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.
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!
I like to always have at least one trip planned or booked in advance, which is why it’s very rare for me to enter a New Year without knowing what some of our travel plans will be for the coming 12 months. 2018 is no exception!
These are the trips we have booked so far:
March – North Wales
The official reason for the trip is that we’re going to the 2 day Hard Rock Hell festival in Pwllhelli (staying in a caravan, yay!) but it makes sense to have a little nosy round while we’re up there. Despite having been to the event a couple of times before we’ve never visited Criccieth castle which is just a few miles away, so that’s one for this year, and of course some bracing sea air in a walk along the beach.
We’ll catch up with friends, watch bands and ask ourselves why it’s been such a long time since our last caravan break – we love them!
May – Palma, Majorca
Taking advantage of the early May Bank Holiday, we’re going to Palma for 3 nights and my Mother in Law is coming with us. We’ve been on short trips with her before and she’s a great travel companion – she wants to see everything but isn’t a control freak (that will be me, then) so she goes with the flow and doesn’t question my itinerary (I’m making it sound like a bootcamp!) I haven’t been to Majorca since I was a little girl, and that was a beach holiday with my Mom and Dad, so I’m looking forward to exploring the capital city, wandering through the gothic quarter, oohing at the cathedral and eating tapas.
We’ll also get out of the city for a day and take a train to Port de Soller and possible Valldemossa. Temperatures should be nice without being too hot, and I’ve booked us into a 16th century traditional hotel with a rooftop view over the Cathedral. Happy days!
September – Athens and Santorini, Greece
When the husband and I got together almost 13 years ago, we used to talk about Santorini and how beautiful it looked and how much we’d like to go there. Yet somehow, in all this time, we’ve never got round to it, even though it’s on my list of top 5 places I’d like to visit . So, for our 10th wedding anniversary this coming September, we’re spending a week on the island, with a few days in Athens first (Athens was on my 2nd list of places I’d like to visit!)
We’ll fly from Birmingham to Athens, enjoy visiting historical sights, wandering the streets of Plaka (the district where we’re staying) and of course fantastic Greek food, before a 45 minute flight to Santorini where we’re staying in Oia (many of the photographs you see of Santorini on websites and in travel brochures are taken in Oia; it’s a beautifully picturesque town built into the side of the volcanic crater with stunning white and blue domed buildings).
There’s lots to see on the island so we’ll need to get the balance right between doing and chilling but, being in Oia, we’ll get the very best sunsets every night!. Definitely having some lazing by the pool days, but also keen to get down into the caldera, maybe take a boat trip to appreciate the scale of the volcanic crater, and visit some of the smaller traditional villages.
The trouble with loving travel is prioritising where to go next, as there’s always somewhere else on your list (hence why it’s taken us so long to get to Santorini!) I’d like to squeeze in another overseas break but the husband doesn’t like to tie up all his annual leave, and he keeps talking about spending time at home now that we have a lovely private garden to enjoy.
In truth, with 2018’s main trips already wrapped up (unless I get my way!), I’m already thinking ahead to 2019…
What trips do you have planned so far? Or where would you like to go? I’d love to hear from you!
I had an email from the CEO and co-founder of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, the other day – thanking me for posting my 150th review. Wasn’t that nice?!Now, the cynics amongst you might think that this was a computer generated email because Steve Kaufer is far too busy and important to email ickle ol’ me. But I like to think otherwise.
On a serious note, TripAdvisor is a site I rely heavily on when planning trips and I really value the insight shared by other travellers. I never book a hotel without referring to TripAdvisor as it’s a great way to get real people’s opinions, and I think it’s important to contribute as well.
A while ago I posted my top 5 tips for writing a TripAdvisor review. You can read them here.
I recently found out that you can also review flights on TripAdvisor, so have been doing that too. I couldn’t speak highly enough about Malaysia Airlines after our trip to Penang (read about that here, here, here, here, and here) and Kuala Lumpur (read about that here, here, and here) – the service, comfort and food were all faultless. On the flip side, our flights to and from Greece (trip report here and here) with Thomas Cook were really uncomfortable; all squished in with hardly and leg room or arm room. Ironically the inflight magazine boasted how all of the fleet were now lots more comfortable with great inflight entertainment – not on our metal bird they weren’t! I reviewed both honestly and truthfully, to give future travellers an idea of what to expect.
TripAdvisor has also been instrumental in planning our trip to Rome for my 40th birthday, and our trip to Santorini for our 10th wedding anniversary next year. Super exciting!
Are you a TripAdvisor fan? Let me know in the comments.
Great news today that, thanks to a Royal decree, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive. It’s impossible to comprehend such a level of sexism being acceptable in a modern day society, but obviously Middle Eastern countries operate differently to those in the West. It’s worth celebrating; Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women aren’t currently allowed to hold a driving licence. Who knows, it may be the start of further equality in the country (but let’s not hold our breath).
The UK government recently announced that learner drivers in England, Scotland and Wales will now be allowed on a motorway in a dual control car (i.e. with a driving instructor). Personally I’m amazed it’s taken this long for the rules to be changed. Motorway driving is quite different from normal road driving in terms of pace, speed and distances, and it seems ludicrous to me that a new driver is allowed onto such a potentially dangerous highway without any previous hands on learning or supervision.
My little sis passed her test in December last year, and bought her first car in January. She announced a few weeks back that she’d recently been on the motorway for the first time “by accident” but “it was all ok” because she “recognised all the road signs” Phew, eh?! Now, not everyone is as much of a dolly daydream as my sis (sorry Jess!) but there are people out there with little road awareness behind the wheel of a potential killing machine that puts everyone on the road at risk. Dramatic? Yes. True? Very.
I’m not a particularly patient driver, the fact that I’m always running slightly late means I have no patience for people who dilly dally on the roads, but I do always drive safely and with full awareness of what’s going on around me. Which is much needed because some people either a) don’t have a licence, b) have forgotten how to drive, or c) think the rules of the road don’t apply to them.
My recent experience of driving in Greece, on our day out in the Mani Peninsula, was exactly that – an experience! Apart from the fact that the steering wheel and gear stick were in the wrong place, the mountain roads coupled with the craziness of Greek drivers made for some hairy times! Greek drivers think nothing of overtaking on a bend on the edge of a cliff when a truck is coming in the opposite direction and I admit that a couple of times I just held my breath and expected the worst. The taxi driver who took us to the airport said that it’s because local people know the mountain roads so well, and know what they can and can’t get away with, but surely they don’t know what’s coming the other way?! He was also quite disparaging of drivers from other countries, so I guess we all have a higher opinion of ourselves on the road than that of other people.
Here are 5 things I can be heard saying on a regular basis!
This is dripping with sarcasm, usually shouted at someone who has failed to acknowledge that I’ve given them right of way and let them through. Rudeness – both on the road and in everyday life – really gets my goat. There’s no need for it.
“Got no indicators?”
Often aimed at, but not restricted to, BMW drivers (sorry to generalise, but they do seem to be the worst offenders). Seriously, how difficult is it to flick the little purpose built, conveniently placed stick so that the rest of the world knows which way you’re planning to go?
“You could get a bus through there!”
People who drive a small car but think it has the dimensions of a tank. Know your vehicle and know what it is and isn’t capable of! Don’t wait for a gap the size of 3 lorries to carry on your way.
“Put your foot down, love”
People who drive below the speed limit. What is that all about? The fact you’re in a car suggests you have somewhere to be, so why not drive at the allowed limit and get there a little bit faster? There is no excuse for driving more slowly than you’re allowed to on most general roads.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
The amount of people who drift into the wrong lane, cut you up, blast their horn when they’re in the wrong, gesticulate wildly or just act like knobheads on the road is unreal. So it makes me feel better to shout. Not at them. Just about them. It’s purely a rhetorical question for releasing anger!
Do you drive? Do you enjoy it? Do you get cross at people like I do?! I’d love to hear from you!
After spending the morning visiting the Diros Caves and Gythio, we started heading back towards Stoupa, planning to stop at Areopoli on the way. Areopoli is a small mountain village with typical stone houses, small winding streets and small nooks and crannies. There’s very little to do there, and wandering round doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes (even with photos) but it’s a super quaint and picturesque place that we were very happy we visited.
Take a look for yourself!
Isn’t bougainvillea just the prettiest flower? I wish it would grow in the UK, I’d cover my house in it!
Imagine having this little nook to swing in?
I loved the umbrella avenue. These had actual lightbulbs in, I bet they look so pretty at night.
With the afternoon heading towards evening, we started the long winding mountain drive back to Stoupa, having had a fabulous day, but somewhat relieved that the mountain driving on the opposite side of the road was over!
Despite having been to Stoupa 4 times previously, I’ve never really explored any of the surrounding area (unless you count the 2km coastal path walk to the neighbouring village of Aghios Nikolaos). I’ve read many times that that the scenery is incredible, but I choose not to drive when I’m overseas (never done it) and the public transport is nigh on non existent (there are 4 buses a day which run on GMT – Greek Maybe Time, I kid you not!)
On this year’s trip, however, I decided to bite the bullet, hire a car, and get out and about.
I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Not quite as nervous as the husband (who, until a few days before, had said he wouldn’t come in a car with me driving “on the wrong side of the road”). He’s not a great passenger in the UK, so on unfamiliar winding mountain roads (and I mean winding), with sheer cliff drops and crazy Greek drivers overtaking on bends, he was something of a nervous wreck!
First stop, about an hour’s drive from Stoupa, was the Caves of Diros.
I first went to the Caves of Diros with my Dad on my first visit to Stoupa many years ago. We went on an organised coach trip, which I always find quite restrictive because you have to stick to a set timetable, and there’s lots of people on the coach, and the bendy roads can feel quite sickly in a big vehicle. This time we went at our own speed, stopping on the way to take come photographs from the top of the mountain. The colour of the sea in this part of Greece is just incredible, it looks photoshopped, even to the naked eye.
After a winding descent we followed the signs to the caves, spotting some beautiful ceramic shops along the side of the road.
The journey through the caves is done on a small rowing boat carrying up to 7 people and the man in charge. It takes about half an hour and covers 2.5km. At times you really have to duck down so as not to hit your head on the rock formations above, and the boat can be a little wobbly in the water, which is crystal clear below. It’s hard to comprehend that you’re looking at millions of years of stalagmite and stalactite formations.
I tried to get some pics, which was difficult because of the lighting and the momentum of the boat, but you can get an idea of how impressive they are from the handful that turned out ok!
When you leave the boat you walk through another lengthy stretch of caves, before coming out into the bright sunshine and the aqua sea and bobbing boats of Diros Bay.
On leaving Diros, we headed from one side of the peninsula to the other to the seaside town of Gythio, which had been recommended to me as a pretty place to visit. Gythio is a harbour town with some cosmopolitan seaside restaurants and bars, and pretty coloured buildings. It was fairly quiet when we were there, during the heat of the day, but we had a little wander and some lunch. For me it had more of an Italianate feel than Greek, with the pastel buildings and the intricate balconies, but it was nice to sit right on the seafront and have some food and a refreshing drink.
By now it was early afternoon and time to start heading back towards Stoupa, with a stop at Areopoli planned on the way. More on that next time!
Have you been to mainland Greece? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Last week I flew to my happy place in Greece, a small village called Stoupa; nestled in the base of the mountains on the Mani Peninsula. I first blogged about Stoupa here. Whilst I’m not usually a fan of going back to the same place multiple times (it’s a big wide world out there, after all) there’s something to be said for finding a place in which you’re completely at ease, completely relaxed in an instant, with incredible food, scenery and people.
That place, for me, is Stoupa. Which is why I’ve been there 5 times.
It’s testament to the village that it’s hardly changed at all since I first went there around 16 years ago! And that’s the appeal of the place. Whereas holidays, for me, are often about exploring and finding where everything is, the beauty of Stoupa is that you already know everything there is to know. It’s like putting on a comfy jumper and cosy slippers.
I first went with my Dad, then my Dad and his wife went, then my husband and I went and so, after my Dad died last year, it seemed fitting that his wife, me and the husband would all go together, as we all love it so much.
With no further ado, here are my pics!
Do you have a favourite place in the world where you feel instantly relaxed and at home?
If it’s that easy to influence the future then please could someone give me a million pounds? Ta!
Anyway, onto the questions, and my responses!
You are leaving tomorrow to start a life in a new country, where would you go?
I think it would have to be the US. There’s no language barrier and the country is so big and varied that you could holiday and travel there and see so much. Internal flights are pretty cheap and as convenient as catching a bus. I’d base myself in the Los Angeles area for the great climate, and plan visits to New York, Dallas, Nashville, Niagra Falls and Miami, and a return to San Francisco, as a matter of priority.
You can take someone for a weekend away to the place you had the best holidays ever, where would that be and who would you take to go with you?
It would probably be the West Hollywood neighbourhood of Los Angeles, with the husband. We’ve been there 4 times and had some amazing experiences. Even though we’ve done it all before, every single time has been fabulous, and would be a pleasure to recreate.
This would be my schedule:
Saturday – We’d stay at the Mondrian on Sunset, as usual, and have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-In (which is the coolest 50s American diner ever, check out the photos!), go to Griffiths Observatory for the planetarium show and the views, spend the afternoon by the hotel pool, have early evening sushi at Katana (the first place I ever tried sushi, and it was amazing!) and Happy Hour frozen margaritas at Cabo Cantina then shower and change before heading down to Sunset Strip for drinks at the Whisky a Go Go, maybe catch a band, then grab a booth at The Rainbow and eat one of their amazing pizzas.
Sunday – bottomless mimosas and a breakfast burrito at The Saddle Ranch, then bus down to Santa Monica, wander round the pier and go on the big wheel, hire bikes and cycle to Venice Beach, look around all the stalls and talk to the crazy people, back to Santa Monica for a bit of shopping and some late lunch, then back to We-Ho to play rock music on the jukebox at the Rainbow, maybe get another photo with Ron Jeremy and then finish the night with burgers and milkshakes in Mel’s.
(all photos by me or the husband between 2010 and 2012)
God that’s made me miss LA!
You can get married wherever you want to, your budget is limitless, what is your choice?
We got married on a beach in Mauritius which was pretty damn special, and I wouldn’t change that in any way.
I’d quite like to do a renewal of vows in Las Vegas though, officiated by Elvis!
During your travels you can bring back home one animal as a pet, which one would you pick?
A panda. No doubt. They’re so cute and playful and cuddly. And naughty – watch this video to see my point!
I don’t know why I don’t have one as a pet already.
You can get back in time and relive one family trip, which one?
A week in Greece with my Dad. I blogged about it here. Things were pretty fraught between us after my parents’ divorce and the holiday not only fixed our Dad and daughter relationship but strengthened it no end. Plus the location and food and climate was just so idyllic and beautiful – I’ve actually been back 3 times since.
What is the first thing you would pack for a one year travel around the world?
My passport! Duh!
What would your fantasy 100th birthday destination be, and why?
I don’t want to live to 100. Sorry to be miserable, but it would be too sad going somewhere and not being able to do everything it had to offer.
During your travel you can learn one sport to become a pro, what would that be?
I’m not a sporty person at all and don’t really crave to be, but it would be nice to be able to surf. Or maybe snowboard.
I lack the coordination to ever be able to do either!
Plus surfing is so wet, and snowboarding is so cold.
Does drinking sangria until I fall over count as a sport?
When I was in Greece (I know, I know, I’ll talk about something else soon, honest!) I only got bitten 3 times during the whole week, and even then they didn’t cause me any bother at all.
On Tuesday night I got bit in my own bed a total of 10 times! In one night! By one lone ranger insect!
I know it was a lone ranger because I both spotted it and heard it. It started in the lounge and must have followed me to bed (stalker). I could hear it bouncing off the walls and buzzing around but I naively thought you don’t get mosquitoes in England (I’ve since been advised that you do). So when the husband told me there was a mosquito buzzing around, I poo-pooed him as one may brush off a silly child and went to sleep.
Now who feels silly? I’m my own twit of the day!
A twit for not trying to catch the blighter. A twit for thinking I wouldn’t be bitten. And a twit for being so uncovered in bed. I even have a bite on my right bum cheek!
What’s worse is that they’re the itchy type and they’re swelling. I don’t need any help with my bum cheeks getting bigger, thank you very much!
We were on holiday a few years ago (in Greece again, actually) and it was incredibly hot so I slept butt naked on top of the sheets. I woke up one morning to find not one but three mozzie bites right in my bum crack!! One must have flown in there and bounced around trying to bite his way out. It was pretty uncomfortable, and it’s not really the done thing to be walking around scratching the depths of your arse in public. And antihistamine cream down there isn’t particularly nice either…