You get what you pay for, don’t you? Budgeting for island hopping in Greece

I have just tallied up the costs of the recent trip to Greece. It seems that the quote I used in previous blogs is very true.

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

I did well with the clothes, I think. Did I take half as much as usual? Possibly not? Yet I cut back on all the other bits that others deem to be absolutely essential. I didn’t take a hair brush, for example or loads of toiletries and make up. Two pairs of shoes, trainers to wear while travelling and and sandals for the day time were all I needed. And I packed really efficiently.

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I also think I got a good deal with the flights, when the price dropped by £40 per person. What I couldn’t plan for was the cost of the ferries. I also had no idea how much food and accommodation would cost for the week. so yes, there were a lot of variables to contend with, which is where the second half of the quotation, resonates. We really did need twice as much money.

Here is the breakdown, costs for two adults. Flights and other UK costs are in Sterling and everything else in Greece is in Euros.

Travel

Flights  £   175.38
Taxes  £     62.58
Baggage  £     96.00
Ferries Heraklion to Piraeus (overnight deck class) €         58.00
Piraeus to Santorini  €         75.00
Santorini to Heraklion (Flying Cat)  €      112.00

Our orignal plan was to go to Santorini from Crete and maybe island hop. As the Flying Cats were not operational until the 17 April we changed our plans, which I wrote about here.Delos, or ferry form Piraeus to Santorini

As it was we had a bonus day in Athens and the costs of the ferries were about the same as if we had got a return Flying Cat to Santorini. They did however take up a huge chunk of our budget.the Flying Cat from Santorini to HeraklionWe opted for Bed and Breakfast at all our accommodation. I think that this was money well spent, although in Piraeus there were lots of cheap coffee shops and bakeries to get a breakfast, yet as our ferry was at 7.30 am we took advantage of the 6 Euro supplement at our cheap 30 Euro per night hotel for a breakfast from 6am including a shuttle to the ferry.

Accomodation

 Hotel  per night  B&B
Kastro  €     45.00  €     45.00
Kronos  €     60.00  €   120.00
Argo  €     42.00  €     42.00
Nectarios  €     52.00  €   104.00

 

The cost of the Kronos Hotel on the Friday and Saturday in Heraklion reflects that it was the weekend running up to Easter. This was the most expensive accomodation we stayed in. We were not going to consider the Youth Hostel in Heraklion as it had such dreadful reviews.

Anita Argo in Piraeus at 30 euro without breakfast was the cheapest and had the smallest bathroom and no view. We were offered an upgrade at 10 Euro but as we were only there one night, with an early start, we just wanted a clean room to sleep in.

Nectarios Villa was the star accommodation. We paid extra as we had an apartment, a double room was c 45 Euros with breakfast but they were all booked. We would not hesitate to stay here again. Santorini has a reputation for being expensive yet this accommodation was well priced. And so welcoming.

All the places we stayed in were clean, with hairdryers and good showers. The Greeks must be the friendliest people on the planet, all the staff in all the hotels were helpful and genuinely lovely people. Even the man at Argo who was pretty grumpy at 8 am when we wanted to check in early, after a poor nights sleep on the overnight ferry, was lovely a bit later in the day (perhaps he just needed caffeine).

Food

Many years ago Greece was somewhere you could get food very cheaply. Not so much now. As a guide a beer was between 3 and 5 Euro, a Greek salad between 4 and 5 Euro and a main course  about 8 Euro. Some places were cheaper others more expensive.

Portions were generous and we could have saved money by having a salad at lunch time. We didn’t of course. The food was too good to miss. The only bad meals we had were in the centre of Heraklion. Corner Cafe Club SandwichRubbish Club sandwiches with horrid fries right in the middle of a fashionable square where all the students hung out and food poisoning from a back street taverna. Pantheon, that looked like the place locals would hang out.

It was deserted when every where else was packed and we really should have known better.

Kastella,  on the sea front we ate at twice, was very, very good and we regret not just sticking with it.

Food €   252.10

Drink  €   139.10

We averaged 36 Euros a day on food and we ate very well for that. We only had beer or soft drinks, wine would have cost more.

The absolute bargains of this trip however were visits to Knossos at 6 Euros and The Acropolis at 12 Euros. How can you miss these?

Have you been to Greece? Where would you recommend we visit next?

 

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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?

 

 

 

Melbourne for Free Part 2

We found Australia a very expensive country to visit. I posted while we were in Melbourne on our quest to find things that were free in Melbourne, here. We were house and dog sitting in Melbourne so our accommodation was free which saved us lots of money. Food and the cost of transport using Myki (think Oyster but complicated and expensive) really took a chunk out of our budget. We wanted to make the most of our time there, yet we needed to find free things to do and see. Fortunately my old uni friend, whose house and dogs we ‘sat’ for a month in Melbourne advised us to bring our National Trust card with us as we could use it in Australia.

And this is where we visited.

The Old Melbourne Gaol

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This would have normally cost $25 per adult if not for our trusty National Trust Card.

To visit the Gaol you need to book a timed tour. This is no ordinary tour as there is a lot of role play. We were taken into the police station, assigned names and had our charges read out to us. The police officer then accompanies you to the cells and divided up the men and women and then locked us up in separate cells. Even though you knew it was  all part of the ‘experience’ and fully participated in this, it was still very unnerving. I was glad to hear the key turning in the lock to set us free.

The most famous prisoner here was Ned Kelly who was hanged there in 1880. After the tour you are able to explore the rest of the gaol, and learn more about some of the prisoners held there. There are some very sad stories. While highly recommended, a visit to the Gaol comes with a health warning; you will probably leave with low spirits. I recommend that you line something up afterwards that is outside and cheers you up such as …

Polly Woodside

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As you enter the visitor centre you are assigned a role and then treated accordingly on the guided tour. We were the only ones on our tour, the upside was we got the guide to ourselves, the downside was that some of the role play was impossible with only two of us. This wasn’t the only time when visiting attractions that we had a guide to ourselves visiting Melbourne attractions. The Polly Woodside was built in Belfast and was sold to the National Trust for one cent in 1968. Great for families, children, big kids and history buffs alike. A good place to visit after the Gaol as it is in the open air and fun, and you can purchase a combined ticket with the Gaol for $30.

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Once more this is by guided tour only and according tp the web site:-

Como is not open to walk up visitors in the short term however, the site will continue to be available for bookings covering group tours of 10 or more people (a minimum of 20 people on weekends), as well as events and private functions.

We were lucky as we turned up on spec and joined the a small guided tour of just four. The house and gardens are beautiful, a real insight to how the privileged lifestyles of the rich. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, it is a shame that they have limited opening now.

Rippon Lea House and Garden

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Our tour guide informed us that the family that built this house had made its fortune in Manchester. As there were only two of us on the tour (do you see a pattern emerging here?) I gently pointed out that most, if not all Brits, would think she was talking about the city in England. The guide was surprised to learn that it is only in Australia and New Zealand that bed linen and towels are referred to as ‘manchester’.

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Once we had cleared that little misunderstanding up, she went on to tell us that this house, amongst others mentioned in this post, had recently been used as a film set for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Labassa

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Labassa was closed when we visited. It was within walking distance of where we were staying, and is surrounded by residential properties.We did manage to get a few photos of the interiors. Stunning house and disappointed that we were unable to go inside.

Use them or lose them Melbourne folks

What struck me was how few visitors most of these really interesting places were getting. By far the most popular was Melbourne Old Gaol. At most of the other places we were often the only ones there. Why is this? Was it the time of year, mid December, just before the school holidays? Do visitors to the area not know or are not interested in this part of Australian history? In the UK most National Trust properties are full of visitors. There has to be timed entrances due to the volume of visitors. Yet these beautiful properties are struggling to remain open due to lack of visits.

The guides at Como and Rippon Lea were baffled, as to why people from England were interested in these houses, when we had much older and grander properties to visit in the UK. We explained that we knew very little about the history of Australia, I frankly had no idea that we would find properties to visit like this. My limited knowledge of Australia was that it was hot, had kangaroos, spiders that would kill me and sharks that would kill me. And what I had seen in Neighbours and Home and Away. I thought everyone would have swimming pools and that most people living there were descendents of criminals or £10 Poms. OK I may be over exaggerating just a bit, yet Australia was full of surprises for me, (rain, cold, bad tv, heritage properties) despite reading Down Under by Bill Bryson who writes:

‘It was as if I had privately discovered life on another planet, or a parallel universe where life was at once recognizably similar but entirely different. I can’t tell you how exciting it was. Insofar as I had accumulated my expectations of Australia at all in the intervening years, I had thought of it as a kind of alternative southern California, a place of constant sunshine and the cheerful vapidity of a beach lifestyle, but with a slightly British bent – a sort of Baywatch with cricket . . . ‘

Yes, he loves Australia as much as I do. The rich culture, the amazing food, the skyscrapers in the CBD and these beautiful properties to visit, all knocked me for six. I cannot wait to get back there and spend some more time in this beautiful country.

Have you been to or live in Melbourne? What would you recommend to a visitor?

And if you live in or are visiting Victoria, go visit these properties, while you can.

California Dreaming – San Francisco

I left my heart in San Francisco.

I left my heart in San Francisco

I left my heart in San Francisco

San Francisco was the first place I visited on the Round the World trip with my husband in 2011. We just fell in love and didn’t want to leave.

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We loved the trams.

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We loved the cars. The San Remo Hotel had its own special car that it sometimes uses to meet people from the airport.

Then there is Lombard Street.

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The quirky San Francisco.

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The darker side of Alcatraz. I would recommend you go as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

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And the food, oh the food.

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The Golden Gate. Yes the weather is that changeable. Hot and sunny one day and cold and misty the next. And they say Melbourne has four seasons in one day.

The food did I mention the food.

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And naan and curry to make us feel at home. San Francisco. I love you.

Day time at the museum

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Museums are stuffy places, right? Dusty relics behind glass cases, boring, dull, unless you are a science geek.

Not Melbourne Museum

The building is controversial, a very modern contrast to the Royal Exhibition Building next door. As a lover of Victorian architecture, I can see why one is more pleasing to the eye, just a stroll around it in its beautiful setting, surrounded by parkland and fountains is uplifting. What a great place to escape to from the office at lunch time, with a picnic.

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However if you have a few hours to spare, preferably a day, a visit to the Melbourne Museum is a great way to spend a rainy day, or even a blistering hot one when you need to find somewhere cool. And this place is cool, in so many ways.

We joined a free guided tour, once more led by a volunteer, that lasted an hour. This is more of an orientation tour, that points out the highlights. I would highly recommend you join one if you can, as this museum is huge and has so much to see and do.

As has been the case so often in Melbourne, we were part of a small select group of four. I can only presume that the demand rises during the holiday period. Early December, you pretty much get personal tours. Fine by me.

So what’s to see and do? The short version.

There’s Phar Lap, a famous racehorse, a very popular exhibit. Lots of bugs and spiders, real ones, including tarantulas seized by customs and excise.

I was moved to tears to hear and read about the removal of Aboriginal children from their families in order to ‘civilise’ them. I guess this is acknowledged here as is their cultural heritage. Bunjilaka Koori Voices

And the technology would entertain the most determinedly bored child who hates museums. Interactive screens like giant iPads that enable you to discover more about the exhibits, the 3D experience and the lifelike dinosaurs that react to human movement amused us for hours!

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And there are models of dinosaurs. Yes, those are antlers. Well it is nearly Christmas.

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So if you are in Melbourne, this is a must see! Well worth the ten dollars. If you are a local, buy an annual pass, you won’t regret it. If you spend a day, bring a picnic as there is an outdoor terrace, and frankly the food in the cafe wasn’t very enticing in my opinion. Or have an early lunch in Carlton Gardens, join a tour, then spend the rest of the day exploring the museum. It’s not pretty from the outside. With the Imax theatre tacked on, at an angle, it is all very modern and a little bit ugly. However, put aside all this and cross the threshold. This is a building designed to showcase what’s inside. And it does it very well indeed. Oh, and you can follow them on twitter @melbournemuseum

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Skipping Christmas

Skipping Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

Some of you may have watched the film Christmas with the Kranks, which is what the suits in Hollywood decided to call the film based on the book, by John Grisham Skipping Christmas

Because Phil and I will be in Melbourne for Christmas we are to some extent also skipping Christmas. We are not buying each other presents. We plan to go to the beach with the dogs on Christmas day and have lunch at the cafe in St Kilda we have been volunteering for, Lentil as Anything but in the evening we will have a special dinner with produce from the Slow Food market at Abbotsford Convent with sparking Shiraz, which apparently is the Aussie wine of choice at Christmas. I will also serve it slightly chilled!

Both our kids will be spending Christmas with the parents of their significant others. This has been the toughest thing for me. It will be the day I will miss them most, but I know that they will be looked after and have a great time. Next year guys, it’s back to our house, ok?

However, I haven’t gone completely Bah Humbug. Melbourne is all dressed up, and this is what I saw today from Chloe’s tapas bar. Who is Chloe? Scroll down to see!

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Even the trams are festive.

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Each evening there are projections on the State Library featuring scenes from The Nutcracker

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Meet Chloe.

So, we are not really Skipping Christmas, just doing it differently, spending less money and still having fun!

Books are the plane, and the train, and the journey.

Today I visited the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. It is stunning. We joined the guided tour of the dome. Again, like so many of the free things to do in this beautiful city it was just us and the guide.

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In recent years, Victoria invested a substantial sum of money to refurbish the beautiful building. Money well spent.

The quote is one of the many on the walls of the La Trobe reading room which is beautifully furnished, and is one of the quiet reading rooms.

Not that any of them are noisy as such, just full of people and life and free wifi and a chess room! And Ned Kellys’s armour.

Its archives include comic books

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Cartoons

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It holds over 1.5 million books too.

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I’m glad it was part of my journey.

Melbourne for free

As part of our round the world trip, we are house and dog sitting in Melbourne. After being on the road for a month and a bit, having a comfortable bed, our own shower room and a kitchen is fantastic. Beats a camper van, hands down.

We are very lucky to have essentially free accommodation for six weeks, which is a bonus. Another bonus is we get to live like Melburnians not tourists. Well mostly!

Other bits of this trip are going to take serious chunks out of our travel budget, so we are more than happy to look after a house and the dogs and be able to explore this great city, which is consistently voted one of the best place to live in the world.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was how big the place is. And that it’s divided up into mini towns, all so very different. And the traffic and mad drivers. So we are mostly using the public transport system.

To get our bearings we took the FREE city tram, which runs around the CBD. This is a hop on, hop off ride, with a recorded guide to what you can do and see at each stop.

A couple of weeks later we hopped on the FREE city bus, that does a bigger tour of Melbourne.

20111210-180138.jpg There is also a recorded commentary, but our driver also added snippets of his own which was brilliant, such as this is where my grandad got married. Random, but fun.

We have yet to join a FREE guided walk, courtesy of one of the information centres volunteers. Melbourne certainly knows how to utilise volunteers in the culture and tourism industry. They have volunteer guides around the city with maps and other information, volunteers at the Royal Botanic Gardens and you can join a volunteer guide at the NGV to learn more about the art collections on show. Also FREE.

And when we are all cultured out and need to escape the heat we can get the FREE shuttle bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre we haven’t been yet, I suspect it is like Merry Hill or the Bull Ring, but bigger.

As National Trust members we also get FREE entrance to the Polly Woodside and The Old Melbourne Gaol The Polly Woodside was good fun, especially as there was only us two on the FREE guided tour. Phil got above himself, as second mate! When we visit the gaol I will ensure he is punished!

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There are a few other places we will be using our National Trust membership to visit. And while we pay for membership, these visits are not technically free. However, my view is that my membership is a charitable donation and visiting the properties is a privilege.

Free transport, free accommodation, free guided tours, free entrance to attractions, so all we need now is to eat for free……..