Category: Travel

Housesitting – why I house sit and why you could too

Have you considered housesitting?

I am currently housesitting (with my husband) and looking after two delightful dogs. We are staying in an amazing house in the Worcestershire countryside that is straight from the pages of an interior design magazine. With the use of a well equipped kitchen we can cook what we like and not spend on eating out. We have access to a library of DVD’s that we can watch in the cinema room. The bed is comfortable, it makes getting up a tough decision. The bathroom has a rainfall shower and a big tub that if I were so inclined I could bathe in with glass of champagne that the house owners thoughtfully provided, stargazing through the skylight.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

And it is. Not all house sits assignments are so luxurious of course. This was a lucky find in so many ways, right time, right place. And a bonus of some loving dogs to care for in a lovely home.

This is our sixth house and dog sitting assignment and the second house sit booked via Trusted Housesitters. The third via Trusted Housesitters assignment is already confirmed. The houses are all different. What they all have in common is that the dog and house owners want to be able to relax in the knowledge that you will take good care of their home and pets while they are away.

There are lots of resources out there – I particularly like We Love House sitting – lots of information for prospective and active housesitters.

Housesitting as an alternative to renting

The DH and I are housesitting as an alternative to renting accommodation or living on a building site whilst the builders knock part of our house down.

We have emptied the ground floor and sold or given away most of our furniture.

Housesitting on our doorstep

At the moment we are limiting our sits to assignments within 30 minutes commute to Birmingham. We need to be close to where we live as the DH has to work and we need to pop back to keep an eye on the building work.

When we have applied for the sits we have been upfront and honest with the clients as to why we are housesitting. They need to know that the DH won’t be at the house all of the time so that it is mostly me looking after the home and pets.

We will need to go home occasionally and so sometimes that will mean their pets can come with us is they are happy for that to happen, or be left for a couple of hours in the house. This honesty may mean that some people will decline us and that is just fine. It is about finding the right match for you.

What has been good about sitting houses and pets locally is that we have had the opportunity to meet the dogs and the house owners before agreeing to the sit.

We are new to Trusted Housesitters and so far all the people we have sat for are using the service for the first time. It has been reassuring for the people entrusting their home and pets to strangers to meet us – and we have had a chance to check that the assignment is the right fit for us. We have seen where the house is, how to use the appliances and be shown where and when to feed the dogs.

Housesitting far from home

Our first house sits were in Melbourne. These were arranged privately as they were for an old uni friend. We must have done something right as she asked us back to look after the dogs on two further occasions. Then her work colleague booked us too. Read more about that here.

How do you know the sit or sitter is right for you?

Using a service like Trusted Housesitters gives you a lot of assurance. Regular users of the service will have built up a portfolio of references and levels of verification. After an assignment both the house and pet owners and the sitters are encouraged to feedback on the experience.

Read the reviews. Look at the photos of the house and the pets. Make sure you are confident with the requests of the house sit and the needs and types of pets. Will you need a car or will you be able to use theirs?

I was recently approached to look after a house and two horses. I declined as I have no experience with horses. Another sitter told me that they had declined an assignment after meeting the dogs. The dog were very boisterous and she suspected they could be aggressive with her if the owners were not there. To test this she asked the owners to come out of the house with her and give her the house keys. She then went to the front door to open it and the dogs barked very aggressively and threw themselves at the door. The owners were shocked. And lost a sitter.

Some assignments ask for you to clean the house and look after the garden. Do you want to do this? Others will have a gardener and a cleaner as does my current sit. It goes without saying that we keep the house tidy  and water a couple of plants in pots but I don’t have to, nor want to clean a big house and mow a lawn.

One of the motivators  of selling a big house was so I didn’t have to do these jobs. The DH and I concentrate on keeping the dogs happy and I use the time catching up with my writing and reading. I don’t mind watering the plants and cleaning a small house. I do expect the house to be clean when I arrive.

Write an amazing profile

Read other profiles. What stands out to you and makes you want to be a sitter for them or ask them to sit for you?  If you want to be a house and or a pet sitter think what you have to offer that would make people feel happy about you staying in their home and looking after their pets.

If you are looking for sitters, why would someone want to stay in your house, your town, city or village and look after your pets?

Sell yourself. Say what have you done in the past and why you want to house and pet sit. Bring some personality into the profile. Be honest.

Sell the house and the area. What is there to do in the area? For example if I was selling Birmingham I would say it has an emerging food scene with 5 Michelin star restaurants in the city and amazing street food events. I would mention the indie coffee houses, talk about the Museum and Art Gallery and the Staffordshire Hoard, the parks and surrounding countryside,  National Trust Properties, Grand Central, John Lewis and The Balti Triangle. I would also add that it is near to Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds, because potential overseas sitters will be familiar with those and rarely realise that Birmingham is so close.

Take photos (with permission)

The DH and I take lots of photos of the dogs we look after and share them on our Facebook Page (not profile).  I suggest that you do check with the owner first that they are happy for you to do so. Never share any photos of the house. If the owners prefer we would also email photos. Owners love to see their happy pets. I sometimes tag Trusted Housesitters in the posts. Again, make sure the pet owners are happy for you to do so. Some of my photos of the dogs we have looked after are at the bottom of this post.

Welcome them home to happy pets and food in the fridge

And leave basics for the sitters, especially if you live some way from shops. Milk, bread, tea at the minimum. On our last sit we cooked dinner and made a crumble for the house and dog owners. They had been to Australia and we knew from experience how exhausted they would be. We also met them from the railway station. This time we are leaving some fruit and salads and some chicken and cheese so they can make up a light meal when they get home. They have a long drive from the airport and we are sure they will stop for a meal on the way home.

Complete and read the housesitting welcome guide

This is where all the important information is. About the house, the animals, the responsibilities and the area. It is the housesitters bible. And it guides the house owners as to what information they need to provide. As a housesitter, read it before the assignment starts. This way if you have any questions you can address them beforehand.

Write a review

Once the sit is over you will be asked to feedback on the sit or the sitters. Please remember to do this. For a sitter like me it helps me get more assignments. For the house and pet owner it helps sell the sit.  And if it was dreadful talk to Trusted Housesitters first before writing the review.

And enjoy looking after lovely dogs like this

  • footballing dogs

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand by Train – The TranzAlpine with KiwiRail Scenic Journeys

When planning the New Zealand trip with New Zealand Self Drive Tours I asked them include two railway journeys. One was the Pacific Coast with KiwiRail, from Christchurch to Picton and the other was the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth.

The DH and I started our month of roadtripping New Zealand with the Pacific Coast trip. We loved it. And so it was, two weeks to the day since the DH aka Sleeve Notes and I had set out from Christchurch Station to Picton we were back at the station with our son. I just love railway stations and trains. And we had not seen this part of New Zealand before so I was a bit like a child in a sweet shop and even better, my son was there to share the journey. It was his first full day in New Zealand and he started his adventure travelling across the mountains of the South Island on the TranzAlpine with KiwiRail.

The son is a massive fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. I had planned, with the help of Self Drive Tours, for the two weeks he was with us to be as LOTR related as possible. And what a start. The scenery is just magnificent.

This train was much busier than the last trip – two big tour companies had booked out most of the train. This meant that one of the two open air observation carriages was jammed packed, so we made our way to the second one at the front of the train which was less busy. A good way to blow away the jet lag. And of course when it gets too cold (it does in winter) and when you have to retreat inside for part of the journey – the seating on Kiwi Rail is comfortable and the windows are extra large – so you get an excellent view.

For an introduction to New Zealand this was the best way to start his two week adventure. The contrasting scenery takes your breath away. More spectacular views (yes 24 year old young men can be impressed with views – this is New Zealand) were to come during the road trip. As he said, you never know what you will see next.

For most of our four weeks we were road tripping.  And while New Zealand is the ultimate road trip destination drivers need a rest and an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride. And this is the best way to do it. You will need to book tickets in advance. While our first train was not full, and not currently running due to the earthquake, the second train was. All seats are reserved so if you just show up to go it is likely you won’t get a seat. Both are lengthy journeys and you will probably need food. While some people brought picnics with them there are excellent snacks (the hearty brunch wrap was my choice) available on board. Don’t miss out on the Kapiti ice cream. The Menu is here.

If you are planning to visit New Zealand, I urge you to take the train at some point during your travels. On my next visit I may just jump aboard the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland. Here Flying and Travel shares their experience of the trip.  Yeah, I need to go soon.

 

 

 

 

A Warm Welcome at Waipoua Lodge

On the road in New Zealand

The DH aka Sleeve Notes and I stayed in many different accommodations during our four week road trip in New Zealand. We travelled from Christchurch to Auckland, via Picton, Blenheim, Greymouth, Hanmer Springs, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Bay of Islands, Waipoua and Cape Reinga by plane, train and automobile. Mostly on the road in a hire car.  All organised (bar the last few days when we went freestyle) via New Zealand Self Drive Tours.

All the hotels and motels we booked through the tour company were good. Many were excellent.

One was outstanding.

Waipoua Lodge

A couple of days before our stay here I received an email from the hosts of Waipoua Lodge  with a menu, requesting that we pre order our evening meal. This was the first clue that this was going to be a memorable place to stay.

The choice of food was simply outstanding – not a long menu – which is in my mind usually a good thing, yet it was clear that the person who put his menu together understood and loved food. I was not wrong. Slow cooked pork belly, rillettes of lamb, salmon with basil and lime were some of the choices for the mains.

Dinner

Unusually for Instagram fangirl me I did not take any photos of the food we ate that night. We were the only guests at the lodge that night and, with a personal chef and waiter aka Fran and Ian, this was a dining experience we wanted to immerse ourselves in fully. Food bloggers will tell you that once photos have been taken, notes made, the food is cold. This was not going to be a night like that.

Fran kindly sent and gave me permission to us a photo of the main that the DH had, Slow Cooked pork with chilli and lime. DH said it was outstanding. It was (I tried it too).

Waipoua Lodge slow cooked pork

I had the salmon for my main which was also excellent.

For pudding the choice was easy, the lemon souffle, a signature dish of Waipoua Lodge. A melt in the mouth taste experience. Yet this is Waipoua Lodge – here you get invited into the kitchen to watch Fran make it. She made it look so simple, and in theory it is. How can something with four ingredients, that takes moments to make and minutes to bake, taste so good?

I have yet to make it (sorry Fran still no oven). As guests we left with the recipe and an invite to be a member of her online cookery school. And when I get a kitchen I will be making a few of her recipes.

The accommodation

And while I have focussed on the food – because it is so very good – I need to tell you about the rooms and the location.

The lodge is on the edge of the Waipoua Forest miles from any town or village. We travelled from Auckland on SH1 then travelled via Dargaville on SH12 to the lodge. The last 45 km drive on SH12 was particularly spectacular. A magnificent coast and as you drive over the ridge you see the forest. It can get pretty windy up there, camper vans have been blown over, and as Ian said, if you think that is spectacular, it just gets better. It does. There are some pretty spectacular drives in New Zealand – add SH12 to the list.

A Warm Welcome

From the moment we arrived at the lodge Ian and Fran made us feel so welcome. It was as if were invited to a special house party and we were the only ones on the guest list.

They ushered us into the lounge room and served tea in vintage china cups. We chatted about the journey, our travels, the lodge and just about everything. Conversation was easy as if we had known Fran and Ian for years. A time was agreed for dinner and we were shown our room with some suggestions of a walk in the bush walk if we wanted to stretch our legs after the long journey.

Bush Walk Walipuria Lodge

The rooms are beautifully appointed. Comfortable with good bedlinen and top notch Aotearoa Koha Spa toiletries this is luxury 5 star accommodation. Yet is is not at all stuffy. I felt that we were staying in a friend’s home. A friend with immaculate taste in home furnishings and who can cook like a Michelin starred chef.

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After dinner, we chatted for hours with Fran and Ian. It was an extremely relaxing evening. I hope they enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. I think they did.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast, Ian gave us a detailed and fascinating talk about Waipoua Forest and the Kauri Trees. We had visited the Kauri Museum the day before. I was somewhat underwhelmed and thought it poorly curated. I learned more from Ian about the history of the area, the impact of the deforestation, in his short and informative chat than I had in an hour or so at the museum, with its display of some big trees, a bottle collection and waxwork figures. And that is a shame, because the Kauri and its history shape this part of New Zealand.

Ian suggested some places to stop on the drive to our next destination, The Bay of Islands, and then we reluctantly took our leave, back on the road again.

But not before Fran and Ian, owners and custodians of Waipoua Lodge, took one last photo for their scrapbook. Here we are with their dog. Bonnie.

On the steps of our room at Waipoua Lodge

 

Note: Phil and I were paying guests at the lodge. Fran and Ian did not ask me to write this (they did ask us to rate them on TripAdvisor and I have).

Travel is my high and I need another shot of it

Travel

When you travel you will possibly be all of these things.

Exhausted, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, in pain, relaxed, tired, excited, snappy, hungry, hangry, worried, stressed, restless and contented. You will never be bored.

I have endured long flights, watched movies I cannot remember, read books, walked dogs on beaches, slept in a swag and scrambled barefoot over rocks to swim in a pool with crocodiles.

I have learned to paddle board, considered divorcing my husband when kayaking in the Katherine Gorge, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the Kings Canyon Rim, slept for hours on a bus where the landscape never changed, travelled in a 4WD on Fraser Island, seen a kangaroo whose best friend is a pig and visited a city devastated by an earthquake.

In NSW I ate some of the best food I have ever tasted and eaten endless ham sandwiches with tour groups in the NT, breakfasted at Macca’s, brunched on the best poached eggs in Melbourne (nowhere has matched that city for brunch) drank the best coffee made with freshly roasted beans (again in Melbourne) and sulked over lack of beetroot.

But I have never been bored.

How can you get bored when travelling?

When I was planning this four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, someone said to me “don’t you get bored being on holiday for so long?”

What?

I waited a moment and answered with one word. “No.”

What I wanted to say was how could you possibly get bored when you travel? When you are seeing so much, meeting so many new people, doing things that will challenge you and change you?

I didn’t. I just knew that they would not get it. Because what they mean by a holiday and what that is to them is not what it is to me.

This is not a vacation, this is travel

In their map of the world a holiday is seven days escape from work, be it to a caravan in Bognor or a villa in Majorca, eating ice-cream and sitting on the beach. And after seven days of not doing much they think that is it time to go back to the 9 to 5. Because that is what you do. Hate Monday, live for the weekend and if you are lucky get a week away in the sun.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Been there, done that and probably will again. I like holidays. Long ones, short ones, package holiday and round the world travelling ones and weekends in sumptuous B&B’s and camping. I like to go travelling, while I still can.

I don’t get bored when travelling – because every holiday, every weekend away, being down under for four months or a package holiday to Skiathos for a week, a day out to Weston Super Mare, I see as an adventure. That is my map of the world.

I do get bored restless sometimes. When it rained for a week in Melbourne and I had watched every episode of Stranger Things I was ready to climb walls. Cabin fever did set in. Previous to this house-sit I had been on a ten day adventure in the Northern Territory. And while I had a love/hate relationship with that trip, with hindsight it was one of the most amazing journeys I have ever been on.

I was a broken woman

I ached and I wanted a bed and a shower and not to worry in case a dingo stole my shoes. After seven days of rain and when the bites had healed and I had eaten brunch and cakes and Greek food and done all the washing I was restless. Eager to get back on the road again. Travel is my ‘high’ and I needed another shot of it.

Yes I loved the comfy beds the hot showers, the food, did I mention the food in Oakleigh? Yet I was eager for more. New people, old friends, trying new food, seeing new places, getting on a plane (despite pre travel jitters that hit me before every flight) I crave the change. I feel that I may be addicted to change. Once healed I needed adventure again.

I could have wallowed. I didn’t. There was a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane to plan and book. New Zealand was a blank page. Flights in, flights out and no plan to get from A to B. So while it poured with rain, in between dog walking, kamikaze magpie dodging and eating souvlaki I stopped procrastinating and got on with transport and itinerary planning.

And yes I had procrastinated. Most of the trip had been planned in March. Flights had been booked, trips to Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island planned to fit in with flights. The NT trip to Kakadu, Alice Springs and Uluru was sandwiched between two house sits in Melbourne. An unexpected three day window filled with a visit to Tasmania.

Yet this bit of the trip was blank. And while I like to think of myself as free spirited Phoebe, Monica is stronger in me. I need a plan. Yes I do like to have room for some spontaneity, I am not that rigid, yet I have learned that I do need to know some basic whens and hows and so does my husband. I don’t want to arrive in a strange city without a bed for a night. That said we arrived in a new city with a room pre booked and hated it so much we found another room in 5 minutes thanks to free wifi and Booking.com. This needing to know where I will be sleeping is possibly a symptom of my anxiety. I didn’t know that till now (see this writing malarkey really is my therapy). Perhaps realising that I can turn on a sixpence will reduce this anxiety and  the need to be in constant control?

And when you have a month in New Zealand, a country that has so much to thrill, excite and amaze you, a plan is good. When a third person who has different interests to you is joining you for a couple of weeks and would rather put needles in his eyes than go on a tour of wineries, you need a plan.

In 2011 Phil and I travelled in a campervan from Auckland to Christchurch. When it was good it was awesome when it was bad it was not so awesome. We had no itinerary, booked as we went along and it worked out OK but we missed so much and ran out of time.

This time, after wasting hours getting jaw dropping quotes from Camper Van and Motorhome hire companies, trying to work out how to fit in almost everything we wanted to do I and failing, I used a travel agency, New Zealand Self Drive Tours. I found them via Facebook (sometimes those annoying ads are useful) gave them a list of what me, my husband and my son wanted to do, flights details and they planned and booked it for me. Yes I worked with them to tweak it and there is some spontaneity as the last 8 days there is no plan. No accommodation, no activities just the car and us and I like that we have no idea where we will be or what we are doing. I also like that for most of the time we just turn up and the hotel is booked and the car is waiting for us and we know how many km’s we will be driving each day.

Road trip New Zealand

I am currently in New Zealand, have been for a week and so far the plan is working. The car is easier to drive than a camper. Not for one moment have we wished we had got one.

The rooms have been warm and clean and the Coastal Pacific Rail journey was breathtakingly brilliant. Phil and I have travelled to Christchurch to Picton on the Pacific Coast Railway, driven from Picton to Christchurch via Blenheim and Hanmer Springs. In Blenheim we had a lovely day touring the wineries with Highlight Wine Tours and were guided around the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre Air by Bunty, a 96 year old World War 2 Spitfire pilot. We have bathed in thermal pools in Hanmer Springs, driven past snow capped mountains and followed a steam train through Weka Pass. Yesterday we rode on a vintage tram around Christchurch and walked around the city at sunset. Tomorrow we travel the Tranz Alpine Railway.

Yes I am worried how I am going to cope when I get back to the small house in November. Being in one place and shopping and cooking and the grey skies. I am sure that the Farsickness will kick in and know that I need to come up with a strategy to manage that.

I am confident that I will.

In the meantime – New Zealand awaits, with mountains and geysers and hot beaches and Hobbits and planes and trains and automobiles to transport us.

#notboredyet

 

New Zealand by Train -The Pacific Coast Railway with KiwiRail

  • Long White Cloud

The KiwiRail Pacific Coast Railway

Travelling on the KiwiRail Pacific Coast Railway had been on the someday list for far too long.

Boarding KiwiRail in Christchurch

Someday became today

For five years I have dreamt of it. It became reality due to saving and planning. And a real desire to make it happen.

This was Day One of a four week trip, by plane, train and automobile with New Zealand Self Drive Tours. What a way to start. Travelling along the Pacific coast from Christchurch to Picton. In 2011 I drove along part of this route in a camper van with my husband and it was breath taking. We were staying in Blenheim and while at the station this train was there, with its open air viewing carriage, dining car and carriages with huge windows to maximise the view from your seat. I said then that I would be back and I would travel on this train. And five years later, here I am.

Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, did not disappoint.

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I should be so lucky

So many people when they heard of my travel plans tell me that I am lucky.  If lucky means working and planning for this trip since 2011. If lucky means focussing on what I needed to do and I De-cluttered and downsized for this. If lucky means assessing what was important to me and knowing that it wasn’t stuff it was travel, then I am lucky.

I wish I could travel

And oh the people saying that they wished they could travel. The ones that say ‘I’d love to go to Australia/Canada/Rome/Paris but… I can’t because’ …

How many times have I heard these words ? Hundreds of times.

Just do it

Well I just did it. One of many things that had been on that someday list for far too long. I made them happen this year. Put a date on it.

Don’t tell me you wish you could. If you really want to, you will find a way.

Uluru dawn

Uluru – Adventures in the Northern Territory and sleeping under the stars

Travelling to Uluru is not an easy journey. It is a hours from everywhere. But is it worth it?

This is week 10 of a 4 month trip down under. There have been highs and there have been lows.

Double Rainbow during sunrise at Uluru

My best and worst moments were on a trip of a lifetime to the Northern Territory – visiting Kakadu, Lichfield, Alice Springs and Uluru.

Sunrise at Uluru

The worst because I so frequently felt old.

Despite being a 25/39 year old hipster in my head. Not that I was ever a hipster. Nor a hippy, although I did have embroidered flared Levis, purple t shirts, a cowbell and long hair in the 60/70s.

Travelling Coral in the 1970s

I hung out with hippy types in the mid 70s, was a student in the late 70s, went on demos and then in the 80’s fell for the lie.

Clifton, Bristol - a balcony party 1979

What my brain thinks (I am young, I can keep up) is completely opposite to how my body reacted to keeping up with a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings on a 10 day Darwin to Alice road trip.

You need a certain level of fitness

Yes I knew there would be walking and some swimming and camping. I reckoned I could cope physically with all of those.

And I did mostly. Phil and I had ‘trained’ for this insomuch we walked up Vesuvius when in Sorrento and clambered to Kastro on Skiathos. We walked every day in Melbourne, averaging 10,000 steps a day. I must have been fitter – or so I thought.

Then I got The Rash. In the middle of nowhere with no pharmacy for 1500 kms. Or at least one that was open when we were in anything vaguely recognisable as a town.

The skin at the back of my knees was inflamed with a heat rash. My skin was sore and weeping and the pain made walking difficult, sitting painful.

It was hot and sticky on the minibus, the only trousers that made it bearable were linen. The sun was strong, so I needed to avoid that and we were sleeping in swags under the stars.

The nights were cold so I needed thermals to keep warm. Which were not good for The Rash. This trip involved travelling long distances and sitting for hours on a bus where I could not stretch out my sore legs. My ankles started to swell.

Losing it and wanting to go home

One evening, while the rest of the group walked up a hill to see the sunset and the stars, I stood in the shower drenching my legs in cold water and sobbed.

Miles from anywhere - NT Darwin to Alice Road Trip

At that point I wanted to go home. Back to England.

I was homesick, missed my bed, my friends and my children. I was tired. The pace was relentless. A lie in was 6.30am. Frequently up and out of the sleeping bag at 5am.

I hated the swags, the manky sleeping bags, the breakfasts, the stars, the young people who had more energy and were so effing cheerful.

I was in pain and wanted a bed and not to eat bloody stir fried chicken and pasta and rice and ham and cheese. I hated the greedy ones on the tour who took all the food. I wanted to be sipping latte not drinking shit tea.

I wanted brunch.

You can’t call me Mum

The bright young things called me ‘mum’. They genuinely thought it endearing and affectionate. At the time I found it derogatory. Sorry guys. I did. I love being a mom to my own kids, but I don’t want to be seen as mumsy.

Let’s be honest here. It made me feel f***ing old. After all I was only disinfecting the camp kitchen. And putting all the pans in size order.

So I did what I had to do. Gave myself a talking to. Because, if we didn’t already have the ‘difficult one’ on the trip (who alienated almost everyone) I was in danger of being the other ‘difficult one’.

Don’t be the ‘one’

A friend once told me that if you don’t know who the ‘one’ is, it is probably you.

I did not want to be the ‘one’. And yes I am old enough to be their mom so get over yourself Coral.

As well as giving myself a good talking to, I also took wine. It helped with the pain, the lack of sleep on a creepy campsite in swags. I recall we played the ‘I don’t like (insert household chore) game. (Look it up). I started to lighten up. The others went to see the haunted rooms and I climbed into my swag. Anyone who was there feel free to fill in the gaps between the game and the haunted rooms bit.

Fast forward to next day with hangover. Slept on the bus a lot. In the Never Never there is only so much nothing to see.

Once we got to the dirty and weird Barrow Creek Hotel – in an area that is renowned for the kidnapping and murdering of backpackers, I engaged in my new strategy to deal with the difficult ones.

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No, not murder or kidnap.

It was to prevent the greedy ones stealing all the food by making sure I got hands on with lunch prep.

The guide makes or breaks a tour

On this 10 day tour we had three very different tour leaders.

Guide Rowdy would not let us slice a tomato but thought it ok to throw food waste over my rucksack. I always seemed to be last to get lunch behind the greedy ones. And because I was polite and didn’t push to the front of the queue unlike the greedy ones, I was fed up of getting only one slice of tomato with my ham.

Guide number two, Simon (the best one on this 10 day trip) let us get on with making lunch. How I enjoyed telling the greedy boy to go away as I wasn’t ready to serve lunch as he hovered, greedily. This was the greediest one who never lifted a finger to help – People who are kinder than me thought me brusque. Simon (who is not kinder than me) made him pot wash the night before because while he was first to eat yet was last to clean his dish. And he still did not get it. Yeah -he was now officially the other ‘one’ on the tour.

I also made sure I got my plate of food first. I actually got to eat some beetroot. Hoo blooming ray. Being hangry is not a good thing for me at anytime, being hangry and ill was turning me into a monster.

Guide three. Can’t remember his name. This was his last trip, he had stopped loving being a tour guide and it is a good time to go. He trusted me with the keys to the truck and let me eat all his biscuits. Not so bad.

A town like Alice

A Town Like Alice

I got respite in Alice Springs. The nearest thing to civilisation since Darwin. And Darwin is not so civilised.

A rainy day in Alice revived me. I had clean clothes. Visited The Flying Doctors. Slept in a proper bed. I got medication for The Rash.

Royal Flying Doctor museum, Alice Springs

And oh joy, proper food in Alice Springs.

Breakfast in Alice Springs

I was ready for Uluru

But I was still lacking in confidence.

The greedy ones were no longer on tour with us.

The “strong 10’s” were also absent. I missed them as when they were with us my hair looked decent as one was a gifted braider. I also missed their energy, their positive outlook on life and their confidence in themselves.

Travelling Coral in the NT

What I do realise now was that they had, and it is what I used to have, supreme confidence in their ability to do anything.

They were also happy with the way they looked.

Thermal springs in the NT

Travelling Coral, Knossos, Crete 1979

 

While I hate to look in a mirror and have a confidence rating of zero.

Even when I was young I never considered myself as a ‘ten’. Never. I was too skinny and too tall.

A squiggly wiggly with a bony bum. I was so jealous of their confidence, their looks and their outlook on life. I may have become a tiny bit bitter.

 

What I also got from the group was to learn to be less uptight and let my hair down, (metaphorically only as I preferred it braided). I went clubbing (hated it) in Darwin and sang karaoke (loved it) in Alice. Can’t beat them, join them.

Now I can’t work out if being grown up and sensible is what I am or being carefree is irresponsible but what I want to be

*At 25 I was not a young, chill hipster who dreams of Portland and free cold brew coffee

I was married with a mortgage and a mom to a young baby. I had a proper job. I paid my taxes, read the Sunday papers and only drank wine at dinner parties. I had bought the lie.

Travelling Coral gets married 1983

And now? I am not 25 or 39 I am 57. And while a couple in the group said that they wished their mothers were out clambering over rocks and swimming in croc infested pools, like me, I still think that I was old and slow and held people back.

Yes, many were kind and helped me over difficulties, but all most of the time I thought ‘who the hell am I kidding?’
Foil hats so the Aliens won't get us - NT road trip - with my adopted for the trip kids

I may have redeemed myself when making tinfoil hats to protect us from the aliens. For my adopted children. Full on mom mode and it made me happy to help.

Yes, I know how crazy this sounds. The making hats to protect us from the aliens bit. Not the mom bit, but actually it was crazy and they are crazy and I needed to learn how to be a big kid again.

And after all, this is the Northern Territory.

Where a pig and a kangaroo are ‘companions’. How crazy is that?

The kangaroo who loves a pig

Focus on the good stuff

I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, feeling old I failed to notice what I could and did contribute.  I hope that at least one of the group benefited from our chats. My empathy was remarked upon. Age and experience were respected.

Little did they know that I have not got my life sorted by a long shot.

I was so busy beating myself up, comparing myself with those younger, prettier, healthier and fitter than I, that I didn’t acknowledge them. The remarks made that their moms would never dream of sleeping in a swag or scaling the rim of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park fell on ears that did not want to hear it.

All I could think was that my knees hurt and I have friends my age who run marathons and here I am struggling to walk up a hill. And yet no one thought I was a wimp for deciding not to tackle the Valley of the Winds walk in pouring rain. (Opted for a nap on the bus).

But then this is what road trips are about. The journey. Literally and metaphorically. We are all travelling through life.

There is no denying, The Northern Territory  was bloody brilliant. Like Child Birth – the rewards outweighed the blood, sweat and tears.

Uluru was totally worth all those kilometres on a bumpy bus, endless ham sandwiches and being trampled on by a wallaby. Even The Rash could not spoil it for me.

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Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. Oh yes. Even the swags.

Sleeping in swags in the Northern Territory

Let me tell you, I would rather be a 56 year old with a bunch of 20/30/40 somethings who are living life than be with a bunch of saga louts who see it all through a window of a luxury coach and live with regret.

And on the last night, as we checked into the posh hotel and not a hostel I was happy. Hot shower, fluffy towels, luxury toiletries and fresh bed linen on Queen Sized comfortable mattresses. Oh how I was tempted to get room service and watch a movie.

Luxury in Alice Springs at Doubletree by Hilton

But something was wrong. I could not stand the noise of the telly. Hotel food was bland and hey the A Team were in Alice at Uncles.

Karaoke at Uncles in Alice Springs

So Phil and I joined them all for beer, burgers and karaoke. And it was good. We were a group who bonded well. I learned a lot from them all. Even the greedy ones.

And next?

Phil and I are now into week 3 of the second house sitting in Oakleigh. Week one was spent resting our tired bodies. Much needed R&R.

Soon we will be on the road again, to Sydney and driving to Brisbane. I am so looking forward to being on the move again. The wanderlust is strong in this one.

I have booked another group tour to Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island. I will not to be the ‘one’ on this trip. I have reflected and regrouped. I have cream in case the rash comes back.

And then we go to New Zealand for a month where Phil and I will catch up with our son. Who can call me Mom.

Not one to wish my life away, but I am counting down the days to seeing my son.

Meanwhile, Australia here I come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On not being a hipster

I am currently residing in Melbourne, most liveable city, hipster central and coffee capital of the world. I have a latte daily as I cannot take the flat white nor the espresso (although I let the barista choose the beans).

In my head I am 25*. And this silly quiz agrees.

It has been raining rather a lot. I have had to find something to occupy my mind while grounded by the weather. Cabin fever has set in.

We Know Your Age Based On Your Hipster Choices

You got: 25

You’re a young, chill hipster who dreams of Portland and free cold brew coffee. Just remember to water your succulent, because you have a lot of hipster years ahead of you!

My body keeps telling me otherwise and it is bloody shit.

Anyways – I did the quiz again today and got this:

We Know Your Age Based On Your Hipster Choices

You got: 39

You’re 39, so you’re not a baby hipster anymore. You know how to make all the right hipster decisions when it comes to food and travel (WHEN IN DOUBT TAKE A LYFT), so you should be proud!

Probably a more accurate picture of what I would like to be. I thought I had answered the questions the same but I think what swung it was I chose beer not coffee. I thought I chose beer the first time. I definitely chose Portland as my city despite not having been there because Melbourne wasn’t a choice. Sydney was. Sorry not sorry. Indeed the only questions I understood were the ones about the cities and the refreshments. I have no idea who or what Warby Parkers are and the quiz is clearly an ad for a designer soda drink I have also never heard of and am unlikely to purchace.

Intellectually challenged/trying to find something to fill the endless days of rain….

I had to look up what ‘lyft‘ is. This is the second word this week I have had to look up aka Google – the other one was ‘plebiscite‘. This is because, despite not watching the news, you would have to live in a hole in the ground to not know that there will be a plebiscite for Australians to decide on legalising same sex marriage.

Whether being old/not Australian or just plain thick – anyway hands up I didn’t know what these words were – so I did some research.

What I am sure of is that more Australians seem to know about plebiscite than they did the Census. There is certainly more media cover about it.

Let us talk about Brexit – if the UK had called for a plebiscite and not a referendum over membership of the EU maybe the UK would not be in such a mess as it is now.

It is worth me mentioning here that I know very little about politics and political processes but I voted Remain because I did my research. That research convinced me that the UK is stronger in the EU. I also want to live in Greece. Which may have swayed my decision somewhat, but at least I know what I want. Unlike the Brexiteers.

The census

I also took part in the Australian Census because, having done my research on that too, I was legally obliged to. As one who thinks voting in the UK ought to be compulsory, I was happy to comply with a country that has compulsory voting. The fact that is was shambolic is beside the point. To ask a tourist how many children they had given birth to was absolutely pointless. No, still haven’t worked that one out.

Anyway, as ever this ageing hipster has meandered off topic. As I do. Attention span of a flea.

Brunch in Australia – the good the bad and the ugly

Brunch figures a lot in my eating out in Australia. I have written before about my love affair with brunch – a meal that Brits, IMHO, still haven’t got right.*

In the UK, a cooked breakfast is usually a fry up be it the English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or even regional breakfast. You will see all day breakfasts on some menus, often dressed up as brunch. My local pub in the UK, The Dog, has recently added brunch to the menu – yet finishes serving it at 12 noon and only offers it on a weekend. That is not brunch. Brunch needs perfectly poached eggs, sourdough, good bacon and excellent coffee. And served at least till 3pm if not all day. A full English and bacon sandwiches is not brunch. That is breakfast. I like breakfast, I do, but I like brunch better.

In Australia they know brunch. Smashed avo, corn fritters, beetroot and spinach with free range poached eggs. This is one of my favourite brunches offered at Coin Laundry only a few minutes walk away from where we are currently housesitting in Melbourne. Available from 7am to 3pm. For two of us, with a latte each, the bill is Aus$42.

Seven Seeds. A Good Morning Breakfast Burger and Eggs and Waffle Benedict, two items from their current, all day menu. Proper Brunch. With speciality coffee. Aus$45. Great atmosphere, great staff, excellent food, awesome coffee. We have got to go back as our table companions had the Brioche French Toast and it looked, and they said it tasted, amazing.

And then there is Triim.

Phil and I were hungry, we had just been in a hot, dusty substation, looking at ACDC things. (It was Open House Weekend). We needed brunch. Seven Seeds seemed too far to walk to. It was Sunday and would probably be a line. Instead we wandered up Little Bourke street, looking for its sister cafe, couldn’t find it and then saw Triim on Hardware Lane, a studenty/backpacker district of the city and chose to brunch there.

Oh dear. At first it seemed ok, it was busy, all ages, shoppers and students, backpackers and families. Efficient staff. But. You knew there would be a but.

We ordered a Big Breakfast and a Morning Glory. Yes they can poach eggs. However the mushrooms were slimy and the sausage, I can only assume it was a chicken sausage, was horrible. The bread was poor quality. Butter is served in plastic pouches. We left feeling bloated and later felt quite headachey as if we had eaten poor quality food. Bill came to Aus$42.40. Hardware Lane is an interesting place to people watch. Go watch them from someplace else.

Was this the worst breakfast we had in Melbourne?

No. Because we went to McDonald’s. I know, I know. Phil and I had an early start, we were off out on a tour and had to be at Fed Square for 8.55am. Macca’s is nearby the pick up point. We had not had a Macca breakfast for over a year. Indeed it was at this Macca’s and for the very same reason. We do not learn.

Aus$18 for two sausage and egg muffins, with a hash brown and a latte. Not half a good as Triim, but nearly as good people watching as commuters dash from Flinders Street Station. Not anyway near the quality, ambiance or service levels of either Seven Seeds or Coin Laundry.

I know, it is McDonalds, I don’t expect silver service. Yet, at just under half the price of the other brunches Phil and I have had in Melbourne, this is an expensive and insubstantial breakfast. The only good thing I can say is that they have baristas in McDonalds in Australia (at least at this branch) so the coffee is not awful. It is not awesome, better than coffee in an English McDonalds. Not hard to beat that. Oh and surprisingly I didn’t get headaches like I did with the breakfast from Triim.

What really concerns me that this is the everyday breakfast for many commuters and school students. Melbourne has the best coffee in the world and Melburnians are now buying coffee here. And adding a McMuffin to their order. I don’t see any struggling indie coffee shops in Melbourne, somehow there are enough coffee addicts to keep the good ones going. I do see more coffee shop chains in Melbourne though. And that is not a good thing.

So, if you are in Melbourne, find a good brunch spot. It is not hard.

To help you, here is a list to help you out.

*There are exceptions. Birmingham Breakfast Club occasionally arranges special breakfast events in the city. Only I would call them brunch because there is usually alcohol involved and they don’t start at the crack of dawn.

If you want to know more about these wonderful Breakfasts in Birmingham here are some links. I include these only because I am fed up of people Bashing Birmingham. We have good food in Birmingham. We have good other things too. Such as the two towers that inspired Tolkien.

Full to the Brum  – an award winning Brummie Blogger

Eat with Ellen  – one of my dining companions at Nomad now re born as The Wilderness

Breakfast at Simpsons

Waiter there’s a bug in my brunch

Birmingham Breakfast Club 

 

Don’t rain on my (penguin) parade – Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsula

Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsular

Last year Phil and I were lucky and had glorious weather when we visited The Mornington Peninsula with Melbourne Coastal Touring. This year, let us say, the weather was varied.  We are pretty much used to the unpredictability of Melbourne weather – after all this is the city that has four seasons in one day. We had booked again with Melbourne Coastal Touring, this time to extend the trip to Phillip Island, to see The Penguin Parade.

Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

The forecast was not good. Maximum of 12 degrees and lots of rain. Rug up we were told.

 

We looked like this before….                and like this afterwards.

We took a rug. Did not/could not use it. Sitting down was not an option. It was cold, windy, dark and raining stair rods. What use would a rug be?

Most people wisely bought these plastic rain covers, they still got soaked.

However penguin parade was worth getting drenched for.

OK. These are not real penguins. You are not allowed to take photos of the penguins. But you are allowed to take photos of toy penguins. So we did.

While the penguins were a joy to observe, I would recommend you do the trip in the summer or spring. Or choose a clear, dry autumn or winter day (and rug up). Check that weather forecast folks. It was cold and wet and the maximum anyone held out was fifteen minutes. A long way to go to see penguins in a squall.

Phillip Island

Before we went to the Penguin Parade, Campbell took us to see a few other highlights of Phillip Island, including a blustery walk at The Nobbies to see some nest boxes and Woolamai Beach.

English visitors may find some of the place names familiar on this island. Many places are named after towns on the Isle of Wight.

We visited the restricted area of Phillip Island Nature Park next to where you visit Penguins Parade. This area is closed at dusk to protect the wildlife. Once a residential area, eventually the beachfront residences were demolished in order to restore a habitat where the penguins and other wildlife would thrive.

More than penguins

The Penguin Parade is the last visit you make on this full day tour. I started with it at the top of this post as it is the highlight of the tour and the main reason people take this trip. However, before the penguins, there is a lot more to do and see on the way to Phillip Island.

Moonlit Sanctuary

The highlight of the day, for me, was the visit to the Moonlit Sanctuary. Sorry penguins. You are cute. I have wanted to see you ever since I watched a documentary about you but not in Force Ten weather conditions. I enjoyed the visit to the sanctuary more. Sorry not sorry.

Happily, the sun was shining when we arrived at Moonlit Sanctuary. Phil and I have visited similar places before, the first one while traveling along The Great Ocean Road. The owner of this private sanctuary shoved a  scruffy teddy bear with a koala perched upon it in front of us for photo opportunities. The wallabies and kangaroos were in pens. It was all a bit scruffy and run down. Not so Moonlit Sanctuary.

At Moonlit Sanctuary, the visit to the koalas are strictly monitored and limited.

The wallabies and kangaroos are free to roam.

Only the dangerous and endangered are restricted.

Except the geese. They roam free. They were scary – they had chicks – and daddy goose was not letting anyone near his family. One even took a chunk out of a wallaby.

It is in a beautiful setting, there is a cafe and rest room there and it would make a good family day out in the summer. Everyone on our tour thoroughly enjoyed their time here. Including the tour leader, Campbell. I think he loves his job.

Lunch and wine tasting at Montalto

On this tour lunch was a shared selection of three stone baked pizzas.  Broccolini, quattro formaggi pizza;Napoli, buffalo mozzarella & basil pizza;Roast pork, garlic, stracciatella, pickled chilli, chives pizza served with Chargrilled kale and broccolini with miso and sunflower at the Piazza Cafe at Montalto.

Lunch was preceded by a wine tasting and a stroll around the sculpture garden. The weather was still on our side.

I am assuming that Melbourne Coastal Touring are trying out various eateries for their tours. For a lunch this was a beautiful location. The wines we tasted were all very good. While I prefered the food I had last year at Red Hill Epicurean I can see why Montalto, with the sculpture garden, is a good location to stop off at on this tour. It offers the opportunity for a much needed stroll in the sunshine after being on a bus for over an hour.

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And as this tour naturally appeals to families with young children (cute penguins, koalas and kangaroos) it is a perfect place for a good quality pizza lunch for families, offering a relaxed environment for parents and children to explore the sculptures. Yet it is grown up enough for adults who enjoy wine tasting and a good lunch in pleasant surroundings.

It is worth noting that Montalto also has a fine dining option (12 Chefs Hats in The Age Good Food Guide since 2002). Pizza in the Piazza cafe offers good food for tour groups or those who want a more relaxed dining experience in a stunning location.

Beach Huts and Arthur’s seat

No visit to The Mornington Peninsula would be complete without the obligatory stops at the beach huts and Arthur’s Seat.

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Even on a cold day, as it was clear (for now) the views are stunning. The beach has been eroded considerably since our last visit in 2015.

Flinders and Chocolate

As we had made good time on the journey to Mornington, we were offered an optional visit to the chocolate shop at Flinders.

Phil and I had been before and so decided to wander around Flinders instead of taste chocolate. Delicious and quirky as it is, we are not big chocolate fans.

Flinders is a small town with some charming shops selling designer kitchenware, clothes and art with a General Store and Post Office. And interesting birds.

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Why use a tour company?

One of the reasons Phil and I choose to go on tours is to meet new people. On this tour there was a family from Jakarta and a young couple from Singapore. Interesting conversations over the dining table (every one asks us about Brexit) learning about other cultures, exchanging stories of travel and tours.

Expert knowledge

Another reason to use a tour is that you get the knowledge of your tour guide. If you use a really good company (check them out on TripAdvisor and Viator) the guides can make the day. Jason, who owns Melbourne Coastal Touring, was brought up and still lives in Mornington. It is a small family run company. Repeat business and recommendations are important to them. Quality matters. This is not always the case with all operators, so do your research.

Why not drive yourself?

I like to be driven. By a competent driver who knows the roads. I can vouch for both Jason and Campbell. If you did this trip yourself, it is almost a two hour drive to Melbourne from Phillip Island. And in wind and rain and the dark, not a drive I would want to do. Also the driver doesn’t get to appreciate the views so much along the way and there would be no tipples at the vineyard. Another reason to use a good tour operator.

Addendum

Melbourne Coastal Touring are now under new management and trading as Melbourne Boutique Tours. I am sure they are just as good as they were and would continue to recommend them. I will try them out next time I go Down Under.

 

 

 

 

Packing it all in – 7 days in Skiathos

Greece is still my favourite destination

My love affair with Greece started in 1979. Skiathos in 2016 rekindled the romance.

Back then I travelled overland with my uni friend, through the former Yugoslavia by coach. We then met up with Rob in his VW van. After staying in Athens with some millionaires went on to stay on Hydra and Crete.

We ran out of money, almost got arrested and discovered the friendliness of Greeks and the fabulous food. Since then I have visited Greece more than I have visited any other country. I have seen it change, not always for the better, yet like the sirens it continues to call me back year after year.

As life has been hectic this past few months and Sorrento while enjoyable wasn’t exactly a restful holiday, I decided that Phil and I needed another holiday. Greece was in my mind when I went in search of a cheap deal to anywhere. Greece was top of the cheapest first list. Yes!

I dashed to the travel agents and said ‘I would like to go to Skiathos please and my budget is under £400 for two of us’. They laughed, how they laughed.

And then the computer not only said yes but also said this holiday has been reduced by £800 to £324 for two in a self catering apartment. After the travel agent had recovered from the shock (these were 1990 prices after all) it was booked and we were off to Skiathos, thank you very much.

Plane spotting

Skiathos is a small island, with one of the shortest runways in Europe.  If you are a transport geek and like me a little bit crazy,  you can stand on the road at the end of the runway and wave to the pilots before they take off.

Warning, they are not waving, they are telling us to move back because the thrust from the engines will literally blow you away. Totally worth it for shots like this.

Cash is king

We took lots of Euros with us as cash is still king in Greece.  Despite hiring  a 4wd to explore the island, eating out in many excellent tavernas, splashing out on boat trips and walking tours, we struggled to spend £500 in the week we were there.

Resorts and where to stay

We were based in a small village called Agia Paraskevi. There are a few small hotels and a number of self catering apartments, set off the main road along narrow lanes, that are too small for coaches. If on a package, you will be dropped off on the main road and then walk to your apartments up to 15 minutes away, past fields and a few apartments and tavernas.

The village is small and relatively uncommercialised, much like what I recall Greece was like in the 80’s. Not quite My Family and Other Animals but there are goats and chickens in the fields and you will see women dressed in black gathering greens and herbs.

Sitting on my balcony early evening the only sound I could hear was the jingle jangle of the bells around the goats necks.

Both Troulos, the next village/resort along the road, and Koukounaries, where the main road ends, seemed to be more holiday resort than Greek village. Shops selling beach toys were absent where we stayed. Perhaps because the beach was relatively small? Anyway, I liked where we were. And outside Skiathos, it seemed it had the best tavernas, cafes and restaurants.

We stayed at Marialena, and while they were clean and in a good location, I would not rush to stay there again.

They were spacious, had hot water, a pleasant balcony but the owners just did not seem to care that you were there. See below what I thought of the food at Marialena.

If I were to return I would like to be based in Skiathos town for some of the time to experience the bustle of the harbour, day and night. I would also return to Agia Paraskevi as it offered good traditional food, a peaceful location and a bus service to town. I would look to stay at Green Park or Dream House.

If beaches are your thing, there are probably better places, however the beach here looked perfectly fine to me.

Koukounaries seemed to be the beach lovers resort, with Big Banana beach and Little Banana beach, the naturist beach, if that is your thing. There is also a nature reserve there which makes for a very pleasant walk. (See walking below).

Eating and Drinking

On our first day we parted with €10 for a litre of wine and two souvlaki at Oneiro (attached to the Dream House apartments). This was to become our favourite place to chill out. It is a friendly, family run taverna, serving traditional food in a cool, modern setting, with  wifi.

Elsewhere beer was between €3 and €4 in most places for half a litre or €1.50 in the supermarket. We paid on average €25 for dinner with wine. Sometimes we splashed out, mostly we didn’t.

Jimmy’s on the main road is a traditional taverna, and the guy that waits tables is excellent. We went at Sunday lunchtime, the taverna was full, one guy managed all the tables, big family group comes in and all tables are moved around, just like the old days.

The only place  where the food was just not great was at Marialena Apartments, where we were staying. We arrived at lunchtime and decided to eat there. I had Kleftiko covered in cheesy chips (never had that before). This was the dining area and most days it was this busy.

A few days later we thought we would give them a second chance with breakfast. The bread rolls came out warm and then hardened to such an extent that I could have used them as a cricket ball.

There were too many good places to eat in Agia Paraskevi for us to waste our money here.  All with better ambience and wifi.

The two restaurants that came highly recommended were Calma and Green Park. I cannot disagree with those recommendations although for my money Green Park was the best food I have ever had in Greece or at any Greek restaurant I have ever eaten at. And there has been a few. Calma was good, it was just that we had eaten at Green Park first so the bar had been set very high. Both served traditional Greek food with a modern twist.

Another outstanding meal in Skiathos Town. Fresh Prawns and Calamari in a traditional taverna overlooking the harbour. There were a number of them all vying for business, with fixed price set menus. Prices were around €8 to €12 depending on what you chose. Good value for a prime location.

We ate at a different taverna every night and usually went for the special of the day. Without exception food was good to excellent, service always good, house wine around €8 a litre and very drinkable. Traditional food was on offer everywhere, even the children’s menus were smaller portions of the normal menu.

There  were no fast food joints (phew) unless you count the Giros on the street corners of Skiathos Town. Pizza at Boubounakia was excellent, traditionally cooked in an open oven. Share one, they are enormous.

On the buses

When we were not eating, we were exploring. The bus service on the island is cheap and reliable. There is a conductor on every bus so no faffing to find who sells the tickets.

The terminus in Skiathos Town is next to the port and buses run about every 20 minutes to all stops to Koukounaries. Each bus stop is numbered and that is how you state your destination. Simples.

While waiting at the bus stop taxi drivers will stop and offer to take you and will offer you a price and it is worth bartering. They may start at €8 and you can get them down to around €4 or €5 depending on the distance. A single to Skiathos on the bus was €1.60 so €5 in the taxi for two of us was reasonable. They may stop to pick up other fares on the way. It is a little faster than the bus. The buses run every 20 minutes or so, if you are not in a hurry use the bus, if you are buddy up with fellow travellers and share a taxi.

My view is that the Greeks have gone through a financial crisis and I will contribute to the economy and support local enterprises everyway I can, so I used taxis and buses and hired a car for one day.

Explore

Yes this holiday was R&R. It rained for the first two days and while other complained to the rep (because they can stop the rain presumably) we read. And planned our exploring because we are not sunbed by the pool types. We decided to join an evening walking tour of Skiathos, a boat trip visiting Skopelos and Alonissos and hire a 4WD to see more of the island. We booked all through the rep because we were lazy. I am pretty sure that these could be booked independently and cheaper. As it was we met three people on the walking tour that were lovely and they were also on the boat tour the next day, so we had the bonus of excellent company.

The Skiathos Town walking tour

Michael Evans is an English man who has made his home in Skiathos. Like Tamara, our lovely guide in Sorrento, he has turned his passion into his job.

To say he has a big personality would be an understatement. We met him at the harbour and the walk around the town lasted about three hours, winding up for snacks and wine at his house.

This is a good tour to orientate yourself with the town, as it is easy to get lost in the winding, narrow streets. Skiathos was built this way to foil the pirates who frequently attacked the island. You will learn about the history of the island including the aforementioned pirates, why the capital moved to Kastro and back again, the importance of the church in the community and what it was like being an extra on Mama Mia.

Anyway, book it, it is brilliant. He is hilarious. We and the young couple we met were the last to leave and we probably could have spent the rest of the evening there with Michael partying. Our sensible heads told us we had a boat to catch the next day.

The Mama Mia connection

Did you know Mama Mia was filmed on Skiathos and Skopelos? If you didn’t you will soon find out. There are Mama Mia boat trips and the local outdoor cinema still shows the film once a week.

This boat trip will take you past the church featured in the film. Apparently the local priest is overwhelmed by requests to marry there and does his utmost to put brides to be off. They don’t factor in that a walk up the steps in summer will finish them off physically and their hair and makeup will be a mess.

It is a pleasant boat trip with optional guided walk on Skopelos and a bus to the small village of Chora on Alossonius. Low season both are charming and quiet. The views are stunning and the twisting roads and lanes climbing up Skopelos through the shops then to houses and tavernas make for a lovely walk.

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After grabbing a less than satisfactory toastie for lunch in The Bookstore Cafe in Chora, on reflection I wished we had waited to get some food at the harbourside. The ice cream made up for the disappointment. The town is small, there is only one baker and one ice cream shop, not hard to find.

A bonus was the dolphins joining us for the ride and all in all it was a lovely relaxing day. On reflection I would book this directly with one of the boats rather than with a rep as the guide though lovely was superfluous to the tour. The beauty of the islands need no explanation. The only thing I wished I had visited was the Pirate Museum on Alossonius which Michael had told us about. If the bus down from Chora had stopped there, that would have been ideal.

The best place for a pre dinner or post boat trip drink

Bourtzi.  Reviews are mixed. Yes it is expensive. We only had beer here at €6 for a small glass. The views are probably worth it.

Go, have a beer, decide for yourself. The best time, when the fishing boats come in early evening.

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Visit the loos.

Hire a 4WD

There is only one main road on Skiathos, and if you want to explore further afield a 4WD is recommended. We wanted to visit Kastro, and while a smaller car would probably have sufficed, I am glad we got a jeep.

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We had a map, a vague idea of where we were going stopping at The Monastery of Panagia Evangelistria which is incredibly peaceful on the way. It is impossible to get lost on the island because eventually all roads lead to Skiathos town.

Two tavernas are clearly marked on the map we had and we had lunch at Platonos and iced coffee at Panorama. The views from both are stunning, service and food good.

Walking and Hiking

We picked up a walking guide at the dog shelter. All the walks in the book are well marked.

The only one we did was around the nature reserve at Koukounaries. I would suggest that you embark on these in low season, have sensible shoes, lots of water and a hat. Some of them are very ambitious, such as the walk to Kastro. I am glad we did this trip in a jeep. But if walking is your thing, it is a beautiful island for it. There are lots of guides available online.

Take a rescue dog for a walk

Skiathos Dog Shelter opened in 1995. Visitors to the island are encouraged to visit, donate and take a dog for a walk. So we did.

Top tip while waiting for your plane home

Leave the airport, walk 10 minutes along the side of the runway toward Skiathos Town and watch the planes take off and land from the safety of a lovely cafe.

On arrival, the rep made a joke that Skiathos was known as boomerang island, as people come back every year. I can see why.