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

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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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3 surprising things about Tinos

Our final Greek Island, which we booked on a complete whim because we were not ready to pry ourselves away from the Cyclades, was Tinos. Here are some fun facts!

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1 It’s one of the most religiously significant islands

We knew before arriving that Tinos had a famous church but we weren’t aware that it’s actually the site of the biggest annual religious pilgrimage in the region. The church of Panagia Evangelistria is famous for it’s reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and every August 15, pilgrims make their way from the ferry port to the church. How do they get there?

They crawl. Yes, to show their devotion they crawl 800m on their hands and knees up a hill along a specially laid carpet:

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Carpet for crawling on

Until they reach the church and it’s somewhat more illustrious red carpet:

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Some of the pilgrims carry up to 5 foot long candles or ‘lambades’ to light when they make a vow up at the church. They are sold at small shops along the main street filled with all sorts of religious paraphernalia.

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It was kind of fascinating to see some people crawling up to the church already. It certainly did not look comfortable, especially as it was mostly elderly people we saw doing the trek. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a miracle at the end!

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Apparently up to 50,000 people make the pilgrimage on and around August 15. There is not enough accommodation so many sleep on the footpath with a grey blanket from a storage room that holds 10,000 of them in the cathedral.

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Lambades for sale

Whatever floats your boat! Speaking of boats…

2 Tinos has some of the bluest, clearest water we experienced in the Greek Islands

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While the beach we went to was certainly nothing to write home about, the water was magic. So clear you could see for metres and metres ahead.

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We got plenty of great underwater snaps:

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3 It has amazing shopping

I was kind of blown away by how great the shopping was! Religion and shopping isn’t a natural pairing in my mind, but apparently it is on Tinos. There were shops selling beautiful linen shirts and clothing, leather sandals, plenty of jewellery and tasteful souvenirs.

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I bought some Spanish espadrilles for 10 euros and tried on a few linen shirt dresses but decided to be sensible and left empty handed.

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It should be mentioned that Tinos also has a healthy bar/nightclub scene for those less inclined to wake early and crawl up to the church. Something for everyone! I definitely recommend Tinos if you’re looking for somewhere slightly different to the Santorini/Mykonos/Ios scene.

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Heading home soon

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The moment my mother has been waiting for since this trip started almost 15 months ago has finally arrived: we have booked flights home.

We put it off for a long time, toying with ideas to extend travelling for as long as possible, before finally biting the bullet and setting the date: September 6. The feeling is bittersweet.

For the most part, we are both ready to go home. It will be great to see family, unpack and not have to share dorm rooms with 10 other adults. I’m looking forward to a new phase and have missed the satisfaction of a hard day’s work for a while now.

But it’s also scary. Because technically, we don’t have a home. Once again we are heading into the unknown; not knowing where we will live, work and exist for the foreseeable future. While this is also exciting, part of me wishes I could fast forward ahead to see how it all pans out. Another part of me is imploring myself to continue living in the moment, for it’s not over yet! We’ve just arrived in a brand spanking new country; Albania, and will be heading to Italy for a quick visit before London and then home.

People have been asking us when we’re headed home since we first set off and we finally have an answer. Now lets see what we can pack into these final few weeks.

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Four nights on Naxos

Naxos was the fourth island on our Grecian adventure. It’s close neighbours with Paros, you can actually see Naxos from Paros and vice versa if you’re standing on the right side. But of course the ports are on the opposite sides of the islands so it still takes and hour on the ferry!

We got there in the late afternoon, took a sweaty walk across town to our hostel (Korali Palace) and headed out with some beers to watch the sunset.

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On our first day we took a bus to Agia Anna and managed to find a tiny cove of beach that we had all to ourselves. Andy was pretty excited:

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Anyone else’s significant other take photos while you’re talking? Hmmm

The sand was a mixture of pebbles and tiny, perfectly formed shells. So pretty. It was a nice spot for snorkelling. Not that many fish around but still fun. I feel like snorkelling in Belize has probably ruined us for the rest of the world, but I’ve been appreciating just floating around pretending I live under the sea here.

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Portara, a massive 2500-year-old archway, is the place to watch the sunset. Just you, part of an ancient unfinished temple and about 1000 other people. Bliss!

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The follow day we got back on the bus and took it a bit further to Plaka beach.

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Turns out Plaka is the favoured beach for nudists. There is kind of an awkward mix of naked and clothed people, so it still catches you off guard. Easier if everyone is either completely naked or completely clothed I think!

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Some good snorkelling there as well.

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I also binge listened to NPR podcast Invisibilia. My sister just got me onto it. It’s excellent!

The next day was my birthday and we spent the entire day on a sailboat (in case you missed the last post).

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We spent our last afternoon exploring the alleyways of the old town before our ferry to Tinos.

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There are still buildings from around the 16th century when the island was under Venetian rule (known then by the Italian name ‘Nasso’).

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We grabbed a gyros near the port.

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Then jumped on a ferry and waved goodbye to Naxos, one year older.

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Celebrating 28 on a sailboat near Naxos

Last week I had the extremely good fortune of celebrating my 28th birthday on Naxos. Well technically off Naxos, on a boat. Naxos is a large island in the Cyclades area of the Greek Islands and only a short ferry ride from Paros.

There are many sailing day trips that leave from the port and head to the Rina Cave and the small island of Koufonisia south-east of Naxos. I absolutely do not recommend the company we went with (Naxos Sailing Tours), the owner George will say anything to get you onto a boat which is standard but we ended up on one that had none of the advertised features. I’m talking about stuff like wifi, a GoPro, a disc with photos and footage from the day, swimming shoes etc. Now we obviously have our own GoPro and can go a day without wifi but I don’t appreciate paying the same amount for a no frills boat.

Also, George told us to be at the port at 8:20am and we didn’t end up leaving for well over an hour. It was as though George had called up his mate that morning saying he had overfill and needed a second boat. Totally disorganised. His mate was also the only sailor on our boat, so Andrew had to help sail which he wanted to do anyway but not to the extent that he wanted to be rudely screamed at in English and Greek. It was kind of horrifying to watch. At one point we became stuck in a small port and Andrew and another man on the boat were asked to dive underneath to untangle the propeller and unhook debris from the anchor. I think that goes a bit beyond the call of duty.

As frustrating as it was Andrew suggested we just try to enjoy the day and not dwell on complaining when we got back to dry land because it would put a dampener on our evening. So we didn’t. For the most part, it was a good day. Obviously I wore my most nautical outfit for the occasion.

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Waiting to leave. We were told to get to the boat at 8:20am but didn’t leave until 9:45!

The water is pretty rough when you first leave the port and pass the headland, but then it was smooth sailing for a while. I went and sat on the bow and it was magic.

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We were lucky to have the whole deck to ourselves. There was only one other group on the boat (a lovely family from Russia) and they stayed in the seats at the stern.

Obviously we took a million photos in the ‘sailor looking out to sea’ pose.

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Necessary

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Our first stop was the Rina Cave.

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Turns out it’s not very big, so we explored around the outside as well, trying to avoid sea urchins.

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Near the cave entrance

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I challenged Andrew to dive down and retrieve some goggles off the ocean floor, it was probably about 5 metres down. He nailed it, easily.

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This is probably one of my favourite photos from our entire trip! I love how the light off the back of the boat (which is white) gives the effect of studio lighting. Also that water!

After the cave we pulled into a small bay to get lunch.

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We were strongly encouraged to go to a certain restaurant. No doubt belonging to a mate of George’s.

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It seemed pretty authentic though and we had our first BBQ lamb in Greece. Also the cheese on the Greek salad was next level amazing.

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After lunch we headed back down to the beach and by that point the wind had really picked up.

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After a quick dip we got back on the boat.

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It was Andrew’s job to raise the anchor (it’s electronic) and it was at this point that we discovered we were caught and the sub-marine untangling jobs were carried out.

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Pleased Andrew made it back on the boat with all his fingers

Unfortunately the wind and swell were too extreme to go to Koufonisia, but having been scarred by the rough seas on our San Blas Islands tour I was happy not to risk it!

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Grimacing in the wind

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The last stretch of our journey, just before the port, was pretty hairy. But because of our aforementioned San Blas trip I think I was immune to how bad it was. The mother of the Russian family was quite shaken though.

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We reached the port as the sun was dipping low in the sky and after Andrew was yelled at a final time for some anchor/rope related issue we were finally back on dry land.

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That night we headed out for an absolutely phenomenal meal (a gift from my sister!) that made up for the boat trip. We went to Nostimon Hellas which states it does ‘creative Mediterranean and Greek’. We had dolmades stuffed with octopus, then I had fresh grilled prawns and Andrew had fish stuffed with eggplant. It was all super fresh, excellent quality and delicious. Unfortunately because it was quite dark I couldn’t get good photos of the food. Using flash photography is the best way to make food look hideous.

Oh we also ordered a litre of rose:

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Yum.

After our meal this hilariously weird ‘happy birthday’ song started playing and three staff members danced the entire way around the restaurant and then delivered a piece of cake to our table. Because they danced right past us at first so I assumed it was someone else’s birthday as well, but apparently that was their plan to throw me off! It worked.

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Then of course the entire restaurant sang happy birthday to me which is always lovely if not slightly embarrassing.

One of my best birthdays to date! Oh and even though it wasn’t George’s birthday I left him a ‘gift’ on Tripadvisor😉

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10 tips for looking good when you’re travelling

Disclaimer: this is a requested blog post! I’ve probably felt properly ‘glamorous’ maybe twice in my entire life (this was one of those times). I’m not a fashion blogger, super skinny or a model and I don’t really know anything about style! You still there?! This is just what I do when I want to look half decent.

It’s really just about wearing what makes you comfortable.

I feel horrible in active wear and hiking clothes. This sounds dramatic but for half of our trip (because half of our trip has involved being active) I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable and frumpy because hiking clothes just aren’t me. If I’m dressed like I’m going to the gym I just don’t feel… dressed?! I think once I finally realised this and bought a few cheap things in Brazil getting ready every day suddenly became a lot easier?! And having my photo taken didn’t feel quite as torturous!

Anyway, this is what has worked for me:

1 Wear black and white

It’s an effortless and classic pairing.

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San Christobal, Mexico

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Valparaiso, Chile

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Monument Valley

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New Orleans

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Charleston, South Carolina

2 Or wear one bright colour

I really admire people who wear patterns and make them look good. Especially people who can wear two patterns and look effortlessly chic. I can’t do that! I like wearing bold colours, it’s easy and helps your significant other find you in a crowd. I honestly don’t know when I started wearing so much pink?! But apparently that’s my colour. I actually prefer red but it’s hard to find the right shade.

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Tulum, Mexico

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Scotland for a wedding

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Trinidade, Brazil

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Paraty, Brazil

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Sao Paulo, Brazil

3 Get a cool hat

Panama hats are kind of annoying to travel with. The first one I bought in Brazil got really wet on our San Blas boat trip and drooped into the saddest looking slug before I threw it out. But I really liked wearing it and they are pretty darn sun smart so I bought a new one for 10 pounds in London. I’ve been super careful with it. It’s survived all of the Greek islands so far!

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Santorini, Greek Islands

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Crete, Greek Islands

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Colombia (starting to lose its shape!)

4 Pack a versatile black dress or playsuit

I bought a black playsuit for $7 from H&M in Salt Lake City and its cost per wear is probably in negative numbers by now. I’ve worn it everywhere from the beach to a cooking class to the Taylor Swift 1989 concert. At night I sometimes wear tights underneath.

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Naxos, Greek Islands

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Paraty, Brazil. Exactly the same outfit as above but actually a different hat!

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Mendoza, Argentina

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Utah/Colorado border

5 Avoid wearing thongs/flip flops all the time

I’m a major failure at this. I’m always wearing thongs and when I see photos of myself I can’t help but think my casual footwear really lets me down (see above photos!). I’ve been keeping my eye out for some espadrilles or cool sandals for ages now and nothing has taken my fancy.

EDIT: since writing this yesterday morning I found black espadrilles for 10 euros! Thongs be gone! No wait I need them for hostel showers…

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Wearing new flats in Washington DC

6 Wear something ‘on trend’

Off the shoulder tops are everywhere at the moment. While I’m not convinced they are even that flattering, wearing a ‘trend’ makes me feel a tiny bit closer to being one of the cool kids. And I mean like 1 millimetre closer.

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Santorini, Greek Islands

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Santorini, Greek Islands

7 Carry a bright bag

I love this clutch. I got it in Bali a few years ago. It’s so happy and colourful and seems to go with everything! Because it’s just cloth it packs really easily and it’s a great size; fits my camera, GoPro, phone and cash.

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8 Sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses 

They fix everything. I’ve been through so many pairs on this trip! I don’t recommend taking your expensive sunnies backpacking, plus its fun to find new ones along the way.

9 Throw on a trench coat

They have stood the test of time.

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Falkirk, Scotland

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New York City

10 Accept that you’ll mostly look crap

And it doesn’t matter because you are seeing and doing amazing things! Unfortunately some places just call for zip-off pants and hiking boots.

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Embrace it.

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Paros: the most relaxing Greek island

Big call! I know. But we were practically forced to relax on Paros because we stayed in the postage stamp sized village of Piso Livadi. This darling town is located on the east coast and I’m not sure I can emphasise enough just how small it was. I overheard an English girl on the bus telling her friend “it’s more like a corner than a town!”, that sums it up pretty well.

So it isn’t a bustling metropolis with lots to see and do. Which is exactly how I like my islands. Slow! And beautiful:

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We got to enjoy this view every time we walked from our accommodation to the ‘town’

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Piso Livadi literally has two streets with a few shops and restaurants. One of them happens to feature classic Cycladic architecture; white cubic buildings, cobblestone streets and there’s a blue domed church as well. Perfect!

It’s very popular with sophisticated French families in pastel espadrilles.

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This tiny gyros restaurant was bustling by 9:30pm. It’s so sweet looking and such a nice change because usually you buy gyros (a wrap or what we would call a souvlaki or kebab in Australia) from rather ugly storefronts adorned with CocaCola signage.

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The town is set around a tiny bay with restaurants along the waterfront and some more accommodation up on the hill.

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That is literally the entire town minus the accommodation on the hill

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You can swim in the main bay or explore around the headland and find another beach, and yet another beach around the next headland. The water is glorious, as per usual.

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I spent most of my time reading Cloud Street by Tim Winton and catching up on podcasts.

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On our second night we went to the famous gyros place. We went early to avoid the rush (also the chic European thing of eating really late just doesn’t work for us!) but there was one eager patron ahead of us:

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We ordered lamb gyros not realising it was lamb sausage instead of lamb off a spit. It was ok but I prefer classic pork. But for 2.50 euros you can’t really go wrong. Our entire bill was about 8.50 including half a litre of white wine.

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We then strolled along the waterfront in the fading light.

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And then retired to our own balcony for this view:

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We stayed at Villa Melina and it was hands down, the best value for money of anywhere we stayed on this trip. For only 17 euros each (cheaper than dorm beds on most islands) we got a private room with air con, an en suite, balcony, fridge and tv; not that we watched it! The room was cleaned daily, there was a pool and we also got the most ridiculously amazing breakfast every morning:

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Yes that is for two people

Jana who runs the villa bakes the breakfast cake. It was outstanding. We almost needed to lie down afterwards.

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We worked off the breakfast with a lot of snorkelling, hard work given the strong current and the need to dodge sea urchins on the rocks.

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We grabbed a cheap bakery lunch. Delicious Greek pastries like this spanakopita (spinach and feta) one are only a couple of euros.

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We got chatting to a guy in the bakery who told us that in Greece the word ‘kangaroo’ is slang for someone who thinks they are ‘kind of gangsta’. He used the example of someone who revs their engine really loudly at the traffic lights. You would call that person a kangaroo. He had no idea how it all started!

We treated ourselves to a non gyros dinner on the waterfront as the sun was setting.

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We went to Markakis and it was superb.

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We ordered a vegetarian plate for two, goats cheese and some sausages.

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Zucchini fritters, tzatziki, dolmades, eggplant dip, olives, feta and salad

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It was way too much and I was stuffed before the sausages even made it to our table.

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Greek food fills me up maddeningly fast. Luckily I recovered before the complimentary panna cotta arrived. I do love the trend of a free small dessert here, such a lovely way to finish off a meal.

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People lining up for a table at the gyros place!

People lining up for a table at the gyros place!

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The view from Andrew’s hill walk

The next day we headed to the ‘big smoke’ of Naousa, population almost 3000!

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We were there during siesta time (3-5pm). It still makes me kind of chuckle how everything just shuts down in the middle of the afternoon here. Shops and restaurants close, good luck checking into your hotel and even the cats observe the quiet hours!

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On the back of our villa door was a sign with some information (check out time etc) and it actually stated that quiet hours are protected by laws. Crazy! I hate sleeping during the day, I usually wake up wondering who I am and what year it is. I do enjoy strolling the streets when it’s quiet though.

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The next morning we jumped on a ferry to Naxos, very relaxed and recharged.

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I snapped this while waiting for our bus

Definitely the place to go if you can handle doing nothing for a few days. Or you can rent a car and explore the entire island!

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Santorini on a budget

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Santorini is widely regarded as one of the most expensive Greek Islands; a place for honeymooners and those who want to fork out big bucks for infinity pools and that perfect view. While I think it’s more fun to go to an island where your dollar stretches a little further (hello Crete!) it is certainly possible to have a great Santorini experience on a budget. Here’s how:

Accommodation: depending on just how low your budget is and if it’s like ours (rock bottom) you won’t be staying in Fira or Oia. Those are the towns with the iconic white buildings clustered to the edge of the cliffs. I can highly recommend the budget friendly town of Perissa, where you can easily walk to the black sand beaches. We stayed at Hostel Anna for 14 euros each a night in a dorm room.

Food & drinks: we haven’t regularly bought breakfast out at cafes on this trip and it’s a definitely a habit to avoid! We both love Greek yoghurt and a delicious tub of it costs about 1 euro. Breakfast done! Sometimes I’d add banana as well. For lunch there is a great bakery in Perissa that does the classic Greek savoury pastries (like spanakopita, which is stuffed with spinach) and the local supermarket did an amazing prepackaged Greek salad big enough for two for 4 euros. Dinners were often gyros (cheap kebabs for 2.50 euros) or moussaka at 8 euros. For snacks we had fruit from the supermarket or a sneaky sweet pastry like baklava from the bakery for around 2 euros.
As for drinking we usually bought beers from a supermarket or small stand for 1.5-2 euros, you can drink them anywhere like on the beach or while watching the sunset. Wine is also cheap but I don’t know how you would keep it cold and manage to carry glasses around?!

Activities: you can spend hours wandering around the tiny streets of Fira and Oia, taking in the views and capturing every corner for instagram. Andrew and I also love to swim and snorkel, so that is a major activity for us (we bought snorkels on Amazon before we got to Greece to avoid having to hire them again and again). Our accommodation did not have a pool but there is a pool in Oia that you can use if you buy drinks and/or food. On one day we hired an ATV (all terrain vehicle or quad bike) for 25 euros plus 10 euros for fuel and drove around the island. You must watch the sunset from Oia one night.

Transport: there is a cheap and easy bus service on the island; Perissa to Fira costs 2.40 euros. Most accommodation offers free transfers to and from the ferry port, even our cheap hostel! And you can hire an ATV as mentioned above.   

With that out of the way, here’s all the cool stuff we did:

Explored Oia

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#iconicview

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Swam and snorkelled at Amoudi Bay

From the end of Oia you can walk downhill to tiny little Amoudi Bay, a gorgeous spot packed with fishing boats and little restaurants.

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To the left of the restaurants (if you’re looking out at the water) there is a great swimming/snorkelling spot with a rock for jumping off.

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So blue

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We zoomed up the hill from Amoudi Bay to a public pool.

Hung out at Lioyerma Cafe Pool Bar

For the cost of a few overpriced drinks you can hang out at Lioyerma pool and watch the sunset. We had one bottled beer (5 euros) and one draft beer (7) each and stayed there for a good four hours or so!

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Reading Cloud Street by Tim Winton

Reading Cloud Street by Tim Winton

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People clapped at the end of the sunset; major cringe! I don’t know if that’s better or worse than clapping at the end of a movie or a non-turbulent flight.

Explored Fira

The other beautiful white washed town on the cliff.

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We grabbed a 2.50 gyros from Lucky’s (meant to be the best on the island) plus some beers.

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We took some beers for the road and grabbed a spot for the sunset.

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Swam and snorkelled at Perissa beach

Staying in Perissa puts you in prime position to enjoy the free activity of spending all day on the beach. You can’t really get to a good beach in Oia or Fira because it’s so steep and rocky, hence why those hotels have pools. Sun lounges and umbrellas are available to rent for 7+ euros for a pair, or you can lie on the sand but it’s pretty darn hot! We did both.

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The beautiful still water was perfect for swimming.

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There you have it: Santorini on a budget! Now obviously I would much rather stay in a beautiful hotel but having spent winter in the Caribbean and now summer in the Greek Islands (without working full time in between!) I’m certainly not complaining.  Have you been to Santorini?

I’m planning to do an entire post on money and the Greek Islands once we are done here, so hopefully I can recommend the best place to get the most bang from your buck.

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