Tag: Greece

Reasons I love Stoupa

Mention Stoupa as a travel destination and most people will just look at you blankly. Only once, in the 18 or so years I’ve been raving about it, has anyone known where I was talking about.

In fact, mention mainland Greece to most people and they look slightly confused. “Whereabouts?” they’ll ask. Not many people have particularly good Greek geography, so if it’s not the capital Athens, or perhaps Halkidiki in the North, then most people won’t recognise it. My response of “in the Mani Peninsula, in the base of the Peloponnese mountains” usually elicits a vague acknowledgement and little else. In fact a work colleague told me this year that I’m the only person he knows who’s ever holidayed on the mainland.

I feel for Stoupa right now

It’s heavily serviced by Thomas Cook flights from the UK, and many of the accommodations have an affiliation to TC too. Because the accommodation owners get paid at the end of the season, there’ll be many who will have worked the summer season for nothing; at least until the financial mess can be sorted and creditors paid.. For a small village which needs to make the majority of its money in the summer in order to survive the quieter winter, that’s a heavy blow.

Some of the reasons I love Stoupa are reasons that others would find to dislike it. It isn’t fancy. There are no luxury hotels. Nothing is higher than two storeys. Apartment decor tends to be rustic, mismatched and basic. Bathrooms rarely have baths. Shower cubicles may not have a curtain, or a hook for the shower attachment. If it’s true that you go on holiday to experience something different then, for us, Stoupa is it.

Sunbleached cars and battered mopeds are the only (occasional) traffic that you see. Taxis are as rare as hens teeth. Electricity cables drape precariously from telegraph poles to houses. There are only a handful of shops. on the one main street. It takes no more than 10 minutes to walk from one end of the village to the other.

Cats wander freely amongst handpainted restaurant tables and wooden chairs. Wine is ordered by colour and quantity, not by grape or the bottle (it’s approximately 6 euros for a litre of very drinkable local wine – what’s not to like?!) Food is traditional and home cooked – no haute cuisine here. The most tender meat, the reddest tomatoes. tear and share bread with olive oil, seafood, tasty potatoes . Oven baked, freshly grown and always delicious.

There is no “picture perfect” backdrop of white sands and palm trees

The mountains are rugged and imposing; often clouding over with ominous blackness that rarely reaches the Stoupa coastline but provides a dramatic vista as you swim in the cool blue sea. The coast line is craggy in places. There are no water sports, just a few small boats and pedalos to hire. The stone buildings don’t have the curb appeal of Santorini’s white architecture, for example; so often portrayed in articles about visiting Greece. The silvery grey leaves of the olive trees look arid rather than lush. It’s beautiful, but not an Instgram dream, and it’s all the better for it (I didn’t see one selfie stick in the whole time we were there).

I love Stoupa not in spite of all these things, but because of them

These are the things that make it so inimitable to me. It feels real and authentic. It’s not showy or trying to be something it isn’t. It’s solid, dependable and welcoming. It isn’t exciting, yet I get so excited at the thought of going, precisely because I know what to expect. This goes against the grain for me when it comes to travel, because I love the thought of exploring new places and seeing more of the world, but there’s something about this little village that just has my heart.

Oh, and did I mention the sunsets?

I think that the Thomas Cook situation has opened a lot of regular visitors’ eyes about how precarious the livelihood of some of the accommodation owners is, and I think it will change how people book in the future. We booked directly with the apartment this year and will do so again in the future. I only hope that another airline picks up the Thomas Cook routes so that Brits are still able to visit and holiday amongst the Greeks, Germans, Dutch and other nationalities who love it as much as we do. While both BA and Easyjet currently operate flights from the UK, Thomas Cook was by far the biggest operator; flying probably a thousand people each week to Kalamata airport.

Have you got a favourite holiday destination that you love to go back to? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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“It will all get back to normal after Brexit”

Thomas Cook aeroplane at Birmingham airport

I flew home from Greece last week with Thomas Cook. As I was queuing at Kalamata airport, I overheard a men behind me discussing the Euro, the cost of living, and increasing hotel taxes in Greece. “It will all get back to normal when Brexit happens” he declared.

He followed up with “we’re not sure we’ll come back here again.”

“You may not be able to,” responded a lady at the side of him, “if Thomas Cook go under.”

His response? “Oh Thomas Cook will be ok.”

It’s this kind of head in the sand attitude that pisses me off. How many times have I read that EU countries need us because they rely on our tourism, or that Brexit isn’t impacting the UK economy and UK businesses, and that we’ll all be better off once we’ve left?

Where is the proof? Is it not enough that failing businesses are citing Brexit as a very real issue in their falling profits? (I’m not saying that Brexit is solely to blame for the demise of TC, but it can’t fail to have had an effect). Is it not enough that a company with 178 years of trading history has gone down the drain?

Where do some people get the continuing idea that it’s all going to be ok?

UK politics continues into unchartered territory with the news that Boris has broken the law in proroguing parliament, the UK’s first ever travel agent and stalwart of the high street has gone bust and Brexit is looming ever closer with no hint of resolution.

That doesn’t sound like a country that’s in control to me.

On the plus side, at least we now have those incredibly informative <<heavy sarcasm alert>> adverts on TV and radio telling us that things might change on November 1st. Not how they’ll change – presumably because nobody knows.

Never mind. The British holidaymaker in the Greek airport said things will all get back to normal, so it must be true.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Santorini sunsets and a catamaran cruise

For today’s blog post we’re looking back 11 months, as I share my memories of Santorini sunsets. Santorini sunsets are renowned as being part of the experience of visiting the island. But their reputation brings with it popularity and crowds.

I don’t like crowds. But I also don’t like to miss out (FOMO). Therefore there can be a juxtaposition between wanting to experience something, and not wanting to experience it, if that makes sense. A dichotomy.

Before we flew out for our week in Santorini I’d seen people I follow on Instagram commenting about how busy the main sunset spots get in Oia, which is where we were staying. Comments from “get there a couple of hours early to bag a good spot”, through to “pre-book a restaurant overlooking sunset”, and “don’t be fooled by the photos, there are people everywhere” made me a little bit wary of what was to come. Not least because the husband is a temperamental bugger (ask him, he’ll admit it) who would rather miss out than put up with unfavourable circumstances.

After our first afternoon foray into the centre of Oia left us feeling overwhelmed, it was an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t be joining the hordes of people all clambering for the best view and the best photos, and instead would enjoy it from afar.

The location of our hotel was right on the edge of the village; a fact we were most glad about considering how busy the centre was. The pool didn’t have a full on sunset view, but we were able to sit outside enjoying the changing colours in the sky as the sun headed to the horizon.

Caldera views

Over the road from our hotel however, we were able to sit on the caldera wall and look towards the town. Again we didn’t have an uninterrupted view of the sun meeting the horizon, but the silhouette of the church domes and village buildings against the red sky were absolutely beautiful.

An afternoon on the water

In order to get the full “sun hits the sea and descends into darkness” experience, we headed out to the water. We booked an afternoon catamaran cruise with Sunset Oia which left from Amoudi Bay at around 2pm with around 50 people and 10 crew on board. We sailed away from Oia and out for a swim in the sea near Nea Kamini – a small uninhabited island which was created by the volcanic explosion which gave the island it’s unusual shape back in 1646BC.

Following that it was out into the open water, the catamaran gliding through the waves as the sun sparkled on each and every ripple. We sailed towards the South of the island, stopping off for more swimming at Red Beach and White Beach, before heading back towards Oia in time for that all important sunset.

At almost £100 each the cruise was far from cheap, but we had an absolutely fantastic day. Unlimited drinks were included (we drank a lot of white wine!) and a freshly barbecued lunch of souvlaki, fresh salad, feta cheese and olives – all the amazing Greek essential food groups! Plus it meant we got to see an uninterrupted sunset in all it’s glory, with no pushing for a good spot and – more importantly – no moaning from the husband!

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

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A week in Oia, Santorini

It turns out that, for the 13 years I talked about going to Santorini, what I actually wanted was to go to Oia (pronounced Ee-a).

Of course I didn’t realise that when our plane landed on the runway at Thira airport after a busy few days in Athens. I was still full of the notion that we’d get a bus to the capital Fira. Maybe visit the ancient ruins at Akrotiri. See something of the island.

Nor did I realise it during the first afternoon we headed into the village to explore. In fact, based on how busy Oia was with cruise ship tourists and day visitors, the idea of getting out of the village seemed even more appealing. We retreated to our hotel, with it’s secluded pool and traditional restaurant, and indulged in some much needed R&R following a full itinerary on the mainland.

But, as I talked about in a previous post, first impressions don’t always count.

Thanks to checking out the cruise ship schedule (all hail Tripadvisor reviews for that piece of knowledge) we knew that on day 2 there would be fewer visitors to the island, so we headed out once again and that’s when we both knew we wouldn’t be leaving this beautiful cliff top vision until it was time to go home.

Oia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to

Ever. It’s almost beyond belief. When you’re not dodging selfie sticks and crowds and arrogant wannabe models, it’s absolutely breathtaking. There’s no white sandy beach, no uninterrupted view of the horizon and no sound of the waves breaking on the coastline. Oia is built high up on a cliff, and looks out to the caldera which is dotted with islands created when the volcano erupted in 1646 BC.

The curved white Cycladic architecture is both retro and futuristic, all at once. The black lava rocks contrast dramatically with the blue sea and sky and the pink bougainvillea. The elevated position on the cliff face means you can actually see the currents in the sea below, while the sun glistens on the water like thousands of diamonds.

We ate breakfast overlooking buildings seemingly tumbling down the cliff face. Over the course of the week I never tired of the views once. I took multiple pictures of the same spots every day, because I couldn’t get enough of them. The whole village was a sight to behold.

See for yourself!

The best thing to do, surely, must be to share some photos with you? I can’t say this emphatically enough – NONE of these pictures have been changed in any way. No filters, no photoshop, just pure point and click on my camera phone.

See what I mean? Looking at these photos now just brings it all back!

At dusk twinkling lights start to appear as buildings are illuminated.

And even in the black of night the same view was illuminated by hundreds of lights giving the white architecture an ethereal glow and the plunge pools and hot tubs a bright blue hue.

I don’t think anyone could fail to be wowed by Oia. From an aesthetic point of view it’s incredible, but also from a logistical point of view – the way everything is built almost beggars belief!

Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Also yes.

If I’d only been visiting Oia rather than staying there I would have been very sorely disappointed.

Have you ever been to Oia, or Santorini? Let me know in the comments!

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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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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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2018 travel plans

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!

2018 travel plans

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.

Criccieth Castle

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.

Palma de Mallorca

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!)

Athens

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).

Santorini

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.

So excited!

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!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Cheers, Steve!

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?!TripAdvisor logoNow, 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 herehere, 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.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

 

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5 things I say regularly when I’m driving

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.

5 things - the driving edition

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!

“You’re welcome”

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!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

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A day out in the Mani Peninsula, Greece – part 2

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?

Areopoli archway swing

 

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!

Read part 1 of our day out in the Mani here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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