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.**

1EFB5AD8-CC08-47F1-8BBB-1712F87729E7

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 weekend in the Peak District

Jacket potatoes and cheese

Have you ever seen a more beautiful thing, than a pile of jacket potatoes and a mound of cheese?

Proper home baked jackets potatoes feel like such a naughty indulgence. When I was growing up, my mother used to zap a potato in the microwave for 10 minutes and then stick it under the grill to try and get that proper jackety taste. They always turned out okay – but I was never tricked into believing they were the real deal. Her Yorkshire/Asian thrift would never allow her to let an oven run for two hours just to make a couple of spuds. Even now, as an adult who pays my own electricity bill, I can’t bring myself to make jackets for us at home. Sometimes I think I should bake some bread at the same time or something, so I’d feel like I was getting my ovens worth – but then I’d have to actually rustle up a loaf of bread and who’s got time for that? Since there were eight of us on holiday, making jacket potatoes for for dinner one evening seemed a justifiable use of the the oven.

Anyway, I’ve majorly digressed.

TL;DR – One night we had jacket potatoes for dinner. They were tasty.

A few weekends a go, I went to the Peaks with some of my family and we did more than just feast. Barely, but still.

We stayed in the tiny village of Elton, in THE BEST cottage. They had literally everything you could want and even things you didn’t realise you need. Like an electric whisk which was lucky since the one I lugged all the way down there was, in fact, missing a whisk!

Baking a birthday cake{tres leches cake in progress}
Scones for breakfast.JPG{breakfast scones}

Have you ever seen a more beautiful thing, than a pile of scones or a pile of potatoes? I’m learning that my favourite things about these family trips is feeding people because my favourite photos of the trip are of the food. Not pictured but equally as excellent – chicken curry and rice, bbq chicken wings and fixin’s, birthday cake, mexican tres leches cake, homemade hot chocolate. Yum.

Aaaanyway.

Things, we did them.

We spent a day in Eyam, a village that was famously struck down by the plague in 1665 but successfully and selflessly, isolated itself off from the rest of the world in order to prevent the disease from spreading any further North.

Eyam, Plague CottageDSC_0162Eyam Plague Doctor Uniform {doctor’s plague outfit, Eyam Museum }

We walked around the village and then up to the Boundary Stone, which marked its limit. The grooves carved in the stone were used as a money exchange. Filled with vinegar, which was thought to kill the infection, coins were left in the pools in exchange for food and other goods, which were left by their neighbouring villagers.

Eyam, Boundry StoneCousins in the Peaks

We followed a walking trail which took us through Stoney Middleton and passed the Roman Baths, before continuing on to the Riley Graves. The final resting place of Mrs Hancock’s husband and six children who all tragically died within an eight day period.

Shadows in the Roman Baths{Roman bath, light)

We hired bikes on Sunday and burned some calories cycling along the Monsal Trail. Mercifully flat and well paved, the trail runs along the former Midland Railway line. We hopped on at Hassop, where we were able to hire bikes, which unfortunately meant we didn’t have time to pop to Bakewell for a tart. Next time though. We peddled for miles, through four old railway tunnels, dodging muddy puddles, laughing all the way.

Monsal Trail before the tunnelMonsal Trail tunnel

I had such an amazing weekend. My family are loud and crazy and quite a bit annoying. But they are also hilarious, kind, wonderful people. Roll on the next trip!

48 hours in Milan, snapshots

snapshot Milan Duomo

For a long time, the deciding factor on where to go on holiday very much depended on where Ryan Air was flying to cheaply.* Milan, well Bergamo really, since most Ryan Air flights don’t actually seem to land in the airports of the city advertised, has been on my radar as somewhere to go one day. Last weekend, quite by accident, I finally got round to it visiting.

My friend and I were supposed to go to Madrid last November however our flights were cancelled and as well as being refunded our money, we were given some flight vouchers. After a perusal of possible destinations to use them on, we ended up picking Milan.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I’ve been a bit of a useless friend recently, and this was the first time I’ve seen L in 10 months so we knew we would spend the whole time catching up over food and tea. Sightseeing wasn’t particularly high on the agenda.

Still, once we landed in Milan, we found ourselves wandering over to the Duomo since it was the one landmark we knew of.

Milan Duomo, front

We approached from the side and decided to walk all the way to the end of the Piazza before turning around to get our first proper look of the cathedral. It was pretty spectacular and gleamed in the midday light.

Aperol spritz at the Aperol terraceAperol Terrace, Milan Duomo

Landmarks are best enjoyed with a drink in hand so we headed over to the Aperol terrace and sat outside, sipping drinks, under the shadow of the Duomo. It was one of my favourite moments of the weekend. It was a little chilly but the sun was out and it’s the first time I’ve felt its warmth on my face all winter.**

The rest of the weekend was a merry blur of chats, food and copious cups of tea. We did consider going to one museum, but once we got there we were put off by the large queue and went for cake instead. Many museums in Milan are free (and BUSY!) on the first Sunday of the month.

Some notes on the things we did.

Eating

Somehow, over the course of the weekend, we managed to walk 23 miles. A good job, I suppose, given how much we ate. We did very little research beforehand and instead Googled things we fancied. Apart from some lacklustre but filling dim sum, we lucked out and found some excellent food.

avocado toast from Fancy ToastMilan Be Bop Pizza

Sushi at Conch – Tasty sushi. Crazy delicious wakame salad.

Gelato from Raki – I had the most amazing vanilla and ginger gelato.

Toast from Fancy Toast – sweet and savoury toast toppings. I wish I had room for the nutella toast after my savoury avo but I just couldn’t do it. The portions are really filling.

Pizza from Be Bop – Thin and crispy based pizzas. Good prices.

Arancini from Antica Fabbrica dell’Arancina Milano – cheap, cheerful and tasty arancini

Espresso with melted chocolate from CioccolatItalian – GO HERE for melted chocolate heaven. I had the most amazing espresso with melted hazelnut chocolate and whipped cream. L had a pot of hot, melted chocolate full of pistachio nuts.

Sleeping

Mercure Milano Regency, here

Clean. 2 minutes from a tram stop or a 30 minute walk from the city centre. Crap water pressure, but I can forgive them that. It had a quirky Hotel Budapest vibe to it. After hotel tax, it worked out at £50 per night for a room, breakfast included.

Mercure Regency Hotel

Doing

Frog free walking tour, Milan

Free walking tour with Frog Walking Tour

Apart from walking between food stops, we did manage to make it to a free walking tour. I love these kinds of tours and have done one in pretty much every place I’ve been that offers them. I find them to be a good way to learn about the place you’re visiting, seeing some major sights and getting tips on things to do from locals.

Grand Canal, Milan

We were too full by the time aperitivo came around, which is a sort of Italian happy hour with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, but we enjoyed walking around the Navigli area where you’ll find many bars serving the meal, set along side a pretty old canal system.

I really enjoyed my weekend in Milan. If you can get cheap flights, it’s certainly a place that’s worth a visit for a leisurely, food-filled few days.

 

*Back in the glory days when you could literally fly somewhere for 2p return

**I’m being dramatic, I know, but winter feels like it has dragged on for soooooooo long!

Halloween in Hollywood

DSC_0633

Our time in Vegas was fabulous but all too short. We ventured on to Los Angeles and spent Halloween in the city.

Apart from going to see the Hollywood sign, we didn’t have any specific plans for LA. We mostly wanted to soak up the atmosphere and, as seems to be the theme with all my holidays, eat some good food. We spent some time in West Hollywood for the Halloween parade. We found a bar with a couple of free seats and people watched for an hour or so. I really enjoyed seeing how much effort  people put into their outfits.
in-chains.jpgMedusa and partnerThe JokerWilly Wonka, smoking

I had hoped we would be able to see a film at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery but the timings didn’t work out. Instead, R found a roof top cinema that was showing the 90’s miniseries version of IT.

After a few drinks at the parade, we ventured to Melrose. Our tickets included dinner at adjoining restaurant where I had the best mango and coconut pudding.

Melrose Menu

And then it was upstairs to the rooftop for the screening where I fell asleep half way through – those beanbags were so darn comfy! The bits of the show that I did see were hilariously cheesy and not at all scary, which is good because I’m actually a massive scaredy cat.

Rooftop Cinema

Sadly we didn’t dress up for the occasion because we had spent the morning sightseeing and didn’t have time to head back to our AirBnB to get changed. But we did put on some ears so we looked a little festive.

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!

DSC_0031

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

Malta, not eating

Mdina, door

{Mdina, door}

My cousin was in need of a relaxing holiday, one where the hardest thing to do each day was to decide when to eat. I think we did a good job of that, but we did also get some good moseying in during our time in Malta.

Mdina, silent city

{Mdina, silent city}

We visited Mdina, the ‘silent,’ walled city in the heart of Malta, and enjoyed the calm and peace. There are signs around town asking you to be mindful of the residents of the city by being quiet. It’s a place to get lost in and take pictures.

Mdina, details

{Mdina, lamp}

Mdina, sign details

{Mdina, details}

I had arranged for us to spend the day sea kayaking around the island of Gozo (not quite in the spirit of relaxation, I know) but unfortunately the trip was cancelled on the day due to poor weather reports. It was touch and go for a few hours as to whether or not the activity would go ahead so we decided to make our way to Gozo just in case it was possible. We went to see the salt pans whilst we were there.

Salt Pans, Gozo

{Salt Pans, Gozo}

We took a boat trip around the Blue Grotto. We dipped our toes into the water but it was a bit chilly for our wussy selves.

Blue Grotto

 

Historic houses, highest hills

 

Bolton Walk - Manchester in the Distance

{Manchester, behind the clouds}

On Sundays, we walk. Or at least, these past two Sundays we have. We were actually supposed to go camping over the weekend, but stress and fatigue levels from the week got the better of us so we decided to stay in Manchester instead.

Bolton Walk - Winter Hill March

{Sunday}

We didn’t want the weekend to pass us by without a bit of adventure however, so we went on this walk. 

I forget how close we are to nature sometimes. It’s easy to get lost in the haze of the city, but a short 25 minute drive away found us surrounded by lush heather and only sheep for company. It rained the whole time we were out, but it was a satisfying rain. Cleansing, almost.

Bolton Walk - Friends

{friends}

 

Over the weekend

Victoria Baths - Cinema

{Victoria baths}

We saw Back to the Future at the Victoria baths on Friday night. Excellent film, always. Loved the experience of watching a film in an empty swimming pool.

Tea in the bedroom

{tea supplies, in the bedroom}

One bed flat troubles; when you have to put guests in your living/kitchen area and they like a sleep in but you need a cuppa. I made husband sneak into the kitchen and get all the necessary tea making goods because I couldn’t last any longer without a brew. I had been awake for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES after all!

People's History Museum

{People’s History Museum}

Saturday was a pretty mellow day. We had scones AND pancakes for breakfast (I gave my brother in law an either or option, of course he said both!) We mooched around The People’s History Museum, took some snaps in the photobooth at Fred Aldous, went for a cheeky Nando’s and played some intense rounds of Exploding Kittens.

Manchester Rainbow

{rainbow}

It rained on and off all weekend which resulted in a spectacularly beautiful rainbow on Sunday evening