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Sightseeing at Cemetaries

Let me start off by saying that as someone without either parent still alive, graveyards aren’t exactly places I like to hang out at, nor am I one to go on any sort of haunted tour. But somehow, when I’m traveling, graveyards become a unique place to enjoy some quiet time away from the crowds of other tourists.

Cimitero di San Michele – Venice, Italy

The gates at Cimitero di San Michele

I was in two minds whether to stop here en route to Murano and Burano right up until the minute the Vaporetto stopped – Locals got off, and I did too.

This ‘island of death’ did have a sobering effect on me, mostly because I had never seen graves stacked on top of each other in this way before. When writing this piece and trying to find what these ‘grave drawers’ are actually called I found out that most bodies are usually only laid to rest here for 12 years due to limited space and after that, the bones are exhumed. This is the practice in Greece too but is not something I’m comfortable with so it’s a good job I didn’t realize this as I walked around!

The island is certainly one of the places that stick out the most in my memories of Venice as a truly local place to visit. There were perhaps 10 other (uhum living) people at most on that island and it was so vast that I didn’t feel uncomfortable walking around with my camera, discreetly taking photos of the churches, memorials, and the older mausoleums, along with a quick phone shot of those death drawers.

Mausoleums at San Michele Venice

I did leave here feeling slightly melancholy but very pleased I’d gotten off that Vaporetto to visit.

The Necropolis – Glasgow, Scotland

I only had 1 full day in Glasgow during my visit in May but I’m so glad I made this place the first stop of the day as it’s the one (and really the only) place that stays in my mind when I think of Glasgow.

Glasgow Necropolis is a vast (37 acre) multi-faith Victorian cemetery containing over 50,000 tombs and memorials for Glasgow’s most distinguished citizens.

I walked around for over an hour reading some of the inscriptions, marveling at the architectural styles and wondering who these people were, how they lived, and what they thought.

This then made me question my own life – Once I’m gone, what will I leave behind? Hopefully, it’ll be more than a fancy tombstone!

Which cemeteries have you visited on your travels?

Lake Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland
Switzerland

Lake Rotsee, The Lesser Known Lake in Lucern, Switzerland

Whether you spell it Lucerne or Luzern, you might have seen pictures of the stunningly beautiful Swiss lake with its medieval covered bridges  – It’s certainly a crowd pleaser and was actually my second favourite place to visit in Switzerland – See my Lucerne video on Youtube for a quick taste of what the views are like!

But… Dodging the crowds becomes tiresome after a while and my inner introvert always seeks a place to walk in nature away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist trail.

Lake Rotsee was like stepping into a world all of my own…

Reflections at Lake Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland

Located 2.5km from the iconic Chapel Bridge, about a 30minute walk through a maze of a housing estate, Lake Rotsee certainly seemed to be a place known only to the locals. I only knew about it because I’d zoomed in on Google maps and thought it seemed far enough off the tourist trail to warrant a wander!

When I arrived at around 10.30am midweek in July there were just a few dog walkers and mothers with toddlers out enjoying the fresh air. Perhaps it gets busier on weekends with people sunbathing, swimming, or fishing, but I don’t imagine it gets even half as busy as the Lake Lucerne waterfront as it doesn’t have that commercial aspect – Perfect when you’re an introvert!

I may have taken a few wrong turns in reaching here (due to my inability to correctly follow Google maps!) but it was well worth the effort – Take a picnic and a book or a picnic and a loved one and just chill by the water soaking up the view, whilst doing some train spotting!

A mainline runs right past the lake with trains whizzing by every few minutes – Perhaps I was a train spotter in a former life but I enjoyed watching these go past (the novelty of doubledecker trains still having not worn off on me!).

I only made it 3 quarters of the way around 1 side of the lake before turning back but I believe you can walk all the way around if you have all day and are fit enough for it! I do wish I’d actually crossed to the other side and climbed the hill to get a better vantage point across the water but hey, we live and learn – I can pass my ‘wishes and what if’s’ on to you 🙂

Lake Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland

So, if you visit Lake Lucerne, don’t miss out on spending a quiet morning or afternoon visiting the lesser known Lake in Lucerne; Lake Rotsee.

The Lucerne Tourism site has more info on Lake Rotsee aka Lake Rot including bus numbers if you want to visit this beautiful haven yourself.

The Temple of Debod in Madrid, Spain
Spain

Don’t Make This Mistake When Visiting The Temple of Debod in Madrid!

The ancient Temple of Debod is the only piece of Egyptian architecture to be seen in Spain. Dedicated to the goddess Isis, it dates back to the 2nd century BC and originally stood in Egypt, 15km from Aswan. But in 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam, many monuments and sites of archaeological importance became under threat of being flooded and destroyed. UNESCO made an international appeal for help in saving these pieces of history and, in return for Spain helping to save the Abu Simbel temples, they were gifted the Temple of Debod by the Egyptian government. It was dismantled and rebuilt (in a different order than the original construction in Egypt) in Parque del Oeste and opened to the public in 1972.

Temple of Debod in daytime

Here’s the view in the daytime – Had I of only seen the temple during the daytime I would have been less than impressed and kicking myself for walking all that way and wasting my time when I could have been exploring a different part of the city. It would have been a place that I forgot about, not one of the highlights of Madrid.

But I got lucky and got to see it lit up at sunset and on into blue hour all thanks to travelling with a pro photographer who knows when to photograph places! Isn’t it stunning? Doesn’t it look so much more amazing at sunset than in the daytime?

There’s more though… the longer you wait, the better it becomes as the lights around the temple turn on…

Tada!

So, the mistake to avoid when visiting the Temple of Debod is only seeing it during the day time, and then not waiting long enough at sunset to see the scene changing before your eyes as the sky changes colour and the temple lights turn on!

Poland

Gnome Hunting in Wroclaw, Poland

Little plastic door set within the wardrobe
The door in the wardrobe at Ibis Styles in Wroclaw. I knocked but it didn’t open 😉

Sometimes (well, most of the time) it’s the smallest of things that please me. In this case, little iron gnomes, or dwarves as they are otherwise known.

It started when I was reading in the Ibis hotel room. I suddenly glanced up and noticed a little door in the side of the wardrobe – Not a fairy door as I first exclaimed, but a dwarf or gnome door!! My travel companion was a bit taken aback by my squeals of excitement as I tried to stop jumping up and down to tell him what I’d seen and why this was important!!

Bronze gnome rolling a golden coin

That evening, out taking photos at sunset, the joy at finding the gnomes began! The official number was 163 for a time but officials admit that they’ve lost count of the cheeky chaps and there are claims of over 400 iron gnomes in the city now. I only found a tiny fraction of them but felt so delighted every time I spotted another one as I strolled the streets.

Gnome taking money from the ATM
Where do you think they’ve placed this ATM gnome? In the wall of the bank of course!

Why gnomes? I learned from the Daily Telegraph that it all stems from the communist era when the Orange Party, an anti-Soviet resistance movement, adopted the dwarf as their symbol, peacefully protesting the censorship of free speech by defacing communist propaganda with street art in the form of humorous little gnomes.

two bronze gnomes getting drunk in Wroclaw

But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the iron gnomes came about. The city decided to commemorate its past and the first gnome was placed at the spot where the Orange Party used to meet. The rest, as they say, is history, the gnomes having spread en-mass across the city both little and large!

Bronze gnome driving a digger in Wroclaw, Poland
I never knew what I’d find next!

When writing this post and doing a bit more research on why and how many I discovered this map which lists the locations of the gnomes with photos.

There’s only 1 thing for it, I need another trip to Wroclaw to see them all!

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland

Toledo Mirador de Valle
Spain

Visiting Toledo, Spain

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this Medieval UNESCO World Heritage city back in January – So much so that it made it into 2nd place for my favourite places in Spain (Ronda taking the top spot).

I stayed for 2 nights at the delightful Alfonso VI hotel and could have happily spent a 3rd night to allow me the time to explore the backstreets a little bit more. Toledo is a popular day trip destination from Madrid but I would not recommend seeing it on a day trip as there’s too much to explore, and you wouldn’t get the benefit of seeing the city lit up at night!

I was thrilled with the city walls, gates and bridges and really enjoyed admiring the city views both from the town and from the other side at the Mirador del Valle. I enjoyed exploring the edge of the city much more than I did the maze of old streets but I think this was because 1. I kept getting annoyed at myself for getting lost because I didn’t have the time to wander as I usually do and 2. getting a bit sick and tired of all the swords in the shops – Too gimmicky/touristy for my liking.

Must See Places in Toledo:

These are the sights and places that thrilled me the most… I’m sure you’ll love them too if you’re planning a trip to Toledo.

Mirador del Valle

Toledo Mirador del Valle

To be honest, this wasn’t originally on my radar because I knew it was a long walk but thankfully, because I was traveling with a pro photographer who wanted the iconic shot, I was persuaded to go along! It’s best to admire the view at sunset and into blue hour (or even sunrise if you can manage to roll out of bed early enough).

Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes

Toledo Monastery

Don’t miss out on going to this fantastic monastery if you love architecture and/or photography. I was so lucky because, despite visiting at midday, I had the upper level to myself and in the church there were less than 10 other people – The plus of traveling in the Winter! There’s not really so much to see and do, if you’re not taking a million photos and video’s, but it’s a must-see place and with an entry fee of just €3.50 (as of Jan 2018) there’s no reason not to!

Toledo City Walls / Gates / Bridges

Toledo City Walls and Bridges

The City Walls are magical and anyone who loves architecture and history is in for a treat! I set off down to Puerta Del Sol first and found myself experiencing a ‘through the keyhole’ moment with the walls blocking my view until I suddenly rounded a corner and found the gate and bridge ahead of me. In my opinion, there are 4 main walled/gate/bridge areas you need to see in order to get all the good photos and a great overview of the city as a whole: Puerta Del Sol, Puerta de Alfonso VI, Puerta De Alcantara, and San Martin’s Bridge, they’re all visible on Google maps so get saving! If you start at Alcantra Bridge you can use the beautiful ecological walkway, which I’ll blog about another time, to circumnavigate three-quarters of the city going past St Martin’s Bridge and finally ending up at Puerta de Alfonso VI where you can then walk up to Puerta De Alcantara. My feet couldn’t complete the route in 1 day so I split it up over 2 days, part of me wishes I’d managed to circle the entire city on foot though!!

Toledo Train Station

Toledo Train Station

The train station isn’t somewhere you’ll find mentioned in the Top 10 things to see and do in Toledo but it’s well worth a look if you’re nearby, have the time, and haven’t visited the Alcazar (whether Toledo Alcazar or any others in Spain). The tiles are Instagram worthy as are the old wooden ticket booths with stained glass… Take a moment to admire all the ornate details.

What Not To Do In Toledo

One of the three designs to look out for in the walls and pavements around Toledo

Despite discovering that cathedrals really aren’t my cup of tea (seen one, seen them all – Blasphemy I know!) there was one thing I was really disappointed with doing and felt I actually wasted a lot of valuable time by doing. What was it?

    • Toledo Free Walking Tour – This was the most boring and pointless walking tour that I’ve ever been on – It was the guide’s first time leading the tour in English so perhaps she was shy or nervous but I still wish I could get those 2 hours back! The only interesting thing I learned was that there are 3 miniature tile designs to look out for around the city. Otherwise, there was very little interesting information – Her stopping and saying “that’s the smallest window in Toledo” and “that’s the statue of Samual Levi” left us none the wiser to why they were important! We did get to see some ruins through a glass floor in a fashion shop that I would otherwise not have seen, but apart from that, there was really nothing unique, interesting or engaging. To make it worse, when one girl walked away at the end without tipping, she called her back in front of everyone and demanded to know if she had liked the tour (I guess the girl was too mortified to say no) and demanded money explaining that it wasn’t a ‘free’ walking tour…. despite what it says on the umbrellas! Thankfully I’d ‘donated’ €5 so didn’t face the same humiliated.

Still Left To Explore

I always plan to do too much and then run out of time… Here are some of the things that got missed out but that I’d recommend you look into doing!

  • Synagogue of El Transito
  • Ruins of convent de San Pablo
  • The Alcazar
  • Iglesia del Salvador (Climb to church tower)
  • Parque de La Vega
Crete

Enjoying Nature Near Rethymno, Crete

You don’t have to travel far outside of Rethymno on the gorgeous Greek island of Crete to find some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of tourism. Jump in a car, on a quad, or on a scooter and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by nature with the sound of goat bells echoing among the mountains, cicadas shouting from the dry and dusty olive trees, and perhaps the splash of water from a stream or waterfall!

The following 3 gorge walks are located within 15-30 minutes of Rethymno town, 2 of which can be reached by bus. Let me tell you about them…

St Anthony Gorge (Agios Antonios)

I adore this place, and the drive to reach it is just as picturesque if you take the longer route and drive all the way around Amari Dam. No matter what time of year you visit you’re in for a treat – Even in the height of the Summer Season it doesn’t get busy unless you visit on a Sunday when the taverna by the entrance gets full of Greek families! Think of it like your very own magical Samaria Gorge but without the killing distance, nor the tourists!!

The deeper you go, the quieter it gets but the more dangerous and adventurous it gets too – Know your limits! If you’re somewhat agile (I’m arty, not sporty!) you’ll be able to cross the rope bridges (literally a rope to walk on and a rope to hold on to), scale the boulders, climb up/down the rickety ladders and reach the very end, passing a couple of waterfalls on the way. It’s worth the effort but it’s not worth hurting yourself for – Scraped knees are one thing, broken legs are something else entirely.

Update* Coaches are now visiting this gorge on a guided walk during Summer which, I feel, has spoiled this special secret place somewhat but the guide is only taking people on the basic route up to the ‘sky observatory’ so it’s pretty easy to avoid the tour and get deep into the gorge to the good stuff!

How To Get There: Car – There’s ample parking. Unless visiting in the height of Summer, drive all the way down the hill turning left at the taverna – There’s a small parking area usually with some spaces… It saves you walking back uphill after you exit the gorge!

Practicalities: There’s a taverna with toilets at the entrance but they sell tasty traditional Greek meals rather than snacks so take some items of food with you along with drinks.

Pack some basic first aid items – Bandages, plasters etc and possibly some dry sock. I for one usually fall/slip at least once resulting in wet feet and bottom, sometimes resulting in cut knees. Hiking boots or trainers are needed, do not attempt this in flip flops!

Magical Moments: Look out for turtles in the ponds – They’ll see you but you probably won’t see them! Also, try to persevere until you make it to the small waterfalls. Recommended to have someone with you when you do this walk due to the danger the deeper you go.

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Mili Gorge

Ruins at Myli Gorge

Why’s it called Mili (or Myli)? Because of the water mills! This gorge is full of old mill ruins, has a stream, and also a church built into the rocks. There are multiple paths to take on shorter or longer walks but the trails are not well signposted. The longest hike to/from the gorge leads all the way down to the sea, coming out at the resort of Plakias (the Rethymno version, not to be confused with the Chania place of the same name!). This is a gorge I’ve been to a couple of times but not explored fully, one day I do plan on doing the full walk to the sea.

Get There By: Car or on the Rethymno hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus

Practicalities: Park on the side of the road anywhere between the 2 wooden information huts. Wear long shorts, or trousers if you can as this gorge has lots of overgrown scrubland with spiky vegetation that likes to scratch legs.  The longer trail for this goes past the cafe – ask them for details, it’s only accessible late Spring until mid Autumn.

Magical Moments – Coming across the ruined mills!

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Prassano Gorge

This gorge follows the riverbed so is only accessible from April-October depending on the amount of rainfall. You can walk some way following the dirt track, or, for the best experience, in the rocky riverbed itself, just be careful not to twist an ankle! If driving in, go past the AutoGas station and past Culta Terra and continue into what appears to be open countryside, park anywhere you want, the further in you drive, the less you’ll have to walk.

How To Get There: Car or local ‘hotels’ bus, walking from the Lidl bus stop at Platanes, Rethymno to the gorge.

Practicalities: There is hardly any shade here (in contrast to St Anthony’s Gorge and Mili Gorge) so I would recommend doing this during the middle of the day only early or late in the season.

Magical Moments: Seeing the goats with kids in April and finding the beauty in the details of nature such as the texture of the rocks and an oleander plant growing through a rock.

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Bonus Place: Rethymno Pine Forest

You wouldn’t think this place existed so close to the town center. Enjoy the views out across the harbor as you collect some pine cones and enjoy being out in nature. In Summer you’ll have to ignore the sound of the highway which is just below, but off-season this isn’t so much of a problem unless the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. It’s a good spot for a picnic and a short wander before going off to explore elsewhere and it’s 99% sure that you’ll have the place to yourself during the daylight hours.

This place is so ‘secret’ i.e I’m the only person who adores it, that it’s not marked on Google maps. I’ve added an X marks the spot to the following photo so you’ll be able to zoom in on your map and find the location.

How To Get There: Car or walking from town

Practicalities: There’s not so much space to walk here, it’s better for a picnic spot rather than a hiking spot. Park just off the ride on a slight pull in area. This is ideal as a stopping point either enroute or on the way back from Mili gorge.

Magical Moments: The views overlooking Rethymno harbor and the sudden serenity after the hustle and bustle of town.

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I discovered these gorges / natural beauty spots thanks to the Cretan Beaches website who have a guide for the best beaches and gorges of Crete. Their free online guide gives more practical information than I have covered too such as difficulty and distances plus many more walks all over the island that you can enjoy.

Spain

Traveling Spain by Train

On a 3 week journey around Spain, I traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Zaragoza, and Barcelona by train with a photographer friend.

Route of Spanish train travel

Tickets were booked approximately 1 month ahead of time on The Trainline EU website, all of the above tickets for 2 passengers coming in at approximately £500, this was a mix of standard class and first class.

Apart from various city metro’s and National Rail in the UK, my experiences of traveling by train in another country were nil so I was unsure what to expect and had some worries of getting on the wrong train, or getting off at the wrong station but I needn’t have worried – Traveling Spain by train was easy, and a dream compared with UK train travel!

Spanish train stations all have baggage screening in place, presumably to stop you packing a bomb, knife or gun in your bag, but strangely enough, the screening of people is very haphazard. There was no screening of people at Madrid, and only a few stations were scanning people with hand-held electromagnetic wands. This didn’t make sense to me as there was nothing stopping people concealing weapons under loose clothing. Coats were asked to be taken off but I never saw anyone having their bag searched so perhaps more of a deterrent than true security. The queues moved quickly and there was no need to go to the extremes of removing electronics nor any liquid restrictions as at airports so it was all relatively quick and painless!

The RENFE website says you are allowed a total of 3 bags weighing no more than 25kg total but at no point did anyone weigh the luggage or query how many bags people were taking through security or onboard.

We found the best way to find the correct platform was to match the train number on the ticket (i.e 9903) with the one on the screens as these would often only show the end destination and not list the stations in-between.

It’s almost impossible to get on to the wrong train in Spain due to tickets being scanned as you head down to the platform. The only conceivable way you would be able to get on the wrong train were if your train was on platform 1, on the left let’s say, and you got on to the train standing on the right at platform 2. The scanning of tickets also stops people getting on the train without a valid ticket, therefore cutting down on the need to have ticket inspectors onboard the train. The only time I came across a ticket inspector onboard the train was on our way to Ronda where some stops were request stops hence the inspector needing to know where people were getting off at.

The trains were clean and comfortable – Cleaners came onboard at every final destination and rubbish was also collected throughout the journey. On the UK trains the seats are often stained with goodness-knows-what and there’s usually chewing gum deeply embedded into the carpet with rubbish overflowing, the Spanish trains in comparison were absolutely spotless. I can’t speak from personal experience but am told that the toilets were of the same high standard of cleanliness.

We traveled first class (Preferente) twice but I felt there was no added benefit to this – Coaches were less crowded, the seats a fraction larger but not enough to notice. In fact, I was really pleasantly surprised at how much leg room standard class (Turista) had.

Attendants came round handing our free earphones so as to listen to a music channel or the Spanish movie/tv programme that was showing. I thought at first the headphones were just for 1st class passengers but then discovered they were for everyone… I now have a rather large supply of headphones courtesy of Renfe 😉

A coffee/snack cart was also brought round at least once during the journey, with a buffet car also attached for those wishing to stretch their legs in search of refreshments. I believe it was on the train to Ronda where there wasn’t a buffet car but there was an onboard vending machine.

Most of the trains had electrical outlets for charging phones etc. Seat layout was airline style, 2 seats next to each other or 4 around a table. In first class, seats were either 2 next to each other or individual seats, the aisle dividing them.

We did have one ‘oops moment’ where we found ourselves sitting in the wrong carriage, but that lesson was soon learned and not repeated – Look for the coach number at the front/rear of the coach either as a small cardboard number or on a digital display – The coach number is displayed on the outside of the train too but upon boarding it can be unclear if to turn left or right for your coach! Seat numbers are easily found above each seat but these don’t have the coach number so best to check and check again before sitting down.

Maps of the route and the speed the train is traveling at (250kmph was our top speed) showed up on the tv screens which was really great, especially when we were unsure where the train was stopping / which stop was ours. Announcements were made in Spanish and English about 5-10minutes before reaching a station to allow everyone time to gather their belongings and head to the doors but sometimes it was difficult to hear/understand the place names said in English.

The busiest train we experienced was an afternoon service into Seville, all the seats were taken in our carriage and it was a little noisy, baggage space on the overhead racks was pretty much full but it was still a pleasant journey – Clean, people willing to move up their luggage to get yours on. Actually, we never needed to use the luggage storage at the end of each coach because the overhead storage was much larger than on the British trains where you can only really fit a briefcase – On the Spanish trains you can fit cabin-sized suitcases and bags overhead, if you’re tall enough to get them up there!

The only downside to the trains was lack of wi-fi and lack of an overhead fan, this made some of the journeys on the warm side as you were forced to go with their chosen temperature with no way to get a bit of a breeze on your face, unless you started wafting your ticket around!

The only ‘problem’ we had on the entire 3-week trip was getting to/from Granada because of ongoing engineering works, I guess it should have been expected that there would be a snag somewhere along the line (pun fully intended!). We were initially peeved because The Trainline had not notified us of this, signs informing of this were all in Spanish, and no one at the information desk spoke English but it actually turned out more than ok as we were allowed to catch an earlier replacement coach service which got us into Granada when we should have only just been catching the train. Coming back from Granada was the same, we thought it was just weekend works and it would be cleared up by Tuesday but on entering Granada station we realized it was going to be another replacement coach service. We didn’t know what time the coach left or how it would affect ongoing travel but honestly, these Spaniards have it sorted and it was no problem, plenty of time to spare. I wish my experience in the UK had been the same when they closed down Reading station for a weekend!!

One thing I did find dangerous was the amount of space between the train and the track, and there was no warning of it – Not 1 single ‘Mind The Gap’ notice or announcement, even in Spanish! Had I been traveling with a heavy suitcase or a pushchair/buggy I would have found getting on and off the train very difficult and dangerous – 1 slip and a leg, if not more of you, would be stuck between the train and the platform.

At the end of the day I’d say to anyone who is wondering if they should travel Spain by train – Go for it. Do not hesitate, it’s an absolute pleasure and very easy to manage.

Agios Nikolaos Lake View
Crete

Visiting Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos Sunset
The iconic view over Agios Nikolaos at the sun starts to set

I visited this town in the East of Crete twice in 2017, the first time as a weekend break, the 2nd as a brief stopover on my way to/from Sitia.

I enjoyed my visits but I was surprised at how little there is to see/do within the town itself — I’m a bit of a culture vulture who rushes around trying to photo everything so it was strange to be here and feel that I had seen it all on the first afternoon!! I spent a lot of time walking around mixed with leisurely coffee/lunch stops enjoying the views, people watching, I even managed to do some sketching!

Taking In The Sights

I had highlighted a couple of things I wanted to see on Google Maps before I left home…

Obviously, Lake Voulismeni was top of the list. Approaching it from the seafront I must admit I was a little underwhelmed… I’m not sure if that’s because I had recently returned from Venice, or if traditional fishing boats on the water are now just ‘normal’ to me.

Boats on the lake
Boats on the lake – My first view of the lake left me underwhelmed

However, this gorgeous wine bar next to the water (located on the back left in the image above) caught my attention and made me smile with its display of brightly painted wheelbarrows and colorful blooming plants.

Flowers planted in wheelbarrow
A wine bar by the lake with colorful wheelbarrows planted with flowers

I continued to walk around, snapping some photos of the boats, of the sleeping ducks, past the white church built into the rocks before climbing the steps which zig-zag up the cliff taking you to the tavernas and streets above the lake.

Agios Nikolaos Lake View
The iconic lake view in the daytime

The sweat-inducing climb in the midday sun is worth it as you look down on this picturesque view. I took back my bad-mood and initial feeling of ‘is this it?’!!

The view, as you can see from my opening image, gets better as the sun goes down. There are benches and tavernas at the top where you can sit and rest and watch the world go by before walking back down and around.

Also on my ‘to see list’ were 2 sculptures…

Walking around the harbour (the harbour being different from the marina) the first statue I came to was this one of Europa.

Europa Monument
The Europa Monument

You can read about ‘The Abduction of Europa’ here, quite an interesting story as it was only unveiled in 2012 and there’s a sister sculpture in Germany. However, I felt the location left a lot to be desired, it being situated at the back of a busy car park! It has a nice backdrop with the sea but it’s not a place to linger!

Continuing my walk, I came to the beautiful Horn of Amalthea.

The Horn of Amalthea
The Horn of Amalthea in the daytime and lit up at night

This glass monument/sculpture was my favourite – I loved the sleek design and the colours when it’s lit up at night. I initially thought it was depicting the sea, in the shape of a wave, but I now learn it’s a representation of a goat’s horn – The horn of the goat that Zeus suckled. You learn something new every day! Still works better as a wave in my mind though 😉

Continuing my walk around the seafront, slowly making my way to the marina (which kind of feels like a whole different town) I discovered a short coastal path that connects the lake side of town with the marina side of town – A pleasant stroll getting away from the tourist hustle and bustle for a moment!

I hadn’t realised how steep Agios Nikolaos is! If you don’t walk the coastal route you’ll soon be faced with lots of steps as you navigate the backstreets, especially if entering the touristic centre from the outskirts of the new town (bus station area).

In the evening I went for a wander, half-seeking charming backstreets, but instead enjoying a coastal walk out of town, past some residential streets, past the sailing club, ending up at some out-of-town resorts, before walking back and taking a look around the shops.

Agios Nikolaos Bay
Agios Nikolaos Bay

Finding Food & Drink with a View

Migomis is sophisticated and romantic, labeled as a ‘piano restaurant’ it’s not your typical tourist taverna! And, it has the best view of the lake being centrally located above so you get the full view out to sea.

I just wanted a coffee, mainly going in to sit and enjoy the view as darkness fully descended and to see all the lights reflected in the water. I was fully expecting this place to be overpriced but it wasn’t – At least in terms of drinks, I can’t speak for the food. It had a great vibe, and listening to the piano was very pleasant. I was in the cafe side but the restaurant looked very classy, certainly somewhere I need to go back to for a romantic meal should the opportunity arise!!

I also found a delightful touristy taverna called The Sailor where I enjoyed a leisurely light lunch. It’s located halfway between the lake and the marina in a more quiet part of town on the seafront. I was drawn to it because it had a menu that was different — Greek salad and mousaka can soon become boring! I ordered the falafel and it was delicious, nicely presented too.

The Sailer Taverna Food
Lunch at The Sailor

I spent some time sketching this view before and after my meal, you can’t quite see it in the photo but directly opposite is The Horn of Amalthea sculpture. The waitress took an interest in my sketching, without being overly intrusive.

View from The Sailer
View from The Sailer

On my second visit to Agios Nikolaos, I again went up above the lake, this time to the taverna called Zygos Garden. If you can get a good table with the full view this is the perfect place on a hot day due to the shady trees. (I was made to move to a table with an obstructed view because I was 1 person on a table for 4 despite the place being almost empty). The food was on the expensive side for what it was, but the location is lovely. I’d go back here for a drink for sure but would need to re-assess the food menu.

Staying by the Marina

Hotel view overlooking Agios Nikolaos marina
A room with a view, despite the car park!

I stayed at the Atlantis Hotel (a series of apartment block rooms instead of an actual hotel) for 2 nights. I was very pleasantly surprised with my room – I had a fantastic sea view over the marina. Yes, the marina car park was below, but that provided some people watching opportunities and was better than looking out on a brick wall!

Despite being at the opposite side of town to the lake it was a good location with tavernas, shops, supermarket, kiosk and bakery a couple of minutes away. I felt that this side of town was less busy and slightly less touristy… Signs of ‘everyday local daily life’ could be seen here in terms of the shops.

Entry into my building was via a keycard so it was very secure – Not something I’ve come across in Crete before! But this might have been due to the location — Reception and the apartment block with rooms were 2 different buildings, just around the corner from each other.

Picturesque alley from my hotel
Picturesque alley and steps leading from my room

I’m not sure if accessibility is mentioned when booking but for anyone with mobility issues (or super heavy suitcases), it would be a problem — The entrance to the building is up a steep slippery slope (I skidded down it one morning) and some uneven steps, tucked away in a traditional side alley.

I was pleased with the room – It had the usual amenities including a fridge, a kettle, plates, and cutlery plus a tablet but this only seemed to show a map of the area – I couldn’t access any other features. The wi-fi worked perfectly. The bathroom was a regular family-sized bathroom almost as big as the room itself!! I had just 2 issues with the room, first how hot it got from having the midday sun on it all day. This was soon solved by turning on the aircon but initially upon entering it was like a sauna! The second problem… in the bathroom I came face-to-face with the largest cockroach I’ve ever seen. It was the height of summer so not unknown, the humidity of the room/bathroom not helping matters (it was not due to lack of cleanliness that I could see) so that freaked me out for a while and from then on out I was on high-alert (shoes on, light on, no getting up to pee in the dark!) and the bathroom door was kept firmly shut so ‘he’ couldn’t reappear in the bedroom.

Agios Nikolaos as a Destination

I certainly felt that Agios Nikolaos is missing the photogenic narrow backstreets, the historic architecture and generally the number of things to see/do compared with Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. If you’re visiting Agios Nikolaos on a relaxing beach holiday you’ll be fine, but if you’re a keen sightseeing culture vulture you, like me, will need to slow down and savour the moment – Sip a frappe while you watch the sea, look around the shops, enjoy a leisurely lunch overlooking the lake before you indulge in an afternoon siesta… Siga Siga as the Greeks say — Slowly, Slowly!

Ag Nik, as it’s known by Brits, is well placed for further sightseeing on the island whether by bus or car. I’d highly recommend using Agios Nikolaos as your base for a couple of nights, or longer. I caught the bus to both Ierapetra and Sitia from here, there are also regular buses to Heraklion, Elounda, Plaka, Hersonissos etc. Check out Agios Nikolaos bus times here.

Santorini

Santorini – Some Things To Know

Caldera View

It’s almost 2 years since I was in Santorini, my how time flies!

I only went for 3 nights as a birthday treat to myself, and actually, this was what kick-started my solo-female travel obsession! It was as amazing as I imagined it would be, yes, just as beautiful as the photos show, but there were a few things I noticed that I hadn’t previously read about when doing my research… I hope my knowledge can take your trip from ‘amazing’ to ‘spectacular’ with a little insider hindsight!

Staying on the Caldera.

Firostefani

If you’re staying in Fira (Thira) or Firostefani on the Caldera (or within Oia for that matter) make sure you have extremely detailed instructions for how to get to your accommodation. Also, make sure you’re prepared for the walk to your accommodation and can do steps and narrow streets with your luggage. Transport cannot reach these tiny back streets, and Google Maps can’t cope with the Caldera streets at all, it just shows up as a green area — Worst than navigating in Venice and that’s saying something!!

If you’re lucky, your accommodation will send a porter so you can just follow him as he manhandles your luggage, if not it’s up to you to carry/drag it from the road and along the cliffside streets, up/down stairs and likely around in circles.

Luggage

Wherever you stay on the island, don’t take wheeled luggage. This is a backpackers paradise due to the cobbled streets. Ever try to drag a suitcase on cobbles? Me neither. After seeing so many people struggle I was so glad I was the girl with a sweaty back due to carrying the backpack!

Slippery Steps and Paths!

More than once I almost embarrassed myself by slipping and sliding down the path. Flip-flops don’t have the grip required to navigate the shiny flagstone paths, even more hazardous when you add a little rain to the mix!

Oia

Oia, Santorini

(Pronounced Ee-ya, not Oi-ya) this is the place on everyone’s must-see list. Check the timetable for cruise ships arriving/departing and try your best to avoid peak days/times.

I recommend getting up early to see this wonderful place. Do not enter Oia in the Summer at midday, you won’t be able to move and you won’t be able to enjoy it. The streets become full of multiple tour guides showing hundreds of passengers Santorini.

I caught the 8.20am bus into Oia on my visit which gave me about 90minutes of this fabulous place to myself (just shopkeepers opening up, wedding couples having photos taken and a couple of other tourists with the same ideas as me!).

Akrotiri Archeological Site.

Akrotiri Archaeological Site

Don’t bother visiting here unless you’re an archaeologist / dedicated historian. If you do go, pay extra for the guide. I like being a culture vulture but I’m sorry – I was bored by this place. You can see some doorways, a few amphora, the rest is just a warren of rocks that you’re looking down on from the walkway and it’s unclear what you’re actually meant to be looking at.

95% of the artifacts have been moved to the museum in Fira which is worth a visit. I feel bad for saying this but I wish I hadn’t of gone here – I wasted an hour and 5euro, should have gone to Ancient Thera instead!

Red Beach.

Red Beach Santorini

I went here because I’d never seen black sand and judging from the photos it seemed the most stunning of the beaches. However, I soon discovered that the majority of the photos you see of Red Beach have been enhanced to make the red a lot redder than it is. It was still great to pick up lava rocks and walk in the black sand but perhaps other beaches would have been nicer still.

If you catch the bus, note that you need to get off at the archeological site and walk along a parallel road to the white church, there you’ll pick up the trail to the beach. If you carry on down to the 2nd stop you end up at the wrong beach! Either way, be sure to wear shoes with good grip as it’s quite a trek across and down the rocks to get to Red Beach.

The Ferry Terminal.

Fira Port

It’s rather dire! The concrete structure shown above makes up 1 ‘departure lounge’. Another is a little better in that it’s actually a fully enclosed building with a vending machine inside – And I seem to recall toilets too, but maybe that was just wishful thinking after the disgusting toilets I’d just experienced in the taverna opposite!

There’s no need to arrive at the port early – There’s no check in or security and until your boat arrives all you can do is wait. There are a couple of tavernas but they’re super crowded, best to not stop here long!

Drinking Water – You cannot drink the tap water on Santorini. Be prepared to buy and carry a lot of bottles of water! I mean really. Most places tell you not to drink the water but here they actually mean it. Also be super conservative with it when you’re showering, brushing teeth etc, they have to ship it in!

The Crowds

Crowds in Oia

It’s to be expected, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be worst. It’s all about timing, and getting off the tourist trail!

As I already mentioned, if you want to explore Oia, do it early, before 10 am, otherwise you’ll be caught in the narrow streets with the cruise ship crowds as pictured above (this was my cue to leave!).  If you can manage it (I couldn’t!) get out at sunrise.

For sunset photos, pick your spot early. The tavernas with the best views, and indeed the streets with the best views get super crowded. If you bag a prime seat at 6.00pm, do not move until that sun has fully set, otherwise, you’ll regret it later!

In Conclusion…

Don’t let any of my ‘negatives’ or ‘warnings’ put you off going to Santorini, or even from staying on the Caldera, with wheeled luggage – Just be prepared and then you can’t get stressed – Though with the stunning views it’s hard to get too stressed!! This is Greece after all, siga-siga (slowly-slowly).

Crete

Beaches in Crete

First a disclaimer – I haven’t been to every major beach in Crete (yet) and I don’t really call myself a beach person, I struggle to understand the whole point of laying on a beach all day as I’m not much of a swimmer and could easily sunbathe / read/doze at home in my garden!! (Blasphemy I know!).

However, I am a keen explorer, love nature and am always on a quest to take photos of new places, so beaches do feature on my places to visit, on occasion! Here’s my overview of a few of the many beaches of Crete…

Balos Lagoon
If you only go to 1 ‘famous beach’ in Crete, go to Balos – It’s as beautiful in real life as all the edited photos online show!

Balos Lagoon

View from Balos Lagoon

Pink Sand and a Stunning View at Balos Lagoon

Agios Pavlos
One of the quieter, less famous, picturesque beaches on the island with a unique sandbank, cave, and geology rock.

The sand bank at Agios Pavlos Beach

View of the sea at Agios Pavlos

Preveli Beach + Palm Forest
Are you fit enough to do it?! In Crete you have to trek to get to the best beaches! Preveli palm beach is at the bottom of (approximately) 350 steps.

Preveli Palm Beach View

Steps down to preveli beach

Preveli Beach

Stavros
I’d heard people raving about Stavros beach but personally I felt a little disappointed, I guess I just wasn’t expecting the tourism. Where as the other beaches have stunning views from every angle, more or less, here it was definitely a case of finding the right angle, and the main beach full of bodies just wasn’t doing it for me! Better round the back but then you lack the ‘wow factor’ of the cliff.

Beach views at Stavros

Beach and View at Stavros