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Santorini
Posts, Travelog

Santorini truly is a gift from the Gods

“Ahhh Santorini, you truly are a gift from the Gods.”

We crowd around the bus as it pulls into the local bus stop, all eager to get a seat as it’s a decent drive back to Oia (where we’re staying) from Fira, one of the centres for food, shopping and nightlife on Santorini.

It turns out it’s not our bus. Masses pile onboard—that’s why they crowd around. The bus is full. Another bus pulls in and the bus driver takes no mercy on the waiting crowds. The driver “hits” a local customer infuriated by the driver’s actions. He starts yelling at the driver who ignores him. He knew he was nowhere near the guy but the guy continues to yell abuse at him. Twenty minutes later as he left in search of a taxi—and as the bus pulls out on another trip—he’s still yelling.

Our bus arrives and, after surveying how it’s done on the Greek Islands, we get pole position in front of the queue and politely wait for those to get off before we push our way in.

We depart with little time to spare driving up a steep hill. I was sure the sign said do not enter. Who cares, this is Santorini in the Greek Islands and this is a big bus.

A car was in our bus’s way and our driver yells at someone out his window, one of the words being “malaka” and my childhood memories of growing up with first-generation Greek kids in Melbourne came flooding back to me. Why is it always the swear words we pick up when we learn another language?

We stopped for a long time as the cars were coming head on towards us. I don’t think this is working. The bus driver lights up a cigarette, the conductor does the same.

The bus driver starts yelling out the window presumably for the cars to get the flock out of his way.

“Spiro,” he starts in lively Greek addressing the conductor. I’m assuming he’s telling Spiro he needs to get out of the bus and tell the cars up ahead to get out of his way and let him through based on his hand gestures and the situation in front of us.

He sits back, swears again and waits.

Spiro was not having a bar of it as he too sits back taking a drag of his cigarette.

The driver starts again at Spiro. With this Spiro assesses the situation, gets out of the bus and heads up the road to stop the traffic, cursing the fact that he’s subjected to this well after midnight.

 

We advance a couple of hundred metres and come to another dead stop. More lively Greek comes out of the bus driver’s mouth and Spiro chimes in.

The name Spiro also conjures up memories of my childhood in Melbourne–one of the highest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The guy that owned the local bottle shop’s name was Spiro. I’m not sure what the name of the shop actually was but Dad and his mates always called it Spiro’s. Spiro looked after the alcohol for every single party my parents, and their friends, threw and every Saturday, like a trip to the butcher Mr Thomas, Dad would pop in to say hi to Spiro.  Long before Vintage Cellars or Dan Murphy.

The driver hops on the radio. More lively Greek. Is this the usual bus route? Spiro and the driver seem somewhat surprised by tonight’s traffic like it has never been like this before but this is Fira in the height of summer—it’s busy every night. Isn’t it? The driver and Spiro light up a cigarette contemplating the situation ahead of them. We wait another 10-15 minutes as we watch the driver and Spiro decide what to do next.

“Get on the radio,” I imagine the driver says to Spiro as he hands him the radio talking in more lively greek. “I’ve already spoken to them they’ve done nothing to help.” I can’t imagine what the depot could do to help but I can’t imagine why they’re calling in on the radio either, perhaps to tell them they’re not moving and get them to share in their pain. I wish my old friends were here to translate. I’d love to know what they were saying.

Spiro gets off the radio and lights another cigarette standing at the front of the bus staring at the cars lined up head on like we’re playing chicken, albeit stationary.  This time nobody can move. The driver tells Spiro to get out of the bus and stop the cars once again and once again Spiro talks back but reluctantly get out of the bus some five minutes later stopping the traffic like he’s never had to do it before.

The traffic dutifully stops but clearly not a second before someone “asks nicely”. It was third time lucky and with that we’re on our way. And that was the last time Spiro had to get out of the bus to stop the traffic. On this trip anyway.

 

Such is the joy of travelling: sitting in the front of the bus watching the adventures of Spiro and the driver put me in good stead to enjoy the holiday.

“There’s a reason Santorini is continually voted one of the best island paradises in the world.”

We arrived in Santorini on July 18 (2015 for the archives) and the referendum resulting in an overwhelming “no” vote yet somehow Greece negotiated a further bail out and further austerity measures. There are no queues at the ATM in Santorini however, credit cards continue to be accepted and it’s business as usual in this glorious part of the world.

In Santorini the travel brochures aren’t having you on. It is exactly as it looks: white, serene, picturesque views and an endless vision of deep blue sea and matching blue rooftops coupled with breathtakingly spectacular cliffs and volcanic mountains.

 

It’s busy but not in a “I-can’t-be-bothered-leaving-my-pool” way, just in a way that makes you happy the negativity in the media hasn’t kept the tourists away.

Where we stayed

Filotera Suites

Family run boutique hotel built into the caldera. The hospitality is “Greek family”, in other words you are a welcome visitor but you don’t have to get up and offer to do the dishes or cook a meal while you’re there. Nothing is too much trouble and the attentiveness is genuine; it’s as good as it gets.

 

The attention to detail is tremendous—your tealight candles get lit before sunset every night and there is a turndown service.

 

Breakfast is served every morning on your private porch with a choice of Continental, Greek or Honeymoon style and extras like bacon, eggs or meats and cheeses. My favourite sound of the day was the clinking of the crockery and cutlery—our sign that breakfast was being set up and it was time to get ourselves up to start our strenuous day poolside.

 

And, because we spent so much time around our room—we had a private room—we got to see just how well our rooms are cleaned. Each day our room was cleaned as if we were new guests coming in, not just any old guests but Greek Gods.

With only eight rooms staying at Filotera Suites really knows how to spoil its guests.

 

Where we ate

Argos, Fira

A great restaurant in the heart of Fira’s action with an extensive menu and great food and ambience.

 

Petros, Oia

With a sunset deck it has a spectacular view of the famous Oia sunset. Our hotel booked us the best table in the house. Great food to match–and satisfied my fussy daughter’s tastes so got to be happy with that!

Ambrosia, Oia

Recommended by Australian Gourmet Traveller, and a friend, Ambrosia is a little bit more special than the other restaurants. It’s small and quaint, has a small yet enticing menu and the waiters are top notch. Ask for a table outside. While the inside tables have plenty of character we felt a little warm and claustrophobic.

 

Sunset Cruise with Santorini Yachting Company

While we were happy chilling by our pool and wandering the cobblestone streets of Oia we also decided a sunset cruise was in order. With a couple of different stops—including the hot springs and Red Beach—it was an afternoon well spent. The grand finale of the famous Santorini sunset would have been enough to satisfy us anyway—the only thing missing was a glass of Champagne.

 

Santorini frequently makes the top five island destinations to visit in the world. And there’s a reason. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful but it’s mystical and magical. Best of all there are accommodation and restaurant offerings for all budgets—there’s no discrimination in Santorini.

And, at a time where Greece could use your money, there should be no putting off a visit to Santorini.

xx It Started in LA xx

Bucket List 2
Posts, Travelog

My Bucket List

Everyone has a bucket list.  I know I do.  Well, at least everyone talks about their bucket list but I wonder how many people have actually written their bucket list.  I know I hadn’t until late last year.  Sick of talking about it I decided it was time to write it down.

To make it easier on myself I am reposting my bucket list.  It was originally here but given I’m going to continue to refer to it it’s best if it’s a post all on its own.  I’ve also updated it ticking New York for Christmas and Miami off the list.

1.  Machu Picchu, Peru

Ever since I climbed the Great Wall of China I’ve been drawn to the Natural Wonders of the World and Machu Picchu is on top of my bucket list by a long shot.  Now I just have to find time in the holiday calendar to lock it in.

2.  Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park—two of five amazing National Parks

It’s a case of careful what you say out loud with Utah being high on my bucket list of USA.  We were wine tasting in the Napa at the start of the year and a comment was made about drinking in Utah (being a Mormon state and all).  My comment was about not going to Utah so it didn’t matter.  I didn’t realise it had such incredibly beautiful landscape that I’m totally drawn to.

√3.  Miami, Florida.

Pink Flamingoes & Pink Champagne sounds more like a line from Hotel California but it screams Miami to me.  Except for the fact that Mr H has his own Don Johnson suit and the theme for his 40th was Miami Vice I had no real desire to head to Miami.  But lately it’s been sneaking its way into top of mind and I think I’m sold.  The home of art deco, great food, art and architecture Miami has made its way to my top 5.

South Beach

The Art Deco District in South Beach is sensory overload–especially if you love Art Deco

4.   Route 66 in Arizona

After seeing photos from a friend that recently rode a Harley down Route 66 I’m hooked.  Like a cross between a trip down memory lane and something out of the movies the scenery looks spectacular and it’s a part of pop culture I want to get on board.

5.   Boston
Everyone I know that’s been to Boston falls in love with it.  I’m completely drawn to the charm of Boston and can’t wait to check it out.  I just can’t decide between visiting a friend for Christmas or going in the summer.

While I’m in the ‘hood I’m pretty keen to drive around and see Cape Cod (I’ve already been and loved it) and Martha’s Vineyard and further afield in Massachusetts to connect with America’s history.  I think this part of America is worth exploring.

√6.   New York
When I first went to New York I hated it.  Then I went back for work and loved it.  Now the kids are keen to for a White Christmas.  Apparently there’s nothing like New York in the winter and especially around Christmas.  I’d love to make their dreams come true.  Just have to get around braving the cold first.

NYC for Xmas

There’s nothing quite like New York at Christmas time (even if it doesn’t snow)

7.   Seattle
I’m not really sure what the attraction is (apart from visiting a really good friend who lives there) but I’ve always been attracted to Seattle—a trip up the Space Needle and a visit of the Boeing Factory and it’s high on our list.  Sometimes you just want to visit somewhere just because.

8.   Washington DC
The nation’s capital.  I loved Washington DC when I first went and I’d love to take the kids—one of those must-do destinations.

9.   Niagara Falls
I’ve temporarily forgotten about Niagara Falls which is precisely why I decided it was time to get this bucket list down on paper.  Another natural wonder I think it’s a must-see.

10.  Alaska
I’d love to visit Alaska the problem is I don’t know how to tackle it.  There are many options to cruise to Alaska but given cruising isn’t our thing.  Either way I need to work out how to get us to see it.

11.   Chicago
My dream is to do a mother-son weekend in Chicago and do a Ferris Bueller tour of the city.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  Now I just have to convince my teenage son as somehow he doesn’t think it would be fun as I do.

12.   Texas
No real reason, just to see the big hair, big cars and guns!

13.   New Orleans
I’m torn as to whether I really want to do New Orleans—I think I want to, I used to think I wanted to but it’s not high enough on the list that I’ll make it here.  Also not the sort of place to go with kids—much more fun if I could leave them at home.  Let’s see how we go getting here but it’s on the list nonetheless.

14.  Southern States
I’ve been to Atlanta but I wouldn’t mind exploring some other Southern cities/states like Savannah and South Carolina.  There’s something quite intriguing about the South.

15.  Carribean
I thought I wanted to go here desperately but most of the resorts do nothing for me.  My re-thinking is if I’m going to do the Carribean I should sail around.  Just need to get hold of some of my fellow 90210ers bank accounts to do it the way I’d like to do it.

My further-afield bucket list

16.  Angkor Wat, Cambodia
We had a glorious trip planned here before we were due to leave Shanghai but we cancelled it instead going back to Wales to be with my Dad.  We were lucky we got to say good bye to him but the trip home ended up being a sad, sad time for me and we haven’t made it back to Angkor Wat yet.

17.  Africa on Safari & Victoria Falls
Continuing my affinity with the natural wonders of the world I can think of no better holiday than glamping on Safari.  Victoria Falls has captivated us so this is high on our list.

18.  Greece
Our Australian friends from LA are moving to Greece next month and we’re dying to go and visit them.  It’s fortunate I’m yet to hit Greece because it’s always best to visit a place when locals can show you around.

19.  Champagne (in France not bathe in a sea of Champagne)
I think this is pretty self-explanatory!

20.  Northern Lights (from Sweden)
One of those natural phenomena’s that need to be seen to be believed.

21.  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Absolutely.

22.  Marrakech, Morocco
The colours, food and markets … love to visit Morocco.

23.  Dead Sea and Egypt
This is on my daughter’s wishlist but I agree.  And, I’ve always wanted to cruise the Nile and see the Pyramids in Egypt.

24.  India
I’d live there given half a chance.  Mr H on the other hand doesn’t want a bar of it.  I’d still like to visit and see the Tag Mahal for myself.

25.  Ayer’s Rock/Uluru
It’s not really at the bottom of the list but realistically it’ll take a while for us to see this natural wonder in our own backyard, a sad indictment that when it’s in your own backyard you never really get around to seeing it.

Tick: Places I can proudly say I’ve ticked off my list

1.   Paris

Paris was my first bucket-list place before I even knew what a bucket list was.  It remains my favourite city in the whole wide world.

2.   Copenhagen

I never thought I’d make it to this part of Europe until a friend suggested we go to visit them a few summers (July not December) ago.  The flight we needed to take would take us to Copenhagen before we caught a train across to Sweden.  My dream became a reality. Copenhagen gave Paris a run for its money in the favourite city stakes.

3.   Stockholm

My daughter had the biggest meltdown of all times in Stockholm and the restaurant I wanted to go to was closed for summer when we went but I still absolutely loved Stockholm.  I’m so grateful we got to visit and enjoy this amazingly stylish city.

4.   Climb the Great Wall of China

Another pinch me moment when, for my 40th birthday, I climbed the Great Wall of China with two friends.  Visiting China was never something I thought I would do let alone live there.  This is a must-do.  (But set your expectations: there are hundreds doing the same thing and there are hawkers as you set off and as you return.)  It remains one of the best things I’ve ever done.

5.   Palawan, the Philippines

One of our families’ favourite holiday destinations.  Each time we visit another resort we compare it to El Nido in Palawan and it’s pretty hard to reach the standard, beauty and hospitality of this part of the world.  Can’t wait to go back.

6.   Lijiang

Gourmet Traveller did a piece on this amazingly idyllic and beautiful town 10 months before we made our way there.  With high expectations it still managed to exceed them.  This is one beautiful town.  The stop at Stone Wall City and the trip up to Shangri-la breathtaking.  One of our best China holidays.  I’m so glad we went when we did too: ahead of the tourist pack.

7.   Harbin, China

What was supposed to be the most amazing experience of our lives was possibly the worst holiday.  Ever.  Really.  Ever.  An ice town with snow and ice sculptures 30 storeys high Harbin is one of those “only in China” experiences.  The ice festival is positively beautiful and should seriously be a natural/manmade (you know what I mean?!) wonder of the world.  But it lacks the American packaging–that white box–to turn the experience from awe inspiring to the happiest place on earth.

Harbin

One of the amazing snow sculptures on show at Harbin, China

8.   London

With a Welsh dad I’ve been lucky enough to visit London many times.  I have always loved it–from a little girl to a young adult to a mother–and I’ll keep wanting to go back to get my London fix.

9.   The Grand Canyon

I’d always loved the thought of the Grand Canyon but just never imagined us going simply because it wasn’t high enough on the list.  So to take a helicopter from Las Vegas (another place I never thought I’d get to) and land there was one of those pinch me moments.  I don’t think I’m quite done though: I think I still want to drive out to the South Rim and admire its sheer magnitude.  This is covered in my driving Route 66 bucket list item.

10.   Yosemite National Park

The blog post says it all.  Lucky people.

Places that weren’t on my bucket list that I just fell in love with

1.   Shanghai

I didn’t want to live in Shanghai; why couldn’t it be Singapore or Hong Kong?  Why China?  Because it was meant to be.  Shanghai is Hong Kong on steroids with some of the best restaurants in the world, great Clubs, fabulous shopping and a history and culture that’s truly fascinating.  What an amazing time and how super lucky we were to live here.

2.   Hong Kong

My logic?  Why do you need to visit Hong Kong (a city that wants to be New York or London) when you can have the real thing?  I couldn’t be more wrong.  Hong Kong has its own beat and it’s a good one.  The food is amazing!

What’s on your bucket list?  Love some extra inspiration from you.  Share with me on Facebook or here in the comments section.

Happy travelling!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Travel
Posts, Soapbox

A small world with incredible opportunities

I got a call from a really good friend of ours to tell me that he & his family are moving to London for 2-3 years.  Evidently his recent visit over here with us inspired him to take on an adventure of his own.

This got me thinking about our life and what we’re up to.  One of the things I’m afraid of by being here in LA as the kids get older is their desire to stay–as we get older and want to go home they get older and want to stay.  Heaven forbid they’ll want to buy a house here and settle down.  Especially with access to Hollywood they could be “stuck” here if they choose to be in the Entertainment Industry for example.  I know, how lucky they are to be here and have access to contacts they would never dream of living in Australia (much like we never did!).  Also choosing to work in the industry as an option makes them extremely lucky.

But there’s that element of “control” to take the family back as one cohesive unit so we stay together.  My kids and I missed not having my family around as they chose to go back to Wales and I chose to stay in Australia (and Shanghai & LA as it turns out).  I want to be close to my family and babysit my grandchildren (… just had to pause as I said something like that out loud so soon in my life) when the time comes.

Back to my friend.  He has grown up in the same Australian city: gone to school, married, worked and started a family there.  He recently also bought a beach house so his roots were firmly entrenched where he was.

Success–and an adventurous spirit–can move you to a different part of the globe regardless of whether you’ve moved as family through various expat assignments or stayed in the one spot your entire life.  Perhaps I need to focus on what’s best for us all in the moment rather than plan ahead to something that may or may not happen.

And should it be that my kids get the opportunity to move and travel for work then I should actually be the one person who is happiest for them because I know how rich their life will be as a result.  Of all people I should recognise how lucky they are to be gifted the opportunity–and how lucky they are to share that experience with their kids.

xx It Started in LA xx

(Who knows where it will end but what a ride.)

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