A Perfect Parisian Weekend: Day 1

After spending too long in one place without adventuring, I start to get cabin fever. I become antsy and begin to check flights and destinations. This is even more accurate now I don’t work weekends or Bank Holidays anymore. When Alessio and I had a rare shared weekend together, there was no question. We were spending three days in Paris.

Being a bank holiday, the prices had shot up for flights and the Eurostar, but we managed to find a Eurolines bus for around £100. Thanks to an error, our journey may work out cheaper. You see once we boarded the bus on the Friday night, it took over an hour to actually leave because the door wouldn’t shut. As a student, I supplemented my retail salary by writing strongly worded emails to National Express (a sister company of Eurolines) and getting my transport fares back. 

Our bus stopped at the Port of Dover, and I realised this was Alessio’s first time crossing the channel.

I’ll pause the blog for a minute to describe a reverie. I dreamt a few weeks ago that Alessio, a good friend of mine and I were crossing a border to catch a plane and they had brought with them a few joints. They realised they couldn’t cross the border with them, so they hid the joints behind vegetables in the supermarket, like you might do the last pack of muffins so no one else can take them. But the police found the joints and arrested my friend, Alessio and eventually me, because I knew they were carrying joints.

Now. Back to the blog. Like a genius, Alessio had brought with him some herbal relief and only alerted me to this fact when we arrived at the Calais border.

“They have advanced security now.” I noted.

He stuffed it down the side of the chair. A nightmare come true.

We passed customs unarrested, but then the gendarmerie boarded the bus and Alessio slipped it into his mouth like a true mule.

Both our friend, who I was texting, and I remarked that the substance would be better forced up a different orifice.

“No.” He replied.

After the first and last crime of our trip, we boarded the ferry to Calais and watched the sunrise over the white cliffs. In no time, it was back to the bus where I fell straight to sleep, waking up to the scorching Paris sun five hours later.


Our hotel was in the luxurious Kléber district, situated a stones throw away from both the Arc du Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We headed to the Eiffel Tower first, oohing and aahing mostly at the absurd queues to visit the top, before grabbing a huge, crispy baguette and venturing onwards to St. Germain.


I don’t recall ever visiting St. Germain before, an ultimately very touristic area but still charming.


 It was a nice place to stroll around before making a move towards the Latin Quarter and Parc du Luxembourg.

Parc du Luxembourg was especially very nice and peaceful, with the surrounding wine shops keeping Alessio very happy.


Next on the list was Ile de Cité. Famous for Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle. Notre Dame is beautiful, and great for pretending you’re Count Frollo, but Sainte Chapelle is breathtaking.


We queued for 20 minutes, and at the door had to pay €10 rather than €18 because we couldn’t prove I was under 25. Alessio was already in a mood because he had decided the cashier was una stronza, and upon entering Sainte Chapelle we did a little deflated “…oh.” It didn’t look like the pictures at all. Where were the high ceilings? The majestic stained glass? 


Ale was the first to say it.

“It’s a bit…shit. I knew it.”

“Yeah.” I said, sadly. “We might as well go up those stairs and get our money’s worth.”

“I’m going to stay here for ten hours to get my money’s worth.” Alessio replied, stomping up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, we shut up.

“Aaaaaaaaaah.”

There it was. An actual thing of beauty.


 

We headed outside where Alessio attempted to decipher the biblical stories depicted on the stones. The creation story, the story of “Adamo ed Eva”, The Ten Commandments and more Biblical stories to delight the former Altar Boy turned rebel.

We took a guidebook to decipher the stained glass but with my non-Christian upbringing and Alessio’s excommunication, we really struggled


“Ok. Now let’s head for some sin.” 

Le Pigalle.

Debauchery, sex, the Moulin Rouge… the only thing Alessio remembered from his schoolboy visit to Paris.


From Le Pigalle, you can walk to Montmartre. Now, I know it’s touristy. I know it’s very “done”. But I love it. Like Portobello Road in London, Coney Island in New York, or fresh white bread, everyone knows it’s there, everyone’s done it, but I will always have a space in my heart for it.


Montmartre hangs on a massive hill, with small kooky shops selling tourist tat or overpriced disappointing restaurants all the way up.


At the very top of the hill is Sacre Coeur, a church from which the view – on a quiet day, is astounding. Weaving our way back through the tourists and far enough down the hill for the food to be reasonably priced and reasonably edible, we found a small restaurant where we could eat dessert al fresco. Yes, only dessert. We’re in France.



 Alessio’s bottle of wine took him the better part of an hour to sink, so we were there for a while before heading back to the hotel a woman named “Lola” tried to entice us into a strip club. 

She cornered us outside a Tabac store in the Pigalle, offering us “couples fun”. Being polite and very British, I nodded and politely accepted a business card.

“No, just come and SEE INSIDE!” She insisted.

Where was the strength of character and refusal I had so strongly in Asia? We meekly tagged along behind her and looked around the rather non-descript nightclub. There were only a few giveaways, such as the poles and velour curtains around the private show areas.

“For couples too! Not just men.”

“Let us eat some dinner first, and we’ll think about it!”
“We have crêpes here!”

“Lola, they mean real food.” Her colleague replied.

We ducked out the door, trying to look inconspicuous to the passersby and determined to find real food.

Instead we took the metro to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile to see the Arc de Triomphe, took a quick stroll down a small section of the Champs Elysées and then took to bed for the night, our legs throbbing and my eyes resisting any attempt to stay awake.

#LondonCalling: Greenwich

In between the extended UK winter which has seen far more rainy May days than I’d appreciate, we have been lucky enough to sneak some warm and sunny days. On those days, it always seems a waste to spend it inside our flat.

One of those days came to us in early April, so Alessio and I joined our darling friend Deborah at Greenwich Park. We had been trying to go since the previous summer but we never quite made time for the journey from North to South. Finally, we found ourselves weaving through Canary Wharf on the DLR, with me lecturing the two Italians on how to say Greenwich.

“It’s not pronounced Green Witch. I know it’s confusing but that’s just the English language in general.”

Cutty Sark – or Cutty Shark as some may prefer – is a good station to get off for the parks, the river and the market.

We stepped out of the DLR station and saw the town around us.

“Are we still in London?”

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Greenwich is adorable. It has the same little-village feel as Hampstead and Primrose Hill, with many pubs and indie shops to make up for the endless Costas and betting shops on other high streets. Alessio and Deborah were hungry, so we headed to Greenwich Market.

Everyone I have met who has been to Greenwich has ignored the market. It’s a  gem! There is variety in the cuisines, and if you’re short on cash you can fill up on a selection of samples. The churrería is my personal favourite, and there is a juice stand to fulfil my juice necessity since returning from Asia. Food isn’t very extortionate – both Alessio and Deborah got huge turkish wraps for a decent price.

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After fuelling ourselves, we decided to take on Greenwich Hill. It’s a gentle incline, but nearer the top there’s a winding hill which could leave you out of breath. The view is, however, absolutely worth it.

The spring blossoms were out and it’s a great place for a picnic, or in our case a photography class which got interrupted by the most ignorant of insects – the wasp. Minutes after discussing our hatred of insects, an awful wasp began spoiling our fun. Not one to mess around, Deborah heard the buzzing and ran half way across the park with her bag. I mean, is it even springtime yet until that happens?

By that point, we no longer felt safe. We had a look in the free parts of the museum, then back down the hill for ice creams from the market. We quickly viewed the Cutty Sark, before ending our visit by watching the other side of the city across the river, musing on how easy it would be to poison all London.

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Greenwich is that fabled part of London most people are always desperate to check out, alongside Holland Park and Richmond Park. I have officially been to all three now, and they are all worth it. How can people call London shit when so much beauty is on our doorstep?

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Giving Milan a Second Chance

Twice I had visited Milan, and unlike the breathtaking Venice or the charming Bologna, I always came back underwhelmed. Milan was absolutely my “there’s nothing there” city.
Despite this, I wanted to go back for two reasons. I had never been to the Navigli district (or so I thought) and I wanted to eat Spuntino pizza.

On our last day in Italy, I had some free time to visit Milan alone. Alessio warned me to “be careful” but I insisted I was a strong London lass and I could handle myself…

Until the train pulled into a station en route and a burly man walked right up to my window and stared at me. When I looked away, he began to actually write on the window with his finger to me! That’s it, I’m going to get kidnapped here.

At Milan Porto Garibaldi I strutted off the train with confidence so everyone would see I was clearly a local, until I got onto the metro and had no idea what to do or how much to pay. A little bit of guesswork and I figured out Porto Genova was the stop I needed to visit Navigli – a stop I had already visited when I was in Milan for fashion week.

Navigli was beautiful. Small streets led off the main avenue, split by a large canal. The picturesque buildings sold gelati and there were tables with chequered cloths in front of little pizzerias. With the warm springtime sun, it felt so…Italian


I walked aimlessly until I found some very handsome national guardsmen to watch for a while. On the opposite side of the canal, I spotted a Spuntino pizza chain. I had wanted to try the little novelty pizza slices for a year, and the setting was the perfect place to take a lunch and reassure my boyfriend I was fine.


After lunch, I headed to the Duomo. I had already been there a year and a half earlier with Alessio, but now I could shamelessly join the selfie-takers. I didn’t do a lot in this area because I spent so long in Navigli, and to save on money I planned to walk back to Milano Centrale.


It was a bit of a task as my phone battery was rapidly dying, but I found a bit of time to stop at Brera and take a few pictures.

Near Repubblica station, a man approached me to ask me “una domanda“. My linguist mind went blank and it took a minute to realise he wanted to ask me something. “siii… siiiii” 

“Parlez-vous Francais?”

“God no… Inglese.”

“Sei bel-LIIISSIMA”

He continued in Italian, asking where I am from. I told him I am from London, and he asked what I’m doing in Italy. My alarm bells were going off, but the absolute twat inside me told me it’s a great chance to practice without Alessio being there to help me translate. And then he asked me to go for a coffee. Fuck, how do you say “my phone is dying and I need to catch a train?” at any case, my protestations were met with “why?! Do you have a boyfriend?” and “but it’s five minutes!”

In my desperation, I took out my ticket to prove I had to go, and along with it came a ten euro note I had stuffed in my pocket. Without any shame at all, and in perfect English he said 

“Okay, can I have some money?”

The nerve! And when I said I had to go, he continued to ask for a coffee and to play music on his music for me. 

I walked away in the end, but this is absolutely why I would be a useless solo traveller. “Perfect chance to practice Italian” un cazzo!

By that point I was just glad to finally get to Milano Centrale. My stress didn’t end there because I couldn’t find a single train heading to Gallarate. I had to figure out which trains were heading north and which ones were heading south and finally one popped up heading to Gallarate.
The day was definitely eventful, but I finally found a place in my heart for the glamorous Milano.

Milan in two days? Well, alright then!

How has it happened that a week after returning from South East Asia, I’m heading back to Italy?


I vowed I was going to give that country a break! They were tired of me and I was tired of il bel paese. You heard right. I was tired of authentic pizza, perfectly cooked pizza, fried sugary pasticceria and dramatic hand gestures. That’s a lie, but I needed a break from Italy after visiting four times in two years. 

Yet here I am, one year later, heading back.

I can’t complain. My in-laws are paying for the flights and putting me up, and I can’t wait to go to Spontini and stock up on Mulino Bianco biscuits. I can’t wait to see people, say hi to Nonna Bedogni and a friend who lived with us in London for a bit.

Being back from travelling is a tough adjustment. My life has mostly been applying for jobs and blogging and it’s been grinding me down a little. I’m excited to have a change of scenery.


I’ll be spending one day in Milano and the rest in the suburbs – probably alone. What are your favourite things to do and places to eat in Milan?

Best of 2016 Tour: Chania, Crete.

For the past three years I have made it so I am never in the country on my birthday. This year, I wanted scorchingly hot weather, impeccable beaches and low airfares. Chania in Crete won out.

There are several other great destinations in Crete: Malia has a fabulous party scene and Heraklion has the buzzing old town. Further East in Lassithi are the luxury resorts but I chose Chania because I wanted to balance a great local scene with easy access to the stunning beaches further west. 

It just so happened that my manager and boyfriend’s sister both saw Crete’s appeal in the same early-summer era so it was a popular destination that summer.

Our resort was Kalamaki – chosen for being less tacky and touristy, but not pure dead. It also looked a bit prettier than some of the other recommendations.

The flight from the UK was around four hours, with two hours ahead time difference once we got into Crete. 

I wish to now applaud what is easily the greatest technological advancement of my time: e-boarding passes.

Please, if you’re still printing out boarding passes like an elderly, arrêtez. You deserve better. If you’re capable of using the e-passport gates then please get yourself the Easyjet, Ryanair, Emirates… whoever, app and use the QR code boarding passes on your phone. No print outs needed.

I didn’t even get paid for that promo!

Nor this one.


After our efficient flight, we arrived in Chania Town by taxi. Assuming that, in thirty + celcius heat, no sleep and a tiny breakfast, we were raring to go, we set out for Kalamaki resort on foot. Atrocious idea. We had no maps, no phone data, and we what we expected to be a 15 minute walk was in fact a 20 minute car journey.

Tired, hungry and jetlagged, we reached our hotel to find there is no one on reception. 

We exchanged that look that couples do. One of us fucked up. We know exactly who (me, this time. I am the administrator in this union) but if either of us says anything we will break into a massive argument.

“I’ll call the woman.” I said.

Alessio said okay, in the tone of voice that really means “just fucking sort it”.

I called the woman and a man picked up. He spoke English, then passed me to the owner who spoke ONLY GREEK.

“Kalimera! Ah, … … …”

“Uh, kalimera… sorry, erm … okay”

She very quickly appeared, told us in broken English that we are very early and have to wait, so we did. We took to the sun loungers and slept – I also took the above selfie – until finally, our much smoother check in.

Once we were checked in, and had obligatory sex in our new home for the week, we did the also obligatory “shop for huge bottles of water” that all Brits Abroad do. We booked two excursions in the town – the strip along the beach in Kalamaki is a little bit dry if you’re used to busier, more touristy resorts, but there are plenty of places to buy food, eat out and book excursions. But it’s a very pretty strip. 

Co ordinating with the florals on the beach front.

That’s one thing about Crete, and beach holidays in general. There’s only so much pool-beach-pool-bar I can do before I get bored, and I resent staying in the same area. If you stay only in Kalamaki you may as well only stay for three days.

Walking further down the beach, more Eastwards, you come to some busier beaches. Dolphin beach is fun, and a biological revelation. Did you know sea urchins don’t look like mini Ursulas? I didn’t. 

No poor unfortunate souls here!


My boyfriend went swimming on Dolphin Beach and returned horrified. 

“There, baby, is ALL ricchi”

“Who’s Ricky?” I asked, taking another selfie for the fans.

Who cares about ricchi when your tits are this crinkly?


“The ricchi, baby! Ricchi di mare!”

It translates to sea urchins, and I had never seen one, nor learned to fear them in my entire life. They are tiny spiky Sonic the Hedgehogs that live as close to beachbumming tourists because they’re spiteful little shits. They exist ONLY to ruin your holiday. If your bed was watery, you bet these assholes would camp there too.

After having our day spoiled by sea urchins, we moved westwards down the seafront to Iguana Beach, which was fucking hilarious.

It’s Crete’s… wait for it… most ethnic beach.

What was the most ethnic thing there?


This Caribbean chica.

Oh and… this.


I’m sorry. I’ll stop laughing in 2087.

We saw all this in a day, and there’s a conveniently placed Lidl so you can stock up on food and drinks there, then head back west via the beaches.

They are lovely beaches, but incomparable in size and beauty to two of the most famous in Greece: Elafonisi and Balos beach.

Elafonisi we visited on my birthday, and we may or may not have rowed due to tireness and a reluctance on his part to take sufficient pictures of me. On my birthday!

No ricchi here!


It’s known for its sands near the water, where crushed up corals result in this gorgeous soft pink colour. Happy birthday moi.


The journey was a bus ride of no more than two hours, with a stop off at some riveting (not) caves, then straight down to the beach. One big complaint I see is that in the summer months it is crowded. There are people, but I am not so needy I require an entire beach to myself? There are plenty of quieter patches because it’s colossal but if you want complete silence, this beach may not be your pick. It is popular and for good reasons.

The second excursion beach was Balos.

Similarly to Elafonisi, because we didn’t rent a car, we did a hired excursion. The bus which took us to a pier. From there you boarded a titanic with about seven million tourists on it. We found a seat in a quiet shaded area of the boat. We were joined by an Australian family who sat behind us, the girl shouting about how her Dad “ALWAYS ruins the holiday” and one sweet lady on our table – who was later joined by three of her loudmouth friends.

We escaped.


After such an enjoyable journey, with no free food provided, we pulled into Gramvousa port. This was a quick stop on the boat journey to Balos, but we had around 45 minutes to rest and relax on a tiny beach.


Us, and about three other packed boats. This was Gramvousa before we all piled off. Lovely, right? 

As the boats emptied it honestly looked like a pilgrimage. Some people journeyed to the top of the mountain, but most piled onto the sand. The boats were mostly from continental Europe, all of whom know about ricchi di mare. And in the picture, any black space you see is probably a sea urchin. There were trillions on that beach. It was the China of the sea urchin universe. So the tourists had a field day screeching about the murderous little sea creatures.

We didn’t spend long there, it was beautiful but there wasn’t enough space for the people who arrived. The boat continued onto Balos, this pretty little lagoon.


I am not an expert geographer, but when they say lagoon they mean it.

Rather than the boat journey, you can also take a car then trek down the hills to the beach, but the car journey down is not very simple and the trek back up in the heat is hellish. The only other alternative is the boat, because the land is surrounded by hills and water.

The beach area is also very shallow, to my surprise. It is made up of sand and delightfully warm puddles, so not your typical beach. I liked this about it though, it’s a great beach for playing and paddling. We got out our beach tennis game for a play.

But it’s also worthwhile remembering that all those on the boats in Gramvousa will be there in Balos – and then some. It is big enough for you to play and have fun, but you are always very near someone. For that matter, an old lady laughed at my beach yoga attempts. I’m sorry, but I had to “accidentally” splash her. 

It’s a lot like Elafonisi in that there are many people and it’s touristy, but its beauty and the gorgeous waters mean it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to have a play, it’s a great beach for that. And the artistic talents of its visitors…


I think I maybe preferred Elafonisi. It had the edge in terms of beauty but I would never skip Balos, and its warm clear waters are breathtaking.

Aside from beaches, Chania town deserves a solid visit. Spend some time meandering through the small streets of the old town. There are shops, restaurants and slices of history in the synagogues and churches.

The shops have lovely wares – like all places the more authentic and traditional items are pricey. The market was a little unremarkable – plenty of cheeses and food but little in the way of unique or different gifts.

The waterfront offers a nice stroll and view, but be mindful that you will find pricey and low quality restaurants. Good restaurants don’t have picture menus.

There’s a pretty little stroll to the lighthouse there, which is what we did on the last day before our flight.

Really, in terms of food, it’s okay. It’s not a foodie destination and the food it’s known for is not really my bag. We mostly cooked in our apartment to save a bit of money, but we enjoyed great meats at a hotel bar on my birthday with a delicious salad and pita.


And FREE raki refills, which is like a Greek grappa. Don’t knock eating at home though – our apartment had a barbecue. We had never grilled before, but we stuck some coals and paper on the barbie and waited. And waited. Nothing. I headed to the local store, determined to have our barbecue, and picked up what I hoped was barbecue fluid.

“Can I use this on the barbecue?” I asked the gentleman.

“No!” He said horrified. “You will…” and gestured an explosion. He led me back to the barbecue section and gave me a bottle. “This is for barbecues.”

Given that I had seen him all week and never warmed to him, I didn’t quite trust him. I was all out of options, so I purchased it and headed back to the hotel. The result was as follows


One successful barbecue, completely done by me. I mean it, completely by me.


That’s how we rounded up our visit.

Truly, Crete in July was lovely. It was exceptionally hot, very busy and the bigger beaches were definitely not “untouched” but I had a great time. One downer was that people stared at me a lot, always a killer on a holiday. I would however, definitely recommend Chania in Crete if you’re looking for warmth, fun and beautiful beaches and a bit of a buzz. Oh, and an ethnic beach. Sorry. I’ll stop.