Friday, 18 September 2015

10 things you should know about package holidays to Santorini

Santorini has established itself as the latest cool trendy Mediterranean destination for couples, for backpackers, for families, and for weddings.  So what does a package holiday on Santorini feel like?  Does it deserve the hype?  

Here are 10 observations that may help you decide if you want to follow the crowds to Santorini:

1. It is a small island and everything is accessible - transfers from the airport are short and all the island’s main towns are a short bus trip apart.  The west side of the horseshoe-shaped island is the inside of a volcano and therefore has steep cliffs dropping down into deep waters.  The east side is the outside of the volcano and is therefore less steeply shelving and has beaches of black volcanic sand.

2. The airport is very close to one of the most popular tourist destinations - Kalmari - but this is not a problem because the planes tend to approach over the sea providing a distraction for sea-front diners and a great place for plane spotters.  There is also something neat about bobbing around in the sea as an airliner comes in overhead.

3. In the posh resorts in the north west of the island you will come across weddings and bridal photoshoots.  Brides look as if they are about to melt, even in September out of the peak heat of summer, so, unless you are a masochist, why would you dress up, and expect all your guests to dress up, in 30 degrees of heat?

4. The “wonderful” bus service has its limitations.  You may not fit into the first coach that comes along, particularly if you get on a bus going to Oia just before sunset.  Also buses fill with huge numbers of tourists from the cruise liners that call in to Fira.  If you do fit in to the bus you may have to stand.  This is a good workout for the upper body as you swing around hairpin bends holding on the overhead rails.

5. Whilst it is a “posh” island, expect to be in the minority if you don’t have multiple tattoos and a shaven head, particularly in the south-eastern resorts.

6.  Restaurant prices are pretty similar, as are choices on menus, in any given area of any town.  Some towns are more expensive than others but, when you are there, there seems to be a restaurant cartel that maintains a certain price level.  You can always do the “Moussaka Test” (™) - as Moussaka is a staple of the local diet you can find it everywhere and use it as a “price benchmark”....9Euros was normal but I saw it for 16Euros in a restaurant (that I avoided).  In Kalmari, for example you will have a huge choice of very similar restaurants along the front.  How do you choose?  It could boil down to the skill of the charming waiters, who are brilliant at engaging you in conversation and encouraging you to their restaurant over neighbouring ones.  

Some restaurants do, however, offer different dishes. For example grilled octopus can be served by flame-grilling a boiled octopus or octopus dried in the sun for up to three days. The dried octopus has a denser texture. You can see which restaurants offer dried octopus by spotting the mesh cages with hanging octopus legs.

7. You will never see as many selfie-sticks as you will in Oia.  The most amusing selfie takers tend to be pretty young women who have developed the art of the selfie into a contorted pouting and open-eyed caricature of a normal self-portrait.

8. Whilst Oia gets the hype, Fira, and in particular the walk between Imerovigli and Fira, is a far more interesting town.  Oia is very crowded (think tube station at rush hour) and expensive but has a better view of the sunset - the sun dips into the water rather than behind an offshore island as it does if viewed from Fira.  My tip - take a taxi from Fira to Imerovigli and walk down the hill past the beautiful boutique hotels just before sunset.

9.  The water around the island is crystal clear.  This clarity stems from the volcanic rocks that make up the island.  The clarity of the water can be enjoyed by swimming, snorkeling and, if you are capable, by scuba diving.  Local dive shops provide half-day taster sessions that let you experience the blue water from below - trust me, it is worth it.

10. The boutique hotels of Imerovigli are impressive with their whitewashed walls, their infinity pools and their beautifully tended bougainvillea.  But if you stay there would you always get “hotel envy” for the next-door establishment with that slightly better view, or the slightly bigger pool? Would you feel trapped in one of those tiny cave houses with streams of gawking tourists walking by, snapping away as you lie on your sun lounger? Wouldn’t you rather, at a fraction of the price, have a normal hotel on the other side of the island and BE one of those gawking tourists admiring the beauty of the boutique hotels?  I guess you pay your money and take your choice.

So I would say that Santorini is worth the hype.  Just be prepared for crowds of tourists at every turn.  In early September we sat in a beachside restaurant one hot evening and remarked to the waiter that his restaurant was busy, with most tables taken and people coming to eat all evening from around 6:00 till past 10:00p.m.  He said “you should see it in August, there were 100 people waiting on the pavement for a table”...  

Monday, 31 August 2015

Why is travel so important?

I found these 10 thoughts about travelling on a web site and thought I would put some of my photos to the words....

1. Every person on this planet basically wants the same thing.
No matter how different our cultures are, no matter how rich, poor, English or German you are, we all want love, happiness, safety, to be excepted as we are and we all hope for a better future.

2.  Delaying today for a better tomorrow can be a horrible idea.
Once we have something, we always want something else or something more. Happiness can be found in what we have right now. The most important thing is to enjoy in the journey getting there.

3. Don`t live for “Someday”. Be practical.
Nothing will come to you if all you do is hope. You have to get out there and go what needs to be done!

4. No one owes you anything.
The only person that you can expect everything from is yourself. You are the captain of your own ship.

5. Look for people who have different views of the world.
You can`t achieve anything if you stand still and mix with people with the same mind set as yours.  The world is filled with fun people who have different interests and beliefs.

6. Nobody has a worry free life.
No one has it all figured out. Most people walk thru life with fake smile and a mask. You have no idea how hard life is for them because we always focus on our problem no matter how insignificant they are. Sometimes we have to think about others first.

7.  More money is never the answer.
Everything that truly has a value in your life can`t be paid for with money. As long you have a roof over your head and food on your plate you really don’t “need” more money. What I really meant to say is having a full life doesn’t cost a penny.

8. Watching TV is the greatest waste of time.
We have wasted so much time seating in front of the TV and trying to relax. In the mean time the whole world is passing us by. One thing is for sure our lives are not getting any” richer” by sitting home and staring into a flat screen. There is a whole outside. Get out!

9. The things we possess eventually will possess us.
Stick to the essentials. Don`t spend too much time trying to earn more money for buying things you don’t really need. It’s a black circle that never enriches our lives.

10.The World is beautiful. Get outside and do something with other people.
Our world is more than worthy exploring. There is no TV, book, or computer that can substitute a real life experience. Stop reading and watching and start living.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Travelling close to home

Most people aren't free to travel the world all the time.  Most people have to work for the majority of their time to, amongst other things, afford to go on holiday.  That is quite a depressing thought.

Sometimes though - especially when you have visitors, or even better, foreign visitors - you can do your travelling close to home.  When you have to entertain someone by showing them your town you realise that there are interesting things to see on your doorstep.

For example, this weekend, we took a visitor to a proper English tea room in the middle of the Ashdown Forest that makes its own blend of leaves, and serves tea with a strainer (no tea bags).

It also serves home made cakes, muffins and scones.  To drive there we went on a road that went through common land open to graze livestock, where we had to slow down to avoid sheep and cows on the road.  We also visited a llama farm where we could feed the llamas and alpacas.

With a bit of thought you can find things to see nearby.  If you haven't got a visitor to entertain, pretend you did.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Travelling with "annoying people"

Travelling on the roads in Italy is a nerve-jangling business.  For this reason I tend to use public transport whenever possible. Illogically, maybe, I trust professional drivers.  This, however, has the downside of increasing the risk of coming into contact with "other people" who are, on the whole, "quite annoying".

During my recent trip to Sicily my family and I visited the volcano Mount Etna by coach.  Several of our fellow travellers came within the definition of "quite annoying".

Like the middle aged woman who shut the curtain across her window denying others the stunning views of the foothills of Etna and the small towns huddled there.  As other passengers took this opportunity of a lifetime and craned their necks left and right for better views, she sat there looking ahead, motionless.

And the woman who, forced to trot from the coach to the restaurant near the top of Etna because of a downpour, huffed "This is ridiculous"....Mountains have weather lady!!  Maybe she was afraid her fake tan would smear?

And the young guy sitting there with his headphones in listening to music as the fantastic Sicilian-American tour guide explained the history and customs of the island.

Too many "travellers" are nothing but shallow minded morons who take delight at moaning about any inconvenience and go out of their way to block out the sights and sounds around them.

I just want to shake these people to wake them up...

A minor crater on Mount Etna (Photo J Game)


Cash Only

Sitting at the table of a restaurant in the Sicilian town of Taormina, I started to sweat.  I had the bill in front of me for 103 Euros and I couldn't pay it.  Ten minutes earlier I heard the dreaded words "Cash only" from the waiter.  Five minutes later, after multiple recounts of available cash, my wife and eldest son had headed off through the crowded streets to get cash from the ATM that we had noticed earlier at the end of the alley.  

The ATM was close by, just up the hill, on the main street, but I was left sweating.  How long can this take?  Another 5 minutes passed and I smiled apologetically at the waitress and explained our predicament.  She bought some shots of local almond liqueur to the table to calm my nerves. Another five minutes passed and I craned my neck to try to catch a glimpse of a cash-laden wife returning triumphantly.  Nothing. 

It was Saturday night, and the small piazza, more a widening of an alley, was getting crowded with would-be diners waiting for a prized table to be made available.  I waited, looking at my phone to avoid making eye contact with the hungry crowd.

Eventually my wife returned with the cash.  Apparently Sicilian banks favour additional security around their ATMs that resemble an air-lock...double electronic doors that let customers in one at a time.  This security was only crackable by Italian-speaking cat burglars, explained my wife apologetically.  She had to walk further across town to find another ATM usable by tourists and other simple-minded people.  She said that she was surprised that I was still sitting at the table and not washing up in the kitchen.

The little restaurant, by the way, was called Osteria da Rita and it was brilliant.  It was the only place we ate at twice during our week in Sicily. 

Streets of Taormina
The popular streets of Taormina (Photo J Game)