~Susan HellerWill it all fit? The money is fixed at £500 plus flights for 7 nights backpacking around the Greek Islands. The flights to Crete are booked and one night at the Kastro Hotel is reserved via Booking.Com and both were well within the budget. I just hope we manage to find some equally good bargains on rooms in Santorini and wherever else we visit. Packing, that is a different matter. We saw these UPPTÄCKA backpacks at Ikea and bought them because they have wheels too. When we used rucksacks on our RTW trip we so rarely needed to haul them on our backs and I really struggled with carrying my pack even though it weighed less than 10kg. I guess I am less a backpacker and more a flashpacker and at 55 I have nothing to prove.

I am also a convert to packing cubes. The pink and blues ones are also from Ikea. No hunting at the bottom of the bag for undies or socks. And full, they all fit perfectly into the larger rucksack. I have found these on the left purchased at Lakeland so useful, keeping cables, adapters and plugs all in one place, combined with these adaptor wraps, also from Lakeland.Cable tidies These certainly help me not to leave any adaptor plugged in at a hostel or hotel. And when, inevitably I have to unload my hand luggage to be searched at airport security. We also need to be prepared for cooler evenings as Greece in April can be chilly, yet if we are hopping on and off ferries I don’t want to be lugging a heavy coat on a warm day. My trusty Kag in a Bag combined with a warm top will have to suffice. One pair of shoes to travel in and one pair of sandals. And that is it. The trusty cagool It all has to fit into these two rucksacks, one to check and one as carry on. If I could only take one carry on that would be ideal, however the airline we are travelling with have a 5kg limit for hand luggage. We had to pay £48 for each bag we check, and have an allowance of 20 kg per bag. The 20 kg cannot be split over two bags, you pay for the bag not the weight. Who needs 20 kg for a week in Greece? Reluctantly I paid for two bags on top of the flights. The fact that the flights dropped in price by £40 the day I booked somewhat softened the blow. Still Thomsons, it is a silly policy. The bulkiest and heaviest items (apart from shoes) are toiletries. I keep saying we will cut back, and always struggle to do so.Too many toiletries I have bought a 3 in 1 shower/shampoo/conditioner, I use hardly any make up and have had my hair cut in an easy to manage style (thanks Vangelis) as I am definitely not taking hair dryers and straighteners. Maybe one hair product to project it from the sun. Sun lotion, toothpaste, Eight Hour Cream and Bare Minerals Sunscreen and that is all. Did me for 5 months on the RTW trip, will certainly do for 7 days in Greece. I am packing and flying tomorrow, wish me luck. And please feel free to share your packing tips with me.

More memories than photos

After I had published my last post about Greece, a number of other memories from that trip in 1979 popped into my head. Amazing that after 35 years I can recall so much. some of the photos jog the memory, like this one that reminds me that the van broke down a lot.The VW, more repairs

As my travel companion commented on my Facebook Page, it was indeed a great holiday. We travelled with a company called Consolas Travel who amazingly are still in business. I say amazingly because I am surprised any of their drivers survived more than one trip, their driving was so atrocious.

They got lost, a lot. Most memorably in Paris. They had no business being in Paris as we were heading for Boulogne sur Mer for the ferry back to Dover. They were following road signs for Bois de Boulogne. We spent an hour driving around Paris looking for the port.

Eventually they decided to ask for directions. Greek drivers in Paris asking for directions. Words that never belong together on one page. They were of the belief that if they shouted in Greek, Parisians would understand them. Arms were waved, by both the French and the Greeks. One passenger made the attempt to interrupt but they were having nothing of it, until she pushed her way off the bus, and asked for directions in perfect French.

She then directed the Greek drivers out of Paris and to the port. Where our ferry was departing.

We were just grateful to be alive never mind in the right Boulogne, as these particular drivers didn’t stop the coach when they switched over. Yup, one guy kept his foot on the pedal, the other took the steering wheel and as one slid out of the drivers seat, the other slipped in.

When we had left Athens we spent all our last Drachma on food and drink for the journey home. We bought bread and tinned sardines. The reason I remember this was because we shared our food around the coach, as many of our fellow travellers had no money left at all. We didn’t quite feed the 500, but our loaves and fishes sure went a long way around that bus.

When we stopped in Venice we were penniless. Beautiful city, and everyone was diving into ice cream except for us. Yet generosity has a habit of being paid forward, and one of the passengers bought us an ice cream each.

Before departing from Omonia Square we spent a last day in Athens. The bus left early in the morning so we needed somewhere close by that was cheap to stay the night. John the Kiwi was travelling back with us, so it made sense to get a room for the three of us to cut costs. Five of us had spent many nights in one room, on one beach, in one VW,  so we thought nothing of it. It was cheap, but not very clean. It was for one night and all we could afford. Sara in Athens

It was only after checking in, and hearing rats scuttling around the room did we realise how dirty the place was. What we also didn’t realise, till much later, was that most people rented the rooms by the hour. We were slap bang in a red light district and most of the rooms were occupied by prostitutes and their clients. We had no guide book or internet, we had no idea. We did emerge unscathed, if unwashed and itchy. Think hovering over the loo, careful not to let anything touch you anywhere.Cathy, Sara and John hanging out by the van

Despite sleeping with prostitutes and rats, that trip to Greece is so memorable. I can still see the sun setting in the middle of the bay, in Matala Crete. That night we slept without a tent, with the Milky Way as our roof. I have no photos of that, indeed much of the holiday is not recorded on film. I have 38 photographs from a trip that lasted about three weeks. I can take that many in a day now, but then film was expensive to buy and develop, when the film ran out so did the photos.Agios Nikolaos Harbour

Another memory was of the time we spent in Athens on a camp site we didn’t pay for. The banks were on strike and non of us had any cash. We couldn’t put fuel in the van and had no money for food. rob drove on the camp site, and we were told it was full, so we told them we would just turn around and leave. Instead we kept on until we found a spot that we could squeeze into. It was right on a beach and we spent the day swimming and sunning.

Ellie and Coral

Back in those pre recycling days, you got money back on empty bottles. We needed cash and people had left empty bottles on the beach. So we collected them and exchanged them for a few Drachma.  And that is how we survived for a couple of days until the banks re opened. Dropping of Ellie to stay with her ex in Athens, we had already lost Cathy to a holiday romance, the four of us decided to visit Crete.KnossosI don’t think I will be visiting Knossos or seeing much of Crete this time. Strikes and weather permitting, I will be going to some islands I have never been to before, The Cyclades. Can you tell I am looking forward to it?

 

 

 

500 Days of Homelessness

Coral:

This is how it can go wrong. Count your blessings.

Originally posted on eternally smiling:

This week, the Huffington Post published this article asking if our government really cares about homelessness. I read the article from my hostel bed; where I have spent the last 500 days in first stage emergency accommodation for the homeless, after losing my flat due to my housing benefit being cut back in 2012. One line from the article resonated with me.
“In just three short years, the number of everyday people being pushed into homelessness has soared by over a third.” I felt mixed emotions at this. Outrage that not only myself had been forced into this situation, grief that it had happened to me and so many others, and relief, that the story was out there.  I wanted to tell my story, properly, for the first time.

This is my story.

In 2008, I arrived in London aged 25 with a job, a home, and apparently in full…

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Going back ‘home’ to Greece

I first travelled to Greece in 1979. There were four of us travelling overland on a bus from London to Athens.

coral and camper

The not so trusty VW with me and The Kiwi

 

Sara, my uni friend, and I had been working the summer at The Avon Gorge Hotel. It was rather a good summer job, as bar jobs go. My tips paid the rent, I had free food from the hotel, so with no other expenses, my wages paid for the trip to Greece.

Our customers were a good mix of locals who tipped well, hotel guests visiting Bristol for business or pleasure and a weekly coach load of Americans who were doing Europe in a week, (think, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium). One of them thought the Clifton Suspension Bridge was a copy of The Golden Gate in San Francisco. That is a true story, I promise you.

We even had the Kent County Cricket Team stay once. Amazing how a logo on a polo shirt can get you into every club in Bristol for free. But that is another story and this post is not about Bristol or a night on the town with cricketers. It is about Greece.

food in Greece 1979

L to R Rob Ross, Ellie Ross, Cath, me, and out of shot, the Kiwi

My ex boyfriend had travelled to Greece the summer before with a guy named Rob. It was he who suggested I go to Greece and hooked up with Rob and his VW van. I suggested it to my uni friend and she was keen. We mentioned it to another girl who was working  the bar with us, and she decided to come along too. We had also got friendly with one of the receptionists, Ellie Ross. Amazingly she was also working at the hotel to pay for her trip to Greece. Then we discovered that Rob, the man with the van, was her brother.

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Me, Rob and Cath at Corinth Canal

The overland journey by bus was pretty awful. I have recollections of travelling though the former Yugoslavia, where old ladies increased the charge to use unuseable loos when they realised they had a coach full of Brits. Being confused that we were not getting served with food and found out that was because we asked for the menu. And I am pretty sure we left one passenger stranded in Zagreb.

The highlights, for me, were travelling through The Mont Blanc Tunnel, and seeing the Geneva Water Fountain.  The fountain was always shown in the 60s tv show The Champions. I also recall rather good food being served, with wine, at a French motorway service area. Coming from England, good food is not what we associate with a motorway cafe. Certailnly not in the 70′s. That is why we used to take flasks and sandwiches and picnic on the verge of the M1. And wine, while driving?

We arrived in Athens and Ellie took us on the train to stay the night with the family of her ex boyfriend. In Kifisia. I am not sure that we had known then she had a boyfriend or where we were going to stay that night, we just let Rob and Ellie take the lead as they seemed to know what they were doing. Kifisia is the last stop, and is a leafy and affluent suburb. Water sprinlers kept the manicured lawns perfect.  Chilled water was kept in Gordon’s Gin bottles in the fridge. The decor was sumptuous. One night of luxury.

Ellie and Ross

Ellie and Rob

Anthony, her ex, and Ellie had met in England at University. His mother was English and his father was Greek. They had met as spies during the war. He was now something very important in the government. And I was staying in their house. That night the family and friends took us swimming off the rocks and afterwards for dinner in the hills. And that is when my love affair with Greece began.

I recall piles of food coming out, Greek Salad, lamb chops, chicken and potatoes, retsina flowing and wondering how I would be able to afford this. The bill, once split came to about £1.cheers

The next day, Rob came and picked us up in the ancient VW. He had one other passenger, John, from New Zealand. We camped in Athens and went to the Wine Festival. Nursing hangovers from hell the next day we set off around the mainland, visiting The Acropolis, the Corinth Canal and Mycenae. For someone who had studied and loved Classical Studies this was a dream come true.

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One night we went to see The Trojan Women in a Greek Ampitheatre. I had studied the play at school and now I was watching it in Greek, in Greece.  Afterwards we went to a taverna that was full of young men who were in the army on on Naitonal Service. They kept sending wine to our table. We later set off to the beach to camp for the night. Someone decided we would have a disco in the van. We got sort of arrested, a long night at the police station ensued.  Only after a lot of waving of arms and shouting did Anthony and his sister mention who their father was. We were then allowed to leave. We were woken in the morning by the fishermen whose boats we had slept in.

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After a more peaceful nights camping we left the van and took the foot ferry over to Aegina and Spetes.Cafe Spetses

Rob then decided to go to Piraeus and see where we could go from there. By then we were all so laid back we had decided that we were only allowed to make three decisions a day between us. Cathy had decided to run of with a Greek man after Spetses, so it was just the five of us who decided to go to Crete.

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Again, how excited was I to be visiting Knossos.

Knossos

Knossos

Things I had read about at school, now I was actually there.

Campsite in Crete

Campsite in Crete

We camped here just outside Agios Nikolaos. When I returned to Crete in the 90′s all this had been built on. Five star hotels stealing the views.

But all things had to come to an end, and we had to say goodbye to Crete.

This was the last day, just outside Heraklion, making the most of the beach.

OMG was I that brown and thin?

OMG was I that brown and thin?

And waited in the shade for the ferry back to the mainland.

Snoozing

Snoozing

I am going back to Crete next week. The flight is booked and one night in Heraklion. Then it is off to the port, to get a ferry and make only three decisions a day. One will be to go to Santorini to keep the last promise I made to my mom. To reunite her with her friend the wind.

Travel Insurance and not so natural disasters

I renewed our annual travel insurance policy today.

As we went abroad three times and had three breaks in the UK in 2013 an annual policy makes financial sense to us.

This time I was offered ‘additional cover’ for unknown or unpredictable occurrences. I am sure that is not what the agent said, however that is what I heard.

I asked him, does that cover stuff like getting stranded in Majorca when a volcano erupts in Iceland.? Yes he said, that is what we usually give as an example. And being evacuated from an island in Fiji because of a cyclone? Er yes. And what if there is a civil uprising in the country you plan to visit and you can’t go? Um, yes. Ok then, I will take that extra cover as all of those have happened to us.

I am not sure he believed me. And I never told him about the two earthquakes in Turkey or nearly getting struck by lightening. Also inTurkey.

And still we got insurance cover.

Lots of reasons not to travel (see reasons not to travel). Many more to Go travelling while you can.

Melbourne – Yarraville and Williamstown by train boat and plane

One of our days out while in Melbourne was a trip to Yarraville and Williamstown. The people we were house and dog sitting for had driven us out there and we were quite taken by the quirkyness of these two suburbs so decided to revisit them.

Flinders StreetNot brave enough to drive there (Melbourne drivers are scary and there are Hook Turns to scare you even more) we jumped on the train at Flinders Street. Got totally confused and went round in a loop to get off at Southern Cross.The wedding party

Across the platform I captured this group of people, and guessed they were off to a wedding.

As we got off the train in Yarraville we saw this.Birmingham Street

Our home town in England is Birmingham. And how cute, they have this at the station. Something we need to have at all stations, I think.Kiss and Ride

We had a stroll around the area and were quite convinced we could live here. That said up until then we were pretty sure we wanted to live in St Kilda. Time seems to have stood still in Yarraville and I would think it is a popular suburb for young families and commuters. The Sun TheatreThe Sun Theatre opened in 1938. It is a beautiful building and another reason to live in Yarraville. They even used to have baby room, so you could leave you baby while you watched a film. Given my experiences where parents take children far to young to see some films (see A guide to cinema etiquette) I think we need to introduce a crèche in cinemas in England today.

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The railway goes right across th main street and I love these crossing so yes, going to share. The town goes at a slower pace than most of the other suburbs we visited in Melbourne. No one was in a rush to do anything.

No standing

We jumped back on the train to Williamstown and saw this. Tempted to sit down imediately, it was getting very hot by then.

Drinking fountain Williamstown

Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain 1875 Williamstown

This came in handy.

As did the ice cream.  There were so many to choose from. There were lots of ice cream shops in Williamstown.

We then decided that we may like to live in Williamstown. It had beaches and good places to eat, and we could commute like this.Sea Plane

Or like this.Wiliamstown Melbourne Ferry

 

With views like this.Melbourne skyline

We caught the ferry back and got chatting to a man on the boat who had moved from Sydney to Melbourne. After a long discussion about politics and advice as to where to get the best pies in Sydney, he then told us about the bridges we were travelling under. One not very pleasant story about this bridge (which I won’t share). 

And a funny story about this one.

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Apparently the concrete columns were put there to make people feel more confident using the bridge. Travelling on the bridge you would think they were supporting the bridge yet from the sea, you can see that they are not attached. Not my story his. Just telling it.

If you are going to Melbourne I would thoroughly recommend you visit both Yarraville and Williamstown. After the bustle and hustle of the busy city,mad drivers, trams and traffic jams, these are places to come to slow down and relax.

And get the ferry back as this is your welcome back to the city.

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We ended the day at the Young and Jackson, dining with Chloe and people watching from the window.

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I love Melbourne.