Category: Greece

Packing it all in – 7 days in Skiathos

Greece is still my favourite country

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, food 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.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.









Go travelling while you can – don’t wait for someday

Travel is in my DNA

I have to go travelling while I still can.

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age… perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping… I fear this disease incurable.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Don’t put your life on hold

My aunt, the day before she died, said to me ‘I wish I had seen more of the world instead of looking after everyone else, and doing what I thought was the right thing’. My mother, the traveller, had no such regrets.

And while we had the concerns over the health of his mom, my mother in law, Phil and I knew that we will continue travelling.

Phil has a brother. My local minister and former work colleague reminded me of this when I expressed my concerns about our forthcoming extended travel plans, before Val passed. At the time she had just gone to a nursing home and we hoped her health would improve. As the minister said, Chris, the brother, he will be there while you are away. Phil discussed this with his brother. What they will do if this happens while we are away, hence the aforementioned family commitments.

My 84 year old friend, who travelled extensively after her retirement said much the same. ‘You cannot put your life on hold, the outcome will be the same whatever you do. Travelling was the best thing I did, it enriched my life so much’.

In 2011 as we prepared to go on our first RTW trip – my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I asked her if I should not go, and stay with her. Without a second thought she told me that I must go. It has been a dream of mine for so long. She would not hear of cancelling plans. On our return she was one of the few people who were genuinely interested in the trip. She too lived to travel. She would never had made me stay. I thank her for that.

And so before the extended travel commences in July we booked some time away as Phil was exhausted with driving 3 hours to visit his mom every other week. With hospital visits and worries about finding a nursing home that didn’t smell. He was anxious about her and needed a break.

My mom in law died while we were away in Sorrento. Phil had spent two days and nights at her bedside in hospital before we went away. The nurses said that he must still go on the planned holiday.

Val had had a lovely day with her family the weekend before she passed away.  She went home, gave her granddaughter a beautiful ring  and went to her local pub for dinner. She did seem to be in better health. The timing seemed right to go away for a few days.

But Sepsis had different plans and by the following Tuesday the nursing home had to admit her to hospital.

We had been in Sorrento one night. Her son, my husband’s brother, Chris was with her. Yes we felt sad and guilty but we knew it was going to happen but not when.

We stayed in Sorrento and filled the days with extensive sight seeing and walking. It helped. Chris did all the necessary and immediate things that needed to be done, and on our return we joined him and supported him to do everything else we had to do.

Now, a few weeks later, we have had the funeral in Winchester and the remembrance service in Yorkshire. We have spent more time with family than we usually do. Caught up with people we haven’t seen for many years. This happens when people die. We have cried and we have laughed. Shared happy memories. Discovered interesting things when sorting through possessions including some amazing photos on old slides.

These pictures were the turning point in their grief, for Phil and Chris. They reminisced over childhood memories. Saw their parents at happier times, as they remembered them, young and vital. The mom and dad they grew up with. Having spent months seeing their mom getting older and unrecognisable at times, had taken its toll on both of them. Discovering these photos and sharing them with people in Yorkshire who went to school with their parents evoked so many happy memories. Talking about the old days, the happy times, it healed them.

I met the minister again yesterday and told him about this. Thanked him for his wise words. They had helped us to remember that we have support from family. We don’t have to do everything, we can ask for help. And remember to laugh. Death is sad, of course it is. As the minister told me yesterday, it is good to recall happy memories and laugh. That is what we did, I told him, dinner with the family, we cherished our times together and laughed.

There is still a lot to do. Paperwork, mountains of it. A house to clear, major decluttering (so far 30 bags to charity and the same to the tip) some more legal stuff, a house to sell. We had made a start when she was in hospital. It is a big job. 80 plus years of memories in dusty boxes.

Phil was making lists of lists and worrying about all we had to do. He got stressed again so I booked another, more relaxing, holiday to Skiathos after the funeral. Travel is our medicine as well as our disease.

We cannot tick all the things off before we go to Australia in July. We can’t. So we won’t. We will do what we can. Prioritise the legal things. Trying to fit everything in a tight schedule will exhaust all of us. And will make use feel failures because we won’t succeed. Our health and well being, and that of the family, has to come first.

We will carry on when get home in November. We can put some things on hold. Just not life.




Packing it all in – in defence of the package holiday

Travelling Coral

Package Holiday Coral

Are you a traveller who plans their own itinerary or a package holiday fan?

I ask because I want to know what defines a traveller.

I started my blog, Travelling Coral, to document my first round the world trip in 2011. It turns out I like this blogging malarkey, so I carried on. I like travelling, eating and I like package holidays. I love to have the sun on my back and writing about where I have been, what I have eaten and I like writing about other stuff too. It is my therapy.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a package holiday.

The beach bums

When I was on a tour in SE Asia, we stopped a few nights at Langkawi. The resort I stayed in was full of long-term travellers and beach bums, who were just like my brother. Because he had lived on a remote island in Thailand for a few years he had a travellers superiority complex. Like the people at Langkawi he viewed tour groups as fake travellers, unlike themselves, the true travellers.

The digital nomads

We are all digital nomads. I can text on the bus and read my email in a cafe. I can work from home or someone else’s home. I can write my blog in Birmingham and Brisbane.

The travellers that describe themselves as digital nomads mostly work in Chang Mai. The package tourist is everything they wish not to be associated with and don’t we know it.

Travellers sleep on the floor/dorms

When I reluctantly let my brother stay in my home for a couple of nights he refused the bed. He slept on the floor and made a big thing about it (saved me washing sheets). He moaned about how unhygienic western toilets were preferring to squat and wash rather than to sit and wipe.

He sneered at every aspect of my life. My kids (too much of a drag, man) my house (still wanted to stay there) and like those languishing in Langkawi, thought westerners who chose to go to work and pay taxes were somehow inferior to him. My package holidays were nothing like what he did (drug dealing and cadging cash off the mothership) he was cool and I was not because he travelled and I did not.

The Carry On Brigade

Then there are the travellers who have lived on the road for six years with backpacks that they carry on to planes. Like carry on is the only way to travel. Self proclaimed digital nomads that never check their bags. They boast that they only carry seven days of clothes, yet manage to pack in the ipad/applewatch/macbook air and a mirror camera whatever that is. They write e-books about it and feign disdain at people who for whatever reason book a package holiday.

Sexy travellers

You will see this same group of bloggers featured in the top 10 sexy travellers lists (no one likes an old frumpy traveller do they?) selling online courses to enable you to have a six figure income on the road. If I were making a six figure income on the road I would upgrade to first class travel and check in my luggage and not work out of a café in Chiang Mai.

Not all of us can carry on

The type of people who respond with ‘oh we never go on packages’ when I mention on their Facebook Page that there is no way I could travel from Birmingham airport with carry on only.  It always gets weighed and the limit is 5kg, so no I can’t, package holiday or otherwise.

I have travelled with carry on only. Twice from the UK, both times with Easyjet out of Gatwick. Once they insisted that a tiny sling purse counted as a second item of hand luggage and I had to put that in my bag. Crazy, but rules are rules. #jobsworth .


In Australia last year (August and September 2016) we travelled carry only on domestic flights to Tasmania/Darwin/Alice. Checked in online and hoped we were not stopped at the gate. I am more pro carry on now. Also had to dump 11kg of clothes in Melbourne as I overpacked for the 4 month trip.

Not a travelling snob

While I go on package holidays I rarely have anything in common with most of the passengers on my plane. Particularly those with names on their t-shirts who clink on all the duty-free they can and buy perfume and makeup in the sky, I don’t really get them at all.

I genuinely hope that they are not in my hotel. I do. That is not me being a snob, it is me being me. I would not want to spend a week with a bunch of saga louts nor a bunch of toffs who snort coke. It is not who I am. I do like meeting new like minded people and as such have made friends with ambulance drivers, tube drivers and someone big at Weta on my travels. I am interested in people but not ready to fill my life with buckets of booze and karaoke. Except for that one time in Krabi. We don’t talk about that.

When I go to Turkey the ‘I have my name on my t shirt in case I forget who I am in Bar Street’ brigade get on the big packed bus to Marmaris, while I and my family are the only ones on the minibus to Dalyan. Phew. Dickhead Dave, Saucy Sue and Peter the Plonker who had beer for breakfast at the airport pub may visit Dalyan to wallow in the mud for the day at some point, usually as part of a transfer deal with the tour company, but that is it.

I get my Dalyan with the locals and the Dutch who have made it their second home. I watch the sleeping Dalyan Dogs and live like a local.

Husky on Ice

I go have a beer with Fatih, say hi to his mom Rose (one of the best cooks in Dalyan) and Aycut and his jeep, that frequently breaks down, gets our business every time. When he gives lift to random strangers and pops to see his mom when taking us on a trip, that is a bonus. The rep for my hotel invited us to his family home. The owners of Metin, the family run hotel we stay at, entrusted me with their daughters passport renewal forms. That is how we do package.

What we don’t do is lie on a sunbed, work on our tan, eat English breakfasts, drink Carlsberg and stay in the hotel complex. We catch buses and go for long walks. We get lost in thunderstorms, narrowly avoid being struck by lightning, get woken by earthquakes and run the bar for Fatih when he joins in the water polo match. And yes some days we may swim and sleep because we can. Because we are on holiday.

In Malta we got the cheapest hotel and were out all day exploring by bus. We went there to sus out whether we would want to live there. We don’t. Another package because it suited us at the time.

Our first All Inclusive was in Marrakech, which we loved. Our second in Tunisia, we hated. Before that it was usually self catered to keep the costs down and meant that I didn’t have to dress for dinner.

And that is the point. We do what we want to do. If Carlsberg and chips is your thing, good for you, enjoy. Just don’t call me a snob for choosing not to.

If sitting in a cafe as a nomadic blogger in Chiang Mai is your thing, great. Go write that book about how you travel with only one pair of knickers and flip flops. I won’t buy it.

None of us are superior to anyone, tourist or traveller or staycation lover. No, not at all. It was a digital nomad, What’s Dave Doing,  who gave me the best advice when I was planning my first big trip. Supportive and informative. He is still travelling (slowly now) and I am pretty sure he checks his bags. Dave goes home and sees his family and likes western toilets and comfortable beds, but will sleep on the floor if he has to.

Sorrento here we come

Next week Phil and I are off to Sorrento for a week. I went to Thomson Holidays, after some research on the interwebs, and booked a package holiday.

Yes I could have booked it online. I didn’t because there is only one travel agent on my high street now. Use it or lose it, be it butcher, baker or holiday maker. The staff there are lovely, remember my holiday disasters and know why I don’t do cruises.

Sorrento is a holiday. A much needed holiday after a downsizing house move, a bereavement and every other weekend visits to a hospitalised terminally ill mom/mother in law.

And I will not be taking carry on only. I am packing a posh frock, and some real shoes. I will take sandals and linen tops and trousers and jeans and shoes and as the weather is warm in the day and cool at night, some scarves and a cardie. I may even pack my trusty kagool.

Housesitting in Melbourne

In a few months we are off to Melbourne to house sit, travel in Australia a bit and then after three months there, we go to New Zealand for a month. I sketched out a plan on the back on an envelope, went to STA, and now flights are booked and not much else. I have no idea how we get from Sydney to Brisbane yet. We will work it out. That to me is travelling, a mix of part planning and part seeing what happens.

Packing light

This was my packing for Greece in 2014. A seven day unpackaged holiday, where we flew to Crete,  took a night ferry to Piraeus,  had a day in Athens and then cruised to Santorini for a couple of nights. All the others dragged their huge suitcases to their hotel and stayed in one place. At the airport on the way home I asked some of them if they had been to Knossos. They asked me what Knossos was. #sigh

I pack light. This wheeled backpack from Ikea is just over the measurements for hand luggage on most domestic flights from the UK. And while we travelled light, it was over 5kg.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Package versus DIY

Before booking the Sorrento package, as an experiment, I checked out skyscanner and various booking websites to see if I could organise a break cheaper than the package. I couldn’t. I could get cheap flights and if I had wanted to backpack in hostels, I probably could have just beaten the prices. Room only in modest hotels were around £80 per night. I could have got a 7 night all inclusive package for £600 if we had been able to go this week. We couldn’t due to work and family commitments. For less than that we have 7 nights half board and, as Sorrento is renowned for being expensive, that is good enough for me.

Spend my tourist dollar in the community

When we go to Sorrento are we going to lounge around the pool? Probably not. We will catch the train to Naples and find the pizza James Martin raves about. We may take a water taxi to Capri and explore the island. Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum at the very least. We will use public transport where we can and maybe take a trip to a farm and make pizza. The food walking tour looks fun too. I like tours, I like meeting like minded people and sharing the experience. Phil and I also like going off on our own and exploring.

What is important to me is making sure some of my tourist dollar is spent locally. Booking a package and eating only in the hotel, it isn’t. If I am AI and never leave the complex, only RIU and TUI make any cash. In most cases Thomson and Thomas Cook have bed blocked the hotel for a knock down price and the staff are paid the minimum wage.

In Malta we ate in a family run pizzeria and bought pastizzi from the pie shop. We used local buses and put our money into the economy.

This was almost impossible to do in Tunisia and boy did it need the tourist buck. Even our taxi driver worried for us when he took us to Sousse. It was a country in crisis. So sad now that those hotels, the main source of employment, lie empty.

An ex work colleague once moaned to me about her holiday in Kenya, how dirty everything was outside her hotel. She was horrified at how the locals lived and she didn’t want to see that. I explained to her that while tourism may offer the locals employment, the big hotel chains offering AI deals are in effect, stealing the business from the local small traders. And it doesn’t make any difference what the business is, holiday, retail or the coffee shop. Ask yourself why McDonald’s pop up in almost every resort and city now? Why, when in Melbourne, would you choose a Big Mac over the many wonderful burgers this city offers? Think where you spend you money, please. If you spend it with a local independent, the money stays in the community.

I do sometimes steal McDonald’s wifi though. When a bed bug ridden Maltese hotel charges for it.

Find the family business

This is why I seek family run businesses when I can when travelling. At home I choose indies over Costa and the corner shop over Tesco, Meatshack over Maccie Dees. If I stay in an AI or half board I make sure I get out to the local businesses be they cafes or tour companies and use them. For my forthcoming Australia trip I am using Aussie based tour companies and where I can, family run companies such as Melbourne Coastal Touring and West Oz Active.

Travelling with grannies and children

When the children were young, we almost always booked package holidays. It was easy, my children learned to swim in the sun, made holiday friends, and I had peace of mind. Both Phil and I had stressful jobs and all we wanted to do then was flop. We did once take our then 3-year-old daughter island hopping in Greece, with 50 something granny aka Travelling Sylvia leading the way.

Santorini post card

We found accommodation as we got off the boat. The owners held photos of their rooms for rent and took us there on the back of mopeds. Of course now we use booking apps but I still see rooms for rent signs in Greece.

Staycations can cost more than a package

I also have unpackaged holidays in the UK, using small independent Bed and Breakfast accommodation. When our Nile trip was cancelled in 2011 we took a tour around Wales and stayed in some excellent rooms. It cost nearly as much as the Nile cruise though, with food and petrol on top of the £80 or so a night accommodation.

And that is why package holidays are popular, they are mostly affordable. That is what many people want. If they have busy lives and only two weeks off to have a break, most people will probably choose what is generally a safe and predictable option for a holiday. Eat, drink, relax. And so do I, sometimes.

Yet now I have travelled more I choose packages that will offer me the adventure and independence I prefer.

We chose Sorrento because we have never been before, it offers a variety of things to see and do and because we needed a break. It was cheaper than 7 nights B&B or hiring a camper in England and I am saving my dosh for our Antipodean adventures.

The point of this post is not to praise package holidays, nor denigrate people who take them. I have friends who for environmental reasons won’t fly. My carbon footprint with three long haul flights in the past 5 years is huge. I do my best to balance this with using public transport and walking as much as possible. I don’t waste food. I turn off lights and use environmentally friendly products. I am not perfect nor strive to be.

Love them or hate them

Package holidays are like Marmite, love or hate them I suppose. But don’t think you are superior if you call yourself a traveller not a tourist. Because I will see you at Pompeii and at Knossos, at Hadrian’s Wall and on a beach in Krabi. That is what people who are interested in the world do, tourists and travellers.

I am a traveller, a tourist, a holiday maker who wants to see the world, feel the sun on her skin, taste new food, discover new places and people and return to places I love. Package holidays have made the world accessible to people who would never had left the comfort of their own back yard otherwise. Who knows, one day they may push past their comfort zone and go further, go independently and go travel. Or they may just sit by the pool and work on their tan, because that is what makes them happy. Who am I to judge?

So don’t judge me. I like package holidays. Sometimes.







Conversations at the corner cafe – Xenos my friend

The stranger

As I entered the corner café, a stranger said hello.

Saying hello to strangers is not what the British do.

I said hello back and we fell into conversation.

We discovered we had at least one person in common.

And that we both loved Greece.

We talked about other cafes in the area, how another café had told him about the corner café. The best Greek food, and where to get it, the best tapas and SE Asian food. And how Moussaka from the corner cafe had won me a day with James Martin.

We talked about afternoon tea.  How a local café turned a poor review on TripAdvisor, due to them handling it professionally, into a success and brought more customers to the café.

He recommended two places for afternoon tea, one in Edinburgh another in Bournemouth, in the Echo building. Where Bill Bryson used to work I said. Yes, that would be right, he said.

I had been thinking of following the trail of Little Dribbling as a holiday idea before I go on the next big trip. And here I am getting café recommendations. How did he know?

We agreed that Tilt needed sofas.

Our conversation – it was as if we were speaking in code. A language no one else knew or could understand. We were not intentionally excluding anyone, yet this conversation of shared experiences,  no one else in the cafe that day understood.

I told him my story of the church in Santorini. He never questioned that I was led to the spot by my mom, she chose where I was to scatter her ashes. People with faith who know the story tell me God was guiding me. I think that connections with people you love don’t end at death. I think he thought that, too.

We talked about great places to eat, how he visited islands in Greece where no one speaks English. That this was the best Stifado he had eaten outside Greece.

He needed to take his own advice and book his trip to Greece he said. Make it happen instead of talking about it.

Two hours we talked. Two strangers.

I don’t believe in coincidences.coincidence

Later that day I sat down to start working through the Life Purpose Alchemy workbook that Lisa Cherry Beaumont asked me to review.

And I thought about my conversation with the stranger.

Because when he got up to go he asked if he could give me his card. I recognised the name, he is a life coach.

The person we both know is a life coach. I told him about Lisa, my life coach and how much I had changed since being coached.

He wants to live in Greece, as do I. I thought that we may end up working together in Crete combining our talents and skills. Not knowing how.

Today in the workbook I have been working on the section where Lisa asks you to

free-write some ideas about what you could do to earn a living. Play with ideas, without restriction. Don’t worry if it sounds crazy or too “way out” – put all your ideas down and don’t limit or edit what you write. Use more paper if you need to

and I thought about that conversation with the life coach in the cafe.

How comfortable we were sharing information with each other. How defined our goals were. How we believed that anything was possible. How open we were to possibilities. How positive our language was. How we said what we thought. How we went with the flow.

It struck me that this can make some people uncomfortable. We have been conditioned to limit our self belief. From childhood. The day you sing for your teacher and don’t get chosen for the choir you stop singing, perhaps forever. You fail a test and label yourself a failure. If you are not in the ‘gifted and talented’ stream at school, you believe that you will never be gifted or talented at anything.

Two strangers, not limited by can’t. People who don’t wait for someday. Who have dreams and make plans. And put a date on it. This scares people because they like the comfort of limited self belief.

That way they can’t fail.

If there is only one bus a day, I will get it. The first ferry of the season that will get me back just in time for my flight, could be cancelled if the weather is poor, book me on it. Get on the wrong bus, fate will intervene. Telling me I can’t do something is merely laying down a challenge.

The stranger too found himself on islands with one bus a day with no one who spoke English. He discovered he could speak Greek better than he thought.

I guess that if you get on the wrong bus in Corfu, a bus full of locals with goats and chickens and not tourists with sunburn, and two minutes later the bus that gets stopped by the police as it is unsafe, you realise that it has happened for a reason. And when there just happens to be an English girl on this bus (she is teaching English in a remote village) who directs you to the right bus, you just know that things have a way of working themselves out.

Yet somewhere along the way, in between being a carefree student, and becoming a mom and getting a mortgage and jumping on the work, watch, spend treadmill, I forgot this. Instead I opted for safe choices, because that is what I believed I was supposed to do. Get a job, get a house, get married, have kids, get into debt, watch the news and get depressed. Be normal.

Don’t talk to strangers.

In Greek the word for stranger is the same as for friend.

Xenos (Greek: ξένος, xénos, plural xenoi) is a word used in the Greek language from Homer onwards. The most standard definition is “stranger”. However, the word, itself, can be interpreted to mean different things based upon context, author and period of writing/speaking, signifying such divergent concepts as “enemy” or “stranger”, a particular hostile interpretation, all the way to “guest friend”‘ one of the most hallowed concepts in the cultural rules of Greek hospitality.

In my workbook I wrote:

A social media language café, where people can learn Greek and English, life coaching, I could coach people to declutter, fulfilling my need to socialise and help people clear their lives of whatever is holding them back.

I told Lisa that going through the workbook was like playing pass the parcel and unravelling the layers to get to the prize.  The prize? A map of my life. Yet the map is a jigsaw, that still needs to be assembled. I haven’t completed all the exercises yet, I’ve unraveled the layers, found the jigsaw, now I have to build the map.

What I have discovered is that everything that I have done and everything good that has happened to me, the lovely people I have met, the crappy things and the horrid people, has made me who I am now. I needed to unravel those layers. To find my purpose. The map is a jigsaw and I can’t find my way until I put the pieces together. When I am uncomfortable it is because I have forced the wrong piece in the wrong place, as if my shoes are on the wrong feet. Sometimes pieces are missing and we have to go find them.

Or they find us.

The conversation in the corner café was a the missing piece I needed to place in the jigsaw to discover what my authentic life looks like. It is pretty much how it looked at age 23 as I got off the bus full of chickens and goats in Corfu and thanked a stranger.

I asked the life coach if I could write about our conversation.

He said yes, but only if I didn’t say he wolfed down Stifado like a wild animal. I don’t think he will mind.

Addendum 3/6/16

Recently, while in Winchester, I met a Greek bar man and talked about the word Xenos. He told me the word I was looking for was this.

Hospitality, the official English translation of ‘philoxenia‘, doesn’t do justice to the concept as it does not encompass its main element, which is generosity of spirit. The Greek noun ‘xenos’ initially meant ‘guest’, acquitting the meaning of ‘foreigner/stranger’ at a later stage.

I have recently returned from a week on Skiathos. Yes, Greece still feels like home. Never a stranger there, always a guest.




The best laid plans of mice and men

often go awry…

When this line popped into my head for the title of this post I thought I had better check out the poem it came from to make sure I was using the right quote, and in the right context. I was using an English translation as the real line is

‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley’

and it is from the poem To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough by Robert Burns.  

Given the dreadful weather, and how the storms in the UK and other parts of the world are forcing people out of their homes had also made me think more about how different people cope with disaster. And it seems that I chose the right poem to quote from as the poor mouse has lost its house in wet and windy December.

Again, in the early hours of the morning I was mulling this over and again decided just to capture my thoughts, to return to at a more civilised hour and see if they could be rearranged to make any sense.

After my post about dreaming and making plans I think I was still working out why some people choose a safe harbour and others want to cast off.


Of course the people in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cornwall who have had to leave their flooded homes, whose Christmas plans have all been changed, would do anything for stability right now. I know that. Yet all the plans made by The Environment Agency, the flood warnings, no one could have planned for a month of rainfall in one day. That Storm Frank would be hot on the heels of Storm Eva. Maybe their plans were not the best laid?

However, in life generally, I think we need to recognise that plans sometimes need changing. It is how you react and adapt to the change which is important and can affect the outcome.

Plan for the unexpected

It made me think of the few holiday ‘disasters‘ my family and I have encountered. They are nothing compared to what others have been through, and we lived to tell the tale. Our attitude now is to expect the unexpected. No one had plans for a volcano erupting in Iceland that would ground every plane across the world.

I have heard of customers complaining to travel agents about having holidays cancelled to Tunisia after the terrible shooting incident recently. My local agents, who know of our track record, told me that they had re booked people to Egypt and now have had to cancel that holiday. Their attitude was dreadful. Shouting at the agent isn’t going to change this, it is FCO advice and is for your safety.

Here’s the thing, you booked a year ago to go to Sharm and now you can’t go. Choose somewhere else. Do what I did when our Nile Cruise was cancelled in February 2011. A tour of Wales in top notch B & B’s. Had a great time. There is absolutely no use and nothing to be gained by whining about it because Egypt isn’t going to happen.

We have a choice. We can see it as a disappointment or we can just get on with it and make new plans. Yet the rigidity of some people and the feeling that the world is against them, makes it almost impossible for change to happen.

And that brings me back to why I  am a dreamer who plans. A dreamer who notices, who can let go. See what happens.

World Travel Family were due to fly to Nepal the day after the devastating earthquake. Their visas were about to expire so they had to leave India, so got the first cheap flight out of India.  They eventually ended up in Romania due to an opportunity via @WorkTraveller.  It changed their lives in a way they could not have imagined. There was never a plan to buy a house there, but they did.

Because they notice, they are adaptable, they are open, take chances, and yes Nepal is still part of their plans, it got parked. Being offered work was as Alyson, chief blogger at World Travel Family, said :

It was one of those chance happenings that changes the course of everything.

They could have said no, moped around and whinged about not being in India or Nepal. They didn’t, they said yes. And look what happened.

Their thoughts when the earthquake hit were of course of disappointment but much more than that, deep concern for the people injured, killed and displaced.

A change of plans

They changed their plans and it worked out. Sometimes we have to because something that we couldn’t plan for happens. This can be earthquakes, terrorism or illness. Or it doesn’t feel right. Your gut instinct is usually right.

My plans to drive through Europe changed when an opportunity to house sit in Melbourne arose.

My plans to sell the house and live in Crete changed when I put my sensible head on and realised that property in the UK was a good investment and we really needed a base in the UK. The fact that my house sold in 24 hours and there was no way I could get rid of all my stuff in a couple of months had some influence on this. Oh and I didn’t want to make my son homeless either.

My Life Coach quite rightly challenged me to justify this change of plans. It was with her I had identified what I wanted my life to look like,and I was veering right off track. All the reasons for the changes were rock solid. Phil and I love Melbourne. The house move and downsizing was the right thing to do.

We are going back to Australia in 2016  and then plan to rent somewhere in Crete for the autumn. And maybe buy a house.

As it happens, taking off to some sunny place a thousand miles away just right now wouldn’t have been practicable as a family matter that needs urgent attention, in person, has arisen. We need to be on hand, to make decisions, tough ones. And support others through those choices.

A safe harbour isn’t a bad thing

I’ve realised that it’s ok to have a safe harbour. As have many other much more experienced travellers than I have discovered.

I read many blogs about couples and families who have sold all their stuff, travelled non stop for a couple of years, then became slow travellers and then got a base. Plans can change, people change, circumstances change. But in most cases although they have bases, they have not settled, not in the conventional way. Living in a basic house with a wood fired stove in a Romanian village is not the same as living in a big house on The Gold Coast. Living in a small village in Spain writing romance novels and running decluttering workshops is not the same as living in an American suburb and working 40 hours a week in a cubicle.

Both these families still travel. They still cast off and leave their safe harbour.The houses they have bought represent the people they are now, not who they were. They have few possessions and live a simpler life. And are healthier and happier.

For others, it is the right place for them to be – they are are at a different stage of their lives right now. They still cast off occasionally, or are on another journey. and that is just fine too.

Unconventional? Dropping out, modern day hippies?

Yes, that is what the non dreamers say. Not not conforming somehow translates to not facing responsibilities, not contributing to society.It scares the shit out of those living normal lives. I don’t do normal or The Right Thing. What is the Right Thing apart from what someone else thinks you should do? I do take responsibility for my actions, for my decisions and still pay taxes. And I pretty much conform too.

Yet there are people who know that there is a different way of living. They took the path less travelled by. The one I have taken.

And that has made all the difference.

There is a choice


Meanwhile the commuting workers will return to the office next week, full of dread getting back on the Work, Watch, Spend Treadmill. People worried about the bills because they went overboard with food drink and gifts this Christmas. People who believe that it’s not possible to change their lives, this is how it is, we work, eat, sleep and pay the bills. That’s life.




Travelling Sylvia – what my mother did on her holiday 3

Today my mom would have been 84. To say she lived life to the full would be an understatement. She raced through life eager to cram as much as possible into her 81 years, at full speed into everything. Perhaps that is why she ended up with Eddie Molver.

This is him in 1948. Riding the Wall of Death.

And this is Mom in the early to mid 50’s I think with Dad at the TT races on the Isle of Man.

Family photo with my dadOur family went on many holidays, either in rented houses or caravans, usually to Tenby. Often there would be as many of 20 of us as my cousins would bring their friends. We would all pile out of the assortment of vehicles, from Mini Vans to Land and head for the beach.

Here I am with Mom at Tenby, I think this is 1960.

Once she was on her own, and then later with her partner Stan, she got more adventurous. After I had travelled to Greece, she decided to get a passport and go a little bit further than Tenby. On her first solo journey to Greece she met a man and had a holiday romance. After that she mainly travelled to Greece with her sister in law. Finding her diaries of those travels recently made me realise how much she loved that country. So much so this was where I scattered her ashes, on her beloved Santorini.

But back to the adventurous Sylvia.As I said she lived her life on full throttle. Had no fear.

Go up in a microlight over Dalyan, and take photos? Yes she did.

Travel to Thailand and visit the river Kwai. Get into cages with a tiger. Yup both of those. Now I have to say it was A. Unwise to get into a cage with a tiger and B. I totally do not agree with tigers being used as a tourist photo opportunity like this. But this is what she did, act first think later.

On a sledge in Bulgaria, the year she ran away from the family at Christmas.

A random scooter, yes I will just go and sit on it. This Is what she did.

Happy birthday, Mom.


The storm will pass

While going through letters – travel memories and discoveries made

The house move is imminent and the cupboard full of letters, cringeworthy teenage diaries and my school books and reports. Memories, good and bad. They have to be tackled.

Hurricane Katy is still blowing everything around, and the news is full of gloom so I decided that this could be the day to do this job.

It is harder than the photos. They took a long time, but I was prepared for the task and knew most were duplicates. The letters, they are a challenge. My mother kept every letter I had ever sent to her. Every postcard. I kept all the letters she sent to me. Every letter my school friends sent. Telling stories of romance, marriage, motherhood, divorce, bereavement. And they have to go. This was the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and then we hand wrote pages and pages, sharing our ups and downs to our closest friends. Now everything is posted daily on Facebook.

Mom keeping everything from her travels and labelling them in shoe boxes. So do I.

I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about Obsession this week. The link to it is here but will only be available until mid December 2015. During the programme they talked about Charles Darwin, his anxiety, insomnia and his passion for collecting things. Cataloging and naming – feeding a system against loss. His great-great granddaughter Ruth Padel wrote The Miser, a poem about this obsession for collecting. Organised, cataloged stuff, is still clutter.

I have old tickets and leaflets to remind me of my travels. Just like Mom.

My first airline ticket. and ID to go to Austria, skiing in 1974 I didn’t have a passport then.

A cabin card from 1971. My first time abroad, to Norway. My school organised a several trips, Norway, Germany, Austria, and my mom worked hard to save up the money so that I could go. Thanks Mom. Sowing the seeds of a life of travel.

Yet every bit of paper has a story to tell.  Like this one.

On Saturday 11 August 1979 I watched The Trojan Women by Euripides being performed in the Ancient Theatre of Epidavros. A play I had studied at school. That 14 year old schoolgirl never imagined in her wildest dreams that one day she would visit Greece see the play in an ancient theatre in Greece. A wet week in Weston in a caravan was her highlight.

I can remember that day as clear as if it were last week. As I had studied the play at school,  I was explaining the plot to my fellow travellers.

Later we went to a taverna where nearly all the other customers were soldiers, who kept sending us wine. Afterwards we went to the beach in the VW camper and had a disco, and almost got arrested. We did have to go to the police station. Fortunately the Greek people we were with, Penny and Antony Marinos, were children of someone important in the government (their parents had met when they were spies in WW2) so all charges against the driver and owner of the VW were dropped. I crawled into the nearest fishermans boat at 2 am to finally get to sleep. It was 1979. I was a student and this was Greece.

School also sowed the seeds of wanderlust. My geography folders were full of tales of travel and tea growing.

I never imagined I would go to a country where I would see people picking tea. But I have.

I dreamed big and it happened. And now the past has been revisited I am ready to let go. Ready for the future. New journeys to make and new people to meet.


Just looked up the Greek family I stayed with in Kifissia Athens – I found the family name on some notes I had made. Marinos. Turns out their father was a bit of a war hero in Special Ops. Themistocles Marinos. He was involved in Operation Harling. An academic, and advisor to the UN and Deputy General Manager of the State Railways too. I remember his wife more than him.

I recall that they kept cold water in a Gordons Gin bottle and had very green lawns in their very elegant villa in the suburbs. The bravest are often the most humble. May also explain why the family were involved in a parachuting scene in James Bond movies……. although I cannot find any links to this. Yet.

I then looked up Penny and found more about the family. I remember the mother telling us she was writing a book about the aubergine. Prospero’s Kitchen. Seems this has been relaunched, how exciting.

All this from sorting through old letters! And yes, some of this pile, the memories that have made me smile, are coming to the new house.




Unclutter my life – stop holding onto stuff ‘just in case’

I am downsizing. Big time. From a sprawling 3 storey, 6 bed Edwardian townhouse to a 2 bed Victorian terrace.

There will be nowhere to hide anything that is not useful, very little room for anything that is beautiful, so the stuff has to go. As William Morris said:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

The useful have been culled (no one needs 10 frying pans) the beautiful will be curated (too many dust gathering, useless ornaments and too many pictures that don’t reflect my taste). The Poole Biscuit Barrel met both beautiful and useful criteria so will come to the new house with us. The rest, donated.

Phil, my husband, and I emptied the attic a couple of weeks back and it was truly shocking what crap we had hidden in there. This week we tackled the cellar. Surely the damp, empty cellar would not hold any horrors.

It did. I knew the top box for the car was there (which we have used twice) and the Brio train track (there for 15 years plus) but not the unopened packs of insulation material that were in the attic when we moved here 17 years ago. There were empty plastic bottles we were saving to make a greenhouse. Straight into the recycling. Soggy cardboard boxes. Empty bags that coal had been delivered in. An old light fitting and an old tv stand. To the tip. Our 8th visit to the recycling centre.

Then I found the Lego

Star Wars and Indiana Jones Lego. Plus some odd bits from my youth. Gathering damp dust.

I have soaked it and scrubbed it. And found a new home for it.

Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago? Because I was hiding it in the cellar, holding onto stuff,  just in case.

I have been shocked at the amount of stuff that I have found while decluttering.  

Stuff that me, my husband and our son (to a lesser extent) have held onto. Just in case. Why did we do this?

It might be valuable

Oh the things we hold onto because they might be valuable. Check if it is valuable and if it is, decide whether you like it. If it fits neither criteria set down by William Morris, sell it.

I found some Turkish, never worn, gold jewellery amongst my mother’s vast jewellery collection. This did not meet the Morris criteria and so it was sold. The proceeds paid for a holiday for Phil and I. We went to Santorini where we scattered her ashes as she had requested.

I also found numerous £5 and 5 shilling coins. They were gifts from grannies and they lay around in various drawers. Taking up space, gathering dust like most unwanted gifts. My husband wanted to hold onto them because they may be valuable. I showed him this. They are not legal tender and they sell for very little on ebay. Let Acorns have the money.

It might come in useful someday

A dangerous word. Someday. If someday is code for never that stuff you are keeping will never be used and is dust gathering, space stealing clutter.

I have spent 3 years decluttering this house. Is that what you want to do? Is that what you want for your kids? Think about it for a moment. Is your clutter the legacy you want to leave for your children? They will thank you if you start clearing your stuff now. This is what has motivated me the most on this journey, that my children will not have to go through what I did when my mother died.

If in doubt, apply the 20/20 rule.

Anything we get rid of that we truly need, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from our current location.

The Minimalists

The Minimalists are a major influence in my approach to decluttering. They influenced the choice of house that I am moving to (no room to hide that clutter) and enabled me to let go of stuff.

Of course there are other reasons we hold onto stuff.

Sentimental reasons

Old letters

I recently found some letters from a close friend who I don’t see enough of. This person, 15 years ago, was going through a dreadful time. And BF, before Facebook, we wrote letters to off load. And we held on to them. The letters made me sad.  I threw them away as they were just reminders of bad times. They were the past. I can’t change that, but I can help that person now. In the present and in the future.






Childhood toys

I kept two teddies, one was mine and had belonged to my aunt, so is 60 something years old. The other is small and was a favourite of my son. the cot blankets were sent to charity, the old and forgotten Cabbage Patch Doll which was my daughters, discarded.

Thomas and friends. Held onto for 16 years. Just in case. Now being played with by the grandchildren of an old school friend. Loved and used toys. Not dust gathering space stealers.

Bionicle. Eventually let go by my son, who caught the decluttering bug. Held onto for years because they cost a lot of money to buy. Former dust gatherers and space stealers donated to Acorns and sold the day they went on display. £50 in the till for a charity.

Old diaries

I found one and as I read it it, I sobbed. Do I want to hold onto sad memories? No, I don’t. As for my teenage ones, cringeworthy and funny. Useful material when I was the parent of a teenage daughter. She is a grown woman now. It is going to be tough but they will go. So cringeworthy they will not be shared anywhere. May have to set them on fire.


I recently threw several thousands of photos away. It was a much needed thing to do that I had been putting off because many of them were my mothers. I can almost hear you gasp with horror.

You threw away photos, how could you? All those memories.

Many were duplicates, poor quality, or no reflection of what my life is now. The rule was that if I wouldn’t display them on the wall, why keep them? I kept the best, the happy ones.

I still have the memories. They are in my head, not on a piece of paper.

The kids artwork/cards

Photographed, blogged about, and recycled. I have kept a few items, yet I think once the move is over I will realise that more will have to go.

Decluttering is therapy

Going through the boxes has been very therapeutic. Discovering old photos that capture the family having good times together and love letters sent to Mom has reminded me of what I have. A past that shapes my future. A loving family. If it brought back an unhappy moment it was discarded.

My stuff defines who I am

I held onto books from my undergraduate days for over 30 years. I bought books, asked for books for gifts, kept all the books I bought the children. Both mine and my husbands childhood books were on shelves unread for decades and gathering dust. I have now reduced my book collection from 4 bookcases to 4 shelves on 1 bookcase. Two were selected to be made into unique artwork (beautiful) the rest have gone to friends and charity.

This shocked many people who know I love my books, who love their books.

How can you?

Because they no longer define who I am.

I am not the 19 year old student studying Bronte and Dickens. The print in those books was far to small for my older eyes. They are on Kindle. For free. I now borrow not buy. Libraries are my source for other printed books. Although the new Bill Bryson may just creep in.


Hundreds of cookbooks I never use (most recipes are online now).

Books gathering dust. I kept a few cookbooks that I use regularly.

I kept some travel books, Bill Bryson mostly, as I re read these often.

Childhood favorites from the 50’s and 60’s and a couple from the 30’s. Not valuable, but beautiful. These will be made into 3D pictures that will hang in my new house.

Self help books too. Having reaped the benefits of life coaching, I now found these are useful resources.

They all define who I am, now. Not who I used to be. And that is what decluttering has done for me, helped me define the authentic me. I am letting  go of the past. Planning a future for the person I am now. I have a vision.

A person who will not spend her life on the 9 to 5 treadmill, who will not be spending her free time cleaning a cluttered house. I will be a person who who writes and travels. Who inspires others to declutter. Living my authentic life. Life after normal.






Travelling Sylvia – what my mother did on holiday 2

I promised photos of tigers and microlights. Well you will have to wait because while I went searching for those I found love letters from a Greek man called Nikos.

She met him on a ferry to Rhodes in 1980.

He couldn’t write in English so he got his friends to write the letters for him.  Some he wrote himself in Greek.

Mom did tell me she had met a man on holiday. I was, at 20, too wrapped up in my own life to take much notice so I didn’t know about the letters. He wanted her to go to Canada with him. He mentions me and getting married so these letters were exchanged for at least three years. Why didn’t she go? I don’t know. Perhaps all she wanted was a holiday fling. As far as I know from the day my father walked out on us in 1966 to then she had not dated another man. She was in her early 50’s,  teaching and not really earning a lot of money. I guess, It would have been a big risk. Instead she met Stan and settled for semi detached suburbia and safe.Mom as an usherette

The girl who ran away to London to be an actress chose safe.

But not too safe. She and Stan did lots of other trips over the years, and Mom went back to Greece regularly with her sister-in-law, Brenda. I found accounts of these trips in some notes that were in one of the boxes of photos. All in long hand, it was her blog. Not being able to get a decent cup of tea features frequently. She documents every meal and refers to her photos of food a lot. I am so much more like my mother than I thought.

When she went to Santorini in 1987 Phil and I took her and Brenda to Gatwick. Of course this was when we lived in Croydon. I had forgotten that.  Later on, when she is talking about food and being ill she writes:

Brenda felt ill and tired, .. thought it was due to hunger as she insisted she hadn’t had a proper meal since Lowestoft.

Mom goes on to say, as if to prove a silent point to Brenda (she did that and not always silently)

…we’d had Chilli Con Carne at Corals,  Ravioli on the plane.  sugar buns we had packed at Croydon plus cheese and salad rolls, toasted sandwich on the boat and a fruit salad earlier

There are two pages about what they had eaten, the nature of the illness and that there was no water in the toilet or wash basin. Once Brenda had recovered they went to their usual breakfast place and had bacon and eggs. And a cup of tea. Just in case they got hungry later she put two peaches in her bag.

My mom and her handbag. She carried everything in it and there was always emergency food in it. Usually leftovers from the night before. In a plastic container.

Reading them has been a joy. It is as though she is here with me telling me about her trip. Every detail, the best loos and every cup of tea, the bread.

Like ET, she was obsessed with phoning home. I remember when we were on holiday with her, the first thing she looked for was where the OTE was.

Got up early and went to phone Stan. Waited from 7.30 (in case of a queue)  till 8 for OTE (telephone) to open. Met a Greek who was also waiting, talked about the time, the island, dogs and the fact that I was going to phone my ‘husband – just a casual chat (he had his worry beads) and why my husband had not come with me. Got through to Stan first time (£3)

Another time, while on the boat to Paros that she had had to arise early for, she records how she and Brenda got their revenge on their noisy neighbours:

Hard to believe we had hardly any sleep last night – noises all night, we had giggles, just wished we hadn’t got to get up this morning. When we did at 7 o’clock we started singing, whistling and banging our door as loud as we could still laughing and giggling.

As I read the account of her time in Santorini, I find a reference to her purchasing this. Glad I kept it.Santorini post card

It saddens me that she never got to write the book she said she wanted to write. The details she has gone into with these notes, the people she met,

I am just reading about Stephanie, the glamorous women who they met at Gatwick.

We both thought her one of the most beautiful woman – what we would both like to look like. Tallish, slimmish, grey fuzzy hair round her face and a plait up the back and on top. She wore a denim skirt, black mules and had lovely eyes, skin and face. Oh well we can’t win them all.

My mom was glamorous – she had been an actress and a model in the 50’s and even in her later years what she wore was important to her.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At first I thought Stephanie and her husband took Mom and Brenda under their wings as they did not have a clue how to get to the port or where they were going. As I read on and realised they were going to Karistos I remembered the house she didn’t buy in Evia.

Monday 9th May 1984

Brenda was up first and I had a cup of tea in bed. Too late to phone Stan at 9.30, he’d be in too much of a rush anyway. We went shopping for bread and bought a French roll for a picnic and put a pretty crusty loaf in the fridge for breakfast tomorrow. We took lettuce, cream cheese, apple and tomato plus some pure orange juice from a big carton transferred to our small wine bottles off the plane. Brenda really had kept them for water for painting and set off for ‘The Red Castle’ or castle Rosso.

She was well prepared for one of her walks. I can just picture her now in her sandals, hat and big bag, planning the trek up some hill and getting lost.

With us trailing behind her.


Travelling Sylvia – what my mother did on holiday

I am still wading through the pile of photographs, both mine and my mothers. Hundreds of them, mostly being thrown away before we move house.  Mom kept all hers in labelled shoe boxes. Duplicates and bad photos. Stored for decades and never shared. Organised clutter.

Occasionally I find ones with real significance. To discover that Mom had taken a photo of a church, that years later I chose as a place to scatter her ashes, was moving and very comforting.

Santorini church

And then there are the ones that make me smile. The ones that capture her personality, the things she did on her holiday. The maddening things and the silly things, that remind me of her and of happy times.

My mother liked to go on holiday. She was a school teacher, in the days when a six week holiday was a holiday for teachers too. She took full advantage of those extended holidays.

Mom often went on a whim, and travelled solo often.

One Christmas, when this celebration was still a big deal for me, she announced she was going to Bulgaria, to a ski resort.

And had Christmas dinner with strangers.

Watching people ski.

Wearing appropriate ski resort wear.

Having her picture take with characters.

And riding on fast things.

Then there was the time she went to Croatia just after the war for independence. And Turkey, always by herself and always making friends. mom 1

Turkey – getting muddy.

She went to Greece a lot, usually with her sister in law, Brenda. Brenda was a carer for her husband, who had MS, so this was a welcome break for her.

One year they went to Tunisia.

They did like dressing up.

And riding Camels.

She generously took me and my family on holiday too. I am glad I have those memories and will be keeping these photos of happy times.

Even when she took us long walks and we got lost.

In Spring 2011 I went to Dalyan with my husband. Mom hadn’t come because she was struggling to get  travel insurance due to her illness. We had been there a day when I got a text from my son.

nan says she will meet you in the market on sat

As I said she did things on a whim.

Our last holiday together was in 2011.  I booked a lovely house overlooking the river at Fowey, with a balcony where she could people watch.My mom enjoying the peace and quiet

This is what my mom did on holiday.

She also climbed into cages with tigers in Thailand and went on a micro light plane in Dalyan, not found those photos yet. Look out for part two.