Athens. Not pretty, but pretty awesome!

When we first decided to go to Athens, we hadn’t booked to go to Rome. Bear with me here! The appeal of Athens was the ancient history and the architecture. It would be somewhere quite different to other destinations we’ve visited.

Then we went to Rome for my 40th birthday and soaked up all the ancient history when we visited the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

We witnessed amazing architecture at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

And, all of a sudden, we were worried that Athens might be a little bit samey. Call me a heathen, if you like, but you can have too much of a good thing. Temple fatigue is a thing, as we found out on our trip to Penang in Malaysia. You stop appreciating the beauty and detail if you see too many too quickly. We didn’t want to not appreciate Athens.

We needn’t have worried. Athens is a great destination in its own right and there was plenty to fill our 2.5 days there.

After the initial not so good first impression, we woke up on the Sunday morning raring to explore.

Changing of the Guards at Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square is home to the Hellenic Parliament building, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is s guarded by two Evzone soldiers, and a changing of the guard ceremony happens every hour. Each Sunday morning at 11am there is also a much larger changing of the guards ceremony and procession. The road is closed and crowds gather to watch the spectacle.

Every step made by the Evzone guards is monitored by a military official who walks alongside them (you can see him below, in the blue beret). At first we thought he was there to keep the crowds back, but then we noticed him looking at the height and angle of their steps.

It’s worth getting there slightly early to grab a good spot, or do as I did and wheedle your way opportunistically through throngs of people. Seriously though, if you want to see the actual Changing of the Guard on the square rather than just the procession, get your shit together and don’t arrive at 10.55am like we did.

Hop On Hop Off bus tour

I’ve said it before, many times, if I’m on a city break and there’s a bus tour then I’m all over it. Such a good way to see the highlights of a city and choose when and where you want to spend more time. Most cities will have different bus operators vying for business. Where possible we usually go for the red City Sightseeing buses because we’ve used them on multiple occasions and always been happy. They’re reasonably priced and the commentary (available through provided earphones in multiple languages) is always good too. Athens was no exception; we paid 25 euros for a ticket which included one day free (48 hours from time of purchase) and both the city and beach routes. The city route covers the obvious tourist attractions, while the beach route takes you out to the Athenian Riviera for sea views and sandy stops. We chose to stay on for a full loop of the bus tour, to get our bearings, then hopped on and off later for places we wanted to revisit.

Plaka district and Roman Agora

Athens is split up into multiple different districts, which have their own characteristics. We were staying steps away from the Plaka and Monistiraki districts. Plaka is renowned for being picturesque with lots of restaurants and shops to browse. After completing the City sightseeing bus tour, which we started and ended in Syntagma Square, we wandered through Plaka. Here we stopped for pictures of the Agora, not bothering to go inside, with a view to heading back to Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of the Zeus which we’d seen on the bus tour.

We didn’t realise at the time that the Agora was included in the Rome Pass we later bought. That said, the pictures were pretty good from outside.

Then we had a Plaka pit stop for wine and ice cream (me) and beer and cheese pie (husband), before heading off on the next part of our sightseeing adventure.

Arch of Hadrian

One of the things I find crazy about cities like Rome and Athens is the history that just pops up in the middle of the city. Hadrian’s Arch is right by a busy junction of a main road, and it’s just there. There is no cost to view the attraction.

200 metres walk away is the entrance to the Temple of Zeus. This costs 6 euros (well worth it) or is part of the 30 euro city pass which is valid for 5 days and 7 attractions. Bearing in mind that entrance to the Acropolis is 20 euros, you only need to do 3 sites (including Acropolis) to make this worthwhile.

Temple of Zeus

This place blew me away. Maybe because it was my first time up and personal with Greek columns and ruins. Maybe because it was there I realised that columns are built in sections because we saw one that had fallen and disintegrated into its original pieces (who knew?) Maybe because I’m an excitable sausage who wants to see everything in the world. But it was fab. You know something is good when you take so many photos of the same thing. Here are a few.

Panathenaic Stadium

Because of the aforementioned excitable sausageness, and FOMO, I suggested we walk the “short distance” from the Temple of Zeus round to the Panathenaic Stadium. We’d passed it earlier in the day, on the open top bus tour, so I knew it wasn’t very far. Everything feels longer in 30 degree searing heat though! The Stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and is the only stadium in the world made of marble. Honestly though, it was a bit underwhelming. We didn’t bother to go in (it wasn’t included in our city pass and didn’t seem worthy of shelling out extra cash for). But at least I can say I’ve seen it!

The Acropolis

We’d decided to do the Acropolis on the second day, getting there early to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can walk up to it, but it’s on a hill and again it was scorching hot, so we used our hop on hop off bus ticket to go as far as we could. There was still a steep incline to the entrance, and the marble tiles were quite slippy underfoot.

I always thought the Acropolis was the temple on the hill. It wasn’t until we started researching that I realised the Acropolis is the hill itself; the area. The main large temple is the Parthenon. There is also the Temple of Athena and Erechthion on the same site, once you’ve passed through the grand columned entrance.

Because of its elevated position you can see the Acropolis from many areas of the city. Here it is seen from the Temple of Zeus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

This stone stepped theatre is built into the side of the Acropolis hill. It has been renovated in recent years and you can see modern lighting rigs and speakers as it’s used for concerts, but it’s still very impressive. You can’t walk into the attraction, it can only be seen from a viewing platform, but there is no cost and it’s well worth a stop. As with most of the ancient ruins we saw, the real amazement comes when you remember just how old they are, and how they were constructed without modern tools or machinery.

The Parthenon, Temple of Athena and Erechthion

The first thing I noticed as I walked towards the Parthenon was the proliferation of scaffolding. You don’t see that on tour operator pictures! There is an ongoing, lengthy and expensive restoration project going on to save the integrity of the building. Some of the columns are weak and damaged. Previous restoration work in the mid 20th century, actually made the situation worse. Parts of the area, therefore, are quite the building site, with loud and noisy drills and work people, plus temporary project office buildings dotted around. And the site was crawling with visitors – I can’t imagine how busy it must be in high season. It was this part of our trip that contributed in some way to my previous rant about tourists. Such an amazing piece of architecture and history, yet for some people just a backdrop for their own photoshoot. Infuriating.

Also on the site are the Temple of Athena and the Erecthieon, both dating back to around 400 B.C. and of course the views across the city are pretty great too!

Hop on hop off bus tour – beach route

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the red Citysightseeing bus operates two tours – the city one which we’d done on Sunday, and the beach one which cost just an extra 5 euros. For a change of pace we took the beach tour on Monday afternoon. There wasn’t lots to see, it’s more useful if you actually want to get off at one of the multiple beaches, but with the route only running every hour we decided to just do a loop for some sea air and sea views, before heading back to the city for a late lunch.

Ancient Agora and The Temple of Hephaestus

Not to be confused with the earlier mentioned Roman Agora, which was built later, the Ancient Agora is a vast area which would have been a central point within Ancient Greece. Municipal buildings, commercial and residential dwellings would have sat alongside each other. There are excavated drainage channels, statues and pots.

The most impressive structure inside the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus; which remains largely as built. It’s incredibly well-preserved because it was in use from the 7th century until 1894, although building started in the mid 400 BC years. Again such craftsmanship and accuracy for the time is hard to fathom, and today it sits in the middle of a more modern Athens which has grown around it. Amazing.

Also in the Agora is the Church of the Holy Apostles, which can be dated back to the 10th century.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

On our last morning, before heading off to the airport, I went into the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, which was right opposite our hotel. Although it looks quite new, construction started in 1842 and finished in 1862 (which is new, by Ancient Greek standards!) While the outside is fairly minimal in sleek white marble, inside is quite opulent, with beautiful painted domes.

So why isn’t Athens pretty?

I said this in the title of this post, and feel it deserves more explanation. There are parts of Athens that are picturesque, and certainly lots to see. But overall, as a city, it’s not beautiful. The effects of the financial problems can be seen in many areas of the city, with shops closed down and shutters vandalised. The contrast was clear looking out from our hotel – directly in front was the Acropolis, to the right was the Metropolitan Cathedral, but the left was a building which, at one point, would have been beautiful, but now looks burnt out, abandoned, and covered in parts in safety netting.

By saying Athens isn’t pretty I’m not detracting from it in anyway. It’s a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend it. Just don’t expect the pretty architecture of Prague, or the refined elegance of Nice, for example. But if you like ancient history, ancient ruins and good food, then it’s definitely up your street!

Have you ever been to Athens? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!

Skulls aren’t just for Halloween!

Skulls are an integral part of Halloween decorations. Of course pumpkins are the main feature associated with Halloween, but with the date being celebrated with horror and gore, dead bodies and bones are also part and parcel of many films, parties and dsplays.

We don’t decorate our home for Halloween anymore. We used to, in the early days of living in the flat. We’d have small Halloween parties which would usually end in absolute carnage, and I used to love buying fake cobwebs, spiders, skeletons and the like.

I’d hoped, when we moved to our house, that we’d get Trick or Treaters. But we’re tucked away in a hidden corner of a quiet cul de sac with no passing traffic, so my dream of doling out sweets to cute little kids was not to be!

Because of that, and the fact we no longer have parties (I don’t think our livers could take it!) I don’t bother with decorating the house for Halloween anymore. I don’t even bother with pumpkins – they’re just so messy.

I do sometimes cook something Halloween themed – you can see my recipe for eyeball meatballs here.

But skulls, on the other hand, are part of our every day decor! The husband loves skull imagery; it’s very prevalent on the rock scene, and the biking scene too. He has loads of t-shirts with skulls on, mugs, hoodies and jewellery.

Here’s a couple of examples that are in our house all day every day – not just for Halloween!

This skull print was a gift the husband received for Christmas last year. It sits perfectly on his record player cabinet, and conveniently hides the door to the meter cupboard too!

Outside, another of the husband’s gifts, this time from his birthday. This isn’t really a threat to anyone, as it’s on the inside fence of our back garden. We can see it from the lounge and it always makes me smile!

The latest addition is this glass skull from Homesense. It’s hollow with a sprayed enamel finish and I bought it with the intention of filling it with fairy lights and using it as a lamp. It doesn’t throw out a lot of light due to the enamel coating, but it does look very cool! We haven’t found a permanent home for it yet, but it will definitely be around all year through.

I know we have other stuff that we still haven’t unpacked from the move, including skull ornaments and a Salvador Dali print. It’s fair to say it’s a metaphorical and literal pattern in our home!

Do you have any particular themes in your home? Or keep occasion decorations up year round? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

People with cancer do not “lose the battle”

Female hands holding a peach rose, with text the cancer "battle"

Last night, as we settled into bed, we saw the terribly sad news that a friend of ours had passed away. Chris had cancer. He died because of cancer.

But cancer did not beat Chris, and he didn’t lose the battle.

Sure, it’s only terminology, just words. But for the people left behind, experiencing the death and pain and emptiness, it’s important. At least it was to me, when my Dad died. I hate that anyone might think my Dad “lost”. That he didn’t fight hard enough, or long enough.

I feel the same now, talking about Chris.

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GIG REVIEW: The Lovely Eggs in Birmingham

The Lovely Eggs on stage with text "GIG REVIEW: The Lovely Eggs"

I hadn’t even heard of The Lovely Eggs before about March this year. As with pretty much all of my musical discoveries, I was introduced to them by the husband. Not in a “he controls what I listen to” kind of way. Just that I’m not that musically minded and don’t actively choose to listen to stuff.

This is Eggland

Anyway, The Lovely Eggs. With tunes like “Dickhead” and “Would You Fuck!” on their latest album – This is Eggland – they’re probably not the most singalong family friendly band, but they are bloody great! A husband and wife duo, they make a hell of a lot of noise for just two people. Last time they played in Birmingham earlier this year, we didn’t go because it was a mid week gig. This time around, last week, was also mid week. But with me not yet rejoining the realms of employment and a few more months of listening to the album under our belts, we decided to head along.

It was a great decision! They’re every bit as good live as listening to the record, and they like to have a chat and banter with the audience in between songs too. Singer Holly veers between venomous vitriol and fairy tale sing-songyness in her delivery. Her Northern accent shines through and adds to the anthemic vine of songs like “I Shouldn’t Have Said That”, while “Wiggy Giggy” has a mind bending psychedelic repetitiveness that has been stuck in my head ever since.

Their don’t give a fuck attitude shines through and you can tell they’re doing it their way, and for the love of the music. They’re not in it for the adoration or pretention, and they actively don’t do fake encores to please the crowd.

How would I describe The Lovely Eggs? A bit punky, a bit alternative, a bit indie, very real and a lot of fun!

 

5 top tips for successful job hunting

Job hunting: Table and chair with laptop, mouse and a pair of glasses

I’ve been planning to share my job hunting tips for a while, but as I was still sans job it seemed ridiculous to be doling out advice!

The good news for me for the husband is that, 2.5 months since the end of my previous job, I now have a new one. All together now, hurrah! The timing is fantastic, because my redundancy payout is looking less healthy than it did, and with the colder weather coming I was dreading our heating bill with me being at home all day.

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The reason I hardly ever shave my legs

Pink razor. Text: ShavingShaving your legs is a ballache, amiright? Whether you’re in the bath and trying to reach down to your ankles, or in the shower and balancing on one leg whilst resting the other on something to stop you falling over, it’s just awkward. Shaving cream everywhere, stray hairs in bath water, shower water washing off shaving foam before you’ve begun.

Annoying.

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Let’s talk about tourists

We’re all tourists in some shape or form. If you’ve ever visited anywhere outside of where you live, with the intention of seeing a place or an attraction, then you’re a tourist. I know this information hurts hardened travellers – you know, people who have given up their homes and jobs to spend their life savings on a round the world trip; living on dried noodles and sleeping in mud huts with holes in the roof* But it’s true.

Whether it’s a day trip, a week in an all inclusive hotel or living nomadically from country to country, we’re all tourists.

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5 top tips for dealing with job loss

Cup of coffeee, notebook and pen on wooden desk. Text: "dealing with job loss"

If you lose your job it’s easy to panic.

Then think “why me?”

Then go into mental freefall about how you’ll end up eating dust and wearing rags for the rest of your life.

(just me?)

But job loss is rarely the end of the world. As a great believer in fate (it means I don’t have to take responsibility for myself), there are ways to approach the situation that will hopefully help you to deal with it and feel much more positive.

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First (Greece) impressions don’t always count

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (if not, why not?!) you’ll know I’ve recently returned from a 10 day trip to Greece.

This was split into two parts; 3 nights in Athens on mainland Greece, and 7 nights on the island of Santorini. It had been in the planning, technically, for 13 years; the Santorini part, at least, since we first got together. I included it on a travel bucket list a couple of years back. The Athens part was an add on – a “makes sense to do it while we’re in the area”, if you will. .

Oh, and it was also our 10th wedding anniversary trip. No pressure then!

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