Month: July 2016

5 more destinations on my travel hitlist

A while ago I posted the top 5 places on my travel bucket list. But there’s nothing like coming back from a trip to make you think about all the other places you really want to go to!

I’ve realised I was way too optimistic in keeping it to just 5, so I’m going to do a part deux, in order to give myself more things to tick off (or, stress myself even more with regards to too many places, not enough time and money!)

Lisbon
It looks so quaint, with it’s winding streets and old fashioned street trams (I’m a sucker for a tram). I’ve never been to Portugal as it’s never really appealed for a beach holiday, but city-wise it has a lot to offer me. I also want to go to Porto which is full of bright coloured houses. It’s possible to do both in one trip, travelling by train in between.

 Lisbon

Tokyo
Wow. Tokyo just looks amazing. So bright, so busy, so frantic. I think it would be like nowhere else I’ve ever been and probably quite exhausting, but a total experience and feast for the eyes. Again it would be good to combine with more of Japan, like Osaka, and the connecting journey by bullet train would be a bucket list experience in itself.

Tokyo

Athens
The history! The architecture! It’s in Greece! (I love Greece!) I’ve looked into it and it’s feasible to add onto a trip to Santorini – fly into Athens from the UK, across to Santorini and then back to the UK. So hopefully, when we finally get around to going to Santorini, we can do Athens as well.

Athens

Krakow
I’ve never been to Poland but it looks fab. I always imagine it as a winter city break, wandering round all wrapped up and eating stodgy Eastern European food, but apparently it’s beautiful all year round. Warsaw is also on my list. It never used to be, as I imagined it to be very Eastern Bloc and grey, but a work colleague went a couple of years ago and said it was very beautiful.

Krakow

America
OK, so this is a huge cop out as I’m naming a country rather than a place! But it’s my blog and I make the rules! So much of America still to see. New York. The Deep South. Nashville. Dallas. Back to San Francisco to see more of it. So many possibilities. Next time we head over there I think we’ll make the most of the flight (both time and cost) and do a couple of places in one visit. Internal flights in the US are so cheap that it makes absolute sense.

America

So much of the world to explore…

What’s on your list?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

5 things that are totally the norm in Greece…

…but would blow your mind in the UK!

Greek flag

 

I know (and love) how part of going away to other countries is adapting to new cultures and seeing how other people live. Some things that happen overseas, that seem completely normal in situ, are actually totally bonkers when you transfer the concept to UK life.

  1. Not flushing toilet paper down the loo
    If you’ve never been to Greece I can imagine this one coming as something of a surprise. Basically the sewage pipes aren’t big enough to cope with…er…bodily waste and paper, so standard practice is to put your loo roll in the bin. Whatever you’ve done with it. Pretty gross, but it strangely becomes the norm!
  2. Shower cubicles
    Shower areas  in Greek holiday apartments can range from a tiny shower tray with a flimsy curtain to a drain in the ground and no shower screen. Shower holders are unusual so it’s a balancing act between stopping the shower hose from spraying everywhere while you lather shampoo in your hair.
  3. Wine – price, service and glass size
    Local wine is ridiculously cheap in Greece. We paid as little as 3 euros for half a litre (that’s about £2.50 for the equivalent of two large glasses in a pub in the UK – I was in my element). It’s served in a jug; sometimes glass, but sometimes a bashed up tin one like you used to get water from in the school canteen! Wine glasses are tiny tumblers. Which means you end up feeling incredibly naughty / like a hero because you’ve had 8 glasses of wine with dinner.Wine in a metal jug
  4. Free stuff
    From free crisps and nibbles with every drinks order, to water melon or dessert after a meal, to another jug of wine or an after dinner spirit, the generosity of Greek restaurateurs knows no bounds! And who doesn’t like free stuff?Free watermelon
  5. Cats wandering around restaurant tables
    There’s many hashtags on instagram dedicated to Greek cats as they are a prevalent feature of the mainland and the islands. They wander freely around the streets, on the beach and in restaurants, lingering by tables for scraps from tourists who can’t resist their cuteness. These pics are actual cats in actual restaurants from my recent holiday in Finikounda. The little ginger guy climbed up the table to steal our bar snacks!

It’s all part of the charm of the country. In case I haven’t mentioned it in previous posts, I love Greece!

Let me know if you’ve been, would like to go, would hate to go – tell me your Greece thoughts 🙂

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A week in Greece

I’ve finally just about emerged from the fuzzy fug surrounding my week in Finikounda and the inevitable readjustment to real life so I thought I’d tell you all about it.

If you read my last “first of the month” post, you’ll know that I love Greece.

If you didn’t read it, here’s a précis. I love Greece. The people, the pace of life, the food, the climate. All of it. It’s probably my holiday destination of choice for a summer break.

This time we chose a new (to us) destination; a small Greek village on the Messinian Peninsula called Finikounda. We chose it knowing it was tiny, with one supermarket, one cash machine and a handful of restaurants. We chose it knowing that there were no loud bars or crazy watersports. We chose it knowing that the village is little more than one main street with a few shops and the demographic is largely Greek families holidaying and older people relaxing. And we loved it for all of those reasons.

We stayed at a relatively new aparthotel called Tsokas Hotel which was about 5 minutes walk from the beach. Unusually for Greek accommodation it was very modern; with large open plan bedrooms fully stocked with a small kitchenette, air conditioning, a power shower and a large balcony. With only 15 apartments overall the feeling was intimate and relaxed, with no fighting for sunbeds or noisy guests. The hotel has a lovely kidney shaped pool which was a godsend in the incredibly hot weather (it was 35 degrees wen we arrived on Sunday lunchtime) and by late afternoon it was like dipping into cool bath water. Bliss.

So, what did we do? Pretty much nothing! We I had hoped to go and visit a nearby town with venetian castle ruins, but in truth it was so ruddy hot that that the thought of doing full on sightseeing was too much to bear! So we settled into a delightful routine of breakfast in the apartment, lounge by the pool, walk to the village for lunch, an afternoon nap for me, a spot more sunbathing and then dinner in a different restaurant in the village. It was the perfect antithesis to the real world and, because every day was something of a mirror image, the time lapsed slowly in a delightful blur of nothingness – a feeling of complete escapism where the only thing that mattered was what to eat for dinner and whether to have a quarter or half litre of wine at lunch. We weren’t back at the hotel later than 11pm any night, and were fast asleep by midnight at the latest!

If you follow me on instagram you’ll have already seen a lot of these pictures, but in case you don’t (you should, by the way!) and also to indulge myself and relive the delightful memories, here are some snaps from our week.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat! There’s something quite comforting in knowing you have a destination in your travel bag that you can 100% rely on when you need a certain kind of holiday. Plus there are still all the things and places that we didn’t manage to visit last week to bring a different dimension to the trip when we go again.

Do you have a favourite country to holiday?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

What happened to my carrier pigeon?

Lovely people, I specifically asked for a carrier pigeon to be sent to Greece if the world went tits whilst I was away.

It never arrived.

Carrier pigeon

What an awful week of political stupidity (BoJo as Foreign Secretary?? Really??) which paled into insignificance when followed by the atrocities in France and Turkey. The Nice attacks were especially close to home, as we spent a long weekend there last May soaking up the beauty of the city, the cuisine, and the people. We walked along the very Promenade des Anglais that was home to so many pointless deaths and have been talking about returning ever since. To attack innocent civilians enjoying themselves and celebrating the freedom and success of their country is the ultimate in distaste and cowardice, and almost incomprehensible. To lose your life in the pursuit of happiness is so unseemly, so unjust, and so many other “uns” I lack the articulation to, well, articulate.

Anyway. I’m back from Greece. Beautiful beautiful Greece, with it’s own economic and political problems, yet a feeling of safety and solitude. A stunning landscape, friendly welcoming people and a wonderful climate means, for me, it’s impossible not to have a total escape-from-it-all break of amazing proportions. A new corner explored and duly loved; with promises to ourselves to return and soak up more of the inimitable atmosphere.

Maybe you’ve seen some of my instagram pics, but there’ll be a blog post, obvs. I can’t express my love for the county enough; especially at a time when more and more of the world is becoming dangerous. Greece, you may be skint in the eyes of the EU, but I’m happy to continue to pump my wages into you by way of food and drink consumption!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Leaving on a jet plane…

…don’t know when I’ll be back again…

FB_IMG_1468181632941

Actually that’s not true, I’ll be back next Sunday!

By the time you read this I’ll be in fabulous Greece for a (hopefully) fabulous week of relaxation. I can’t wait to eat Greek food, soak up the sunshine and chill out with the husband.

I wish you all a good week, whatever you’re up to, and fingers crossed the country doesn’t descend into any further chaos while I’m gone! (although if it does, send a carrier pigeon to let me know and I won’t bother coming back!)

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Simple summer sides

Since we’ve had our electric barbecue / outdoor grill we’ve been cooking outside as much as possible; steak, chicken, sausages, even griddled vegetables (yum!)

As part of the appeal is actually being outside, any accompaniments need to be quick and easy to maximise outdoor time. Here are some of my recent faves.

Crushed potato salad

Crushed potato salad

This was inspired by a visit to Pietanic at Digbeth Dining Club last year; their potato salad was skin on and light on mayo. For this I sliced and boiled some new potatoes then used a potato masher to break them up into chunks before adding sliced spring onion, grated carrot, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and a couple of tablespoons of light mayonnaise. So tasty, healthier than shop bought potato salad and a good way to squeeze some extra veg in as well.

Tomato and onion salad

Tomato and onion salad

So simple yet so delicious! I first had this on holiday with my parents in Cyprus when I was about 14. It always tastes better in the Mediterranean due to their big juicy sun ripened toms, but it’s still a viable side dish at home. As simple as slicing up veg and sprinkling with a dash of olive oil. You could also sprinkle with a few dried herbs as I’ve done. We always order this at my favourite Moroccan restaurant near where I live; it brings a freshness to meats and potato.

Purple slaw

Purple slaw

A tasty and healthy alternative to shop bought coleslaw, and the colour is brilliant! Blitz equal measures of red and white cabbage in a food processor (or grate by hand), add grated or blitzed red onion, a touch of seasoning and some low fat mayo and mix together.

Obviously food always tastes better outside and you could make these in large portions if you were having a barbecue or party or, in my case, are just really greedy!

Let me know if you have any other tried and tested summer dishes.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

Product review – Olay 2 in 1 Firm & Lift

I bought this Olay 2 in 1 Firm & Lift on a whim, purely because it was half price at the counter in Superdrug! I actually bought it before Christmas, but it’s sat neglected in my stash because I’ve been having an ongoing love affair with Nip & Fab Dragon Blood serum (read my review here)

Olay 2 in 1 anti wrinkle firm & lift

When my N&F ran out, I decided to give this a try. And of course I was comparing it to my beloved tube of dragons blood. At first it didn’t measure up in any way.

First impressions were sullied by the colour (that’s how petty I am!), it looks like moisturiser.

Olay anti wrinkle cream

I generally avoid moisturiser as I find it feels too heavy on my skin. The Olay is a serum mixed with moisturiser, hence the appearance, and as such it feels a little more, well, moisturising than my N&F serum. It doesn’t feel as refreshing on my skin. It also felt heavier, and greasier. Not a reflection on the product, just my comparison to what I usually use.

After the first week I was going to stop using it. I developed some pinkish areas on my face that felt a bit bumpy to the touch and I was convinced it was this moisturiser. But in the interests of being a good blogger (and mainly because I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t like to waste things) I decided to persist.

At about 9 or 10 days in the pinkish skin disappeared. My complexion became smooth and soft and clear. And so I persisted further.

I can’t say I’ve noticed any reduction in wrinkles (although of course I would like to think there is!) or any increase in firmness, but my skin definitely looks good. I’ve been applying the product in the morning, before I do my make up. I haven’t tried applying a base over it, as I’m not using one at the moment, but I do think it might need a few minutes to settle in as it feels a little bit slippery when first applied.

Would I repurchase? Maybe, if it was on offer. I don’t absolutely love it (when compared to my Nip & Fab), but I do like it compared with other skin products I’ve tried. Perhaps I’ll alternate between this and N&F – maybe there’s room for both in my life!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Days out: Chester Zoo

On Saturday the husband and I drove up North to Chester Zoo!

I have mixed feelings about zoos, because of the captivity thing, but Chester Zoo is renowned for doing lots of conservation work with animals and looking after them really well, plus I’d heard that the animals have lots of space and anyway, I really wanted to see the giraffes!

It wasn’t cheap (£21 each and that was buying online in advance – it costs more on the gate) but it’s well worth the money. Parking is free and plentiful and there’s so much to see, it’s a full day out.

First stop was the elephants.

Followed by the one horned rhinos – these were fascinating. They look as close to prehistoric dinosaurs as you can imagine; their bodies look like armoured plates. The husband fancies himself as a bit of a Rhino Whisperer, because he beckoned it to come over from the other side of the paddock and it did!

We watched the giraffes for ages!

Just seeing how tall I am today!

Chester Zoo tall giraffe

This is an Okapi – part of the giraffe family. No-one even knew they existed until the beginning of the 1900s!

We saw penguins and flamingos.

A spectacled bear and zebra.

This is a scimitar horned Oryx. Now I admit to being rather underwhelmed with these, until I got home and read that they’ve been completely extinct in the wild since 1999. Isn’t that sad? Also they can survive up to 10 months without any water! Say what?!

Chester Zoo scimitar horned Oryx

Part of the Zoo has been designed to resemble tropical islands and over here live the tigers, gibbons and orangutans. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any pics; they were all feeling a bit shy. But there is a charming lazy river boat ride which runs through the islands.

Chester Zoo feels more like a wildlife park than a traditional zoo; it’s very open and green, with lots of pretty flowers.

The animals, on the main, have lots of space and there isn’t the feeling of being overly caged in. The lions had a big area with lots of trees and rocks and there were lots of swinging ropes and things to climb on in the monkey houses. There was plenty of information about the animals, including their names and history, birth place, relationship to each other, which is nice.

Apparently there are over 20,000 animals! That’s a lot of meals to prepare!

I’d definitely recommend a visit if you ever get the opportunity, but be sure to wear comfy shoes, there’s a lot of walking involved to do it justice.

Have you ever been to Chester Zoo? Or any other UK zoos? I’d love to go to Edinburgh and see the pandas…

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

Twit of the Day – silly swimwear buyers, sellers and designers

Being, as I am, on a holiday tip and also being, as I am, less slim than last time I went on holiday, I’ve been shopping online for bikinis. My criteria is simple – minimal tan lines and enough fabric to cover more than my pubic region. What most people would look for in a bikini, no?

ASOS seemingly has other ideas!

All those straps, you’d look ridiculous after a day of sunbathing!

Strappy bikini top

Good luck with wearing a low neck top after sunbathing in this.

Crossover bikini top

Silly bottoms.

I’m no prude but this is verging on indecent.

Strappy bikini bottoms

 

What happens when you wear a strappy top at night or a different style bikini the next day and you’ve got white bands on your arms?

Off shoulder bikini

It’s nice for clothes to be decorative and pretty rather than purely functional, but really?

I probably shouldn’t single out ASOS as I’m sure this kind of daftness is prevalent in many high street shops too.

Is it just me? Or is this just silly?

Twits!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

My first…part 5

It’s the first of the month again! Aren’t these long hot summer days amazing? (huge amounts of sarcasm). Grrrr….

Anyway, as I’m off to Greece in just 10 days time (woo and hoo!) I thought I’d talk about my first ever time on the Greek Mainland, in my early 20s.

I love Greece. Adore the place. The people, the climate, the food, some more of the food. Mmm…food. Greek cuisine is right up there with the best in the world, for me.

Greece is my first choice of holiday destination if I’m looking for a chilled, relaxed break with guaranteed enjoyment.

The first time I ever visited the mainland was with my Dad. After my parents separated things became fraught between me and my Dad for a while. I hadn’t taken sides in the split but I was living with my Mom, and she had a new partner which my Dad found difficult to deal with, especially my acceptance of it. In an attempt to build bridges I suggested that the two of us go on holiday.

Both having a love of Greece from previous visits to the islands, Dad suggested calling the travel agent (as you did in those days, before cheap airlines and hotel comparison websites, god I’m so old!) and finding out what was available within a few days; somewhere “typically Greek”. The travel agent suggested a place called Stoupa, which neither of were familiar with. It was described to us as being a small village on the Mani peninsula, with a mountainous backdrop, a handful of tavernas and bars and a very relaxed atmosphere. It sounded perfect.

And perfect it was. We arrived at Kalamata airport at around midday on a hot Sunday afternoon, after a 3am start from home. I hadn’t been to bed the night before as I was still packing so I slept all the way to the resort. On arrival we were shown to our apartment, which was a 2 story house, split into 3 apartments. We had loads of space, two balconies, 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen. It was very much a home from home.

After changing into shorts we wandered down towards the direction of the sea, passing small tavernas and shops. As we reached the end of the narrow street the whole of Stoupa opened up in front of us. A horseshoe shaped bay with a sandy beach and sparkling blue sea. Stepping out and looking backwards we saw the mountain backdrop promised by the travel agent. We fell in love with the place immediately.

It was a week of lounging in the sun, reading books, sleeping and eating amazing food. We took an organised trip to the Diros Caves. We walked to Agios Nikolaos. And we overcame our difficulties and had a lovely Dad and daughter time.

Years later my Dad took his now wife, and she also fell in love with the place in the same way that we had years previously.

I never once suggested it to the husband, as he tends to get bored easily on holiday and I thought Stoupa would be way too quiet for him. I think he felt left out, because my Dad and his wife and I used to talk so fondly of our times there, and the husband had never been. So, eventually, and under some duress, I agreed that we would go. I warned him before we went that if he hated it he wasn’t to tell me, because he would spoil it for me!

But guess what? He loved it too! Absolutely adored the place, immediately. Such is it’s magic! And what did we do? Exactly the same as my Dad and I had done over a decade previously – eat, drink, sleep and read. We didn’t even leave the village because we were so content. Not only that, he was so taken with it that we went back 6 weeks later for our 5th wedding anniversary.

Here are some pictures of the bay.

And the mountains. Can you see the tiny villages? At night they look like little patches of sparkles in a sea of blackness because they’re so remote.

Stoupa mountain villages

And there are the most fabulous sunsets. Every. Single. Night.

Stoupa sunset

I very much want to see more of the world – all of the world – but I think I will always return to Stoupa. It holds such happy memories and is everything I could ever want in a relaxing holiday.

We talked about going back again this year, but I vetoed it because my Dad is ill. He was supposed to go last year and had to cancel because of his cancer treatment, and I don’t feel right going when he can’t.

So, this year, the husband and I are off to the other side of the peninsula – a place called Finikounda. I’ve read reports from some people that say it makes Stoupa look overly touristy, so I’m intrigued to see just how quiet it is! And of course I’ll be blogging all about it when I get home.

10 days to go!

Do you have any summer holidays planned? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x