Naxos

If you ever go to Naxos, St George beach is probably the best place to stay – it’s one of the two sheltered beaches (St Anna further down is also pretty cosmopolitan with beach bars, cafes and tavernas as well) which are also close to Hora (the capital) or Naxos town where the stunning Venetian Castle (Kastro) in the old town is located high on the hill and one of the first sights you see on entering Naxos by ferry, along with the Portara – the never completed Temple of Apollo which stands alone on the left hand side as you come in.  Also interesting is the big church which has a green dome instead of blue.

Having said that we travelled by superferry to Mikri Vigla way down south – this time as deck passengers outside in the sun and the wind which was preferable for us rather than being below with sleeping backpackers in need of a wash in the airline-style seats.  It’s only 45 minutes or less if travelling from Paros.  Our friends had chosen Mikri Vigla not realising that it’s split into two beaches – the western side which is the windy beach (Parthena just down from Orkos beach) unsuitable for swimming as it’s the kitesurfing capital and the southern (calm) beach Limanaki where we stayed at Depis Sea Side Villas next to the big salt pan, which was fine in July but by August, the salt pan is used as a car park.  We also had to change into an off-road vehicle as from Plaka beach onwards its dirt roads.  Apparently there are plans for a new airport and to seal the roads in the next few years but it can get very dusty as a result and the buses are not as frequent to Mikri Vigla but OK if you’re at Plaka beach, where we also stayed.  There are also umbrellas and sun lounges set up along the whole length of Limanaki beach (below), where I did manage a run one morning all the way down.

Naxos has a different feel to Paros – it’s more low-key, semi-rural and less English is spoken.  Both our driver and cleaner at the villa didn’t speak English.  It is also greener than Paros but in a dry way the same Australia can be in the bush.  While there’s not much to do in Mikri Vigla besides go to the beach or one of the few taverns around (Kontos tavern next to the mini supermarket is good and we loved the Mikri Vigla family run tavern on the beach itself), it suited us in terms of timing as we’d gone out pretty hard at the start of the trip and needed some time to relax and chill out before we returned back home.  Our villa was part of a development of 5 and we loved the sense of privacy and seclusion – it did feel pretty remote at the end of a dirt road but walking distance to a nearby bakery, car hire shop and the supermarket where there was also an ATM machine.  Limanaki is fantastic for snorkelling as much as the water is colder  but clearer in Naxos than in Paros.  Our villa was also well set up for self-catering with a fully equipped kitchen which was great as it was good to have breakfast and lunch at home and just go out for dinner in the evenings.  We also went for a walk one morning climbing the big rock face that divides both beaches, which I can highly recommend as you’ve got an amazing view on both sides once you get up to the top although I was freaking out due to how windy it was as much as my kids and Mr Rosanna loved it.

It was windy on our second last day there so we decided to hire a car and head to the mountain villages where we made it to the beautiful but small village of Halki (above) where we stopped for lunch under the vines in the main square at Yianni’s (with its own spit for roasting meat) and then headed to the much bigger town of Filoti.  Halki is famous for the Fish & Olive studio gallery and boutique shop of sea-inspired hand-painted ceramics and jewellery, Penelope hand-woven textiles (although I bought a hand-woven scarf from another business) and the Vallindras Kitron Distillery, which are all worth visiting.  Due to exhausted children, we skipped the third mountain town of Apiranthos and instead headed to the sheltered beach cove of Alyko (below and Filoti) near the deserted concrete shell of a hotel started in the 1980s but never completed.  Alyko beach and the next sheltered cove along in Pyrgaki are recommended if you want somewhere less windy but they are also very remote – you would definitely need a car if staying that far south.

We spent our last two nights in Naxos in a 3 bedroom maisonette (with kitchenette) at the stylish and cute Ploes Seaside Houses (below) at Plaka beach across the road from the Plaza Beach Hotel which was a great place to stay because if the beach is windy, you have access to the Plaza Beach Hotel pool and cafe, of which we took advantage.  Ploes’ owners Christos and his wife Eleni have another arrangement for Ploes’ guests to also enjoy the breakfast buffet for 8 euro (and children half price) on the outdoor terrace of the Plaza Beach Hotel, where the bus conveniently stops if heading to Hora and where you’ll find a supermarket underneath the hotel.  Christos actually came and picked us up from Depis as well as dropped us off at Naxos Airport when we left for our last night back in Athens.  He and Eleni also checked in with us every day to see how our day had been, if we had slept well and if our maisonette was OK as well as gave us recommendations for lunch and dinner (we did go to the upmarket Petrino restaurant for dinner on our first night).  If we were to ever go back to Plaka beach we would definitely stay there again as the service was outstanding, Christos and Eleni are beautiful people and Ploes was a real highlight accommodation-wise.

We spent our last full day travelling along the coast road by bus to Naxos town where we met up with Alessandra and Phil at the port and promptly walked into the Old Town market area with its stone laneways all the way up to the Kastro.  A bit of retail spending was in order with cool T-shirts bought from the French owner (a bit telling in terms of the World Cup final that night) of Octopus Naxos which has been around since 1989.  We got lunch at one of the shaded laneway tavernas before walking up to the Kastro finding it a bit quieter at siesta time.  It was relaxing to then take in the magnificent views from the top at 1739 Terrasse Cafe where we had frappes and icecream before popping our heads into the Apodo Hellenic Design gift shop where more purchases were made.  Similar to Forget Me Not Athens and W.D Concept Store in Santorini – there were some fantastic modern Greek jewellery, accessory and clothing brands on offer including Mary Gaitani jewellery, Love Greece, Rhodesign and Loom handmade bags as well as cute children’s toys.  Alessandra and Phil had to leave to make the last bus back to Mikri Vigla but we stayed on to end our trip by visiting the Greek ruin – the Portara, which loomed large near the port stopping to have a drink at the cafe below (where a lifeguard can be found watching the people having a dip at the steps going into the water!) before we made our walk up.  Again, it was well worth it for the views of both the Portara and of Naxos and a fitting end to our time there.  By Day 20, we were a bit over Greek food so found Il Girasole pizza where we watched the World Cup Grand Final outside with raucous young French backpackers out in force celebrating France’s victory before catching the bus back to Plaka beach.

Our trip to Greece mainly ends here as we spent the following day and night killing time by the pool in Naxos before making our way back to Athens, where we stayed briefly overnight before catching planes home again to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi, this time faring better than our forward journey there.  I’ve been back in Melbourne for just over a week now settling back into the routine of school and work (and winter!) but will post on some of the travel tips as well as the food at some later stage.  We were ready to come home and for now, we are happy to be back although I’m sure itchy feet will come around again and there are other destinations on our list, as I’m sure yours.  My views on Greece?  We loved our entire time there despite some of its shortcomings – a couple of rare occasions of lacklustre Greek customer service and criticisms over the state of its economy and infrastructure and how it got there (austerity measures are still in place).  We were devastated to hear about the fires in Athens after we left and wish the Greek people all the best in getting their country on its feet again.  We will be back to visit another time and for now, Efharisto Greece from us with love.

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Day tripping in Paros

Paros isn’t a big island and if you get the chance to hire a car (or quad bikes) it’s well worth it.  We did a couple of day trips around the island going clockwise to get a better idea of some of the more far-flung beaches and villages like Santa Maria beach, Piso Livadi (the name of which became the running joke of the holiday), Logaras beach all the way down south to Drios and the famous Golden beach – a spectacular stretch of beach which I found slightly soul-less for unknown reasons.  Alessandra and Phil made it all the way to Aliki beach, which we unfortunately missed with children who aren’t great travelling by car.

 

My favourite beach outside of Naoussa’s two fantastic beaches with turquoise waters Monastiri and Kolibithres (which can both be reached by 20 minute caique boat rides), was Logaras – a low-key blue flagged beach which also has trees as well as a beach bar, tavernas and restaurants near the port town of Piso Livadi.  Shade is a valuable commodity in Greece and while we’d bought an umbrella so that we didn’t always have to pay (most Greek beaches have paid umbrellas and sun lounges already set up unlike Australian beaches where there is generally only beach!) – the trees were a great spot to set up camp to stay for most of the afternoon.

 

It’s also worth a trip inland to the beautiful mountain town of Lefkes to have a walk around the old town (some of it derelict) where we had a delicious local meal at Lefkiano run by people who live there all year around which we found delightful.  They owners keep an eye on the older people in the village who are still living solo in their nineties and I can understand why it would be a blue zone – the food, the climate, the walking and the connection would all contribute to living well for longer.  Paros is famous for its marble and the Oneipa concept store and Yria ceramic store are worth visiting.  We met a studio artist who still hand makes and paints the beautiful gold religious Orthodox icons and carves Parian marble.

 

A trip to Antiparos to visit the underground cave (over 400 steps down and then back up) is also well worth it.  We got the short car ferry across from Paros on the western side of the island and spent the morning exploring the cave in awe looking at the stalactites and stalacmites.  Antiparos is a celebrity island where the likes of Tom Hanks, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have visited as well as writers and artists from further back in time like Lord Byron and Truman Capote.  After our morning expedition, we were hungry and drove to Soros beach where the expensive beach bar and umbrella hire (25 euro!) put us off so we ventured back up to the local tavern we’d passed on the way Permataki which also ended up being one of the better local meals we had in terms of the food and service.  Their specialty was a home-made pie of which there was only one kind left by the time we ordered.

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We drove to the next secluded cove on dirt road which wasn’t fantastic in a 7 seater but ended up having a relaxing swim and snorkel marred only by the arrival of two larger boats including a party boat with blaring music full of younger people who anchored so that passengers could have a dip in the water.  It spoilt the tranquility a little but they didn’t stay for long once everyone had had a swim and beaches are for everyone.

 

Our time in Paros was also incredible in different ways from walking until 10pm every night in Naoussa when the main square and surrounding laneways built to confuse pirates come alive (you can get night-time haircut or nail appointments) to the French tourists going crazy at outdoor cafes given the World Cup finals were on to the super stylish cafes like Sousoura and Foti’s, gelati from S.Cream or donut waffle cones and Greek donuts, the hanging octopus drying in the sun near the port to the Wedgwood blue (not the darker blue) of the church domes and the Greek flag flying everywhere.

 

Naoussa

Travelling via superferry from Santorini to Paros was a memorable experience.  The sheer size of the ferries is gobsmacking – large enough to drive trucks on with an escalator and air conditioning inside as well as indoor cafes, bars and lounges depending on the class of ticket you’ve bought.  I had taken no chances and upgraded us to business class (or ‘distinguished class’) which gave us access to a lovely lounge upstairs which we had almost to ourselves for the three hours it took for us to get to Paros.  A tip too to check your ticket once it’s printed/picked up as the departure time can vary from what’s online as we found out when we got to the port two hours early and had to kill time.  Intermediary travel agencies will also charge you 1 euro per person for the privilege of printing tickets purchased online.

Still, we were super excited to dock in Pariklia – the port town of Paros before catching a taxi to Naoussa for 20 euro – it is cheaper to catch the bus but if you have a lot of luggage it can be easier to cab it and it was closer to our accommodation in Naoussa – the upmarket fishing village where we’d booked an old Cycladic ‘house’ (actually three separate apartments) on Air Bnb in the Old Town which was absolutely beautiful – stone laneways, Bougainvillea covered whitewashed Cycladic buildings with painted doors, more cats and locals still living in the village.  I had a little giggle going past upmarket shops with houses next door where someone’s undergarments were on the clothes horse outside.  It kind of summed up the whole experience of Naoussa which was equal parts extremely stylish and upmarket, but also endearingly local, authentic and charming – we loved saying Yasas and Kalimera every morning to neighbouring locals and their dogs and cats including the little old lady who made spaghetti bolognaise as dinner for her cats the first night we stayed.  To our delight, we were also walking distance to a little grocery store as well as the small cove where a collection of waterfront boutique tavernas are housed including Ouzeri Mitsi (where we had dinner our first night), Taverna Glafkos (where I celebrated my birthday the second night) and Foti’s Art Cafe which was great for brunch and drinks.

We also met up with our friends – another local family from here – Alessandra, an Italian entertainment broadcaster and her partner Phil a classically trained musician and music teacher.  Alessandra arrived the first night but Phil had missed the connecting flight from Milan to Mykonos and so arrived the next day.  None of us had been keen to stay or visit Mykonos, which I’ve heard is like Santorini except around a port but its reputation as a party destination had put us off.  As it was, Naoussa also has a number of all night bars and while we were further away – we could still hear the music in the early hours of the morning and were glad we brought ear plugs.  We did wonder how the poor locals cope over Summer.   I must be getting old…

I spent my birthday having breakfast on the terrace of our house as I did every morning we were there followed by drinks by the main waterfront.  Mr Rosanna and our friends took the kids to one of the small local beaches in the afternoon, which allowed me the luxury of wandering the streets to do some birthday shopping and while I did buy a small handmade bag to match my Greek sandals, I spent most of my time buying small gifts for family.  The afternoon is the hottest part of the day and only the silly tourists can be found on the streets and laneways with many shops closing for siesta and reopening later in the day.  There are some beautiful shops if you ever visit Naoussa including high-end womenswear stores La Meduse (stocking Klotho linen clothing and Loom Handmade bags from Crete), La Isla (also stocking linen clothing with handmade embroidery), bohemian Electric and modern Sun.Set as well as artisan/craft store Handmade in Paros, modern ceramic store MX Ceramics, Zina Fragi jewellery and Fad Gallery  for Trees n Blossom etched oxidised brass necklaces and earrings, Marble of Thannas silver and marble jewellery and Rhodesign bags.  It is indeed one of the most stylish places I’ve ever visited and I can understand why my bestie Jules, who is a fashion buyer, honeymooned there.  While Santorini has the wow factor, Naoussa is more understated and intimate with its secrets harder to find.

We stayed for 6 nights in total in Naoussa which was a good amount of time as it allowed us to explore the whole island, visit two of its closer beaches as well take the car ferry to Antiparos, which I will post about next.

Seduced by Santorini

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Santorini is without question the most beautiful and atmospheric place I have ever visited with an other worldliness I’ve only felt a couple of other times in my life when visiting Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Langkawi Island in Malaysia.  We flew in to the island on from Athens given I have children who aren’t great on boats and were picked up by our driver from boutique luxury hotel Aressana, which I had booked on booking.com months earlier after much deliberation given the cost.  I had decided to splurge here as I’m not sure that we’ll ever visit Santorini again and a colleague had advised me to stay in Fira – the capital – rather than elsewhere on the island.  Mr Rosanna and I have always had a tendency to stay in budget accommodation but there are times in your life when the expense is worth it and I have to say the Aressana was the accommodation highlight of our whole stay in Greece.

It’s located at the very bottom of Fira as you come in by bus or taxi and right near the stunning Atlantis Hotel which is the beginning of the sunset walk along the volcanic rock cliff edge known as the Caldera in front of the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.  While not on the Caldera side, the Aressana was an oasis of calm and we had our own family room located further away from the main pool and breakfast area, which had a semi private lap pool of its own shared only with 5 other rooms – some of which were empty so we pretty much had the pool to ourselves the whole time we were there (see main pic above).

Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful – Mr Rosanna and I weren’t sure what to look at first as everything is a photo opportunity.  White washed buildings, flowering herbs and plants in pots on steps and walls and framing buildings, beautiful churches, paved stone laneways, the Caldera itself forming a massive ring around the island in the sea from the geographic remains of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago or the amazing blues of the ocean and sky.  We had lunch in the first of many roof top terrace tavernas (and I will come to the subject of Greek food a bit later on) as our room wasn’t quite ready and it was like being in a dream.  It was indeed the culmination of a dream – Mr R and I have wanted to visit Greece for a number of years now – so the fact that we were actually finally there was a very big deal and I have to say our minds were completely blown away.  The whole time we were there was dream-like despite the commercialisation of the place.  It is full of tourists from all over the world including many honeymooners, families and backpackers.  And yes, while it was very expensive to stay there (although we later heard that Mykonos is even more expensive) we had three magnificent days in Santorini, memories of which will stay with us forever.  We had a walk down one of the laneways where I noticed the cool WD Concept Store similar to Forget Me Not in Athens located next door to the White Door Theatre – a group of performers who parade down Gold Street every night at sunset (see main pic below) promoting their interactive Greek Wedding show.  The store is actually run by the performers during the day – a very clever and entrepreneurial move from some clearly talented and creative people with an eye for style.

We spent the afternoon settling into our room and having a swim before going out for dinner to another taverna and just making it to the Caldera edge at sunset for the first of three majestic evenings where the going down of the massive sun in the sky over the sea horizon is an event in itself with people clapping once the sun actually disappears.  It is magical to experience.

On our second day in Santorini we decided to take the very short but very steep cable car down to the water’s edge to the port where all the boats leave if you’re wanting to explore the nearby volcanic isles for a day trip (which I had heard were a bit disappointing so decided to pass).  There are actually two lines moving cable cars up and down on a constant basis rather than the one line which rotates around and it is faster (and less pungent) than taking a donkey ride down and up hill although there were old Greek men at the bottom who run the donkey business for interested people so we did say a quick hello to the donkeys.  We had frappes at the beach bar on the right hand side of the port marvelling at some of the doors built into the cliff where people used to live and had a chat to the wait staff who were relieved that no cruise ships were in port.  The cruise ships are so big that they can’t actually dock but have to anchor further out in the ocean and then boat passengers (up to 3000 people) across to the island.  When there are three ships in port at peak times, the island’s population explodes with an additional 10,000 people (including staff) so I’m glad this wasn’t the case while we were there.

We ventured out further along the streets of Santorini on our second day there taking in the feast of sights and sounds, stopping to do some shopping.  There are beggars on the island who we gave money to near the churches including the man with one deformed leg only who was clearly disabled but again, there were far fewer homeless people in Santorini than here in Melbourne.  It was a good opportunity for our children to see that hardship can happen to anyone and remember how lucky we truly are.  We witnessed our second amazing sunset in Fira but had been told to visit Oia by friends and family as it is apparently even more spectacular surrounded by the quaint blue domed churches and other buildings at the village further up from Fira.  We sadly didn’t make it there due to exhausted children but I’ve heard it’s almost a spiritual experience to see the sunset in Oia against the backdrop of such a dramatic landscape.

We bought a few more touristy things in Santorini – worry beads for my eldest son and more evil eye key rings for family.  There are some high end jewellery shops and galleries on Gold Street and even if you aren’t a fan of gold, it’s an interesting walk to have a look at all the over the top jewellery which glitters in the sun.  Lalaounis is worth a look as well as Mati Gallery where we spotted a bronze fish sculpture by artist owner Yorgos Kypris, which also made it home in our hand luggage as a special piece and keepsake.  Mati sells its own jewellery as well as that of other contemporary artists and I have a handmade matte silver sardine pendant which Mr Rosanna bought for me as an early birthday present, also from the gallery which has become a symbol of our trip to Greece – evil eyes and fish.  Just as an aside, the Greek toilets are still the same in that you have to use bins for used paper and additionally, tap water is not safe to drink in the islands (while it is in Athens) so bottled water is the way to go.

On our last day in Santorini, we put on our running shoes and spent the morning doing the cliffside walk making sure to avoid the donkey poo and walked all the way to the next ‘town’ of Imerovigli.  We stopped along the way at the Underground Tunnels (above) where a new art exhibition had just opened ‘Cyclades Iles De La Mer Egee’ by French artist Roger Tourte with some beautiful original drawings, posters and illustrations (which I would have happily bought if they’d been available as prints) from the 1920s.

We had drinks at one of the terrace cafes on the Caldera side and got the chance to walk past some of the cool cliff-side bars including the one above Franco’s Bar where we later went for pre-dinner drinks on our last night in Santorini.  Where did we go for dinner?  We chose to spend our last sunset dinner at Naoussa restaurant just across from the Aressana, which has been there for a number of years and recommended by the hotel staff.  It may also give you a clue too as to where we were headed next on our Grecian tour of the Cycladic islands.

 

 

 

 

 

Acropolis Now

My drugs had kicked in by Friday and we set off for the Acropolis of Athens in the morning before it got too hot and crowded.  It’s a good idea to get there as close to opening time of 8am as possible as there were still hundreds of people lining up for tickets and making their way slowly up the hill.  It’s a lovely walk from Monastiraki Square as you pass by a number of other ruins and go up the shaded steps near a taverna and past a heritage building which houses a childcare centre for the lucky staff who work at the Acropolis (carrying whistles for any misbehaving tourists) and Ministry of Culture.

It was a beautiful morning to visit with the sun already high in the sky and amazing views over Athens from the Acropolis.  The Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis were even more stunning to see close up and I marvelled at how they were all made of marble.  It was the United Nations in terms of tourists from all over the world taking photos including us and we also loved the huge Greek flag flying in the wind, which was visible from our apartment windows.

We stopped to have some Greek iced coffees with sugar (or frappes as they are called in Greece) and then made our way down through the beautiful streets of Plaka below the Acropolis and the main area for most tourists to visit or stay in.  The houses and little laneway tavernas and shops going up the steps towards the Acropolis were full of character and one of the things I will take with me is all the shade provided by leafy grapevines or flowering purple Bougainvillea.  We stopped to have lunch at one of the tavernas on the terrace.  Yiasemi is the go to place but you can’t go wrong with any Greek tavernas – I am in the closing days of our trip here and we are yet to have a bad meal.

The souvenir shops in Plaka are more stylish but still touristy – there were lots of young girls buying the lovely metal olive leaf head wreaths to wear.  Another shop worth visiting for modern Greek design is Forget Me Not which has had a number of write ups in international magazines.  We bought a very cool wrist band made of sailing rope held in place by a silver anchor as well as a T-Greeks T-shirt.

It was hot walking the streets of Plaka so we made it to the National Gardens for some respite from the sun.  If we’d had one extra day in Athens it would have been lovely to visit some of the museums, stroll down Ermou Street to browse the shops all the way to upmarket Kolonaki as well as visit Lycabettus Hill and take the funicular up to the highest point of Athens to visit St. George Church.

Mr Rosanna and I also enjoyed walking the streets of Pysri buying groceries from the super market and bakery with the locals.  Despite the population, Athens is like a village on steroids – it has remained proudly Greek and we loved our time there.  We spent our last night at a laneway taverna checking out the very cool hipster shops in the area, which had been closed in the early hours of the morning and at siesta time and we thoroughly enjoyed our inner city base in the time we spent in Athens although bigger adventures awaited us in the Cyclades Islands.

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We spent our first day in Athens recovering from our travels.  Our first impression of the city driving in from the airport was that the buildings looked a bit run down – what I would call gritty but my father-in-law would call grotty.  I liked the fact that despite the size of the city it’s all relatively low-rise – maybe 6 – 8 storeys high for most buildings.  It was nice to come in from the east past the impressive Museum of Cycladic Art and Benaki Museum which we unfortunately ran out of time to visit, Parliament House and Syntagma (Constitution) Square – the scene of many protests – and its accompanying public gardens where we did manage to catch our breath one day on the sprawling lawns.

We drove past the magnificent and historic Hotel Grande Bretagne and down part of Ermou Street where you can find all the shops including some global brands but as I mentioned in my earlier post, I love the fact that Greece has stayed proudly Greek.  The beautiful blue and white striped flag of Greece flies in front of most buildings and houses here and I think there is only one McDonalds in Athens – I never actually saw one until I got to Santorini and even then it was in one of the back streets.  I think they have managed to avoid some of the pitfalls of globalisation and commercialisation and I found the street shops quite charming especially around our apartment where old style tin and basket shops could be found.

Psyri is pretty edgy – Mr Rosanna went to grab some delicious takeaway souvlaki on our first night and came out into the street from our apartment to find some junkies loitering below but by and large, we felt pretty safe.  There were beggars and homeless people in some of the streets and at nearby Monastiraki Square but nothing compared to the amount of homeless people we have in Melbourne.  The whole area is frequented by locals who visit the laneway bars, shops, restaurants and tavernas for which Psyri is known for.  There is a horrendous amount of graffiti and street art, which might be off putting for some, although we got used to it but noticed the difference when we eventually visited character-filled Plaka which has no graffiti.  There were a lot of very cool bars only a few metres from our apartment including the South-American inspired Juan Rodriguez (below with our Athenian-born waiter from Sierra Leone out the front) where we had dinner one night amidst all the smokers inside!  Yes, there are a lot of cigarette smokers in Greece and I think it’s one of the things that Australia has been much better at combatting along with gun control and environmental conservation.

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The other thing which takes some getting used to is Greek toilets.  As their pipes are so old and narrow, their sewerage system can’t accommodate toilet paper so there is a bin provided next to every toilet you go to in Greece for used toilet paper (eek!).  Apparently, it’s pretty nasty if you forget and throw your paper in and then your toilet overflows.  The other thing they don’t do well is showers, in that not all showers have a wall fitting to hang your shower rose.  Instead you have a hose attachment with a shower rose at the end where you just hold it and shower different parts of your body but it’s not ideal if you’re someone who likes to stand under a shower with the water coming down onto your head.

On our first whole day, we woke up before dawn and it was too early for a meal at the Museum of Gastronomy downstairs so instead we went for a walk through the laneways full of interesting shops and cafes, stopping to have a koulouria (breakfast bread ring tied in a knot with sesame seeds) at a place packed with locals and walked to Monastiraki Square and its accompany flea market where you do need to watch out for pick pockets (there and on the metro train stations).  It was very touristy but my children loved buying mati (evil eye) key rings and miniature statues of Greek gods.  Mr Rosanna and I preferred the antique section and shops near Cafe Avissinia where I found a beautiful green stone elephant, which I now have to carry back in hand luggage.

We went past the famous Poet sandalmaker store (pictured above left) but found better quality and more fashionable sandals at Kallipous handmade shoes a few doors before where I bought the pair pictured above on my feet.  We got as far as the start of the ruins leading up to the Acropolis before jet lag and fatigue started to kick in.  We had lunch at a shaded tavern where we were serenaded by Greek rembetiko musicians playing the bouzouki and visited by our first cats of Greece – the first of many to come, before heading back home.

A Greek Odyssey

I’ve been in Greece the past couple of weeks and it’s been pretty amazing.  If I had any expectations regarding the country, they have now been surpassed.  I’m currently in the Greek Islands and they have blown my mind – the beauty of the places we’ve visited so far has been astonishing.  The word ‘amazing’ is often over-used but that and the word ‘wow’ have been constants since I left Melbourne two weeks ago in a less than optimal state of health, still on antibiotics and an inhaler.

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We had a horror overnight flight from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi flying with Etihad – not because of anything the airline did but more that I picked up a stomach bug and had to break into our first aid kit by the time we got to Athens and that there was constant turbulence all the way over a period of 13 hours with one child who has a fear of flying and thought we were going to die, and another who suffers from motion sickness and promptly threw up when we landed in the United Arab Emirates.  Suffice to say we were in a pretty shattered state by the time we arrived and paid for access to the Al Reem Lounge (for which some American Express Platinum Card holders can get passes) just to re-group for a couple of hours before getting onto another plane bound for Athens.  It was nothing special food-wise but a calming and soothing place to be after the ordeal of the flight.  If you do have young children, I definitely recommend a stopover overnight to break up a long haul flight and unfortunately, this wasn’t something that Mr Rosanna and I had factored into our trip, which we only organised at the start of this year without using a travel agent.

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Abu Dhabi seems like a fascinating place to visit for someone like me who has a Middle Eastern fetish and the Etihad staff were warm and friendly both in the skies and on ground.  All too quickly we had to board the plane again and it was a complete contrast flying to Athens in the calm, blue skies.  It took a lot of convincing for me to get our kids back onto the plane but sometimes you have to confront your fears again straight away.

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We were happy beyond relief to land at Athens international airport where I was amused to find the first building I saw was an Ikea (luckily more of an anomaly in a country that is more culturally intact than ours) and we exited into a big queue in a fairly uninspiring, run down part of the airport with no air conditioning, lacklustre customer service and muzak blaring out of the speakers to have our passports checked and stamped.

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Unlike most tourists who stay in picturesque Plaka, we had booked an apartment via Boutique Athens in gritty Psyri – the equivalent of Fitzroy – the hipster part of Athens where the locals live, which is covered in street art and graffiti.  Our driver Mihalis picked us up and took us to our laneway apartment where we met Nick – the Melbourne-born half Greek half Australian son of one of the owners who promptly opened up the graffiti covered front entrance to our apartment building right next door to the Museum of Gastronomy (and a former monastery) and took us up in the small lift to the sixth floor – the penthouse we’d spied on Home Away (formerly Stayz) with a wrap around balcony and amazing views of the Acropolis.  It was indeed a sight to behold to witness dawn breaking over the capital and the Acropolis bathed in light on our first day there.