Athens, Greece 8 Day Vacation plus Hydra, Poros & Aegina

Athens has given us ups and downs. Some stunning food, including salads that I could happily live on for the rest of my life.

Multiple times, though, we have been short changed and this starts to become quite irritating after a while. Having to double check prices, bills and change received should not be necessary, particularly in a European capital city.

The Greek people have struck me as very friendly in the main, and always willing to help when needed. They also speak fluent English in Athens which has made getting around very easy indeed.

Getting Around Athens on Public Transport

The tube system is modern and efficient, well connected to an additional tram network which takes in some key tourist spots along the coast. We picked up 5 day public transport passes for only 10 Euros each which covers everything except routes to the airport.

Athens for Pedestrians, Elderly and the Disabled

Athens is typical of a south European city, where pedestrians must take their lives in their hands at times. The pathways are also cracked and incomplete, leaving my feet pretty worn out by the end of this trip. On the rare occasions that it rains in Athens, I would not fancy walking anywhere in this city.

There were times when Athens reminded me of my time in China – loud, aggressive traffic, the odd tricky character looking to take advantage of tourists and a clear disregard for pedestrians and the disabled. Once we became used to this, we enjoyed the trip much more.

The hustle and bustle of Athens meant we had to spend a few days on the outskirts of the city in order to get some of the rest that we desired from this trip.

3 Island Day Trip to Hydra, Poros and Aegina

The 3 island trip to Hydra, Poros and Aegina was well worth the 99 Euros each. It took up a full day, with much of the time spent on a small ferry, enjoying stunning views of neighbouring islands and passing ships.

The first island that we arrived at was Hydra, featuring quaint walkways and traditional local tavernas offering fresh seafood. We only spent 1 1/2 hours in Hydra, but would love to come back another time. When you think of a relaxing holiday on a Greek island, this is exactly the sort of thing that you would have in mind.

Hydra Island, Greece

Hydra immediately seemed more charming, clean and welcoming than the city of Athens. There was a complete contrast as you might expect between a remote island and the large capital city. We had found relaxation and comfort at last.

There was a group of friendly cats to greet us on the harbour front, along with countless shops, bars and restaurants. Walking beyond these helped us to find narrow cobbled streets which had an ancient atmosphere, perhaps changing very little in the last few centuries.

Poros was our next destination and took around an hour to reach from Hydra.

Aegina was the final stop, and certainly the most developed of the three islands. The cruise itinerary allowed us two hours here before the last leg back to the port of Piraeus.

Aegina Greek Island

There were again some incredible views across the sea as well as a long harbour full of small yachts and tourist island hopping boats.

Wild cats were back again, in their droves on this island. Most looked reasonably healthy, thankfully, and Ruby chased them around the island. Wild cats always seem to be part of the fun of visiting the Mediterranean rules and order seem to go out of the window.

Wild Cats in Greece

Aegina may have been more commercial than the previous islands but it still only took a couple of minutes walk before we were off the beaten track, seeing local life at its slow pace.

The tram network allowed us to breeze across the coast on our 5 day pass. Although many of the restaurants and bars appear to have been shutdown, there were still plenty of popular spots along this line. The air was also notably better once we had got a little distance from the main centre of the city.

Food and Drink in Athens

The food during our stay was consistently good across all of the bars and restaurants that we visited. Our appetite was much reduced in the hotter climate of Greece compared to the UK. We therefore went for lighter foods with less carbs.

The salads were supreme, large and tasty – much more filling than most I would have at home. Whole slabs of feta cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, olives rich dressings – simple and healthy eating at its best.

Greek Salad with Seafood

Seafood also served as a lighter alternative to meat and we found an excellent restaurant close to our hotel which served a decent value seafood platter at 35 Euros. This hosted fried mussels, several squid, an octopus leg, 5 large shrimps plus some local sardines. We had it twice during the trip, as well as various grilled meats in pita bread as you would expect in this part of the world.

Greek Seafood Platter

I was drinking local beer for most of the trip, with the brands I remember being Mythos and Alfa. They were so cold and i was so thirsty that any unique tastes would have been numbed considerably and they just seemed like standard continental lager.

Alfa Greek Lager

Mythos Greek Lager

Fix Hellas Greek Lager

Greece was perhaps a little more expensive than you might expect for a country which has been going through some turbulent economic times.

Apparently prices here go up when things get tough, where as in UK we seem to end up with year-long sales and price wars. Towards the end of the trip our stash of Euros began to dwindle and so we switched from larger restaurants or smaller, cosier ones. Food for two with drinks then dropped from 50 to 30 Euros each evening.

Short-Changing of Tourists in Greece

Ruby’s boiling temper appeared several times on the trip when being over charged or short-changed by local waiters and street sellers. It was another similarity to my Chinese travels where I quickly learnt of the need to be cautious whenever money was changing hands.

Asian tourists seemed to be particularly targeted, consistently being charged more where prices were not shown. It is probably a situation repeated in London, but in areas where I would not be as a local. Some see tourists as a never ending cash cow, but the Greeks should avoid taking them for granted.

Divani Caravel Hotel

We stayed at the 5-star Divani Caravel Hotel in central Athens for a week stay.

Divani Caravel Hotel Athens

Acropolis

We spent most of one afternoon enjoying the main tourist attraction of Athens – The Acropolis.

Acropolis Athens Greece

Greek Flag Waving in the Wind at The Acropolis

National Archaeology Museum

Pots, pots, pots… Get your fill of Greek pots right here. Its fair to say that I am not the greatest of fans of Archaeology but it is important in Athens to at least have a taster beyond just the Acropolis.

The Egyptian section offered a little variety and the museum itself was professionally put together, as you would expect for such a key national and international museum.

There were two floors of ancient artifacts plus a small Atrium in the basement with a cafe for those flagging.

There were impressive collections of jewellery here too, with amber so old that it had taken on an appearance of standard stone.

The entrance fee of 7 Euros should allow anyone to visit this eye opening museum that gives examples of how humanity developed.

Styloi Olympiou Dias

This smaller attraction was quiet, and easy to get around in half an hour or so. 2 Euros gets you a glimpse of more stunning ancient architecture.

This is one to fit in alongside other tourist spots nearby, but is great for capturing precise photographs when other locations are too busy or not as accessible.

National Gardens

These gardens are centrally located and well worth a visit when you get a spare hour. We were unfortunately turfed out early as the park was closing.

The gardens were a haunt for joggers and were surprisingly serene considering the mayhem going on on the other side of it’s walls.

Vouliagmeni Lake

Vouliagmeni Lake provided us with a relaxed way to spend the final day of our Athens vacation.

This lake is a popular spot for a quick dip, and easily large enough for a more substantial swim. Many local women were here keeping themselves in shape, maintaining figures at least 20 years younger than their real ages. The combination of the Greek diet and climate along with regular exercise appears to slow down the ageing process dramatically.

Fishes in Lake nibbling at my feet

Our day here was curtailed by incessant rain, but we still enjoyed the day. It was fairly quiet for us, but the hotter climate of high season will certainly bring many here to cool off.

For those on a budget, 13 Euros is the entry fee and its open pretty much all day. We found the quickest way to get here was taking the tube as far south as possible, then taking a short taxi. The tram route along the coastline was stunning but took much longer as there were so many stops.

Things to do in Athens, Greece

After several months of work in my latest contract at GAN, it is now time for my next trip to the sun. Athens is the choice this time round, after covering each and every main island in the Canaries over recent years.

Athens appealed to me for the combination of sunshine, good food but also plenty of culture which can sometimes be lacking in purely tourist destinations. Holiday resorts tend to be fairly similar and can become a little boring once you have seen a few of them.

This city, however, has as much historical culture as pretty much anywhere in the world and should keep us busy enough for the week-long vacation.

I have only previously had one Greek holiday, to the island of Kavos for a fortnight which was perhaps the best but most grueling trip in my life. And certainly not to be repeated! Athens will be a long way away from that “Brits abroad” type vacation, with an art gallery or two, architecture, healthy local cuisine and maybe even some fishing on the agenda this time round.

Top 10 Things To Do in and Around Athens

  1. Acropolis & Acropolis Museum

  2. Constitution Square

  3. National Gardens

  4. Parthenon

  5. Temple of Hephaestus

  6. Flisvos Marina

  7. Lake Vouliagmeni

  8. Byzantine Museum

  9. Mount Lycabettus

  10. Panathenaic Stadium

H10 Playa Esmeralda Hotel, Fuerteventura

We stayed at the H10 Playa Esmeralda Hotel, Fuerteventura for the second week of our holiday. The all-inclusive offering seemed a good choice after barbecuing our own food for a week in our villa in the north of the island.

It took a few hours to adjust after staying in a quiet villa for the previous week, but after settling in we really enjoyed our stay at the H10 Playa Esmeralda Hotel. For a large hotel, it was fairly relaxed here with visitors well behaved and all similar in terms of the type of holiday that they were after.

This hotel lies in the south of the island in Costa Calma and is part of a large international chain of hotels. We struggled at first with reception staff whose English was not perfect, but later had no real problems as our needs were very simple.

The main excursions available included Windsurfing, Kayaking and further water-sports in the nearby coastline. In the hotel itself was nightly entertainment plus also crazy golf too. The swimming pools were never too crowded, despite some people seeming to spend their entire holiday sunbathing in that area.

Bahiazul Luxury Villas, Fuerteventura

The Bahiazul Luxury Villas in Fuerteventura were our home for one week. The complex was stunning, with friendly and helpful customer service throughout the week.

The barbecue allowed us to cook food outside for the whole duration of our stay. There was room for 6 in our villa, plus potentially another two more with the outdoor bed upstairs.

Having a pool in our house one day has always been a dream, so to have one for a week is a nice taster for what the future may hold. I made great use of our private pool and swam for around 2 hours per day.

Mornings tended to involve a light breakfast in the restaurant close to reception followed by a dip in the pool to awaken the senses. There was virtual silence in the villa for most of the day and it is hard to imagine finding a more relaxing holiday anywhere in the rest of Fuerteventura.

The atmosphere was so perfect for the relaxing holiday that we were looking for, that we struggled at first when arriving at the H10 Esmeralda Hotel because of the amount of people in reception as we checked in.

Oasis Wildlife Park in Fuerteventura

We ended up visiting the Oasis Wildlife Park in Fuerteventura twice during our 2-week trip to the island. The huge size of the cactus garden meant that we were not able to see everything on site in the first day, and so returned later on at a discounted price.

The main attraction was always going to be the animals, but the plants served as an excellent bonus. Racoons, Elephants, Giraffes, Meer Cats and Otters were probably the highlight. The Sea lion show made us feel a little uncomfortable, but the children around us seemed to enjoy it, at least.

There were two buses a day straight from our hotel to the park and return routes at around 5pm. Most tourists seemed to have hire cars, and for the rest, the taxi each way would only be around 15 or 20 Euros.

Fuerteventura did not appear to have as many tourist attractions as other islands in the Canaries, making this wildlife park particularly popular. Water sports seem to be the main attraction here.

I am always a bit wary of safari parks and zoos in general, particularly abroad because of fears over the way in which the animals are kept and treated. Some of the enclosures here may have been a little small but everything i saw over the two days seemed happy and healthy. There were also areas of the park which were given up to protecting rarer creatures which is always a good sign of the intentions of the site owners.

We had some really excellent food in the restaurants available here, with the Lamb Stew being particularly tasty. The service could be slow and a little overrun at times, but both days the food was well worth the wait.

Those visiting the island should certainly check out this safari park and the cactus garden offers enough for plant lovers just on it’s own.

Fuerteventura Villa & All-inclusive 2 Week Holiday

We split our two weeks between a stunning villa and an all-inclusive hotel stay. The Bahiazul luxury villa has persuaded us to try this option more often on sunny holidays, rather than standard hotel rooms.

This was our first trip to Fuerterventura. Having previously visited many other islands in the Canaries, we knew pretty much what to expect. After trips to La Palma, Madeira, La Gomera, Tenerife and Lanzarote this was the last of the large islands in this peninsula.

The parts that we saw, with much left for future trips, suggest that this island doesn’t have quite as much to interest as we had found in Lanzarote. We still enjoyed the two weeks immensely, though, and would be happy to return.

The areas between the touristy spots on this island seem almost completely barren, aside from the occasional small village where locals have probably been for many generations.

The two week break here has recharged my batteries exactly as I had hoped. Our stay has been mainly quiet, with only the odd tourist getting on our nerves. The island offers plenty of sports, and the usual canaries’ strips of bars and shops. Windsurfing, diving, surfing and kite surfing are all on offer but I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything that active.

One slight regret was that I wasn’t able to find much food specific to the island, what with barbecuing in the first week and then being limited to international cuisine in the all-inclusive restaurant. We did have a stunning goat stew at the Oasis Wildlife Park in Fuerteventura and various seafood dishes such as grilled shrimps and squid. There was also some local cheese which was on sale in the shop.

Leeds Castle, Kent Day Trip

Leeds Castle Kent England

Ruby had wanted to visit Leeds Castle for several years and we finally got around to it. The weather has been good across the UK all week, so it made sense to go when we did.

The first thing that struck me on arriving was just how many people had many the trip here for the day – a huge car park was packed, making the area look a little like a busy campsite. Fortunately the overall area that surrounds the castle was big enough to cope with all these adults, kids and cars. It was quite easy to find a quiet area around the complex, with the children’s playareas taking care of most of the visiting families.

Castle and Gatekeep

Castle Up Close

The castle itself was stunning. The main areas had been altered several times over the past 900 years, with the most recent stone facade being put together in 1822. The surrounding areas were beautifully landscaped, meaning there was plenty to do besides just visiting the castle itself and the gatekeep.

Swan at Leeds Castle, Kent

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There were several stunning gardens featuring a variety of foreign plants, such as palms and bamboos. Ruby also found a plant that she remembers from Nan Ao Village in China, where she was born. Besides these gardens was a large lake which also offered free boat trips from tip to toe. Although £24 seemed expensive for a single adult ticket, there was quite a lot to do across the day. Archery and Falconery shows were also on offer.

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Ruby remains a big fan of European castles, fortified houses and stately homes. Anything linked to her interest in antiques as well as building types not seen in China continues to draw her in, even though she has now seen quite a number across the UK.

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Ruby off to Gothenburg

Ruby has been keen for another break recently but i am unable to go with her, as it is time to line up another contract asap. Ruby feels most comfortable in Northern European countries when travelling by herself. As such, Gothenburg is her destination for next week.

I’ll be honest, as much as i truly love Scandanavia, as shown in our trip to Norway, i know very little about Gothenburg. The city has appeared in some of my Nordic Noir, and i gathered from that is that it’s a major port city.

Ruby finds Sweden, Denmark and Norway as places that she can confidently visit by herself, knowing that the locals speak English better than some parts of London, and also have a society wih low crime and strong education. I adore the model of the Scandinavian countries too, but tend to prefer to spend my time off in hot locations that differentiate themselves from the UK. With more time, i would love to travel by train around Denmark and Sweden, and hope to do that at some point.

Ruby has no experience of Italy up to now, and has heard bad stories from fellow Chinese on her national social media feeds. Her impressions up to now seem to divide the north and south of Europe but i am hoping to open her mind to Italy in coming years, as it has always been my favourite European country.

Having said that, it is always going to be easier for someone used to British life to visit North European countries as there is a real similarity in culture, history and general day-to-day life.

Weekend in Norfolk

It has been a fairly tiring week but my mood is up again as the weekend draws close. I will pop to see Mum and Dad in Norfolk for the weekend and this break seems to be perfect timing. With only a few days left of my current contract, next week will be interesting and i am looking forward to some fresh, new work coming in.

Mum has had her garden done up recently and i am looking forward to seeing that in all it’s glory. This is an important place for her so i am pleased that her feedback on the work has been really positive. The garden should also now be much safer for her and Dad to bumble about in, where as before there were some precarious spots around the top fish pond.

Dad has recently become quite a keen cook and will be knocking up a roast dinner this weekend, which has always previously been Mum’s territory. He has been using several recipe books of TV chefs, and it seems that he enjoys planning his next feast.

Jamie Oliver's Chorizo Soup

I have not done much cooking myself recently, except for a Chorizo Soup to use up some of the leftover vegetables from our Abel and Cole delivery.

Ruby will remain in London to work this weekend having taken time off for our recent trip to Tenerife. Hopefully we might be able to do another trip soon, so long as i can find a good cheap deal somewhere warm. I tend to search on HolidayPirates.com for deals, they always seem to have something interesting available.