Take me to Tasmania! Reasons to wander further than Hobart…

I love Hobart, but us mainlanders seem to have a habit of not venturing past the state capital. A few more adventurous souls have made it to Cradle Mountain, maybe stopping in at Launceston. But there is so much more to be found in the north; cheese, wine, chocolate and even non edible things like rolling green hills:

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How is this real?

Andrew and I flew down to the Apple Isle a few weeks ago for a wedding. We spent our first night at his family home near Deloraine. Being from the city I get such a kick out of being surrounded by horses and cows.

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And it looks like this horse got a kick out of our company too:

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Lol

Reminds me of the photo of the yelling donkey I took in Ireland!

The next day, following an evening of cheese, wine and some hilariously competitive card playing we headed to central Tasmania for the wedding. Along the windy drive through mountains we passed brilliant blue hydro lakes:

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We had accommodation on the grounds of the venue, which was once a hydro town, for the night before and night after the wedding. We had the Blue House, which slept eight and quickly became known as the party house. I drank so much water (in between wines) on Friday night, in a desperate bid to feel fine the next day and it worked! Huzzah.

Unfortunately the weather was less than perfect and the ceremony was held indoors, but it was still so lovely. I love that couples mostly write their own vowels nowadays and include quirky anecdotes and mention things like their pets, so sweet!

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In the chapel

I do have lots of photos of other people, but seeing as Andrew’s mates aren’t as used to being paraded around on this blog as mine (my blog and I are a package deal! they love it) I’ll leave them out of it. Instead, here’s way too many photos of Andrew and I posing in various locations!

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A reminder of why it’s always good to get peoples’ feet in the frame!

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I know people throw around the expression ‘we danced the night away’ a lot, but we literally did. I was sore the next day! A big shout out to Will who twirled and dipped me about a million times without dropping me.

The Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool came on and as per usual, all the guys dropped their trousers and just stood around in their undies (trousers at their ankles) until the song finished… Did you know that’s a thing?! I only learnt of the ‘Eagle Rock pant drop’ when I moved to Kalgoorlie in 2011 but apparently it originated at a university in Queensland?! Popular radio hosts Hamish & Andy were talking about it the other day because they had only just found out it was a thing! The pant drop is even mentioned in the Eagle Rock Wikipedia page.

Small poll: have you witnessed the Eagle Rock pant drop? If so, where? It’s a very Australian phenomenon for sure, perhaps a rural thing. I took a photo but I won’t confront you with it.

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The Blue House

Anyway, trousers returned to their rightful positions at the end of the song and we partied on.

On Sunday, with very little sleep we made our way back to Launceston to fly home. Such a wonderful weekend. Have you been to Tasmania?

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The secret to easy (delicious!) fish tacos

Fish tacos are THE BEST but who can be bothered messing around with flour and egg and batter etc on a week night?! Not me. Well the (painfully obvious) answer is this:

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$3.99 at Aldi

Frozen battered fish has come a long way since fish fingers I promise! Just pop those in the oven and while they’re baking whip up this delicious, tangy pico de gallo:

Finely chop/dice 2 ripe tomatoes, 1 green capsicum (pepper), 1 avocado, 1 tablespoon of pickled sliced jalapeno chillies, 1/2 a red onion, 2 tablespoons of coriander leaves, a clove of garlic and combine all together with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cummin, the juice from one lime and a table spoon of olive oil. Your taste buds will dance!

Halve the fish fillets if they’re big, whack them into a small tortilla, add your pico de gallo (plus lettuce if you want), garnish with extra coriander. Apply to mouth. You won’t be disappointed!

P.S. This is where you find the best fish tacos ever

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The truth about returning home after travelling…

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Just so we’re clear, this is not a photo of us at home

… it’s not as bad as you’d think.

It’s been 3 months since my boyfriend and I returned from our 16 month trip. I can’t believe how quickly time has flown! I’ve had so many questions about how hard/crappy/boring being home must be compared to the adventure of the open road. But last weekend, Andrew mentioned that “life is better than it’s ever been” and I have to agree. It’s definitely not the same as when we were travelling, but it’s amazing in another way.

We’ve both managed to find interesting and challenging jobs, we’ve moved into an amazing townhouse with excellent people just off Victoria Street (Melbourne’s Vietnamese district) meaning we are surrounded by delicious restaurants and close to great bars, we’ve caught up with old friends and spent quality time with family. What’s not to love?

There’s definitely been an element of good fortune in our return. We are fortunate to have degrees and experience in industries that happened to be hiring. I am so fortunate and grateful to have parents who’ve let me say with them and supported me in getting back on my feet. It would have been much harder without them. But I feel there’s also an element of chance-taking and things just working out. Quitting our jobs to travel long term was a risk, for sure. But we both believed that it was worth it and that things would work themselves out, which they have, Sure, applying for 25+ jobs wasn’t particularly fun but it led to Andrew and I landing pretty awesome positions, pretty fast!

I just googled ‘returning home after travelling’ and what I got was a slew of articles about combatting ‘post-trip depression’. They speak of everything being the same when you get home, of no one understanding your new, cultured self… Seriously?! What a wanky, privileged problem to have. It’s all about attitude. Think about how fortunate you were to travel, print off your photos, work hard in whatever job you can land, save money, plan for the next trip, try new restaurants, learn a language, learn to dance! But don’t for a second complain. Life is absolutely what you make it, whether at home or on the road.

Lecture over.

So what next for this blog? Well, it existed long before this trip and it will exist long after. The whole point of this blog is that there is something special (bloggable even!😉 ) in every day (remember that time I blogged about waiting in line for coffee? a bizarrely popular post!). So I will continue to tell thrilling tales of not putting things on your facewaiting at medicare, of the stuff inside my fridge and of soggy Tuesdays. Glad to have you along for the ride!

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My favourite places from our 16 month trip

Since returning home, everyone has asked “What was your favourite pla… oh you probably don’t have one!”. Incorrect. Obviously we had many wonderful experiences but I have absolutely no problem ranking them! I prepped my answer long before we returned. I generally say Mexico, Belize and the Greek Islands as my favourite places, but here I’ve broken them down into a few categories.

If you’re new, here’s a quick rundown: we spent 6 months road tripping across the US and Canada (47,000km!), 6 months in South and Central America, and then 4 months in Europe.

Country: Mexico

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Tulum

Sigh. Mexico was just the perfect balance of amazing food, stunning landscapes, lovely people, fascinating history, lots to see and do as well as being an easy country to navigate (the buses system is amazing, the Spanish is easy to understand). I was so beyond excited to get there and I often had to justify this to Americans, for whom going to Mexico is like going to Bali or Thailand to us Aussies. We rushed a bit through our last part of Central America to spend 4 weeks in Mexico, but for me it was totally worth it (I’ll go back and see Guatemala another time). Highlights were Tulum and Oaxaca.

Read more: 10 foods to try in Oaxaca, Mexico, In love with Oaxaca, 4 incredible cenotes around Tulum, Swimming with sea turtles at Akumal Bay, Laguna Bacalar, When you order nachos in Mexico.

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Oaxaca. One day I will return with an empty suitcase and buy every single one of these rugs

Place: Caye Caulker

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Kayaking at The Split, Caye Caulker

It’s a tropical island paradise off the coast of Belize. People speak Caribbean English with beautiful rasta accents, the food is great, all the buildings are pastel colours, the snorkelling next level. What more could you possibly want?

Read more: Caye Caulker, The Bluest Water: Kayaking in Caye Caulker, Swimming with sharks, stingrays and eels.

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Snorkelling near Hol Chan marine reserve

Island: Crete

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Mermaiding

Big call. We went to lots of amazing islands. But Crete had it all; mountains, gorges, jaw dropping beaches and a satisfying abundance of blue water. Oh and the food! Cheap car hire, easy roads, friendly people. A+

Read more: A sistery reunion on Crete part 1, A sisterly reunion on Crete part 2, 12 things you should know before travelling to the Greek Islands.

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Stefanou Beach

City: New Orleans

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Buskers

Finally something without a beach! New Orleans absolutely lived up to the hype AND my sky high expectations. My advice is to stay far away from Bourbon Street. The best music and nightlife is on Frenchman Street. NOLA is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. The incredible mix of cultures has resulted in one delicious gumbo pot of fun. Amazing food, music, architecture, history and people. I pretty much grilled all our Uber drivers because I was desperate to know what it was really like to live there.

Read more: New Orleans – the music, New Orleans – the food, New Orleans: the French Quarter and beyond.

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Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Beach: Playa Cristal, Colombia

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This was a difficult category. Playa Cristal wins because it had sand, shade, perfect blue water and amazing snorkelling meters from the shoreline. You risk death on the boat ride there, but that’s part of the fun!

Read more: Colombia catch up: Taganga, Minca & Palomino.

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US National Park: Crater Lake, Oregon

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Crater Lake

This is kind of an obscure category but the bulk of our US trip involved jaw-dropping national parks. It was hard to pick a favourite but Crater Lake in Oregon was pretty spectacular. The mixture of sunshine, snow and bright blue water reflecting the crater’s edge was unforgettable.

Read more: Crater Lake, Oregon

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Mountain: Santa Ana Volcano

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Two thumbs up

Mountain/volcano… Santa Ana in El Salvador takes the cake.

Read more: 6 things that surprised about El Salvador

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Vista: Moraine Lake, Canada

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Vista? Now I’m really getting out of hand. Moraine Lake was absurd. I don’t know what it is about glaciers that make water such a spectacular colour, but I like it.

Read more: Lake Louise, Banff National Park

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Hostel: Case en al Agua, Colombia

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Insane

A tree house on water. Nuts! Sleep in a hammock, jump straight into the water as a shower, snorkel, paddle, swim and sip piña coladas allllll day long. This place also takes a death defying boat ride to reach though.

Read more: The best located hostel in the world: Casa en al Agua

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Special mentions:

Cuba

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A truly incredible place. However it deserves it’s own trip. I don’t recommend doing it as part of a long period of travelling as it deserves fresh, energised and positive travellers. We were pretty burnt out by this point and I don’t think I got the most out of it. Still loved it though.

Read more: 10 things that surprised me about Cuba, Havana to Vinales and back again.

Albania

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An inexpensive paradise. Get there before everyone else does.

Read more: The cheap European beach paradise you’ve never heard of, Travel tips for Albania: Europe’s hidden gem.

Next on the list? Africa! Where are you headed?

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Roman Reunion: the final stop on our trip

I can’t believe I’m typing this. Not only is this the very last post from our 16 month world travel extravaganza, but it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to get it done! I blame my reentry into the so-called real world.

So. For our last hurrah before returning to London and ultimately, Australia, Andy and I met up with my former housemate and current bestie Bec (previously featured here, here, here, here, here and about a million other times) and her boyfriend and all-around legend Scott. I booked an Airbnb in the old Jewish ghetto, which is perfectly situated between the Vatican and the Colosseum. We could see ruins outside our window. The only flaw was that the place didn’t have wifi. After a sweaty walk from the Colosseum metro station to our accommodation, Bec and I slow-mo ran into each others arms and embraced for the first time in 16 months. It was glorious. That night we sat in our apartment and stuffed ourselves with cold meats and prosecco, catching up on months gone by.

The next morning we emerged, a little dusty, and set out to explore Rome. Bec and I had both been to Rome before this trip, and seeing as Andy and Scott are extremely laid back we didn’t have to rush around ticking off sights. We skipped a few of the major tourist zones we’d done before, such as the inside of the Vatican.

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St Peters Basilica peeking out at the back

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After quite a lot some walking we were all feeling it a bit and decided to stop for lunch in Piazza Navona, a pretty dumb error considering the prices and hoards of tourists but we were all in the ‘I’m tired and need to eat now or I might die’ zone. Not dramatic at all.

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A can of Coke Zero was 6 euros!

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My lasagne was pretty good though.

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Lol Scott. My bad.

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I am no longer this tanned.

We walked on to the Pantheon.

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A Roman temple from around 126AD. The name ‘Pantheon’ comes from a Greek adjective meaning “honour all gods” as the temple was originally built for all religions. It’s one of the most well preserved ancient Roman monuments and all the light inside comes from a hole (known as the ocular) in the roof. Because of the dome shape rain rarely gets in but if it does the floor is slanted so it just drains out. Clever!

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Altare della Patria

More prosecco at home that evening.

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We made it out for dinner though.

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Said yes to antipasti

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And white wine

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We began the next day with caffe lattes.

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Then Bec and I did some shopping.

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Spotted this thing along the way

We woke early to see the Trevi Fountain without 50 million others.

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Then walked past the forum on our way to the Colosseum.

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The Colosseum was the only ‘must do’ item on Scott’s list, as Gladiator is one of his favourite movies. While we were inside he recited the famous speech by Russel Crowe’s character flawlessly as Bec filmed it. It was amazing! Such a perfect moment.

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I used our digital camera (above) and my GoPro (below), hence the slight difference in colour. The GoPro colours are so dull, I always have to edit the photos. It drives me nuts!

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You sure can get a lot into the frame though

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I was at the Colosseum back in 2010:

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2010

Back then I was far better at posing like a lion:

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2016

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team photo!

On we toiled to the Forum.

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Give us a wave! Oh…

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Stopped for gelati on the way home

On our final day we walked all the way to the Spanish Steps, only to find them covered up for restoration. Classic. Shortly after that the skies turned dark and a major storm rolled in. I’m talking apocalyptic skies, bullet sized rain drops and shin deep water. It was at this moment that I remembered we’d left our bedroom window and the balcony door open. Yay. Andy, ever the hero, ran back to close them. We laid low for a few hours and eventually the rain stopped and we took a walk out to see a few sights for the last time.

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The post storm sunset was pretty impressive.

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The statues atop the Altare della Patria

On our last morning we shared a leisurely taxi ride to the airport only to arrive and learn that Bec and Scott’s plane was actually leaving from the other airport in Rome. Cue panic. We had a frantic farewell and the taxi driver did his best rally car driver impersonation and got them there in time. Phew.

It was an amazing last few days shared with people I know and love and I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to cap off such an epic trip.

We had a lovely few final days catching up with family in and around London. We saw some theatre, went to the Tate and ate good food. What more can you ask for?

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5 reasons why Napoli is not as terrible as people say

So Napoli doesn’t have the best reputation. I’ve often heard people say it’s not at all worth the trip, that it’s dirty and dangerous and has nothing going for it (read: ‘Why no one wants to travel to Naples’). But I’ve always wanted to go there because it’s the birthplace of wood fired pizza! Shallow, I know. So after Ischia we spent a couple of days in Napoli before heading up to Rome.

We stayed at the somewhat infamous Giovanni’s House hostel. Giovanni is a slightly senior Napoli native who is known for his hour-long compulsory lecture introduction to the city for new arrivals. Seriously, he sits everyone down and delivers a very polished soliloquy on all the sites in and around the city and finishes by telling you it takes 9 days to do it all. Then admonishes those who say they’ve come from or are heading to Rome. “Napoli is more Roman than Rome!” I heard him cry more than once. He is lovely but expect a grilling when you get back after a day out and don’t bother cooking in the kitchen unless you’re ok with being told you’re doing everything wrong.

Anyway, here’s why Napoli is worth a visit:

1 The pizza, obviously

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Sigh

We ate pizza everyday, if not twice. With so many amazing pizzerias you can’t really afford to eat anything else. Classic margherita is the only way to go.

La Antica Pizzeria da Michele is possibly the most famous, thanks in large part to its cameo in the Julia Roberts rom com Eat Pray LoveIt is constantly packed inside but the takeaway pizzas come out very promptly.

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Where Julia Roberts sat

We grabbed a pizza each, found some random steps and sat down to feast:

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My one true love❤

The other pizzeria I would recommend is Gino Sorbillo Lievito Madre al Mare, it’s the one near the water, don’t fall for the inferior imitation! There is a park across the street with benches so you don’t even need to sit on the ground to eat it.

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Hello!

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2 All the other food!

Because we were staying in a hostel with a kitchen, we experienced making authentic carbonara with an authentic Italian (the aforementioned Giovanni). Real Carbonara doesn’t have cream in it; the creaminess should come from the eggs alone.

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It was molto bene

Andrew and I bought delicious buffalo mozzarella, fragrant basil and beautifully ripe tomatoes (nothing like the slightly green, huge tasteless ones you often get in Australia) to make Caprese salad. According to Giovanni, yet again, you’re not meant to cut up the mozzarella until you’re eating it because otherwise you lose the milk inside. So it’s not good when you go to a restaurant and the mozzarella is already sliced.

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There is a slew of amazing Gelaterias around the city for the sweet teeth among us. Casa Infante does a particularly gooey gelati.

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Casa Infante

Fantasia Gelati is another place worth trying:

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And finally, there are sweet stands all over the place! More so than in Rome I think. I tried the baba, which is a small yeast cake saturated in syrup. It was delightful.

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3 The history is fascinating 

Not all Italian history is in Rome! Napoli has some fascinating sites. One of my favourites was a under the city. Napoli Subterranean is an attraction that takes you through the labyrinth of tunnels under the ground which have served many purposes since being created as a quarry by the Ancient Greeks in 470BC. The tunnels became Roman aqueducts (popular with criminals who used the early plumbing as a way to break into houses) and later an air raid shelter during WWII.

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To see the ancient aqueducts you have to squeeze sideways through particularly skinny tunnels holding a candle (not for claustrophobes!).

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An aqueduct

It’s remarkably cool and quiet down there, vastly different to above ground! The tour finishes in an ancient 6000 seat Roman theatre that is the basement of an apartment building.

4 The architecture

Ok, perhaps it’s not on the grandiose level of Rome, but the architecture in Napoli is really interesting. There are extraordinarily skinny streets that cars and scooters tear through at ridiculous speeds, tall apartment buildings with washing slung between them and busy balconies cluttering the space.

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Then there’s beautiful piazzas like the one below with Neptune’s fountain in the middle.

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There’s this imposing Medieval castle on the waterfront:

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Castel Nuovo

And a huge public square:

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Piazza del Plebiscito

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And pretty vistas around many corners:

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Some of the metro stations are absolute works of art. The installation at Toledo station is based around themes of light and water. The entire corridor above the platforms is covered in mosaic tiles with a tunnel of lights reaching 50m up to ground level.

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Looking up at the ceiling through the tunnel that reaches ground level

5 It’s the gateway to Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum 

Although many Neapolitans believe there’s much more to Napoli than its proximity to Mt Vesuvius and the towns that were covered in ash during the eruption of 79AD, there’s no arguing it’s a plus. Just a short train ride will take you to Pompeii and Herculaneum. Never heard of Herculaneum? I hadn’t either, but it’s remarkably better preserved than Pompeii and as a result, offers a clearer display of life almost 2000 years ago.

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It’s smaller than Pompeii, but the well preserved woodwork, artwork and facets of early life make it utterly fascinating.

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How are these frescos still there?!

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Those holes are the tops of large terracotta pots that once held food for sale

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My Indiana Jones look

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This is an amazing mosaic floor in one of the Roman baths

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Original pottery

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Such vibrant colours

It’s amazing to think how colourful the place must have been.

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If you don’t like skeletons look away now…

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There are tragic, amazingly well preserved skeletons of people who tried to avoid the volcano’s wrath.

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Overview of Herculaneum

After exploring we jumped on the train and headed to Herculaneum’s famous cousin Pompeii. There is rather amazing art installed throughout Pompeii. The effect of huge ‘broken’ statues really gives the feeling of something that was once much grander.

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The area where gladiators used to train

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An ancient theatre

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The busiest part of Pompeii was, predictably, the ancient brothel. Amazingly, the frescoes on the walls in the brothel survived the eruption and so the ‘menu’ of services is still clear.

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The stone beds survived as well. I felt very sorry for the parents in our group, whose kids were asking what a brothel is. Awwwwkward. There are also phallic symbols dotted around the city pointing people towards the early red light district. An ‘ancient Google maps’ as our guide put it.

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The forum

It’s definitely worth taking a tour, as nothing is signposted.

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The forum

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When I was a kid I was deathly afraid of volcanoes, firstly because I saw ‘Dante’s Peak’ on a plane. This was back in the days when there was one movie for everyone not individual screens and it scared the living daylights out of me. And secondly, because we had a book on Pompeii in my grade 1 classroom and there was an image inside that haunted me. It was an image of this:

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A plaster cast of one of Pompeii’s victims

I’m please to report I managed to look at it without freaking out. And we were there on the anniversary of Vesuvius’ eruption.

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Pretending to read Latin

While we may not have spent Giovanni’s prescribed 9 days in Napoli and the surrounding areas, we really enjoyed our time there. It showed us another side to Italian life and is absolutely worth a visit.

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Can’t afford Capri? Head to Ischia

You know I love a budget travel option. Well maybe ‘budget’ is somewhat of an exaggeration when it comes to going anywhere vaguely coastal in southern Italy, so let’s go with ‘more budget friendly’. We were trying decide how to kill a few days near Napoli and our friend Frankie, whom we met and travelled with in Albania, suggested the island of Ischia. It’s pronounced ‘Iskia’ by the way.

Ischia is a small volcanic island about 30 kilometres off the coast from Napoli in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s popular among Europeans as a holiday destination but actually has a few cheaper accommodation options the likes of which you will not find in Capri or Sorrento (trust me, I tried).

So after a rather hellish 24 hours of travel from the Albanian capital Tirana (including a bus, an overnight ferry from Albania to Italy, a bus across Italy from Bari to Napoli, a ferry from Napoli to Ischia and finally, a bus to our hostel) we finally arrived here:

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A hostel with a pool, a view and vines? Jackpot.

The Paradise Beach Hostel. We dumped our bags and headed straight for the pool until sunset:

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After a night of sleep in an actual bed (as opposed to the hard linoleum floor of a moving ferry) we got up eager to explore and importantly, find pizza.

The villages on Ischia are connected by a pretty decent bus system. The buses are frequent and boy are they fast. The drivers fly around the tiny roads and blind corners, slowing only when confronted with a bus coming the other way when they literally have to pull in their wing mirrors and breathe in to squeeze past. It’s quite the adrenaline rush.

We walked to the nearby village of Forio and then got the bus back.

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Forio

We quickly found a restaurant and grabbed a takeaway pizza (5 euros) to eat on the waterfront).

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Outstanding.

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The pastels of coasal Italy❤

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An amazing grocer in Forio

We headed back and spent the rest of the afternoon here:

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Listening to podcasts

The next day we took the bus up towards the highest point of the island, towards a town called Fontana. From Fontana you can take a short but very steep hike up to the summit of Mt Epomeo, a very modest 788m.

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Fontana

We grabbed some highly inappropriate hiking snacks and set out on our way.

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A gooey coffee eclair stuffed with the most delicious coffee creme on the left, and my weird fruit thing on the right.

There were plenty more snacks to be had along the way as abundant blackberry bushes lined the roads.

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The views from the top are spectacular.

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You can see most of the island and across the gulf of Napoli.

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We hiked back down to Fontana and set out to find some lunch.

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We went to a pretty average restaurant that had the gumption to charge 4 euros for non-existent service and 3.5 for a pizza. We were joined by a friendly local though.

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We resolved only to get takeaway pizza for the rest of our time in Italy.

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On our last day we headed to picturesque Sant’Angelo for a dip.

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The water was such a glorious colour I was pretty much forced to take a million photos. Sorry.

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It’s quite amazing just how sardined Europeans are prepared to get to sit on beach. And how much they are prepared to fork out! Guess how much an umbrella with two sun lounges cost?

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If you guessed €20 you’re wrong. It was €30.

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No way José. If you keep walking towards the headland and onto the rock you will find a free place to sit.

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‘Look at all those suckers’

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Here:

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Much nicer

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We stayed until a German family decided to set up camp atop us (WHY?!) and then bade farewell to the ocean for a while. Sad times.

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Pistachio and chocolate gelati helped.

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While waiting for the bus we had some of the most amazing bruschetta I’ve ever had. I feel like a can still smell how fresh and fragrant that basil was.

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Next. Level.

Before grabbing the ferry on our final day we had time for one more pizza. Take away of course. We learn from our mistakes.

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More Italy to come, sorry for my absence.

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Travel tips for Albania: Europe’s hidden gem

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If there’s one thing I’ve heard many times over the last few weeks in person and online it’s: “Albania looked amazing!”. I probably went a bit overboard sharing photos from this former Eastern Bloc country on social media but I simply could not help it! It’s such a beautiful country with so much to offer.

Albania makes an excellent addition to any Euro trip here are some handy tips to help plan your visit.

Getting around

We got to Saranda in the south of Albania by taking an overnight bus from Athens, Greece. Trains aren’t really a thing in Albania so travel within the country is predominately by bus and car.

We took a bus from Saranda to Drymades beach for 700 lek (about 5 euros). To get the bus we just walked into the centre of town and asked each bus driver for ‘Dhermi’ until we found one going there an hour and a half later. We left our big backpack on the bus and went to have lunch in the meantime. It was a small bus that they packed full to the brim.

To get from Drymades to Tirana, the capital, we knew we had to get two buses; one from the highway near Drymades to Vlore and then a second from Vlore to Tirana. Unfortunately the first bus just didn’t seem to exist, so we paid a man to drive us. This is common in Albania, where some cars have a ‘taxi’ sign and others don’t. We were travelling in a group of 4 so I felt safe and would have if it was just the usual two of us.

To leave we took a bus from Tirana to Durres to then take an overnight ferry from Durres to Bari, Italy. This was actually less painful than I anticipated! But did involve a night of sleeping on the floor.

On one day in Saranda we hired a car to get to the Blue Eye spring, Butrint ancient ruins and a beach. It cost 40 euros for the day. The roads in this area were mostly good but the drivers were quite aggressive. Albanians like to joke they are bad drivers because they only got cars 25 years ago (after the fall of communism). You need to keep an eye out for animals; we passed goats, donkeys, horses and cows on the road!

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The beast of a car we hired in Saranda

Accommodation 

We stayed at Beni’s Hostel in Saranda for 7 euros a night (breakafst included) and at Sea Turtle Camping in Drymades Beach for 8.70 euros a night including breakfast and dinner. We stayed with a new Albanian friend in Tirana (see The Locals section below)!

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Sea Turtle Camping

Eating

It’s common for restaurants in Albania not to have menus! Most of them sell the same thing and the locals know everything they are likely to have so know what to order. It’s the same at coffee shops. Restaurants in the tourist areas will have menus and a lot of it is very similar to Greek food; meat, or fish along the coast, salads and dips. Just not quite as good as Greek food though! I’m not sure what they do to olives in Albania but they were plain awful.

The hostel we stayed at in Saranda had breakfast included and the option of having dinner as well. The breakfast was burek (filo pastry stuffed with cheese like a Greek spanakopita), a small omelette, a small piece of cake and a piece of fruit. The dinner was salad (they love to drown tomatoes in salt and oil, it’s delicious!), maybe some kind of cooked veggies, more burek and bread.

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I believe this delicious plate of calamari cost 5 euros

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Trusty french fries and BBQ meats

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Local sausage and ‘salads’ aka dips

The locals

I don’t think you will find friendlier people than Albanians. Andrew and I have noticed a trend that countries relatively new to tourism still absolutely love seeing visitors. It was a very similar story in El Salvador. People are curious as to why you’re there and if they speak English, will do absolutely anything to help.

When we got off our night bus we had no idea where to go (street addresses can be a bit complicated) and a local man from the bus said we could just come with him in the general direction of our hostel until we found it. We found it!

We made four Albanian friends in Drymades Beach, one spoke English and I was able to converse with one of the others in German. They were so lovely and invited us to lunch in the mountains; the German speaker drove us and then turned around and went back to get the other guys!

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Our new Albanian friends plus American Frankie and English Cherry with whom we travelled with

Things to do around Saranda

Saranda

Saranda

There wasn’t much to do in Saranda itself, unless you like packed beaches right next to the port! But it’s a good base to do things in the surrounding areas.

Although many other bloggers recommend it, I actually think Ksamil beach is hugely overrated. It’s just south of Saranda, an easy bus ride away, but it’s so packed with people it took us an hour just to find somewhere to put our bag down. Let alone roll out a towel! Boating and jet skiing is popular in the swimming areas so it’s not very relaxing, we were constantly worried about getting hit. Head north to Lukove instead (details below).

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Ksamil beach: ehhhh

The day we hired a car we explored Butrint; ancient Greek/Roman ruins that date back to 314BC.

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After Burint we headed to the Blue Eye, a natural spring where ice cold water bubbles up from more than 50m below. It’s stunningly clear and blue but you won’t be able to spend long in there due to the freezing temperatures.

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After the Blue Eye we headed back to the coast and drove north to Lukove Beach which was absolutely stunning. We had a delicious seafood meal at a restaurant on the beach and then relaxed on the sand, read and snorkelled.

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There wasn’t much to see under the water but it was still lovely

Dhermi/Drymades Beach

An absolute paradise and I dedicated my last blog post to Drymades, read it here.

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Tirana

Two nights is the absolute maximum you need in Tirana. It’s a very interesting capital city but there isn’t a tonne of stuff to do there. There is a thriving cafe scene though so I recommend trying out the Freddo (cold) coffees.

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I highly recommend the Tirana Free Walking Tour, it gives excellent insight into Albania’s history. Along the tour you stop at relics from the communist era (see bunker below), as well as mosques and churches, which sit harmoniously alongside one another.

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All of Albania is littered with bunkers, which are apparently impossible to get rid of!

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A pedestrian boulevard

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An apartment building and a mural

There are lots of other places we would have liked to have seen in Albania but unfortunately ran out of time. We’ll be back! We met quite a few European travellers in Albania and only one Australian. My sister travelled there about 10 years ago and I’m sure it’s changed immensely and will continue to do so as tourism builds. Get there soon!

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The cheap European beach paradise you’ve never heard of

Anyone who has looked into spending time on a beach over the European summer has heard of the big names; Capri and Sorrento in Italy, Nice in France, the Greek Islands etc. But what if I told you there was a relatively untapped azure paradise wedged between all those places, that costs very little to visit?

It exists! I’m talking about Dhërmi in Albania.

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aka heaven

These photos are technically from Drymades beach which is here:

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You can practically swim to Italy (not recommended)

Now a lot of people don’t consider Albania as a holiday destination because from 1944 to 1991 it was under strict communist rule and isolated from the rest of the world, much like North Korea today. But Albania has been a republic for 25 years now and has some absolutely stunning landscapes.

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The majority of people holidaying here are Albanian and the beaches certainly aren’t sardined with umbrellas and sun lounges like in Greece and Italy. The water is stunningly clear and blue and behind the beach is the most amazing mountain range. Best of both worlds!

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Drymades Beach

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If you walk north from Drymades beach towards the headland and through a window in the rock you get to a tiny beach with good snorkelling.

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It’s as clear as a swimming pool

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We you get tired of snorkelling there is a cute restaurant just back through the hole in the rock where you can sit and eat with this incredible view:

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Salad and moussaka (not traditional Albanian food)

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How to get there: We took a bus from Sarande (the largest city in the south) to Drymades beach for 700 lek/5 euros. It’s impossible to book in advance or find the bus times online, you just have to go into the town and ask each bus where they are headed.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Sea Turtle Camping which provides tents, mattresses, sheets, pillows, showers, toilets, wifi, breakfast AND dinner for 1200 lek (8.70 euros!!).

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Sea Turtle Camping

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Sunset on Drymades beach

Go before everyone else does!

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12 things you should know before travelling to: the Greek Islands

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The Greek Islands are definitely not an untouched haven, but here are some things I wish I had known or that surprised me when we got there.

1 It is really windy

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You can’t see the extreme wind in this photo, but it’s there!

No one seems to talk about how windy it is on the islands! It varies from bearable to completely miserable, getting-whipped-with-sand intolerable. We went to Crete, Santorini, Naxos, Paros and Tinos and it was the same story everywhere no matter what side of the island. For the most part it was fine but there were a few days that it just wasn’t possible to lie on the beach. On one occasion someone’s beach umbrella flew a couple a metres and straight into me; it was pretty funny. The owner at the villa in Paros said that usually August is windy but this year it had been so bad in July as well that she couldn’t put up any of the shade umbrellas.   

2 The buses are good but it might be better value to hire a car

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We couldn’t have made it here (Stefanou Beach) without a car

All of the islands we went to had a good bus system. But when we were travelling as a trio with my sister it made more sense to hire a car. Buses are generally  2.50 one-way, so one return bus trip per day each would equal  15. On Crete our car hire cost  22 per day and allowed us to go much further than one return bus trip. It’s worth noting that most of the cars are manual (stick) and it costs more to hire an automatic car.

3 You can’t flush toilet paper

It’s like being back in any country south of America! Obviously this is not an issue unless your hostel/villa cleaner doesn’t change the bin often enough… Ew.

4 You need to observe siesta hour etiquette  

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The streets are often blissfully quiet during this time

From 2pm-5pm most businesses shut for quiet hours. Shops close and reopen later in the evening but most restaurants seemed to stay open. We didn’t know about siesta time and accidentally woke the mother of the owner when we arrived to check in at our villa in Plakias, Crete. She wasn’t mad but I felt terrible! This is not the time to have loud conversations on your balcony or blast music. People stay up much later after a nap; you’ll be greeted with ‘good afternoon’ until about 7pm and people don’t sit down for dinner until about 9:30pm (unless they have kids).

5 English is widely spoken but learn a few words

Making an effort with language is always appreciated, even if you don’t always nail the pronunciation.

Hello/Hi = Yassas/Yas
Thank you = Efharisto (people will say ‘parakalo’ ie ‘you’re welcome’ in response)
Kalimera = Good morning
Kalispera = Good evening

6 You can’t drink the tap water

Bottled water is very cheap though.

 7 You generally can’t hire snorkels

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We bought snorkels on Amazon before we arrived because we knew we’d be using them every day and wanted to save money (we spent a fair bit hiring them all through the Caribbean!). But it turns out there are few places to hire snorkels anyway; everyone just has their own. You can buy a cheap set from most supermarkets and souvenir shops.

8 Most beaches have only a small area for public access 

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Most of the best swimming beaches are taken up by sun lounges and umbrellas that you rent from a bar or restaurant, with a tiny sliver of public beach in between or to the side. This is common in most beachy places we’ve been outside of Australia; where the beaches are sacred and owned by ‘the people’ not businesses. The cost of hiring a sun lounge is minimal ( 7-10 euros for a set of two for the whole day) but it’s perfectly acceptable to lay your towel down and sit for free. We did a mixture of both. When it’s really windy it’s better to be on a lounge as being a bit higher off the ground means you cop less sand to the face.

9 The islands have a wide range of sand, stone and pebble beaches

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The variation of beaches is quite amazing. On Naxos we went to beaches with some of the softest, fluffiest sand I’ve ever experienced. Another beach was strewn with the most perfectly formed tiny shells. On Santorini our closest beach was ‘black sand’ but really just tiny black stones that get very hot underfoot as you walk to the water. There is also a red sand beach on Santorini. Some swimming spots aren’t really beaches but just places where rocks meet stunningly clear blue water. Disappointingly, there wasn’t one single beach we went to that wasn’t strewn with cigarette butts. I can’t fathom why people think its acceptable to litter some of the most beautiful places on earth with the leftovers of their nicotine habit. So sad.

10 The bakeries are amazing

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All Greek food is absolutely incredible, everything from the range of amazing appetizers to Greek salad to moussaka, seafood and even gyros is mouth watering. But I’m going to mention the bakeries because while it’s easy to find delicious food in a restaurant, it’s less easy to find great snack food while on the go. The bakeries have a huge range of tasty sweet and savoury goods for  1-2 euros. My favourites were spanakopita and gooey baklava. The bakeries also do great bread for sandwiches and perfect chocolate croissants. 

11 There is an island for every interest and budget

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For us, Crete was by far the best island in terms of affordability, beaches and having a wide range of things to do and see. Santorini is expensive but if you can afford a stunning hotel with an infinity pool in Oia or Fira you are in for a luxurious time. Mykonos and Ios are the places to go to spend all day at a beach party with thumping music, probably with Australians. Paros was super chilled out and relaxed. Naxos was a livelier version of Paros and popular with kite surfers; the wind is good for something! Tinos is the island with a major annual religious pilgrimage and surprisingly great shopping! There are hundreds of islands to explore and all of them have something absolutely amazing about them. I really loved our time in the Greek Islands and if you haven’t been, I strongly recommend you go one day.

12 There is still a humanitarian crisis going on (you probably won’t see it)

Before we arrived in Greece a few people told me I should ‘be careful’ because of the ongoing refugee crisis in the region. I’m not sure what that means in the context of me being a privileged, wealthy traveller choosing to go to Greece and the presence of Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi people desperately fleeing death in their home countries. Seeking asylum is not a crime and should not be viewed as a potential blight on your summer holiday. The islands where most people arrived are the ones closest to Turkey; Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos, Symi, and Rhodes (this information is from March 2016 published here). Last month Al Jazeera reported on increasing tensions in Leros which saw locals attack refugees and aid workers. By all means do your own research and educate yourself, but also consider learning about what people are going through (This American Life have just done an excellent series from inside refugee camps on the mainland) and if you can afford it, donate to the Red Cross.

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