La Belle Sauvage – A Watery Adventure

Philip Pullman’s latest The Book of Dust trilogy come after a long period, 17 years after the original His Dark Materials epic story was released, along with all the  controversies and praise that it brought with it. And it’s not surprising really – there’s layers of complex ideas about theology, science, magic and just great story-telling which makes it so much more than a children’s story. Having said, that, when Pullman announced this latest prequel-slash-sequel trilogy, starting with La Belle Sauvage, I knew I’d have to re-read the first books before I could get started on this one because I wanted to get a sense of context to follow on from.

I’m glad I did re-read it all – there’s a lot of things I had forgotten about (is it just me, or are there just some books out there which are different with every reading? Sign of a good book, I say). There’s also a lot of technological, science-y and theological things which I’m sure went over my head when I read it as a 13-year-old, and which made a lot more sense to me now after reading HDM. It’s fascinating to see how many strands which make up the whole story; the idea of dark matter and Dust, of love, of the concept of dæmons and soul as well as the more biblical side to it all (whether literal or metaphorical) which entwine to stand together behind the vibrant character of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon.

So one of the first things I would say is if you don’t remember the HDM trilogy, I’d recommend a read – you could read La Belle Sauvage to start off with (as it is a prequel, technically) but things make a lot more sense when reading the His Dark Materials trilogy first. The story of La Belle Sauvage follows a young protagonist a lot like the first trilogy, and set in ‘Lyra’s Oxford’ – plucky young Malcolm and his dæmon Asta, caught up in espionage, secrets and the oppression of the authoritarian Church and its oppressive rules. For the first time, we see the mechanisms behind the events leading to Lyra’s adventures, as well as creating an interesting back story to a few familiar characters.

Malcolm is a young, intelligent, curious boy who helps his parents at their tavern, has adventures on his boats, is friends with the local nuns and scholars. Things begin to change when he hears about the nuns looking after a baby named Lyra Belacqua, and when he sees a strange man drop a message on the ground, only to pick it up and get mixed up with a whirlwind of secrets and shady characters.

I won’t give too much away, but I will say that although the start of the story drags on a little, it is still a good read. I can see that the author didn’t want to make it too similar to Lyra’s adventures in HDM, and that details are need to establish a different story, but it felt a little stale at times . Malcolm and his life at school, working in the tavern with his parents and sailing his little boat seems a little too ‘Boys’ Own’ style at times, and there were a few parts which dragged a little.

Contrastly, just as the first half drags, there is a flood introduced to the story which requires Malcolm and his boat (sounds biblical at all?), the second half is almost chaotic and slightly confusing at times. Malcolm discovers a lot of new, fantastic things and worlds which almost feel hallucinogenic and pretty surreal, with several characters which feel like they came out of fairy tales – but in the context of the larger story, it is a hint at the idea of alternative worlds and the idea of magic.

What makes Pullman’s stories work are that they are cleverly written, and the characters are interesting. There’s no annoying obvious ‘mysteries’ (which we all guess pages before) and there’s enough of the fantasy to keep us gripped to the pages. Reading La Belle Sauvage felt like a nice throwback to my younger years, and it was interesting to be back in Lyra’s Oxford, with new characters and more intrigue. It’s certainly readable for adults, and this start to the new trilogy is certainly noticeably darker and violent, to emphasis how terrifying this world can be. Malcolm is pretty likeable in the story, although I will admit that I am a little worried that Pullman is tempted to re-write a couple of things to make them fit conveniently into HDM. Some characters such as Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, both strong characters feel a little less charismatic however – however i have heard one argument that this could be because we are seeing them from Malcolm’s perspective.

Despite the slightly messy second half of the story (which was interesting despite it being a little crazy) I am looking forward to the next installment of this trilogy though. I love books which do world-building well, and especially it will be interesting because it seems that Lyra herself will be continuing her adventures as an adult – and it will certainly be interesting to see if she crosses over to our world ever again!

City Sunsets in Canary Wharf

I’ve been a busy bunny these days, so it feels like I hardly get time to blog. It’s frustrating as heck because I have a few blog posts to write and a few book/food/cupcake/city reviews to write and I keep getting caught up with domesticity!

I’ll do my best to post this weekend, but in the meantime, here’s a beautiful sunset hubby and I caught last week while dining in Canary Wharf. I feel like I don’t see enough of these (either the day is too long or the sky is too grey!), so this was a special one for me – first sunset picture in ages!

Happy weekendings all, I’ll be posting soon!

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 2

While staying in Bergen we managed to see quite a lot of sites in the few days that we stayed there, and tried to make the most of the long days and various attractions. One of the things which really struck my husband and myself was how well-spoken the Norwegian citizens are, and also how healthy and fit they seem – we spoke to several inhabitants who told us about regular walks up and down the mountain, the beautiful fresh air and various fresh fish they had for meals which was caught by the wharf.

There’s quite a few things which stood out for me in Bergen, so I’ll list some of my favourite below – let me know what you think of these!

Bergenhus Fortress, Rosenkrantz Tower & Haakon’s Hall
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing in Bergen was the historical sites, which were medieval buildings which go back as far as the 13th century. Begenhus Fortress is mainly the hall (Haakon’s Hall) and the Rosenkrant Tower (which is an old keep which used to have dungeons), which ares apparently a throwback to the Viking days, although the Hall was properly used for weddings and feasts from the 13th century. We didn’t get to see inside the Hall because we arrived too late, but we did get to wander around the grounds which we loved (and you can see the inside of the Hall here), where there were plenty of old structures, statues and large walkways to explore.

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Statues
There are several statues around the city of Bergen, which can be found in various spots, some of which are a commentary on society, with a certain message from the artist. The most memorable one was this hidden away, nameless statue of a homeless person below, which is apparently the most photographed statue in the city – it is meant to make the viewer think about why it is there and what it means. There are also several statue tributes to Norwegian historical figures – generals, presidents and well-loved figures whose images are around the city with plaques and scripts. There was one which always made me jump every time I saw it, because I kept thinking it was a real person – it was a statue of a young girl (below) at the corner of a doorway to a McDonalds restaurant – it catches your attention from the corner of your eye and makes you think there is someone standing there waiting for a friend!

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The Bookcafe
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I love quirky libraries and bookshops – I make it a point to look out for beautiful bookstores while abroad and haven’t been disappointed yet! It took me a while to find a pretty bookstore like this one, as I saw a few scattered in different areas but some were shut, and the others were not very memorable. I found this one the day before we left Bergen, with beautiful decoration, hanging books, scripts on walls and seating inside which showed it was a cafe for people to read and relax.

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Town square
I’ve already written about the town square, which is surrounded by colourful hotels and restaurants, and further along the high street you come to the more modern part of the street, which is a street lined with designer shops, and has a giant water-feature with a sort of stone obelisk in the middle, with carvings and statues on it. I loved the carvings along the stone faces of this landmark, it seems to show the story of settlers and Viking boats travelling to new places, as well as various religious pictures which seem to be a big feature with Norwegian history. Similarly, the statues were all dressed in different eras to reflect the different centuries, which looked great.

Anne Madam
One of the biggest problems my husband and I found was the expense of the food – a lot of the normal restaurants ended up costing around £30-40 per person for a normal meal, and even the usual burger-chains like Burger King and McDonalds were pricier than we expected – more than they cost in the UK! Luckily, we managed to find a new restaurant which had opened a few days after our arrival, and which was offering traditional Norwegian food at a discounted price. The traditional food in Bergen is mainly various types of fish, since it is a fishing town, so naturally we wanted to try some, and managed to get some at Anne Madame, which is in the heart of the city opposite the wharf. This plate is a traditional hake and potato pieces which were given with a light tartar sauce and coleslaw, and which was delicious – we loved it enough to come back here again before we left!

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Things to look out for
We went to Bergen in the first week of May, which is  one of the warmest months to visit, and the start of the tourist season – so there is plenty of things happening for tourists to see. We were lucky enough to see a drummer’s parade going through the town (I love the sound of loud drums, it always makes me want to dance!), and found plenty of quirky shops like a moose shop (below), a troll shop (the trolls are not the cute 90s kind but uglier ones!) and shops with beautiful hand-crafted goods and clothes. We also saw a lot of beautiful buildings, mixed against a backdrop of green mountains and beautiful lakes, which made it a really peaceful place to spend the day.

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All in all, my husband and I loved the beauty of Bergen – it is one of those places where you feel like there is every natural beautiful landscape to be found. A friend of mine visited Oslo recently, and complained that it was less beautiful than Bergen – there are most commercial buildings, more lights and less colour, and I certainly agree – there is a lot of beautiful colour and nature to be found in this city.

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 1

Bergen, Norway is one of those places which seems to have everything – beautiful architecture, the sea, mountains, forests and plenty of history. We landed (after a quick 1.5 hour flight!) in Bergen and took a bus to the city centre, where there was plenty of hustle and bustle, among colourful houses, a beautiful harbour and plenty of street art everywhere.

Below are just a few memorable places in the city, we had a few days to explore and pretty much did everything on my itinery (and more!), and loved how colourful everything look.

Bryggen
‘Bryggen’ litterally means ‘wharf’ in Norwegian, and is one of the most iconic places in Bergen – a row of colourful houses along the harbour where plenty of boats and ships dock. Most of these buildings along here are museums and shops, but they are a great place to sit and relax, and look amazing at night. I didn’t manage to get a decent picture of the lights in Bryggen at night because the first few nights we stayed they weren’t switched on (and it poured with rain all night) and the next few nights we didn’t go out late enough – sunsets were around 10.30pm and it wasn’t properly dark until after 11pm!

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You can walk around inside the harbour as well – there’s plenty of old buildings and staircases to explore, with shops, restaurants and museums hidden away. We had great fun exploring these, it was nice to see such old buildings still being maintained – Bergen itself is nearly a millenium in age, and the buildings have been there for about four centuries and more.

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And there’s also a wishing well to look out for, although this is mainly gated off (probably a good thing too, I remember the well in my grandparent’s house in Pakistan having to be barricaded off after a few people fell in the dark without looking where they were going!)

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The Town Square
The town square is a busy meeting place, often filled with market stalls, stops for buses and coaches and surrounded by colourful buildings and restaurants. While staying here we often came to this point to get to other parts of the city, meeting plenty of other tourists, as well as stopping for lunch, dinner or a quick cup of coffee (the Starbucks is in a huge Gothic-style building). This is also at the foot of one mountain (there’s seven mountains in the city altogether) as well at the edge of the high street, which felt like a fun mix of history versus modern, old city and the new.

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Fishmarket
Pretty much self-explanatory, this was a market to buy fresh fish and also get it cooked to eat if you wished to sit down and enjoy a meal. Bergen being a fishing-town, there’s a big demand for fish and a big range of sea-food, as well as tanks of live lobsters, crabs and fish to boggle at!

St Marys Church
I was pretty keen to visit this place, as it is Bergen’s oldest building. We didn’t get a chance to catch a service inside as we arrived too late, but I was amazed at how well-maintained this building is for a building which was built around 1130s. Of course it has been renovated a few times since then, but it’s still a very striking looking building which looks very impressive.

Things to look out for
There’s a lot to see in this city, and a lot of it can be found simply by wandering around Bergen and exploring. I loved this pavilion below, situated opposite an old government building which both looked very striking. We also saw plenty of beautiful flower shops which made me want to buy some to take home (I didn’t because they’d probably be shrivelled by the time I got on our plane!) and also quirky junk shops which were worth exploring. I also loved the fact that from wherever you stand you can see the beautiful houses on the hill, the huge mountains and plenty of art and decor everywhere.

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There’s so many memorable things about this country (apart from the gorgeous colourful houses!) – one things which really struck me was how fresh and clean the air felt – you don’t appreciate it until you get away from a smog-polluted city like London, away from congestion and busy skyscrapers and go to a beautiful place like Bergen. There’s an abundance of greenery, the water feels unbelievably clean, and there’s beauty in almost building, from beautiful arches and doors to the street art lining the street.

More to come, but one of my favourite lines from my husband about this holiday was “the WiFi here is amazing!” – and it really is!

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Honeymoon Travels… Beautiful Bergen, Norway

My husband and I have been wanting to get away for a while now, so when we finally got the chance to book something, we thought we’d go for something a little different to the usual sea-and-sand holidays. My husband is an avid nature-lover, and loves the big wide open with mountains, greenery, forests and lakes, and it’s always been his dream (or on his bucket list, at least!) to climb high up enough on the mountains to see the snow.

So this week we packed a bunch of jumpers and hiking boots, some woolly socks (him) and plenty of sunglasses and lipsticks (me) and made our first trip to Norway, to a tiny little beautiful, colourful town called Bergen. It’s a picturesque town with seven mountains (we didn’t climb all of them, we’re not that fit!) surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and fjords with very long names, and plenty of forests to explore.

I won’t overload you with the pictures (although I did take about a thousand on my DSLR camera!) but I will post my favourite bits – Norway is unlike any country I’ve been to before and it was certainly a memorable trip. For now here is Bryggen (Norwegian for Wharf), the old boat harbour which is lined with colourful houses and lots of boats, and one of the most iconic places in Bergen : )

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Beneath My Feet…

I love boats and I love travelling on water, although it’s not something I get to do much. When my husband and I went to Greece a couple of months ago, we took a cruise around some of the nearby islands and were awed by the beautiful blue of the waters, the cool  breeze and the feel of the sea waves under our feet.

These days, we’ll have to settle for the ferry across the River Thames for some water under our feet, but here’s to hoping for another exotic boat ride soon!

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Santorini Day 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Day 4 of our visit to Santorini involved a lot of sight-seeing, so this is a slightly longer post than the other ones, so bear with me! My husband and I had been searching around for boat tours or cruises which would take us to different islands. You can get ferries to other islands but they can come at obscure times, and some islands are pretty far away so will take hours to get to. While in Fira, Perissa and Pyrgos (another part of the island we drove few a couple of times), we had been looking around at different travel agencies and tour companies, and comparing prices. We found a pretty big difference between prices, the tour we ended up going with was a full day tour for €35 per person, this same package cost as much as €65-75 from other agencies, so we got a pretty good deal.

(We also looked into private boat hire, because we wanted to see the more private, romantic options. The prices were astounding, with some of them being as much as €1500 for about 6 hours for a private boat! Needless to say, we didn’t go for any of those options).

So, 8.30 in the morning, we had breakfast and made our way down to the local bus stop, where a coach was booked to pick us up, along with a few other passengers who had booked the same tour along the way. We had a quick walk around a small town called Pyrgos, there’s a famous monastary there but we didn’t get to spend much time there, but it was a lovely town with white buildings and a lot of shops.

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Our view of the docks where we would board

DSC_4524We arrived at the docks where the boats were waiting, the one we boarded was called King Thiras and was pretty big (not quite a ship but a decent-sized boat) which held around 30-40 people. There were toilets and a lounge in the cabins below, with a bar area on top for cold drinks and snacks, as well as plenty of benches to sit and sunbathe on.

From the moment the boat was safely boarded and pushed on, the breeze was beautiful. The weather was pretty perfect for us, scorching sun, bright blue skies and no clouds at all, but the heat was practically non-existent because of how cool the breeze was and the fresh air from the sea.

You can see our view from the pictures below – the boat moved quite quickly for the expanse of water that it crossed, and we quickly saw islands that we were approaching becoming bigger and bigger, while at the same time, Santorini became smaller and we could see tiny white buildings perched on huge cliffs (and also the zig-zag of those 587 steps we had gone up and down a couple of days before!)

Our first stop were the Hot Springs, which were next to the Volcano island, which took us about half-hour to reach. The Volcano Island is literally an active volcano (although the last eruption took place in 1950 AD), and actually consists of 2 islands, the bigger called Nea Kameni and the smaller Palea Kameni. This also means there are two areas with the hot springs; one in Nea Kameni island and one in Palea Kameni island – the former means you have to swim from cold water to the hot water, the latter means you can go straight into the hot water (which is where we ended up).

At this point, those who wanted to swim in the hot springs for a little while could jump in the water (which was not very deep), and enjoy the water for a while. I decided not to jump because I didn’t bring anything to change into, and I didn’t really want to join twenty other people in the water, plus while I love swimming, I didn’t want to pull out the burkini and swim, so we stayed on board with a few other people while some of the passengers splashed around.

The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.
The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.

TIPS:

  • Don’t wear your best bikini if you’re going to swim. We were advised that the water taints clothes a little orange due to the sulphur in the water, so to expect it to be a little stained.
  • The water is apparently not that hot, so don’t expect sauna/spa conditions!
  • You still need to swim safely in this area, there are a lot of rocks around and even a boat or two, although they maintain their distance. While we were at the hot springs, a private boat party parked nearby to enjoy it as well!

Eventually the boat was ready to move onto the main part of the volcano island, which is Nea Kameni. This involved a lot of hiking (which we didn’t realise, and were wearing the wrong footwear for!) around the volcano to to main parts at the top where you could see the volcanic craters.

The walk took about 30-40 minutes and was actually pretty tiring because the heat was stronger and the road was really rocky. There was a clear path around most of the island, but it was still pretty rough and slopey in a lot of areas, and you need to be willing to walk!

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TIPS:

  • Wear sturdy footwear! It really makes a difference when walking around.
  • Take water bottles with you if you can, they can really help if it’s too hot.
  • There are seats with umbrellas for shades dotted around along the way – take a break if you need one!
  • Enjoy the view! The islands which can be see from here look pretty amazing from far away.

We walked around the majority of the island but didn’t spend as long as some of the group did at the top, we rested for a while and made our way back to the boat one we’d seen enough.

If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back
If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back

We all loaded back on the boat for a quick break, before making our way to our next destination – an island called Thirasia. This is a smaller island, which is also a little more cosy and small-towny, with a fishermen feel to it, because of its ports, sea-food restaurants and greenery.

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There were quite a few restaurants along the beach and pier from the spot that we landed at, and it was also time to stop for lunch. Most of the restaurants serve mostly sea-food, and the menus are pretty much similar in most of them. We stopped at a restaurant (the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten) and had  a meal of battered fresh-fish, and grilled sword-fish, with chips and vegetable rice, which tasted beautiful.

The restaurant we were in was beneath a big windmill, which we went upto and took photos from until the restauranteurs asked us to come down because it was a little dangerous with a moving windmill.

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We had about 3 hours to spend on this island before our next stop, so we took our time to stroll around and explore. A lot of the passengers from our and other boats took the opportunity to climb up (or ride donkeys up!) the zig-zag stairs to the top, where where was a small monastary and tiny village that could be explored. We were feeling a little tired from the Volcano island so decided to save our energy and relax a little (and we were glad we did, because the next island had more stairs and we didn’t have a choice about not going up!)

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The view in this place is pretty beautiful, and the water is seriously lovely in its maze of greens and blues – we even saw small tiny fish trying to eat crumbs from bread floating away from the shore!

Once we were ready to leave we set off for Oia, which is actually at the most northern part of Santorini, and a very popular destination like Fira. This is also the most popular place to view a sunset as well, because it faces the sun without anything getting in the way. The boat arrived at this last destination around 6ish, and jetted back to the port when it came from, leaving our group with a tour-guide who told us how to get up to the top.

View of Oia from the bottom
View of Oia from the bottom

As with a lot of other islands and parts of Santorini, Oia (pronounced Eey-ya) can be reached at the top from the 287 steps which make up the zig-zag staircase, and which again can be reached either by foot or by donkey. We decided to be a little adventurous and walk up the steps this time (plus we were still a little put off by the donkey-ride in Fira!) and we managed to make it to the top in about half-an hour, although we had to keep stopping for the donkeys which went past (and which was a little scary because they push past you!)

We finally reached the top, to a long strip of road which makes up the main street of Oia – full of restaurants, gold shops, designer clothes shops and art stores and souvenirs places. Out of all of the places we went to, Oia was definitely the most expensive, and it was also the most crowded, and at the middle of it all at it’s heart is a huge church called the Church of Panagia of Platsani situated in Oia Caldera  Square, which is also a popular meeting place.

Oia Caldera Square
Oia Caldera Square

We also managed to a lot of things happening at once – a wedding shoot in a tiny church, children playing in a small playground, jewellery trying to entice customers to come in and various quirky shops and restaurants.

We stopped at a restaurant called Porto Carra (I think!) where we had a lot of cold drinks after that long climb and also a light snack, and also stopped to look at the daunting view all the way down to the bottom of the cliffs.

This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings
This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings

Around 8’o clock, we made our way down to the northern end of the street, where the best viewing platform was among the edge. There were hundreds of hotels, buildings and the ruins of an old castle around this area, which we manage to get a good viewing seat from. Lined up along all of the walls and hotels were hundreds of other people who wanted to see the sunset as well – I was pretty stunned at how many people there were.

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The sunset itself lasted about half-an hour, and there was plenty of photo-taking and enjoying the scenery (bar one dog who kept barking at the crowd from his building because of all the people!), while we slowly watched the sun go down and the colours of the sky merging from blue, to gold to burnt reds.

This was one of my favourite moments of the day, because it was pretty awe-inspiring to watch something that seemed so effortless and majestic. Having said that, it wasn’t really a romantic moment (not that we minded!) with the hundreds of spectators next to us, the barking dog and the shuffling of the crowd!

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At the end of the sunset, when it finally dropped down from a tiny sliver to complete dark with a little light to see ourselves in, the entire crowded applauded, which was nice to hear (not to mention seeing hundreds of flashes from cameras and mobiles going off at the same time!)

TIPS:

  • Bring a jacket or jumper, it can get chilly in the evening, especially after the sun starts going down
  • Oia is way more expensive than Fira – expect high prices! We wanted to try lobster while we were in the island, but didn’t because it was just too expensive. One restaurant was offering a lobster meal for €95 which was ridiculous. Don’t worry if you don’t spend a lot of food, sometimes the expensive ones taste the same as the cheaper meals!
  • Make sure you camera battery is fully charged – by the time we got to the sunset in Oia my camera battery died! There’s a lot to take photos of, so be prepared!
  • Try and arrange transport in the evening back to where you are staying – it can get pitch dark and there’s not much street lighting on the main roads.

This was the end of the tour for us, and time to also head back to the hotel – it was seriously crowded and we had to be careful not to get lost in the crowd so that we didn’t miss our coach either, but from here the coach took us directly back to the hotel and we watched the sky getting darker and darker from our windows of the coach. It was a pretty eventful and tiring day for us, and we went straight to bed for a long rest when we got back, since our feet were also pretty tired!

Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 2: Fira and Old Port

Santorini Day 2: Fira and Skala/Old Port

On our second day in Santorini was a little more adventurous, we had the whole day to explore and decided to venture out further in the island.

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We spoke to our tour guide in the morning after breakfast, and also the hotel manager, for advice on travelling around the island and getting to different parts. Both suggested going to Fira, which is the capital and the busiest hub of Santorini – from there you can get a bus or ferries to other parts of the islands.

The layout of Santorini means that the beaches, towns and places to visit are spread all over the island, and there are a lot of winding, long roads to get to each of them – which means no one walks around, but rather takes a car, bus or even quad bikes to get around.

On our last holiday, my husband and I opted not for the easier, touristy route of taking taxis everywhere, but rather made the most of public transport to see more of the country – and we decided to do this again, getting around with the buses on the island (which were actually really nice, more like air-conditioned coaches! I’m guessing they’re usually used around summer time for the tourists).

First we went to this place (above) which was next to the hotel and also in front of the bus stop, called Dorian’s Bar. The place was quiet because it was morning, and the owner of the bar (Dorian himself? I have no idea!) invited us in to wait outside of the sun for the bus to come. We got talking to the owner, who told us his place has its own history, having been there since the 80s, and told us a little about the bar.

Finally the bus came and we hopped on, with a conductor coming along to issue us small paper tickers for €1.40 to Thira, and we watched the view of the town go past on the way to the capital. To say the island is green is an understatement – you can see the greenery, mountains and houses all along the roads, with roads winding around moutains to get to the top and get back down again.

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The greenery on the way to Fira, before we saw the sea.

 

Eventually the Aegean Sea came into sight, and a few islands in the distance, while the bus (after picking up and dropping off passengers on the way) finally stopped at the main bus station in Fira and let us off to walk around.

The streets of Fira, much like some other cities we have been, were sloping, some narrow and leading off to other roads, to the shops and markets, and also to the museums, churches and restaurants which were higher up.

The first thing we visited was the White Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti, a big white building with arches and a tall spire. It had a garden in a middle (but we couldn’t walk through it), and it was the perfect starting place to lead us upwards to more buildings and things to see.

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From here we walked through the roads and saw more of the rich blue Aegean Sea, giving us a better view of what was below and the boats sailing past.

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Eventually we got to the edge, that iconic part of Santorini which you often see on Google and on holiday brochures – the expanse of beautiful white buildings against bright blue sky, gorgeous cliffs and the view of the sea (where we posed for a good few minutes and watched the other tourists)

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We stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant at the peak called Zafora, where we had a cheesy pizza and lots of cold drinks, and watched the view.

TIPS

  • If you’re staying in another part of the island, you’ll find Fira pretty expensive in terms of food and drinks – come prepared with money!
  • Like Perissa, ask the restaurants if they have WiFi, and they’ll give you access if you are a customer
  • Watch your step! There’s a lot of narrow steps and slopes downwards from the top when going into hotels and restaurants. Most of them are smooth but some of them aren’t and if it’s busy and congested, you’ll want to be more careful.

We saw a gorgeous bridal shoot while we were eating as well, which really made our day because it got my husband and I talking about our owe wedding shoot – we thought Fira was an amazing backdrop for a wedding day and loved how happy the couple looked (in fact, during our whole stay we saw another 3 weddings in various places, which was amazing as we never knew what a popular place it was for weddings!)

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We decided to go down to the bottom of Fira where one of the ports where – there’s a variety to ways to travel downwards, cable-cars, donkey rides or climbing the 587 steps in a zig-zag formation, by foot! We decided to spare our feet (I think we both had sandals on which weren’t the best footwear) and take the cable cars, which was a nice treat, costing €5 per person.

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Watching passengers on the way up, while we went down

We reached the bottom, called the Old Port, which is officially called Skala. It has a real simple-town, seaside-y feel to it, perfect for a stroll with an ice-cream, and looking at the sea.

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This was a lot quieter than the city above, and a lot more peaceful as well. There’s a line of restaurants and souvenir shops along the pier and benches to sit and contemplate the scene in front of you, examine a few boats (docked or sailing) and even board one.

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We decided to relax for a while at the pier and watch the clear water from the edge of the rocks. One thing which continued to strike me over and over again during our stay on the island was how beautiful the water looked everywhere we went, it was pretty clear in most places and in beautiful shades of greens and blues. Naturally, hubster and I took this as a chance to take our sandals off and stick our feet into the water, which was cold but very refreshing!

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It was also pretty crazy how far down we were from Fira, and it’s difficult from this angle to show how far down we were, but the hundreds of buildings were a lot less visible and a lot more tiny. We could also see donkeys carrying passengers up and down the 587 steps as well!

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After relaxing for a while (and eating an ice-cream, mine was watermelon flavoured!), we wandered around the shops, and even discovered a tiny church hidden away as well.

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Relaxing on the edge.

 

Eventually we decided to make our way back up to the top, and decided to skip walking up the stairs and be a bit more adventurous – we decided to ride donkeys up them. While we don’t regret this afterwards, it was pretty scary for both of us. Our donkeys were a little moody and kept stopping for no reason, they kept pushing our feet (and past each other) and you had to be extremely careful when they were either near the cliff wall (so you don’t get your leg squashed) or on the wall facing the sea (which was really scary because I had a constant fear of falling off the edge). Nevertheless, it was actually fun once we got the hang of it, and we even got to see photos of us taken by the donkey-owners at the end of ride, just like a theme-park ride, with our mouths open. Needless to say, we didn’t buy our photos, even though it was a shame I didn’t get to take more than two with my own camera because I had to keep my hands free.

Tips

  • Hold tight! Don’t be stupid (like I was) and try to take photos unless you’re really sure you know what you’re doing. It’s better to hold onto the saddle with both hands and feel a lot more secure (and don’t worry, I put my camera away after I got scared of dropping it a few minutes into the ride)
  • If you think you’re riding too close to a wall, you can kick a leg out and push away from it to cause some more room.
  • Don’t be alarmed if the donkeys stop suddenly, they do that. A lot. To sniff each other, to sniff donkey droppings on the floor, heck, pretty much anything.
  • Don’t try to be too adventurous and do your own thing. At the end of the day, we were riding up 587 steps and it was steep at some points, with some steps not very level or wide, so don’t scare the donkeys and don’t try to go your own routes, it’s better if you travel together.
  • Once you get off the donkeys, some donkeys may keep going past, face them and flatten yourself against a wall, and STOP. Don’t try to outrun them.

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Eventually we got to the top, and wandered around a little more, and shopping around – while there were a lot of shops and cafe, some of them had a market-feel to them (although we tried haggling, unsuccessfully, when Hubster tried to buy a hat, after being told everything had a fixed price.) We discovered a variety of places (like the ones below), including a Bubble Tea place (which is pretty much popular everywhere now!) and some ice cream places to sit and relax in.

It was a really nice day out, and a taste of how to get around the island and explore. Looking back at this post, it looks bright and very blue, and in honesty that’s how it looked from when we stepped off from the bus in Fira and walked around – the weather was beautifully clear and bright blue to match the sea, and it was a nice difference from Perissa Beach, which is more for relaxing, while this involves walking around and exploring. It was also really nice to meet a variety of tourists, the resort in Perissa that we were staying in was a lot quieter and had a lot more maturer couples and tourists; in busy Fira it seemed that everyone and anyone came to visit!

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After the long day out, we decided to head back to the hotel before the sun set (which is around 8.30ish when we were there) to avoid walking through the lanes in the dark. We caught a bus and it was a lot quicker on the way back, probably because the driver knew the passengers didn’t want a leisurely, scenic route! Once we got back, we relaxed at the lounge by the pool for a little while with coffees (him) and cake (me) – we both agreed that it had been a really nice day out and that neither of us were going to sit on donkeys again for a while!

Wooden Ships and Matchsticks

I love models (especially miniature ones!), and this is one I saw not too long ago which was pretty impressive – a Titanic ship model made entirely of matches by Tim Elkins. The ship (made of 147, 000 matches) is beautifully crafted – you’d never think that it’s made of matchsticks because of how tightly packed they are, and how well the ship has been crafted.

I love the detail on this ship – this photograph doesn’t really give justice to the size of it and the workmanship, but it does give that ethereal feel to it which I like : )

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A Lighthouse Scene

Bright, bright, bright glows the light
Guiding you home my way…
It will be as it was
Before you went away.

Whether by land or sea
Know just how much I care.
Look for the glow of the lighthouse
You will find me there.

The Lighthouse by Marge Tindal

I drew this last year and never finished it, it’s part of a composition of pictures, which was meant to be a series of scenes. I’m intending to finish this at some point, and perhaps fill it in with watercolour, but for now I thought I’d share one of the pictures in the series.

There four more landscapes which finish this series, but I like this one the best because of the lighthouse, there’s an almost romantic feel to this, and I’m debating whether to make the water calm or rough – what do you think?

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