Category: Uncategorized

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!

A bad day and the impossible task

I already knew last night that today was going to be a bad day.

“Why didn’t you do something pre-emptive to stop it then, you daft cow?” (those are my words, and maybe what you’re thinking too.)

Unfortunately it was too late. I was lying in bed, fretting, listening to the husband snore, reading a blog I’ve become ridiculously immersed in (I think I’m as far back as 2013 posts from this woman now; her family story is fascinating and her writing is really engaging and fun) and wondering why I couldn’t sleep despite my body feeling so so ready for slumber.

(more…)

Friday Feeling [35] – a lesson in dignity

Kids go to school for an education – to learn about the world and better themselves in preparation for adulthood.

But what about when school is more than just a place to learn?

Some pupils in West Side High School, New Jersey, were being bullied because of their appearance; regularly turning up to school in dirty uniform. Other pupils would point them out and humiliate them.

Headteacher Akbar Cook can’t solve the problem of the students’ personal circumstances (in many cases they’re officially homeless, or don’t have access to facilities to keep their clothes clean), but he has helped to create a solution to the results of those circumstances, by converting an unused locker room into a free Laundromat available to all pupils. With a financial grant, and donations of laundry detergent from companies and local individuals, students can wash their belongings either independently, or with the help of an adult on hand to teach them.

The fact that these kids are in such poor situations, or that more fortunate students are bullying them because of it is a whole other post, but the thoughtfulness shown by Mr Cook is to be applauded. Well done that human!

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

The strangest things can make you feel sad

The other day I was hanging some wet washing up to dry and I had an enormous wave of grief and sadness wash over me, because of a pair of pyjamas. They’re leopard print and they have pockets and they were one of my Christmas gifts the last Christmas before my Dad died. I had a flash back to putting them on, as soon as I opened them, over my clothes. I put on pretty much all the other clothes Dad and his wife bought me as well, including a pair of leopard print tights on my head. My Dad was laughing, his eyes crinkling up until you couldn’t see them anymore, and telling me I was a nutter. We all knew that Christmas was going to be his last, even though we didn’t say it. He knew it too – he really went overboard and spoilt us all.

I read an article recently that really resonated with me. You can read it here. It talks about life carrying on, and changing in ways that mean a person you’ve lost wouldn’t recognise things anymore. When we moved house I got really upset that my Dad wouldn’t know where we lived anymore, if in some way he could ever come back (I’m actually welling up typing this, the thought still gets me). When I changed my car it occurred to me that he wouldn’t know it was me if he saw me driving down the street. I still have his phone number in my mobile, and cant being myself to delete it, just in case he managed to get in touch. All daft thoughts, I know. (Also, can you imagine how freaked out I’d be if my phone rang and “Dad” popped up?!)

I can’t imagine how that grief must be magnified if you lose a partner.

We went to Dubrovnik last week, me and the husband and Dad’s wife. And we talked about Dad, as we often do. We knew he’d be happy that the 3 of us are so close and that Julie (Dad’s wife) travels with us. But there’s that ever present reminder that the 3 of us are together because Dad isn’t here anymore.

Grief can hit you at any time, unexpectedly, it can take the shine off your day; zap your mood from hero to zero in an instant.

But it can also bring back happy memories, reminding you to think of the good times.

Almost 2 years on and I’m still learning that, actually, grief is a law unto itself. It doesn’t go away. It just changes over time.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Dear Dad…

It’s Father’s Day. Don’t pity me too much. I have a Dad. He isn’t here anymore; not on this mortal plane. But he’s forever in my head, my heart and my mind.

I hate reading people say they don’t have a Dad anymore. If you love your Dad then he will always be part of you.

Today I will be having a chat with my “Dear Dad” rose. The rose I bought which sits in his wife’s memorial garden where some of his ashes are scattered. The rose I have a replica of in my own garden, where I spend most of my time in summer.

20180614_184245.jpg

Last year was my first Fathers Day without him. It sucked. I was bitter and resentful and angry.

Today, my second Fathers Day without my Dad, I’m just sad. Really really sad. I can’t begrudge anyone still having their Dad around – that would be spiteful. I’ve flinched and shrugged off the marketing and adverts and turned the other cheek this year. But I miss him. And I wish I was seeing him today.

If your Dad is a good man who has done his best for you, be sure to let him know. Not just today, but all the days.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Friday Feeling [32] – who you gonna call? Gay Bar!

We’d all like to think that we’d instinctively know what to say or do if a family member shared something important with us, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes we might need advice from a third party.

It’s not very often, though, that the third party would be a gay bar!

This story is pretty heartwarming – a bartender at a mostly gay bar in Mississippi took a call from a woman who’s son had just come out to her, and she didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so she called the bar for some advice.

Altogether now…aw!

Maybe not the most conventional approach, but thoughtful nonetheless.

Good on that Mom!

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Moseley Farmers Market

Farmers markets are quite de riguer these days aren’t they? Any postcode worth it’s salt seems to have one. Well, I can go one better, the Farmers Market where I live won the FARMA “Best Farmers’ Market in the UK” award in 2009, 2012 and 2016 – the only market to have won 3 times!

Now I’m finished gloating, I have to admit that I don’t get there very often. I always seem to have something on, or the weather’s rubbish (I’m a fair weather person). But, on a (rare) sunny but cold February morning I toddled off up the road to buy some schizzle. And by schizzle I mean edible stuff.

The market boasts around 60 stalls with all sort of fresh produce – cakes, cheese, fresh olives and organic meat.

Moseley Farmers Market cakes

Moseley Farmers Market cheese stall

Moseley Farmers Market olives

Moseley Farmers Market organic meat

The pottery stall has beautiful handmade, handfired goods.

Moseley Farmers Market pottery

Multitudes of flavours of cordials and chutneys on this stall.

Moseley Farmers Market stall

Baladee has Egyptian flavours.

Moseley Farmers Market Baladee Egyptian food

The Scotch Egg man is a personal fave, because scotch eggs are a food of wonder.

Moseley Farmers Market scotch eggs

There’s also a plant stall; we bought some bits which sadly died because the weather was too crap to plant them up outside for weeks afterwards.

Moseley Farmers Market plant stall

The pastries from Cossak Cuisine were flying out!

Moseley Farmers Market Cossak Cuisine

There’s also a hog roast stall selling hot pork sandwiches, and a samosa stall where the samosas are freshly deep fried in front of you and are OMG delish. Unfortunately by the time we got there they’d sold out, oops. So the husband bought a smoked sausage pastry from the stall above, which was delicious heated up in the oven when we got home.

Russian pastry from Moseley Farmers Market

What else did we buy?

What we bought at Moseley Farmers Market

Some garlic rolled goats cheese, sweet potato dip from Baladee and 4 scotch eggs – honey and mustard, spring onion and garlic, sundried tomato and Eastern spice. Yum!

The market is held on the last Saturday of each month in the village square. Which means it’s on today! Unfortunately I won’t be going along because I’m going caret shopping <<hugely sarcastic yay>>, and suitcase shopping <<actual legitimate yay, because it’s for our trip to Palma which happens next weekend!>>

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you’re up to.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A trip to Rome (aka the holiday that almost never was)

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed that I went to Rome for a few days before Christmas, to celebrate my 40th birthday.

You may also have noticed that we almost never made it out of Luton airport.

In case you don’t follow me on insta (you should, by the way, shameless plug of link to my account here) or if their silly algorithm means you don’t see my posts, here’s what happened.

Our flight from Luton was at 6.40am on the Monday morning, so we travelled down the day before and stayed in a hotel near the airport. Early start (3am alarm, eek) was fairly uneventful and we checked in and went to buy some currency (because dimwit here had forgotten to collect the euros I’d pre-ordered from the Post Office, d’oh!) I bought some bits from Boots (2 more travel plugs to ad to our growing – but missing – collection) and had a tasty breakfast with a cocktail to start an exciting and momentous trip. All was well, so with 20 minutes until the departure gate opened we had a browse in WH Smith to buy some magazines for the flight.

When we came to pay, we of course needed one of our boarding passes, which of course wasn’t a problem because they were safely in an envelope in my handbag alongside the passports. Except they weren’t. No boarding cards, no envelope and no passports. Cue frantic retracing of steps to the restaurant and boots (to no avail), heart in mouth and panic sweats. The husband, it must be pointed out, was taking things remarkably well (for him) and stayed fairly level headed and non-angry, despite the fact that the look in his eyes said otherwise. We raced back to security in the hope that someone had handed them in (as I reasonably pointed out, if you found some travel documents in an airport you’d have to be a total shit to throw them away) and THANK GOD a smiling security lady located them under a desk and gave them back to a calm-on-the-outside-frantic-on-the-inside me! I hadn’t even left them in the security tray after scanning though, no, they hadn’t even got that far. When I was putting my liquids in a bag, before the security check, I’d left the envelope on a shelf. An envelope which, with being shoved in and out of my bag on the journey so far, could easily have been mistaken for some tatty old rubbish,

Total muppet – it was almost a birthday to remember for all the wrong reasons…

Needless to say I wasn’t allowed to keep the passports for the rest of the trip, even though I’m usually Chief Security Officer; they remained securely in the husband’s inside pocket of his coat, and I was the butt of multiple jokes as a result!

I’m glad to report that the rest of the trip went by without incident. We arrived at Rome Fiumicino airport at around 10.30am, collected our luggage and headed out into the arrivals lounge where we were met by our pre-booked driver (I always try and do this, where possible, it saves lots of hassle and is usually cheaper than getting a cab at the airport, plus you get to feel a little bit like a famous person for a nanosecond!). The transfer to the city centre and our hotel took around 30 minutes, and the closer we got to the centre, the more evidence of Roman architecture started to appear; like random columns in the middle of modern buildings. That’s one of the things that surprised me about Rome, many of the tourist attractions are just in the middle of the working city, not on a dedicated site with a big wide open space around them. We stumbled on both the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain in this way; we turned a corner and there they were, in the middle of a piazza. It’s quite strange!

We arrived at our hotel – Antica Dimora dell Cinque Lune (I’ll review that in another post) – at around 11.30, which was too early to check in, but the receptionist was incredibly helpful and stored our luggage so we were free to set off and explore. We spent a few minutes getting our bearings, but knowing we were just steps from the River Tiber and the Palace of Justice meant we already knew where to head to if we were to get lost!

Spotting a number of hop on hop off bus tours on the main road alongside the river, we set off to find a bus stop, and by midday we were upstairs on a double decker, earphones firmly in place to listen to the commentary, and heading off on a 90 minute round trip of the city. We find that this kind of bus tour is a great way to see the highlights, get a feel for a city and an overview of what’s where, and then delve into the deeper sightseeing after that. On this occasion we used the Big Bus company, and paid 35 euros each for a 48 hour ticket, but other companies run within the city too (although your ticket is only valid for the bus company you buy it from).

As suspected, the bus tour was a great place to start. We went across the river, marvelling at the architecture of the city, winding through Via del Corso, the main shopping street, saw centuries old churches and buildings, detailed sculptures, statues and fountains, felt blown away by the magnificent sight of the colosseum at the bottom of a busy thoroughfare and imagined the site of the chariot racing on Circus Maximus.

Then we got off the bus where we’d started and stopped for lunch in a little bistro on the side of the road who did a lunch menu of bruschetta, choice of pizza or pasta and a glass of wine or beer for just 12 euros – not at all what we’d expected from reports of Rome being expensive. We sat outside on the terrace under a patio heater and it was just fabulous!

After checking into the hotel we headed out once more; this time over the river on foot and past Castel Sant’Angelo, with St Peters Basilica in our eye line. As our Vatican and St Peters visit was planned for the next day, we crossed across the River Tiber, meandered through tiny cobbled side streets, just soaking up how fabulous Rome is, declaring that we already loved the place and beaming with happiness.

 

Our hotel was just round the corner from Piazza Navona, which we’d read would have a Christmas market. It was all running remarkably late, setting up but not at all Christmassy, but the Fountain of Neptune and Fountain of the Four Rivers in front of the Santa Agnese in Agona church were beautiful to look at.

We found a beautiful bistro, covered in fairy lights with a rather gorgeous menu and decided we would head back there later that evening to eat, which we did – the most delicious medium rare steak wrapped in bacon with shaved truffles, accompanied by a bottle of chianti. Heading back to our hotel through Piazza Navona and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi it’s fair to say we were giddy with happiness and giddy with Rome.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and Santa Agnese in Agone church at night

Coming soon – day 2 at the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

Have you ever been to Rome? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading, x

Friday Feeling [25] – watch out for karma!

With all the bullshit political stuff going on in the US right now (and by that, I obviously mean Trump) it’s good to know that the American voting public don’t always get it wrong.

Virginia

Towards the end of last year, openly homophobic US State Official Robert Marshall was ousted from his position after 13 terms. Marshall had proudly called himself Virginia’s chief homophobe, and tried to introduce a bathroom bill which discriminated against transgender people by making them use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth, not that which they associate with now (you can read my thoughts on the logistics of that here).

Thanks then to that bitch karma; not only for ending his reign, but for replacing him with an openly transgender candidate. Yup, Marshall was beaten by Danica Roem, who was born male but transitioned to female. She has made history by becoming the first openly transgender elected and seated in a US state legislature.

Good work, Virginians!

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

My morning routine

I don’t trust anyone that says they’re a morning person. How can you be? How is it possible? Mornings are a shock to the system. There you are all nicely cocooned in the safety of sleep, only to be rudely reminded that real life demands your attention.

Weekends are the exception, obvs. Weekend mornings are things of beauty, when you can take your time to come round and re-engage with humanity, maybe having a little snooze or some breakfast in bed. Unless you work weekends.

As a Monday to Friday employee, I have five uninterrupted days of mornings.

Throw having builders working on our home into the mix, and things get messed up a little! There’s the worry that they might turn up early while you’re still in your leopard print dressing gown (me, meeting our new decorator for the first time yesterday morning), your usual routine being cut short by said early arrival (me, putting my make up on at work instead of at home yesterday) the feeling that you need to get out of their way (even though it’s your house – also me yesterday), the upheaval of having to empty rooms meaning you can’t find things (husband, looking for a work shirt this morning).

Currently I try to fit in the previous night’s washing up so we don’t look totally skanky (I never get round to it the night before – I CAN NOT WAIT to have a dishwasher again!), boil eggs for breakfast, pack lunches and snacks for me and the husband (on a good day it’s soup – so easy! Otherwise it’s salad which is more time consuming), shower, choose an outfit (I’m not one of these organised people who plan the night before) and put on a bit of make up. Some days you can add in trying to find my keys or mobile phone, packing up an online shopping order for return, or changing my outfit at the last minute.

All while the husband is seemingly everywhere I want to be (in the shower, ironing in the bedroom, at the sink in the kitchen).

I genuinely don’t know how people with kids ever manage to get out of the door, ever!

On the plus side, all this activity means that we’re getting closer to our home being finished. We’re getting a front door tomorrow, after weeks of having a gaping hole in the front of the house, and I’m definitely more excited about this than I am about Christmas so far!

And my new kitchen gets started on Friday, which will give me a home for my new succulents (and pots and pans, plates and bowls, and cutlery).

Succulent plants

Of course, the end of the project will also mean a new morning routine, as we’ll be living on two levels for the first time in almost 12 years. It’s going to be strange…

Read about our house buying/converting/building journey here

Are you a morning person? Do you plan in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants like me?! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x