Sharing my love of Greece…

Letter 81

Spectacular nature and pristine beaches you can discover. Tiny intimate villages and whitewashed towns and cities. Friendly people who sound angry whenever they speak Greek. Eating 2€ gyros and calamari for every meal. Watching sunsets. Crystal water. History. Architecture.

I love Greece.

Maybe you’ll understand some of my love of this wonderfully diverse country through reading this letter.

Since I first set foot in Greece when I was 7 years old, I have loved it. Even at such a young age, holidaying with my parents, the country and it’s people captured my heart. Since my first visit I have returned time and time again and I consider it home. It sounds strange, but after I stayed for 6 weeks and became part of a small community, I will always consider it a place I am welcome.

Kefalonia

The beautifully quiet island of Kefalonia was my first experience of Greece. Back in 2004, Athen held the Olympics and this little slice of paradise was left almost empty for us to explore. We stayed in the resort of Kateleios which sits on the south of the island. I actually know very little about Kefalonia as an island, because I was so young when we went, but I believe this is a pretty quiet spot. I remember the beach being pebbly and there were lots of dirt tracks lined with trees. It had beautiful imperfections. Nearby was the more perfect Scala. Of course this brings more people. The village is quaint and pretty and the beach is beautiful. The whole island is a serene paradise that flies under the radar and remains relatively untouched by masses of tourists. It’s mountainous with a coastline that winds around little coves. I would love to explore this island now that I’m older and can appreciate it more. It’s been a whole 12 years since I went.

Kefalonia view

Colourful Greece

Kefalonia Taverna

Classic taverna

Kefalonia Village

Village at the foot of the landscape

Crete

The next island I found myself on was 4 years later, when I was 11, and my family and I went to Crete with my best friend. I remember it being an incredibly fun holiday because we stayed at a really great all inclusive hotel which tonnes of entertainment. In all honestly, that would be my worst nightmare now, but I loved it back then. We stayed in Agia Pelagia which is right in the middle of the north side of the huge island, near Heraklion. At the time I had no idea how large Crete really was, but now I realise how much this island has to offer. Again, I need to get back to Crete and spend time travelling around, because there is so much to see. I remember going on a boat trip to the island Spinalonga and hating every second of it. It was all about history and the leper colony and I found it very boring. I hate myself for not caring about it now, because I would love to revisit it. How times change? I do remember not liking it as much as Kefalonia because it wasn’t as green and where we stayed was a much more generic holiday resort. It didn’t feel Greek which, even at 11 years old, I knew I loved.

Crete beach

Sparkling water

Crete landscape

A hot and hazy view

Kos

My third trip to Greece came in 2011, at age 14. Again, my mum and I jetted off with my best friend (new best friend now, but this one was real because we’re still fabulously close) and also with some other friends of ours. I believe this is the one where the true traveller in me began to make an appearance. I pretty much planned the whole trip, did research on the country and even made a booklet to take with me with all the information I’d gathered about what to do and where to go. I haven’t changed since. We had an absolute whale of a time and I completely loved the island of Kos. The town was beautiful and the landscape was even better. We did lots of day drips around the island and to other islands, and I feel like I really did get to know the place. I think it’s the perfect island – lots to do, see and experience whilst also being peaceful and quintessentially Greek. I think it has changed a lot over the years, mainly due to refugees, but I hope it has kept it’s charm and beauty.

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Harbour in Kos Town

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Ruins in the town

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Stunning in Tigaki, where we stayed

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Waking up for sunrise is the best activity

Skiathos

Oh, Skiathos. You absolute beauty. My mum and I came here in 2014 and stayed for a blissful 2 weeks on the island. Hotel Marina, in Kolios, was wonderful and I would recommend it. The location is perfect as it’s right in the middle of the south of the island. A bus runs the whole length from Skiathos Town to Koukounaries, stopping at all of the towns and beaches. It only takes 30 minutes because it’s such a tiny island. There are so many lovely beaches to explore, not to mention the town which is really beautiful. I really enjoyed Skiathos and think it’s pretty perfect. I think I’ll do a full letter about Skiathos because I could honestly go on for hours about this little Aegean gem.

SKiathos town water

Stunning Skiathos Town

Skiathos headland

Rugged landscape

Skiathos Lalaria

Famous white-pebbled Lalaria beach

Skiathos crystal water

Crystal clear water

Skiathos town

Colourful town

Athens

Now, we come to my most recent trip to Greece. The capital. I came to Athens in 2015 before starting my volunteering with turtles. This city is special. It is very different to any city in the world and deserves some serious time to be spent here. I already have a couple of really detailed letters about Athens, so I’ll just leave a few pictures here for you.

I loved Athens   |   I loved Athens… again

Athens and ruins

Ruins and the city

Athens Acropolis

Star of the show in the sunset

Athens from Lycabettes Hill

View over the white metropolis

Athens from the rock

Athens

Athens Parliament

Syntagma Square

Peloponnese

Finally, we come to the reason I consider Greece as my home. The beautiful area that I lived in for 6 weeks and have been dying to get back to ever since. The second I finish my degree this is where I’m running off to. Koroni is a tiny town in this Greek region on the mainland. It’s about 5 hours from Athens in an area which really isn’t that popular with tourists – so get out there! Again, I’ve already written about this haven, so if you’d like to hear more, click below. Otherwise, enjoy a couple of photos.

I fell in love   |   I found turtle tracks   |   I volunteered for sea turtles: all the info

Koroni beach

Deserted beach near Koroni

Koroni Sunset

Sunset in Koroni

Pelopponese beach and castle

Methoni beach and castle

Pelopponese waterfall

Polylimnio Waterfalls

I really hope you’ve enjoyed this letter, I loved going back through (very old) photos and writing about some of my favourite places. Greece truely is a magical place.

Have a great day everyone!

From Lou

About Me

PS. Here’s a couple more photos of Greece you may enjoy…

Greece crystal blue waterGreece swansGreece Cats

I loved Athens… again

Letter 13

 Returning to Athens a second time (after only 6 weeks), I immediately felt at home. In this letter I will continue to tell about the things I did in this charming city.

The 1st part of this is here.

On the day I returned I had one thing on my agenda. Find food. I wanted to conserve my money for when I flew out to Italy, so I was in search of a supermarket. I might just be stupid, but it took so long to find one! They must not have many food shops in the centre because I looked everywhere! I eventually found one, but I went on a little adventure first. I just headed north of my hostel and walked until I got lost. I ended up finding some lovely areas with stunning architecture, large squares and even some ruins preserved in the centre of a square.

After lying on a beach for 6 weeks I began to miss it quickly. But no worries – Athens has an answer for that! I took the metro down to Elliniko beach with a plan to just relax. The metro is easy to navigate and at the other end you just have to catch a shuttle and get off wherever you want. I was very impressed with the beach considering it was so close to the city. However I went on a Sunday so it was packed. When I arrived at the beach I just walked for a while, following the endless sandy beaches and finding small cafes as well as large hotels on my way. I found a quiet stretch of beach eventually and slept for a while in the shade. It’s a nice break from the city if you have the time.

For my final day in Athens, I actually spent it away from Athens. Although I love the city, I had seen everything and wanted to check out where else I could go. I headed to Pireus, Athens’ port (once again, on the wonderful metro). I liked Pireus. It was very big and quite industrial, but with beautiful mountains as a backdrop. Quite bizarre really. Essentially, I wanted to find out what islands I could visit cheaply in a day, and also how much it is to get to other islands, for future reference. Aegina is one of the closest, and the one I chose to visit. It’s also quite big and with a decent amount to explore in a day. Shamefully, I can’t actually remember how much it was – but I’m almost certain it was 10€ return on the ferry.

When I got to the island I went for a walk, following the coastline. In hindsight I wish I had planned a proper route and walked further. Instead I got a bit afraid I might get lost in the middle of nowhere as I was on my own. I walked for a couple of hours and then headed back through small villages further inland. I actually thought it was a very pretty island and would love to spend a sleepy few days there. When I got back to the main town I stopped for a drink on the harbour, which was horrendously overpriced, but offered a good view. In the town there are some pretty churches and a little further is an archaeological site which is really interesting to visit, but was closed off when I was there. All around the coast are stunning beaches not to be missed. I relaxed for a while on a quiet shaded one I found hiding around the corner from the ruins. I enjoyed my day on Aegina very much and only hope I can visit again and see more of the island. I’m also dying to get to Poros and Spetses at some point as well! I just couldn’t justify the ferry prices for a day trip.

The 6 weeks I spent away from Athens was in Koroni volunteering. I wanted to quickly just mention how I got there and therefore the buses you can take from Athens. To get to Koroni you have to get a bus to Kalamata and then a bus to Koroni (there is one line daily at 7am which goes straight there). The whole trip takes 5-6 hours. Along the way there are loads of stops which have some really interesting things to see, and I wish I had stopped off! If you are staying in Athens for a while, you might want to take a bus trip out of the city. It’s really cheap – 27.50€ – and that’s for the whole 6 hour trip. The journey itself is absolutely stunning as it takes you through the mountains and farmland of mainland Greece. It is so beautiful.

One stop you could consider is Corinth. This is an ancient city with beautiful ruins and also a canal which splits the mainland and technically makes the Peloponnese region an island. You could also stop in Tripoli which is a city surrounded by mountains. It’s these places where you’ll find real Greek life going on around you and there are archaeological sites to visit nearby. Further away you have Kalamata. This is a really lovely city with a lot to offer, and great places nearby. It will take about 5 hours to reach from Athens, and cost 22.50€, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you have a few days or a week to spare. It also has an airport where there are daily flights from Gatwick I believe. From Kalamata the Southern Peloponnese can be reached and this is a truly wonderful underrated place. I will certainly be returning.

This is a letter I wrote about Koroni.

I hope you enjoyed this letter,

From Lou

About Me

I loved Athens

Letter 12

The winding streets, the monumental ruins, the friendly people, the endless markets; this whitewashed city completely captivated me.

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I met so many people on my travels last year that strongly disliked Athens and as much as I understood their arguments, I disagreed. So today I’d like to share my argument. I spent about 5 days in total in Athens and I’m going to tell exactly why it’s one of my favourite cities I have visited.

I arrived in Athens late at night. It was my first stop on my first solo trip. I surprised myself by finding it relatively easy to navigate the metro system, and Athens surprised me by how nice it was. Far nicer than the London underground I was used to. It took only 30 minutes to get to Monastiraki Square, and I knew the place I was staying was nearby. I was so excited to finally be there – in a city that both of my parents loved and had fond memories of. The truth is, I loved it before I even arrived. The Acropolis was lit up way above the bustling square. It takes your breath away. I walked along countless streets of restaurants trying to entice me, and markets about to shut away for the night. Some people I met found the Greeks slightly annoying or even rude for trying to get you into their shops or restaurants. I’ve never found this. It’s their livelihood, they have every right. Instead I found it quite charming and felt as if I already had friends in this new city. I’m always polite to people who talk to me; and I like to greet them in their own language. After a while I found my hostel and fell straight to sleep.

I could go on about my hostel at this point, by I’ve already written a page about it. If you’re interested in what I think is a pretty fab hostel please read this.

The next morning I planned to go on the free walking tour – and boy am I glad I did! You can’t beat being shown around a new city by a local. Our guide was so genuine and relaxed and let us go at whatever pace we wanted, and leave the tour whenever. He told us countless stories about his home and listened to ours about our homes. He first of all took us around the back streets near Monastiraki which were covered in Graffiti. He explained how this artistic expression is almost as old as the city. Travellers and locals alike will complain about it but actually its characterful and unique to Athens. It’s different and I really quite enjoyed wondering the vanadalised streets. He then took us up through the historical neighbourhood of Plaka. It rises up through tiny houses and restaurants, alleyways and gardens, up towards Filopappou Hill which eventually becomes Acropolis Hill. The huge expanse of greenery and hills encompasses so many monuments and beautiful views of the city.

We walked up to the Acropolis and onto a popular hill for a view of Athens. Some people left here but I stuck with it and walked with the guide and some other travellers towards our hostel. We walked through market streets and the guide gave us tips on things to do and see in Athens. He was so very helpful and affected my time in Athens very much.

Later that day, on advice from the guide I took a walk up another hill. Lycabettus Hill. It’s 300m above sea level and gives stunning views and also the peace and quiet that I desired at this point. I won’t lie; it took me an age to find it. I walked much further than I needed to and eventually turned back and found it no problem. There was of course a very obvious sign that I had missed. I enjoyed the long walk though, because the further out of the centre you go; the more of real Athens you see. You can walk up the hill or you can get the cable car. I chose the car because I’d been walking all day and to be honest I thought I’d probably just get lost again. When I eventually made it to the top I thought it was truly wonderful. The views were absolutely stunning and at this point  realised how hard it would be to beat Athens.

It was a busy day but after a gyros for dinner, I took a stroll back up to the Acropolis to watch the sunset. Second to sunrise, it’s my favourite time of day, and here it did not disappoint. The rock was busy but it didn’t take away from the peacefulness I felt watching the sun disappear into the hills in the distance. Beautiful.

The next day I decided it was time to pay the Acropolis a proper visit. The architecture was completely captivating, especially for a budding architecture student. The only thing I didn’t like was the crowds. Obviously it’s a huge attraction so I had expected nothing less, but when I go again, it won’t be in the height of summer. One regret I have is that I hadn’t researched this incredible collection of buildings more before I visited them. After studying history of architecture on my course for a year now, I appreciate it so much more. I must go back!

After the Acropolis I went in the (very modern) Acropolis Museum. It’s really incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around and learning more about the history of the buildings I had just seen. It’s one of the best museums I have ever been to and this actually shocked me! It’s also free for students (as is entry to the Acropolis).

I still had the afternoon to spare and didn’t have anything planned so I decided just to walk. I ate back at the hostel and then made my way down the line of shops and street vendors towards Syntagma Square which is overlooked by the incredible grand Parliament. I sat and read in the sun and watched Athens walk by. It was so spacious and even though it was bustling with people, it was very relaxing.

I walked around by the Parliament building and came across a beautiful park, actually called the National Gardens. I had seen it on the map but hadn’t planned to visit. It was full of tree lined paths, and flowers and bushes. There were plenty of benches and again I took the chance to immerse myself in my kindle. This was one of my favourite parts of Athens.

At the end of the park, as you are walking towards the Acropolis standing high and proud up above you, is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The free entry enticed me in and it was really incredible. I only stumbled across it, but I am so glad I did! There were hardly any people there, but it was wonderful. The photos will describe it better than I ever could, but it is a must see.

That evening I took a walk along the road that wraps around the Acropolis. It comes alive in the evening when it’s full of stalls and buskers. My photos are blurry by I have some from the daytime!

For 2 days in Athens I saw a lot. I enjoyed it so much and it made me very excited to go back. I stayed in Athens again after 6 weeks volunteering, which I will tell you about in my next letter.

Stay Tuned..

From Lou

About Me

PS. Please give Athens a chance, you might love it.

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Round up of the things I did:

Nighttime wander around Monasiraki

Walking Tour

Lycabettus Hill

Sunset on the rock

Acropolis

Acropolis Museum

Syntagmma Square

National Gardens

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Dionysiou Areopagitou (road around Acropolis)

I volunteered for sea turtles: all the info

Letter 8

As you may know from previous posts, I spent 6 weeks volunteering last summer (2015). I did this with the charity Archelon on their project in Koroni.

It was the best experience, and I could not recommend it enough to anyone who wants to travel and become part of a really worthwhile project for even a short amount of time. So in this post I will tell you the following:

  • Why I recommend Archelon
  • How much it costs
  • What you will do

 

WHY?

Thousands of travelers take part in volunteering every year, and here’s why. You get to meet loads of people and really get to know them, you can live cheaply for a period of time as you’re not moving, you get to make a difference to the place you are volunteering in and it’s really fun! The problem? Most people that volunteer do this through a travel company who take a lot of money from you.

The reason I am a huge advocate for Archelon is because they are a CHARITY. They are not a business. The money you have to give them goes straight into getting the projects up and running, supporting them throughout the summer and paying for the rescue centre in Athens for injured turtles. It is an honest charity that really does make a difference and that’s why I chose to volunteer with them.

 

HOW MUCH?

Once you have applied for Archelon and are accepted – and they accept pretty much anyone never fear – you have to pay the participation fee. Basically this covers admin stuff, as well as your t-shirt and insurance (so not an unreasonable cost as insurance can be high). It also, as I said, goes into running these projects.

  • 150€ (£120)

ACCOMMODATION: You will be camping. The price differs for each project* but is generally 5-6€ per night. So if you were volunteering for 6 weeks:

  • 230€ (£180)

*You’ll need to do your research for different sites, some include all costs (food and accommodation) in the participation fee (Zakynthos do this).

FOOD: My favourite part. As part of the volunteering team you all shop together and take it in turns to cook. As a result it is really cheap. It said on the website for my project to allow 25€ but we paid 15€ more often than not. Obviously you’ll want snacks and because our project was in a town we ate waffles. A lot. And gyros.

  • 120€ +100€ waffle allowance (£175)

So they are the main costs with a total of €600 (£475). For 6 weeks. And as that includes the waffle allowance, it’s not a bad way to live for a month and a half. Not to mention you make a huge difference to the charity – the most important part.

 

WHAT?

On the projects You’ll get to do a variety of jobs and I thought I would just list the main ones to give you an idea of what life is like.

  • MORNING SURVEY: The beach were managed in Koroni was called Zaga beach and was about 3km long. Each morning a group of 3 or 4 volunteers walk the length of the beach with the aim of finding tracks and protecting the nests. We do this very early in the morning because it’s cooler and a survey can take up to about 5 hours. We have to walk to the beach from camping koroni as well and then walk the beach twice so it’s about a 7km walk. It was my favourite part of volunteering. And I was lucky that because I volunteered from late June to early August I got to find nests, protect the babies, see one hatch and also see a mummy turtle!
    • Once tracks are spotted and we see the nest, we have to dig down (sometimes taking up to an hour) and find the first egg – then we know the exact location. We then cover the nest again and protect it. To do this we put a metal grid down (to protect against dogs) and put up painted bamboo sticks as a way of making the nests visible to people.
    • Half way through the summer it’s time to get ready for babies. We put up beach mats for each nest, creating a shaded ‘runway’ for the babies. It directs them to the sea as they can sometimes get confused when there are lights at the back of the beach from clubs and hotels. It also stops people stepping on them.
    • Later on in the summer when all the nests have been laid and start to hatch, we look for baby turtle tracks. We keep a very careful record of how many babies we found and we have the opportunity to help the babies if we’re out when they are. (That’s the most exciting bit!)
    • Lastly, and I didn’t experience this, the nests must be excavated. This is where all of the eggs are taken out and we can assess how many successfully hatched and how many didn’t.

zaga beach

  • KIOSK: Not going to lie, this can be the most boring. But other times it can be most rewarding. On our project we did kiosk in the centre of the town twice a day. 11-1 (morning) and 7-11 (evening). The aim of kiosk is to make money for the charity and to make tourists and locals aware of the work we do. We sold all sorts and also offered adoptions. So many tourists return year on year and know and support our work which was really lovely. On kiosk you also get to know your fellow volunteers really well.
  • SHOPPING: This is typically once a week and is another favourite of mine. The market! One of the best fruit and veg markets I’ve ever been to! We also used the local super markets and ate really well.
  • COOKING: Every night one or two people have the role of chef and we came up with some quite lovely concoctions!

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Doing all this made volunteering amazing and one day I will do it again! Please note that this is just the Koroni project. It’s the smallest one and this means some jobs are very different.

I loved every single day there.

 

From Lou

PS. Waffles are €4 each – and most of the time we split them! Gyros are only €2!

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About Me

 

A couple of letters I’ve already written about volunteering and Koroni:

I found turtle tracks – letter 2

I fell in love – letter 4

Archelon’s Website

I fell in love

Letter 4

Do you know what I find so wonderful about travel? Falling in love. You’re hopping between different situations where falling in love happens so quickly and easily and you can’t help it. I’m not an emotional person, but I have seen landscapes, heard words and had experiences which have bought tears to my eyes. I fell in love with travel.

I want to properly introduce you to where I first fell in love. Koroni. After only being there for a few days it felt like home. I then had 6 weeks to enjoy it.

I’m going to show you around a bit – I hope you can see the picture. Up in the north west of the town within fields of green is camping Koroni. The best campsite I have ever had the pleasure to stay at, and where we all stayed whilst volunteering. Google it, it’s grand. It’s up a steep(-ish) hill from the main town where we walked every day, but there is also a secret track down to Artaki beach, which I grew very fond of. It’s not quite as picture perfect as the golden sands of Zaga beach on the south, but I spend so many hours and days on this little beach that it really is my favourite. It has a beautiful view towards the pier and the restaurants lining the waterfront and it’s where the locals go – who I also became very fond of. But Zaga is also very special to me because that’s where I met my turtles. We took it in turns to walk the length of the beach every morning at sunrise finding tracks and protecting our nests. Sunrise is my favourite time of day, and this experience only confirmed it. The town was typically Greek and perfect. Everyday we would wander round, be greeted warmly by the locals, see returning tourists and have many ouzos…

From the town we could head up to the beautiful monastery at the top of the hill – the eastern point of the town. It was stunning. We watched sunset over the pier, looked over our turtle’s beach and even climbed down to the secret castle beach at the bottom of the cliff. Now that is special. On the big flat bit of green in the farthest eastern area was where my donkey lived. I used to visit him most days and feed him carrots. His hoof was tied to the ground and he could only walk in a small circle, so I wanted to take care of him. The peace and quiet from up there is like nothing I have ever felt before. I also felt completely safe. At night, without the glaring lights of a city and being surrounded by the sea, this place was spectacular. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to see the milky way. It really blew my mind and me and my friends would stay up there for hours star gazing. Often in complete silence.

Falling in love with Koroni taught me something. Travelling is not about seeing as many countries as you can. It’s not about getting photos next to the most famous landmarks in cities of the world. For me, it’s about experiencing everything about a place before moving. When I am eventually able to travel for a long time, I will travel slowly. Fully immerse myself in a culture before moving on.

Koroni is a tiny spec of Greece. Greece is only a tiny part of the world. But I feel I could write pages and pages about it. This is how I want to feel about every place I visit.

I want to fall in love over and over again.

 

From Lou

About Me

Archelon’s Page

Camping Koroni

I found turtle tracks

Letter 2

Before I start officially blogging about this years travels, I want to tell you about what I did last year!

I had always wanted to travel – it’s in my genes. I even planned multiple gap years from about the age of 13. I guess you could say I’m kind of obsessed. But because of the degree I was taking at university, I had to give up my dreams of a gap year at 18 and instead just disappeared for the summer.

I decided to do some volunteering. This way I would be able to go off on my own, but know that I have something arranged where I would meet people and be kept busy doing something worthwhile for 6 weeks. Best decision I ever made. I spent my time volunteering for a sea turtle charity in Greece.

The charity is Archelon and they protect the sea turtles who nest in Greece. I stayed in Koroni in the Peloponnese region of the mainland and spent my days walking along the beach at sunrise finding and protecting nests, working at the kiosk informing people about caretta caretta (the turtles in Greek), doing chores at our campsite and swimming, playing cards, sleeping on the beach, taking trips around the area and getting to know the incredible people who were also volunteering there.

I then spent 2 weeks in Athens, Rome, Florence and Venice. These are 4 amazingly beautiful cities where I had unique and special experiences specific to each of them. They were all chosen because I was fascinated by the architecture and I was not disappointed! It was really amazing to get a snapshot of these cities, and the countryside between them, and I will certainly be returning.

So there you go. My first solo trip. My short introduction to travel.

 

From Lou

About Me

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Archelon’s Website