6 Alternative things to do in Athens

Greece, Acropolis

Following on from my Paris tips, I wanted to share a few gems for another European city I love.

I first visited Athens in November  2014 and loved it so much that I went back the following summer for a week. The off season was my favourite – cool but sunny weather, far fewer crowds. The hike up to the acropolis was warm but pleasant however I imagine it can get unbearably hot in the summer sun.

Here are a few of the things I enjoyed.

Buy sandals from The Poet
Agias Theklas 2, Athina 105 54

Something of a legend in Athens, the Poet’s shop is THE place to buy a pair of authentic Greek sandals. You’ll be joining the likes of Sophia Loren and Jackie Onassis who all have owned pairs. Surprisingly, for such good quality pair of leather shoes, prices average a mere 35 Euros. The experience of buying a pair is fantastic as well -­ you get properly measure up for your sandal of choice and they alter the straps so they fit your feet perfectly. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and try and go on a weekend afternoon. The shop gets overwhelmingly busy as it is tiny so I left and returned the next day, first thing in the morning and spent a leisurely hour picking out my sandals and getting them sized for my feet. The leather gets darker with wear (in a good way) so you never know exactly how your shoes will end up looking.

See a film at Cine Paris
Kidathineon 22, Athina 105 58

Set in an unassuming courtyard on a busy street in Athens, this charming little nook is a great place to escape and watch a film, under shadow of the Acropolis. The films are shown in English with Greek subtitles and range from classics to more contemporary fair. Popcorn, snacks and drinks are available for cheaper than we’re used to at home which makes it hard to resist! As the sun sets the Parthenon lights up and it can be hard to keep your attention on the film when a great piece of ancient history looks so majestic, up on its perch.

Eat gyros at Bairakta
Pl. Monastirakiou 5, Athina 105 55, 

Greek street food at its best. Gyros are meats wrapped in pita, covered in tzatziki, with a few fries thrown in. Do yourself a favour and get only the gyro to go here. They are delicious and dirt cheap. The sit down food however is overpriced and disappointing. Walk up the road to Puro where you can buy freshly pressed juices to wash your meal down with and then pick up a few pieces of whichever type of baklava looks good at any one of the numerous bakeries in the area. The aim of the game is to try as many as possible ­ because how will you know which is your favorite if you don’t test them all out?

Fresh Baklava, Acropolis

Visit a Greek Island

Island hopping around Greece is on my bucket list but until that day comes, I’ve satiated myself with some of the more easily accessible islands. Aegina is a short 40 minute ferry ride from the mainland port of Piraeus, which is easily accessible by metro. You can visit the island in a day to get a taste of island life but if you’ve got more time, I would highly recommend spending at least one night. Hire a taxi, or take a bus to the opposite side of the island and visit the Temple of Afaia for a history fix. Gorge yourself on fresh seafood on anyone of the restaurants on the sea front.

Go on a free Athens walking tour

I’ve been on a lot of free walking tours around the cities of Europe. I find that when I don’t have much time, they’re a great way of getting my bearings whilst learning some of the local history and getting insider knowledge about where the good places to eat/see/go out are. This particular tour was one of the best I’ve ever been on. Our guide was a Bostonian transplant who had lived in Athens for over a decade. His live and enthusiasm for the city was evident and he took us around some of the sights.

Lucy, the Palace Dog

Watch (or learn!) traditional Greek dance

A trip to the Dora Stratou Theatre will not disappoint. Between May and September, you are invited to see a performance of traditional song, dance, music and dress ­ just the way it would have been performed in Greece years ago. You can even take a dance lesson (which is given in English) if you’re so inclined!

6 Alternative things to do in Paris

Eiffel Tower reflection{eiffel reflections}

For the last few weeks, I’ve been sorting through my photos so I can get some printed and make an album or two. I’m really enjoying reminiscing about all the wonderful travels I’ve experienced. I love travelling. Like, LOVE love. But I also love planning holidays, so if you make the mistake of telling me you’re thinking of going somewhere that I’ve been before, you will find yourself the recipient of a list of places you should go and things you should do.* In that spirit, over the coming weeks, I’m going to share a few of my favorite spots around the world.

And what better place to start than Paris?

The city holds a special place in my memories. It was the destination of my very first foreign holiday, aged 8. We booked on to a coach trip, the youngest people on the trip by far, apart from one other mother-and-child duo. Whilst the rest of us were ferried around from site to site, they went out on their own, only returning to the coach in the evening for the trip back to the hotel. I remember thinking they were very adventurous. Later, it was the place I visited on my very first holiday without an adult. R, my long-time travel buddy, and I spent a weekend exploring the sites. I practiced my French, we climbed up the Eiffel Tower and spent a day at Disney. I didn’t pack a coat. It was cold. I’ve since learnt to listen to my mother.

And then, back when husband was boyfriend, it was the place we visited on our very first holiday together; my birthday present to him. I found 1p flights with Ryanair, we traveled with hand-luggage and city hopped by plane – on to Girona and then Perpignan. It was the start of many adventures together.**

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So if you’ve got the Eiffel Tower, Laudurée and The Louvre ticked off your list, here are a few places that I am confident are worth your time visiting.

Walk the Parisian High Line
Step back New York! Hidden away in the 12th arrondissement is the original highline ­ The Promenade Plantée. Around the corner from Bastille, you ascend a staircase that takes you to the start of the 4.7km long park which was once a train line. Walking amongst the Parisian rooftops, through bamboo walkways and along the track you can sneak a peek into the windows of those lucky people who get to call this city home.

Eat at the Pink Flamingo
There are a few branches of the pizza shop, but the one in the 10th arrondissement is my favorite as the area is full of cool drinking holes and it makes a perfect stop after you’ve explored Parc de Buttes Charmont (see below). Their pizza toppings that have a decidedly French flair to them (figs and brie, anyone?) and once you’ve ordered they give you a pink, helium filled balloon. Go and find yourself a romantic spot along the canal whilst you wait for your food which will be delivered to you by a guy who’s tracked you down by your balloon. Trés magnifique!

Explore Parc des Buttes Charmont

Sacre Coeur from Parc De Buttes Charmont
{Sacré Coeur from Parc des Buttes Charmont}

A little further out than the major sites but easily accessible by metro, or on foot if you’re a walker, the Parc is a little bit of tranquil paradise. Featuring a man made lake, waterfall, Italian inspired temple and a suspension bridge designed by Mr Eiffel himself, this is a great place to get away from the crowds and have yourself a little picnic. You are also treated to a wonderful view of the Parisian skyline.

Brave a night bike tour, (this is the one I’ve done)
I am a great fan of the free walking tours that you can find in most capital cities across Europe but sometimes it’s nice to give your feet a rest. Whilst you can hire your own bikes all over the city for not much money, I don’t have the steely nerves required to pedal myself around the crazy Parisian roads. With a guide however, I feel much more confident. Paris is just as, if not more romantic at dusk. Taking an evening tour allows you to see the city and its sights as the sun sets. Top it off with an evening cruise down the Seine (included as part of this particular tour) and you might just find yourself proposing to whoever is next to you because it’s so darn romantic!

Visit the Basilica of Saint Denis
Basilica of Saint DenisWhilst the cemetery of Père Lachaise always seems to make it on to top 10 lists, few people seem to venture out of the city to the suburb of Saint Denis, home to a Basilica of the same name. Even if you don’t know much about French history (I don’t, I’m afraid), chances are you will have heard of the famous Marie Antoinette. Although she and her headless husband weren’t initially buried at this church which is the historic resting place of the French monarchy, bits of their bodies were eventually rehoused there. Wander round this great abbey amongst the tombs of the French Kings and Queens of years gone by.

Wander around the Parisian sewer system – Musée des Égoute de Paris
Okay, live with me here. Maybe this isn’t necessarily somewhere to spend precious holiday time if it’s your first trip to Paris but I loved my visit to the Paris Sewer Museum. Seriously, when else are you likely ever to be able to visit a sewer system? It surprisingly doesn’t smell and the tunnels aren’t small and claustrophobic like you might expect.

*The (un)lucky recipient doesn’t really get a choice in the matter.
**I paid for more than just the flights, but I also like to reminisce about the days when Ryan Air were actually cheap so their terrible customer service was much more forgivable. Because you can’t really complain when you’re flight cost less than a chomp bar?

 

A is for Ancoats; a Manchester A to Z

roldham_a-spread
{photo from here}

‘A is for Ancoats

A dreary place is Ancoats,
‘Tis full of smoke and fog,
The lassess wear shawls on their heads
Their feet are shod with clogs.
‘Tis really not a pleasant place
Upon a rainy day;
We have to start with Ancoats tho’,
For Ancoats starts with A.’

 A Manchester Alphabet, Roger Oldham

Canal Walk Ancoats{summer in Ancoats}

Last year whilst wandering around Manchester Art gallery, a favourite pass time for lazy Saturday afternoons, I came across a wonderful set of illustrated short poems by Roger Oldham. Written in 1906, A Manchester Alphabet depicts in humorous verse, scenes from daily life in the city.

As I read each passage I reflected on my own memories of the places and things he wrote about. T is for Trams – every time I have to navigate my way across the tram tracks in St Peter’s Square, unsure of exactly which direction I can expect a yellow behemoth to come chugging toward me, it flits into my head that Gaudi met his demise under one such vehicle. C is for Chorlton – home to the best kebab in Manchester, has to be eaten in the car even though last time you promised yourself you wouldn’t do it again because they are drippy little buggers and the juice gets everywhere, making your car pong of onions until the end of time.

I’ve lived in Manchester for six years now and as seems to happen when you settle in a place, I find myself frequenting the same parts of town, the same restaurants, the same bars. I was inspired to make my own Manchester Alphabet and use it as an excuse to explore more of the city I call home.

And then, in typical Jasmin fashion, I did nothing about it for over 12 months.

Hallé St Peter's
{Hallé St Peter’s}

I visited the city a lot in the years before moving here and back then Ancoats was just a place that had some sneaky free parking (no longer, damn you yellow lines), not somewhere I would spend an afternoon hanging out. These days I know it as the place to get the best pizza in town (more on that in a second) but beyond that, the area is still a mystery to me. It seemed fitting that Ancoats should be my first stop in this journey.

In typical Manchester fashion, as Oldham wrote, it was a dreary day. No matter, in lieu of a shawl I had an umbrella and a bobble hat.
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I invited my cousin along for the day. She’s a clever and creative little bean who enjoys making videos so I thought it would be a fun bit of bonding time. I was right, we had the loveliest (and greediest) of days and I’m super proud of the video she created of it.

Some notes on the places we visited

Mustard Tree, here
110 Oldham Rd, Manchester M4 6AG
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 10am – 4pm / Sun: Closed

One of three charity shops for the Manchester based charity. They aim to tackle the causes and consequences of poverty and homelessness by empowering people through education and employment, and providing provisions to those in need. There was a decent selection of cheap but good condition clothing and homeware. I bought the blue jumper in the video (Topman, excellent condition) for a couple of quid and it has been in heavy rotation since.

Ancoats Peeps, here
Ancoats PeepsAncoats PeepsIf you look close enough, you might just find a brass eye piece staring out at you from an unassuming wall. There’s no explanation as to what you’re looking at or map to find any others but if you so manage to spy one, go ahead and peer through. You might see something, or you might see nothing.

Ancoats Coffee Co. here
Royal Mills, Redhill St.
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 8am – 6pm / Sat: 9am – 5pm / Sun: 10am – 5pm

Housed in an old cotton mill by the Rochadale Canal, is The Ancoats Coffee Co.  I confess, I didn’t have any coffee here, but the tea was good. The brownies looked intense but we didn’t get to try one since we were going to eat soon.

Rudy’s Pizza, here
Cotton Street
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 12– 3, 5-10pm / Sat: 12am – 10pm / Sun: 12am – 9pm

Canal Walk Rudy Pizza

Yes, I have been here before, but it’s the best pizza in Manchester so there was no way I wasn’t going to take the opportunity to visit.

Elnecot, here
Blossom Street
Opening times: Mon – Thu 5pm–11.30pm / Fri 12pm–11.30pm / Sat – Sun 11am-11.30pm

Elnecot Sticky Toffee Pudding
Honestly, the thing that drew me here was the gigantic neon ‘toilet’ sign that glares across Cutting Room Square. I went for a pit stop and I stayed for pudding. Perhaps that’s their trick? Lure you in with the promise of facilities and keep you there because you spy six things on the walk down to the loos that other people are eating which you must try for yourself.

Their sticky toffee pudding was one of the best I’ve ever had and I am forever indebted to my pathetic bladder for leading me to such deliciousness. My cousin had the chocolate fondant and it did that amazing oozy thing when you slice through it. Heaven.

Ancoats General Store, here
Great Ancoats Street
Opening times: Mon – Sat 7am–11pm / Sun: 8am–11pm 

Newspapers, apples, water, craft beer, Thursday evening street food events, coffee. All bases covered.

Cha-ology, here
Great Ancoats Street
Opening times: Wed – Sat 2pm–7pm / Sun – Tues: Closed

I was so disappointed to learn they had moved to a reservation only system. It’s on my list to return – if you take a look at their website, you’ll understand why.

 

 

 

Autumn goals: an update

With two holidays abroad and no weekends at home I didn’t get everything done on my list this season, but I gave it a good go.

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I had pumpkin spice lattes in LA and I ate a pumpkin pie someone else made.

I had a friend round for baked Camembert and gossip. It was going to be fondue, but since I was late to work by 90 minutes thanks to a motorway closed due to flooding, I had to stay late to get all my jobs done which didn’t leave much time for cooking by the time I got home.

We bought new bedding and even splurged on some cosy pyjamas.

We went to a haunted escape room with some of my cousins which did double duty as an autumn goal and 30 before 30 goal. Sadly for some reason the company haven’t posted our victory photo on their Facebook page so you’ll have to take my word for it – we won the game with three minutes to spare.

I made homemade hot chocolate for the family, but we wussed out of stargazing. It was too cold, so we watched Inception at my mother’s house instead.

Autumn, to do.

Manchester, last autumn

{Manchester, last autumn}

Today is officially autumn. I love the colours of the season and the crisp mornings, but I struggle when the nights set it.

So here are 10 things I’m going to do to enjoy the season. Long, dreary nights be damned!

  1. Make caramel apples, go on an autumnal walk and eat them
  2. Drink a pumpkin spice latte
  3. Buy flannel sheets
  4. Make a pumpkin pie
  5. Wear orange tights
  6. Make a quilt
  7. Do something haunted
  8. Make root vegetable crisps
  9. Star gaze, with hot chocolate
  10. Eat fondue