Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Postcards from Santorini

Tuesday 2nd August

Hairy drive to the hotel (taxi for Samanth a Graham - new Greek name?) along lots of bendy roads. Warm welcome and super cute beachy decor; lots of driftwood art. Stumbled our way along in the pitch black to find a supermarket. Poolside picnic and a foot dip before bed.

Wednesday 3rd August

Body clocks not yet adjusted to Santorini time, waking up was a struggle. Only 18 rooms in our hotel so breakfast buffet was very civilised and we had our pick of shady tables on the pool terrace to eat. Rest of the day spent between lounger, pool and lilo basking and admiring the surrounding scenery. Dinner along the beach; Greek salad, Gyros and Baklava accompanied by smoothie cocktails and odd Grecian remakes of classical pieces.

Thursday 4th August

Spent the day on volcanic sands (although strictly not sand but tiny little smooth pebbles which are a dream compared to sand), taking the occasional dip in crystal clear sea. Enjoyed an elevenses cocktail (another of the smoothie variety; feels less naughty) and later lunch on the beach; 'spaghetti with butter'. Embraced a 'Greek Night' for the evening involving a huge tasting platter of traditional dishes, wine by the litre, plate smashing and lots of 'opa!'

Friday 5th August

Took a boat trip around some of the islands of Santorini. First stop was the dormant volcano at the centre of them all. Glad to have spent so much time on the crosstrainer lately as we huffed and puffed our way to the top for a spectacular view and sulphuric smells. Stopped for a while at some thermal springs and then again at a traditional village where we spent most of our time stuck on the boat (of course everyone else managed to get off in time) while 'a ferry making huge waves' passed us by. Had a 'quiet night in' with some nibbly bits and wine from Carrefour. After smashing the bottle of red (literally), the rest of the night went quite smoothly...

Saturday 6th August

Began the day by the pool again. Partook in a lunch of leftover meat and cheese from the night before in bread stolen from breakfast. Made our way to the capital of Santorini, Fira (no, not the same as Thira) for the afternoon and evening. Wandered up and down precarious paths on the cliff edge, stopped a while for cocktails with a view to recover from the shock and heat, enjoyed a glorious sunset from a wall with a view of a traditional blue dome, bell tower and the sea before returning to the cliff path to dine at a table that began with no candles and ended up with three to keep us warm from the sea breeze.

Sunday 7th August

Struck down by prickly heat of epic, swollen proportions (apparently my elbows (and I quote) resemble sock puppets or a granny without her false teeth) so I was a good girl and had a shady beach day. After an incredibly sleepless night of forced starfishing to avoid contact with anything, had a good snooze on my lounger. First experience of a club sandwich (apparently a holiday favourite) for lunch was washed down with an incredibly potent Margarita (all in the name of pain-killing). Food settled, we had a long swim and splash about in the sea before I was finally able to emerge from my shady nook to enjoy some evening sun. Found a lovely restaurant offering a complimentary fish soup starter and watermelon dessert for dinner. Had haloumi andk zucchini balls followed (for me, anyway) by a feta stuffed burger too. A pretty setting and delicious food was a choice well made for spending our final evening in Perissa.

Monday 8th August

Another morning begun by the pool before we ventured into Oia to spend our final evening. Wandering the cobbled streets we were even hotter than in Fira and I had to buy some Greek sandals when my own Primark specials snapped along the way. Sat for a while to cool down with icy cold drinks before. Energy regained we trekked down the many steps leading to the bay below, narrowly avoiding donkey poop (and the donkeys themselves as they clattered up and down), for a view of the town in the setting sun. Having enjoyed the sunset for a final time we found a little jazz bar for more Santorini wine and pittas.

Tuesday 9th August

The hotel were kind enough to let us keep our room until the taxi transfer picked us up for an evening flight so we spent our final day saying goodbye to black sand and sea that isn't murky brown. Volcanic beaches are officially my favourite - enjoying all the perks of a beach without getting sand in all the wrong places is pure bliss. General impressions of Santorini? I've loved it! The climate, the scenery, the people, the wine, the food (oh, the food)! Would love to come back one day. Think we left just enough places undiscovered to warrant a return visit.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Un comiat a Barcelona

I think it's safe to say, now having been twice to Barcelona that it does not disappoint on food. Over the past few days we have done many wonderful things but ultimately as I walked back to the Plaza España to catch my bus to the airport, all I kept thinking was 'my goodness, we've eaten well.' I'm writing this at the airport (far too early as usual) sitting by a window watching planes take off and land with a tummy full of Iberico ham sandwich - bliss. Tempting as it is, I won't just write a food blog because actually, there are so many other lovely things to write about too.

Stranded in Bruges not so long ago when I forgot that mobile data isn't just available when abroad, this time I'd been smart and printed off directions to the accommodation. With Barcelona being made up of lots of long streets and blocks, I found it easily enough and was soon settled in and headed out for lunch (and Sangria).

The Hen Party was a jolly bunch, all distinguished by our sweet home-made 'Hen Party' badges. Once we were all safely gathered together, we ventured out for a glimpse at some of the sights; an introductory walking tour with our very own personal guide.

With the heat as intense as it was, we took a nice, leisurely stroll around the Gothic Quarter, along Las Ramblas and into the food market where we all cooled down with fresh fruit juices (I went for watermelon). Soon we found our way into the Plaça Reial where we enjoyed more Sangria in a stunning setting.

For dinner we decided to try a Tapas bar recommended by the hostess of the apartment we were renting. Sadly once we got there, the wait for a table was longer than any of us cared for but fortunately we found a very happy alternative not far away where we enjoyed a plethora of dishes and lashings of red wine.

Friday came around all too soon. Having had a whale of a time in Carrefour the previous evening, we were able to kick-start the day with a hearty breakfast of Nutella and banana on toast with a side of watermelon. We had decided to have a beach day so moved at a leisurely pace although still decided to take the scenic route to get there.

First we passed Gaudi's House which last time I had only seen briefly from an open-top bus tour (I absolutely love the skull-like balconies). Next we made our way to the Spanish Arc de Triomf which I must admit I preferred aesthetically to the one in Paris. From the Arc, we strolled along the avenue behind it and into thParc de la Ciutadella where we were greeted by the most beautiful fountain. Here we stayed a while, oohing and aahing at the base before ascending its steps to the top and back down the other side.

Just before we reached the beach, we stumbled upon an ice cream parlour offering lots of tasty flavours. I was a bit strange (as always) and just went for two flavours that I'd never tried before; licorice ice cream and pear sorbet; both seriously yum but not necessarily the cleverest combination, I admit. The beach was much busier than it had been when I visited before but we still found room for ten towels right on the water's edge. Sun, sea and sand. There really is nothing better.

Luckily we had made a dinner reservation at the restaurant next to the ice cream parlour so we had motivation to eventually tear ourselves away. We chose seafood and between us we really did try it all; padron peppers, cuttlefish, razor clams, fried fish (ie giant whitebait), calamari and anchovies to start before Arròs Negre of gigantic proportions.

After such a lot of food, we decided to walk it off and wandered home via the marina and along Las Ramblas again. The evening was spent in true style... well, admiring the all singing, all dancing Font Màgica while we enjoyed a few glasses of Cava (one of our Carrefour purchases at €2.60). There really is nothing more luxurious than sitting outside for the entirety of an evening when it's so blissfully warm.

The whole trip was over all too soon but we definitely made the most of the last morning. We kicked it off with the most amazing brunch ever at a little café out in the sunshine before we then made a visit to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece and another landmark I'd only seen from the atop the tour-bus before. I'm so glad that we decided to go in this time as it absolutely took my breath away. It had me oohing and aahing all over again; a seriously good way to bid farewell to Barcelona.

One more refreshing ice lolly and it was time for me to head home. I'm so glad to have been back to Barcelona as it's left a very different impression on me and definitely left me wanting more. I must say that it was an absolutely beautiful trip for an absolutely beautiful bride. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

No deaths in Oxford

Yesterday I visited Oxford for the first time and had a truly glorious day (even if I didn't get caught up in any crime-solving or murder mystery).

As is my habit when visiting a new place, I did some research on the train to inform how our day would be spent. Pubs, towers, churches and of course the university colleges were on the agenda.

The first thing that surprised me was how small Oxford felt. Cambridge is small too but perhaps as I've become more familiar with it over time, I've ventured further afield so Oxford actually felt smaller even though I was expecting it to be larger (not sure why). A mere 5 minute walk from the station and we were in O'Neill's enjoying brunch / breakfast. Fuelled for the day we then headed straight to the first tourist attraction, Carfax Tower, to admire our first view over the city.

We withstood as much blowing about as we could to feel that we'd got value for money, then retreated back down the teeny tiny spiral staircase to the ground. From here we took to slightly aimless wandering, easily distracted as always by little nooks and crannies that looked interesting. There was another tower I had on my list but as there was some ceremony or another happening and the bells were therefore being rung, it was closed until they had finished. Here I drew parallels to the Carillon in Belgium where we had been totally deafened by bells in a bell tower. Us Brits are far too health and safety conscious.

Having taken in a few more of the tourist sights along our wander, we took a rest in a pub on an incredibly comfy sofa and spent time people watching and apparently sheltering from the rain as we discovered when the ground outside was wet upon our leaving.  

Perhaps not in the right frame of mind or body to climb another tower in the immediate future, we instead wandered on to Christ Church Meadow where we strolled around enjoying sunshine, punting mishaps, long grass and cows.

Having had food when we first arrived, we hadn't really thought about lunch but after walking such a long way we decided it was time. It was here that we encountered my first small criticism of Oxford; there are a) not enough food places for b) the number of tourists and c) the number of places to sit. In fact, there really is nowhere much to sit outside apart from in the meadow where we'd just been. Nevertheless, we eventually found a cute little tea-shop with lots of empty tables so it was here that we frequented and I enjoyed finger sandwiches with an 'Oxford rose' tea.

As we had been trying to find somewhere for lunch, we had stumbled upon one of the film locations for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the cloisters at New College). Too hungry to go in before, we decided to return and were totally blown away by the gardens enclosed by the old city wall and the beautiful chapel where rehearsals for evensong were taking place.

In the end, it was a good job that we'd waited to climb the second tower as by this part of the day, the sun was truly shining and the sky was nothing but blue. I decided that the views from University Church of St Mary the Virgin were the best ones as the church sits nestled amongst some of the prettiest buildings in the city and the bird's eye view of them was gorgeous.

Always surprised in different places by how early everything closes (at least in comparison with London), we had no choice but to end the day in another pub. This time we chose to visit the Eagle and Child where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien amongst other authors ('The Inklings') met every Tuesday for several years to discuss the books they were writing. Good stout, more great people watching, it was a lovely place to end our visit before we made our way back to the station.

I'm very glad to have finally been to Oxford. Historically, I think it definitely had a lot more to offer than Cambridge but I think architecturally (and let's be honest, for the shopping), Cambridge definitely has my heart.