Take only photos, leave only footprints…

And fill your house with souvenirs?

I have never been one for buying holiday souvenirs. Even before I consciously made the Not Buying It choice, I don’t think I have ever brought much back from my travels. After 8 visits to Turkey I finally got aTurkish evil eye to protect my house last year, as I thought it may be my last visit to Dalyan.Evil Eye

Yet many years ago it seems that holiday souvenirs were important things to bring back. In just the way we all used to send postcards. Postcards are a novelty in this digital age, yet I still picked up the odd one or two when travelling, and having inherited a large box of postcards dating back to the 1930’s through to the 1970’s from my mother, sending postcards was the done thing pre internet days.

As I said, now they are a novelty, yet many of my very digitally engaged twitter friends make a big deal of sending them, as part of the digital detox when on holiday. Indeed I think I made rash promises to send some. I didn’t. And there is the 60 Postcards project that went viral, for all the right reasons. Not that I will be buying the book of course.

Often these souvenirs we picked up as a gift to family and friends, like this perhaps for granny?Weston-Super-Mare

I did collect badges in the 60’s and 70’s. Mom sewed them on my beanie hat.Badges

It was our way of saying ‘look where I have been’ in the same way that uploading the photos to Facebook or our blog does now.

And as I am making choices of what to keep and what to sell or give away, deciding what is tat, treasure, vintage or retro, I remember we have these.Japan

My husbands grandfather went to Japan in the 1920s and brought these home as a reminder of his time teaching English there. They are 90 years old. Definitely treasure then.

And because I am decluttering, and Not Buying It I try not to bring any many souvenirs back from my travels now. Tea towels from New Zealand for friends and family for two reasons.

They were easy to carry in the packs, and New Zealand make the prettiest and maybe the oddest but best quality tea towels ever.

These from Australia are pretty good too. The plan was to make them into cushion covers, but everyone who knows me, knows I can’t sew.Australia

On my last trip I took something very precious to Santorini. I had no plans to bring anything back apart from happy memories and a sense of closure.Oia Santorini

Of course there is a but! Yet I feel I can justify these two items unlike all the other souvenirs we have scattered around the house, these are useful and are not going to add to the mound of clutter. What are they?Tea

I just had to get this tea as it was the best tea I have had for a long time and when I drink it I am back at Villa Nectarios.Breakfast

And this shower gel. I love Korres products, they had a BOGOF offer on them.

Korres Santorini Shower Gel

And it reminds me of Santorini every day.

Santorini

What do you have that remind you of places you have visited?

 

You say tomato I say Greek Salad please!

I love Greek food, probably more than any food I have ever had anywhere. Perhaps it is because my first visit to Greece was the first time I had ever really found out what a tomato should could taste like.Tomatoes at Rethymnon market

English tomatoes never taste the same, however we do have a habit of storing them in the fridge and I was told, in St Kilda at a farmers market, that is the quick way to killing the flavour. And I think we also over water them here, I have watched Greeks just splash some water on their plants in the morning and that is it. And this is what they grow.

Of course, you never forget your first moussaka, do you.Moussaka

Although the one I had in Heraklion, or the stuffed vegetables that Phil and I ordered with it, didn’t forget us for a couple of days.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The only bout of food poisoning we had and not too severe, thank goodness. I will avoid Pantheon in Heraklion in future.

With raw ingredients like this it is really hard not to produce good food.

We had a Greek Salad with almost every meal. It is obligatory really. I hate olives but Phil loves them so they get pushed to his side of the plate. Yet I will pour a gallon of olive oil over the tomatoes then use the bread to soak up any excess.DSCN0840

Then there is souvlaki.This was my first meal in Santorini at Fanari, in Fira.Souvlaki

And meat balls. Phil chose these in Heraklion at Kastella and at Fanari.

Flavoured with a herb we could never quite put a name to. We were told it was mint but think it was this. Do you know what it it?SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Cant’t decide? Have a meze.Meze

This was the offer at Palazzo in Rethymnon. (It doesn’t get great reveiws here, yet we enjoyed our lunch).

Meat lover? A mixed grill to share?

Mega Mixed grillThis one from Byzantino in Plaka Athens was lovely, we spent 3 hours people watching while wading through it. We really struggled to eat later that night. Indeed we didn’t, just water and a coke for supper.

Deep fried courgettes.

Deep fried courgettesIf you are Heraklion these from Kastella overlooking the beach are to die for.

Really what is not to like? And if you only fancy a light snack there are plenty of shops and street vendors selling pasties and cakes.Greek pastry shop

And when you can’t eat any more, this comes out, with Raki, on the house.

PancakesOh, I will make room for that!

And if you stay at Nectarios Villas at Easter, you may get some of these.

 
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Do you love Greek food?

What is you favourite food in the world?

Not quite island hopping in Greece

But almost.

Santorini was always going to be the main destination for our week in Greece. Despite there being no direct flights from Birmingham to Santorini or to Athens, I knew that as a nation of sailors there would always be a ferry to catch. I thought we may get to visit a couple of other island in The Cyclades, but that was not to be. Yet, the Blue Star Delos that sails at 7.30 am each day from Piraeus to Santorini stops at Paros, Naxos and Ios, so at least I got to see these.

Greek Time

Greek Time

To get to Santroini we first had to get to Piraeus on the overnight Amek Lines Kretti 2. It sounds like a long way round, and it was, but in the end the arrangements suited our needs to always be on the move. I last did this sailing in 1979 and we slept on deck on towels. This time we were assigned couchette seats on the top deck, and thought they would be adequate as they were bigger than seats on a plane, but that was not to be.

Everyone, including the police, watched tv, smoked and talked all night. Instead we dozed on uncomfortable chairs in the bar area, along with most of the other passengers. The experienced travellers knew the best seats and spread out early on so they got somewhere semi comfortable to sleep. We did however have very good value food from the cafe (with the company of the bearded Mykonos FC) and waiter service at the bar. If I did this again I would probably look at upgrading to better seats.

We had 24 hours in Piraeus and Athens and visited The Acroplis and had lunch in Plaka. I would highly recommend that you base yourself in Piraeus especially if you have, like we did, a 7.30 am sailing the next day. It is easy to get to Athens on the train, we got a 4 Euro all day transport ticket, and Piraeus had lots to offer in the way of coffee shops and bakeries, and cheap accommodation.

Our next ferry was the Blue Star Delos.

Despite an early start this was a lovely relaxing mini cruise to The Cyclades. If the weather is kind there is plenty of seating on deck. It also has kennels with an dog exercise deck, a cafe selling fast food and a bar area. We had traditional spinach pies for €2.40 each, tea for €1.20 and a latte for €3.70. It was crowded and you need to board early to get decent seats, although there is the option of upgrading to numbered seats in quieter areas.

The best bit for me was pulling into the ports of Paros, Naxos and Ios. Then finally Santorini. Mom told that the best way to approach Santorini is by sea. She was right.

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I wanted to get off at all of them. Hopefully next year I will. I love the mad frenzy of passenger embarking and disembarking, the chaos of getting vehicles on and off the ferries in such a short time.

As we visited each island the numbers dwindled on the boat. When we had left Piraeus the passengers were about 60% locals returning home for Easter and 40% tourists. Most were American or Chinese. By the time we got to Santorini about 75% of those disembarking were Chinese. Speaking to our hosts in Santorini, they told us that in spring most of their guests were from China and from Russia in the summer. Most other tourists we met were American or Australian.

I really cannot recall meeting or hearing any other British people other than at the airport, or on our flight, in the week we were there. Not at Knossos, the Acropolis or on Santorini.

Have the English abandoned Greece? Or have they lost their sense of adventure and only visit Greece on package holidays?

If so, that is a shame as they really do not know what you are missing out on. It has been a few years since I was last in Greece, and while I have loved everywhere else I have been to, Greece is still like coming home for me. And I will be back. Soon.

When preparing to travel Part 3 (things I didn’t use)

I packed the lightest I could on the recent week trip to Greece. I used almost every item I took, except these. Things packed not usedDetails on how I packed and what I took were in these previous posts.

I didn’t use the swimsuit, sarong or shorts.

The extra t shirt was not needed either.

The Kindle, not used.  I had a paperback and that was all I needed. Annoyingly I left it at Birmingham Airport on the way home and I hadn’t finished it.

The Cag in a Bag, as it rained on our last day in Santorini, if I had not packed it away would have been quite useful. By the time the rain got really heavy we were back at the villa, so we only got damp, not wet.Ten minutes later the sun was out.

All beds were new and sheets clean so sleeping sack not needed.

Good quality towels were provide even in the cheapest 30 Euros a night room, travel towel not needed.

Would I pack all of these again? Yes. They were light and took up very little room and could have come in useful.

I am glad I had room for an extra, warm top. I wore one and packed a second. The evenings and mornings were chilly and the last day it rained and was quite cool.

I really could have taken less toiletries as all bar one room (the cheapest) provided shampoo and shower gel. All the rooms had towels and a hair dryer. This was not the Greece I was used to. They had decent showers and hot water too.

Greece has moved on from the days of showers over the toilet, thin towels and old mattresses on a concrete base. We paid from 42 to 60 Euros for a double room with breakfast, and that price did not always reflect the quality of the rooms. We didn’t check out hostels and having just seen this review of the Hostel in HerakIion I am pleased we didn’t.

I will be sharing details of where we stayed and the costs of our week in Greece in my next post.

 

Santorini, a final resting place for Mom

There is only one reason I went to Santorini. Mom had asked for her ashes to be left there. She first went there in the 80’s with her sister in law. Every summer Mom and Brenda went island hopping in Greece. She fell in love with Santorini. And so did I.

Oia

Oia Santorini

Windmill Santorini

Windmill Santorini

After just over a year since she passed away, I finally decided it was time to take Mom ‘home’. Just before she died she told me she wasn’t sure that she wanted ‘it’ to be Santorini. I think she was worried that it had changed from what she had remembered. And she had since travelled to so many other places she loved. Dalyan, Turkey being one.mom dalyan by the river

After she died, I was not sure where she really wanted to be, her partner and I thought Dalyan and my daughter suggested we took her to all the places she had travelled to. A lovely idea yet limited by money, I was not sure I could fit in Thailand, Egypt, Greece, Malta, Menorca,Turkey, Hong Kong, and goodness knows where else she had visited.

Approaching Santorini by sea

Approaching Santorini by sea

I had three overseas holidays last year and took a little bit of Mom to two of those destinations and one in the UK. I may have broken a Turkish law but I knew she loved it here.Dalyan

And I found the perfect place in Malta too.  I chose Marsaxlokk as it is a colourful village that hosts a lively Sunday market, and no one loved a good market better than my mom. Only after I had scattered her ashes I realised that the curtains hanging in a little house overlooking the spot where I left her are identical to the ones my mother had in her home.

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Mom had also been an actress and one of her very last proper outings was to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see The Tempest. I thought she may enjoy being here, in the shadow of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

In the shadow of The Royal shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

In the shadow of The Royal shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

As time went on, I knew I really needed closure and in my heart I knew I had to take her to Santorini.Oia Santorini

We could only get flights to Crete at this time of the year, yet I was pretty sure that we would be able to get to Santorini from there, by boat. As it was it turned out that the fast ferries were not running until 17 April and we flew home in the early hours of 18 April. At that point I was thinking I would only get a day trip to Santorini and have to spend the rest of the week on Crete.

I was not prepared to give up and with the help of a brilliant travel agent, Paleologos, in Heraklion, planned an itinerary that got us to Santorini on the 15 April via Piraeus. We would be leaving Santorini on the first fast ferry on the 17 April at 6pm, with plenty of time to get our flight at 1am on the 18th. Cutting it fine, and the Sea Cats don’t run if the weather is windy. Ah well I had taken out insurance and enhanced it to cover unexpected events, given our history of holiday almost disasters. If the weather made us stay longer in Greece, so be it.

It also meant that we would get an unexpected bonus of visiting The Acropolis in Athens.The Acropolis

Mom had made her first journey in Greece from Piraeus in 1980 when she travelled solo, flying to Athens and then getting a ferry to Rhodes. She loved Piraeus and the bustle of getting on and off ferries, so I was pretty sure she had had some influence on these plans. She was going to get her last bit of island hopping in before settling on Santorini.Santorini

A twitter friend recommended accommodation in Santorini. What a find! Affordable, comfortable and the owners, Katerina and Nectarios treated us like family rather than guests. And Katerina is a fantastic baker. We didn’t want to leave.Katerina

Santorini has an reputation for being expensive, and yes there are some places that are eye wateringly pricey, yet it is still possible to visit and enjoy Santorini on a modest budget.

We were based in Fira, the capital, but I had an inkling that it was Oia that Mom had stayed in, so we took the bus there with Mom in the back pack.

Oia is stunning. I had seen countless photographs and was worried that it would not live up to my expectations. It exceeded them. And I knew this is where Mom was meant to be.

We got away from the crowds and searched for the perfect place. And found it.

Mom wasn’t religious yet I thought being in front of a tiny church was appropriate.Church in Santorini

And this field of daisies just seemed to be the right place.Daisy field

This is the view.The final resting place

And I chose the right place, as after I had left her in her final resting place, although off the main drag where tourists gathered, everyone who passed the field stopped to admire them and the view. So she will get plenty of visitors. She would like that.Daisies

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.

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.

coral and rob

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.