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!

A very Mexican new year

New Years Meal, tres leche cakeNew Year Meal, dips

I spent 8 hours in the kitchen on Saturday, cooking up a storm for our annual New Year meal and I loved every minute of it. I only took two photos all day but trust me, the food was immense (if I do say so myself) and much merriment was had.

Some notes on the food:

The lamb. Oh my, the lamb. I was aiming for something reminiscent of my beloved picante lamb at Panchos and I ended up making something that I like even more!

I used this meat rub to marinate a leg of lamb and slow roasted it using these these instructions.

Once it had completed the first roast for 4.5 hours (the leg weighed 2.4kg) I removed the meat off the bone, or at least the meat that was left on the bone, most of it had melted off into a delicious puddle, and shredded it. I mixed in generous amounts of this barbecue sauce which I had made earlier in the day, along with a little of the juice from the roast to keep the meat nice and moist. It went back in the oven for half an hour, covered with foil, to heat through. The barbecue sauce was delicious although a tad too sweet for me. Next time I think I will try decreasing the amount of honey and hoisin. I doubled the amount of garlic suggested – I couldn’t help myself, it’s an Asian thing.

I used this old favorite chilli recipe, with double the amount of garlic (obvs) and no red peppers. I used half the amount of hot water they suggest because I wanted a thicker chilli that could be used for burritos.

I prepared some chicken using this recipe.

I made this dip (so goooood, but so bad for you) and this one (with a regular tin of tomatoes to which I added some minced garlic and onion). We had guacamole but I bought that ready-made because avocados stress me out.

The meal was rounded out with a big pot of rice, pico de gallo, a black bean salad, some pickled red onions (shake 125ml of both water and red wine vinegar with 1tbsp salt and sugar in an old but clean jar, add half a thinly sliced red onion, leave for at least 1 hour/up to a day before you eat) and tortilla chips.

We had a tres leches cake for dessert. I cut a little of the sugar out, maybe about 50g? It still tasted amazing. I accidentally cooked it a little longer than it needed though. I had expected it to brown on top as it baked, like a regular sponge, so after checking on it at 18 minutes and assuming it was a bit under cooked, I left it for another 4. However, since the cake is mostly egg whites, I don’t think it picks up much colour as it bakes so I should’ve tested it with a skewer a bit earlier.

Sadly it was pretty damp that day so we couldn’t string up the pinata outside. Instead, four of us grabbed a bit of the donkey and pulled on three. There’s something a bit depressing about holding a dismembered, piñata donkey’s leg in your hand though. Next time I’ll get one that’s not as cute, so I feel less mean beating it up for sweets.

 

The best way to spread Christmas cheer

Elf at the Victoria Baths, Manchester - Village Green Events

We loved seeing Back to the Future at the Victoria Baths this summer, so when I saw that the Village Screen were returning with Christmas films this season, I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale. I’ve been looking forward to this night for weeks. Can you believe I’ve never seen Elf before?

Mac Daddies at the Victoria Baths, Manchester - Village Green Events

We didn’t get to indulge in the food offerings last time but I more than made up for it on this trip. I had the most deliciously indulgent mac and cheese from Mac Daddies and a festive doughnut filled with jam and mincemeat.

Elf at the Victoria Baths, Manchester - Village Green Events

I absolutely loved seeing the place decked out with Christmas cheer. It was however, bloody freezing and I’m so glad we brought a blanket to snuggle under – I know they tell you it’s going be cold when you book but jeepers, it was icy.

In fact, it was so cold that by the end of the film it snowed inside!

Elf at the Victoria Baths, Manchester - Village Green EventsElf at the Victoria Baths, Manchester - Village Green Events

It was such a magical evening and I am eagerly awaiting the next time we get to visit.

Los Angeles, eating

A few of the things I ate in LA.

Grand Central Market, Downtown LA

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I loved this place and was so sad that we were only able to visit once. I already knew where I wanted to eat, but made sure I circled the market a few times to take in all the sights and smells, before heading over to Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. I was going to get two rounds of tacos but at the last minute decided that I would only get one, and then go try some food elsewhere. It turned out that was wishful thinking because the portion was unexpectedly huge -was surprising because it was so cheap! I still think about these tacos, months later. R had a platter of fish tacos from another of the vendors and loved every bite.

Jinya Ramen, Santa Monica

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Since we were staying in an AirBnB we thought it would be fun to order in one evening. After perusing UberEats we decided on ramen from Jinya Ramen. It was hearty and nourishing.

Blue Star Donuts, Abbot Kinney

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I’m normally not very adventurous with my donut choices, favouring plain glazed or if I’m feeling fancy, jam filled. I branched out of my comfort zone and got the Old Fashioned. I chose well.

Whole Foods, Venice

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We were feeling the need for something green so we hit up the salad bar. It hit the spot.

EP/LP, West Hollywood

EP/LP Melrose rooftop cinemaDSC_0699

We had dinner at the restaurant adjoining the Melrose Rooftop Cinema where they served the best mango and coconut pudding and lush cocktails.

The Queso Truck, Downtown LA

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We saw a few food trucks parked opposite the LACMA and even though I was in no way hungry, I couldn’t help myself from having a nosey. I didn’t bother checking out the other trucks once I found this one – they were serving up pots of hot cheese after all. I went for the classic yellow with chips and although I tried my hardest, I couldn’t finish the whole portion.

Las Vegas, eating

It’s lovely remembering how much fun I had on holiday last month, as I sit here this evening in cold, rainy Manchester, wearing a million layers of clothing to try and keep warm.

Here are some of the foods we enjoyed in Vegas. I would love to go back to the city one day soon just so I can get through more of the food that’s on offer there.

Fried chicken at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, Grand Bazaar

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken

Exactly what we needed after a day road tripping. Super juicy fried chicken and crispy fries with a cracking selection of sauces. If I were to go again I’d skip the mac and cheese – it was fine but not great and it used up some belly space I would have rather filled with chicken.

Sandwiches at Eggslut, The Cosmopolitan

Eggslut

Every Eggslut we passed on our trip had stupidly long queues outside it, that’s how good it is. We arrived at the one in the Cosmopolitan at half 9 expecting it to be fairly quiet, because who gets up early on the strip? Plenty of people, it turns out. On seeing the size of the queue, R had the genius idea that we should pop round the corner to Milk and pick up some milkshakes to keep us going while we queued. 30 minutes later, I had a tasty, drippy, egg sandwich in my hands and all over my face. Lovely! I highly recommend.

Milkshakes at Milk Bar, Cosmopolitan

Milk

Full of calcium so basically a health drink, right? My soul certainly felt nourished after a White Russian.

A slice at Secret Pizza, Cosmoplitan

Half the fun of this place is trying to figure out where it is. The pizza was decent and at $5 a slice, well priced considering how expensive everything else is on the strip.

Afternoon tea at Mandarin Oriental

Afternoon Tea, FoodAfternoon Tea at the Mandarin OrientalAfternoon Tea, SavoryAfternoon Tea, Cake Details

One of my favourite experiences of the whole trip. I love an afternoon tea and I was super excited when R, after the success of our tea in Belfast, suggested one for this holiday. I chose the Madarin based purely on pictures I saw online of the view you have of the strip. The Tea Lounge is set on the 23rd floor, and the floor-to-ceiling windows give you a fantastic view of the strip and the desert beyond. We arrived at 3 and left late, after the sun had set. It was quite magical watching the city light up as the skies darkened. My only (small) complaint would be that there wasn’t enough cream to go with my scones – I like them to be piled sky high with pillows of cream and a dollop of jam on top. I’m sure I could’ve asked for more but I was too busy drinking endless mimosas to be bothered.

Sushi Burritos at Jaburritos

Linq Promenade, High Roller

I was excited to try Jaburritos after seeing pictures on Instagram but I was a bit overwhelmed by the menu when we got there.  I ended up picking the Long Beach because it was the first burrito that I saw that had spicy tuna in it. I accidentally picked very well, it was delish. Its setting on the Linq promenade made for some excellent people watching whilst we ate.

Cupcakes at Sprinkles

Sprinkles Red Velvet

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Sprinkles was a place that I wanted to try because I’d seen and heard so much about them over the years. We had a selection of the small cupcakes. They were tasty enough, but not life changing so.

Burger and fries at In-N-Out

In'N'Out Quality You Can Taste

My google map of places for us to eat was so long, you probably couldn’t have hit all the spots over the course of a month, never mind the two days we were actually there. Despite that, we went for a repeat trip to In’N’Out because we enjoyed the burgers our first time round that much!

In'N'Out

Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a roadtrip

Route 66

{on the road}

Road tripping around the United States is one of my long held travel dreams. It’s going to be a while before I get to fully realise that dream, but when the idea of tacking on a trip to LA on our Vegas girls holiday came about, I knew we had to drive between the two.

It worked out best for us to fly to LA first. We landed at LAX late on Thursday night and  after a restful nights sleep, went to pick up our car early the next morning.

Oh, our car!

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Just look at her!

When I was looking at cars online, I had fully intended to hire whatever was cheapest. As I was scrolling through pages of uninspiring Toyotas, husband popped his head round  to have a nosey at what I was doing and suggested I see how much it cost to hire a convertible. At only £40 for the day I was totally sold on the idea – what could be more LA roadtrip than a convertible?! I had thought we’d go for a Mustang but when I saw this yellow beaut, I knew she had to be ours.

Shamefully, I don’t know anything about cars. Possibly even more shamefully, I can’t work up any enthusiasm about learning anything about cars so I can’t tell you about engine sizes and what not. What I can tell you though, is that this one purrs like a kitten and once I got over my fear of driving on the wrong side of the road and released my death grip off the wheel, it was an absolute dream of a drive.

The Donut Man, Glendora

{donuts}

Our first stop of the day was at the Donut Man in the fabulously named city of Glendora. I had hoped we’d be able to try one of their famous donuts filled with fresh strawberries but I didn’t realised they were out of season. We settled for a pumpkin spice and went round the corner to sit in the car park of the gym to eat it.

Pumpkin spice donut from Donut Man, Los Angeles

{donut, smooshed}

I was feeling much less nervous about driving by this point, after having survived my first hour of LA traffic on the Freeway. Still, I was very happy to get off the I15 and on to historic Route 66.

Where we had to stop off for some touristy pictures of the road sign.

Route 66, Jasmin

{66}

Before long, we arrived at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch

{Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch}

We didn’t get to meet Elmer but we had fun walking around his creation.

Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch

{checkout}

Our sugar high had worn off, so made our way to the nearest In’N’Out.

Jasmin Eating In'N'Out

{happy Jasmin}

I’ve heard a lot about In’N’Out and I was massively excited to get my teeth into one of their burgers. They live up to the hype but confession – I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the animal style fries. I found that once they were a little cool, they turned into a bit of a solid cheese mess. Those little chillies though! So freaking good!!

We were going to stop off at Peggy Sue’s diner for a slice of pie, but we were stuffed. Now that I sit here, with a none-uncomfortably full belly, I’m a bit sad we didn’t man up and force a slice down because I think it would have been a fun stop. Regardless, we needed to digest, so we drove over to Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town

{ghost town}

I love a bit of tourist-tack and the Ghost Town was right up my street.

Calico Ghost Town, schoolhouse

{schoolhouse}

We toured the mine and enjoyed the scenery in the blazing sun.

calico-ghost-town-halloween.jpg

{Halloween}

I wanted to visit an abandoned water park, but once we got close to it we were put off by the dirt track up – I was nervous about chipping the paint on the Camaro, so we just looked from afar before leaving for our next stop – Zzyzx road which leads to a spring in the middle of the Mojave desert.

zzyzx

{oasis}

It was so hot on this day. But I didn’t know how hot until we visited the World’s Largest Thermometer.

World's Tallest Thermometer, Baker

{hot}

And popped up the road to Alien Fresh Jerky.

Alien Fresh Jerky, Baker, California

{all the jerky}

Alien Fresh Jerky, on brand

{on brand}

Our final stop was to see Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains. This was the stop I was most looking forward to and was a bit worried we might not make it until after dark since we’d lost track of time, having too much fun at our other stops of the day.

As it happened, we lucked out and reached there just as the sun was setting. It made for a wonderfully, magical view.

Seven Magic Mountains, dusk

{dusk}

Seven Magic Mountains

{tops}

Seven Magic Mountains

{approaching}

Seven Magic Mountains and Me

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