A Colour Explosion from the Heart

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HYDRA - Athens City Break

Posted by Alexandra S on March 3, 2018 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

ATHENS is a beautiful and vibrant city to visit, and a 3-day city break would be perfect to get a first feel of the Athens vibe. The history, the culture, the arts, the music, the food... the seaside possibilities you have all around...  Surely, one visit is not enough, but it's a start. Athens is also an amazing place for business travelers too as it provides many possibilities within convetion tourism, meetings and incentives. 

What is even MORE amazing about this city is that any traveler who has a couple of days more to spare, has various "escape" options. There is Delphi and Arachova, Nafplio, Tolo, Porto Heli and of course the islands of the Saronic Gulf easily accessible by catamaran. The Saronic Gulf islands are Aigina, Agistri, Poros, Hydra and Spetses.

SPETSES: www.alexandrasdesign.net/apps/blog/show/45219590-spetses-island-of-the-aromas-isola-di-spezzie-part-1-

WELCOME TO HYDRA!!!




Hydra, as mentioned already, is accessible by a highspeed boat (catamaran or flying dolphin) from the port of Piraeus and also from Porto Heli and takes about 2 hours.There are about 3-5 connections daily depending on the season. Check http://www.openseas.gr/ for updated schedules and booking online. 

When it comes to accommodation, one can find all sorts when looking through the usual search engines, but word of mouth also helps. If you know someone who has stayed at a place and found it very convenient, clean, pleasant and affordable, you could look into that as well. For example, I had stayed in a lovely hotel called SIDRA HOTEL only 3 minutes' walk from the harbour (been there quite a few times). It's all a matter of preference, but there are various choices on the island. However, there are some studio apartments that may require a bit of a walk inland, but that also guarantees a more special view from the veranda where you will be enjoying your morning coffee... or a sunset dinner, possibly... :-) 

As for the beaches, in front of Hydra's harbour, one finds numerous small boats that can take approximately 20 people (sometimes more, depending on its size) that can take you to the beaches around the island. As Hydra is quite a popular island within close proximity to Athens, it does receive a constant flow of visitors, therefore there are frequent daily excursions.

For those lucky enough to be reaching the island on a private sailing boat, the magic is endless...

The excursion boats take you to each beach and drop you off where you prefer, as well as inform you about the times they return to pick people up. The final pick-up time is usually 18.00 or 18.30, and the boats come and go rather frequently in case someone wishes to return earlier. Agios Nikolaos or Bisti beach are the two most popular ones. There is also the choice of making a deal with one of the sea taxis docked at the harbour too (that might cost you a bit more, but get to see more of the island). Make sure you cut a deal before getting on board. :-) 


When it comes to travelling with company on holiday, my advice would be to go with those who you feel are on the same wave-length as yourself and whose mentality clicks with yours naturally. I honestly believe that going on holiday with other people is a guaranteed test of your friendship and relationship on so many levels.

People who may be the best of friends in their regular everyday lives where each one has their own space and their own routines (in their own private space) may not do so well with sharing that time and space with others.

Before extending an invitation, think what kind of holiday it is you need: a 100% chilled out one where you wish to spend all day on the beach reading a book? A holiday where you wish to really explore the location you are visiting and not so much laying around on the beach? Or a bit of both maybe? Personally, I love a good balance and that is where the mutual mentality comes in. Best go with someone who will most likely want a good combination of both and will also be respectful and flexible too. Should there be a day where you wake up and decide you would prefer to relax with a book on the beach whereas the other person wishes to hike mountains, both can do exactly as they please and simply meet up after a few hours or at the end of the day for a lovely dinner and whatever the mood calls for. Alternatively, if one of the two feels forced to give in to the other person's desires, I can guarantee you it won't go down that well in the long run either. 

Personally, I feel lucky to have discovered who my best travel-partners are, and I am sure life will introduce me to more in future. 

YES, I am lucky to say that one of my favorite travel buddies is my amazing mum! :-) We've gone to so many places together and we've enjoyed ourselves incredibly every time :-) 


These moments where you are seated at the bow of the boat with the water splashing in, while at the same time the summer sun and sea salt caress your skin...Priceless!




There is no doubt that everyone who returns from a day at sea is ready to devour almost anything... yes, sea air and salt do that to a person :-) And of course, this is where the perfect choice of food ties in! SO MANY OPTIONS!!! From grabbing a delicious souvlaki on the go and having a seat by the sea, or sitting at a cosy and traditional taverna for a scrumptious meal... the choice is yours.  


However, there is another more side to Hydra, and it is called "Hydronetta". A place even more magical at sunset...





...this has been just a small taste of what lies within two hours of Athens, so don't forget to add Hydra to your bucket list, if only for a one-day excursion when in Athens :-) Although... I doubt one day will be enough... 


TURQUOISE WONDERS - KOUFONISSIA

Posted by Alexandra S on February 26, 2018 at 7:25 AM Comments comments (1)

Each journey I take, each memory I add to my mind and heart... and every scent that stays with me, is a piece of inspiration I enjoy conveying to curious and like-minded adventurers ready to embark on their own journey.

In my mind's eye...nothing is more "contagious" than good energy, genuine excitement and a real story... and it is for this reason that all posts in the "Inspire Me, Inspire You" segment of the website derive entirely from personal experiences and are aimed at doing just that... inspiring ;-)

One of these truly memorable experiences are linked to a place I should probably be keeping to myself... but then again that would be too selfish...

So, here it is:

Next to the bigger islands of Paros and Naxos is a smaller cluster of islands: Koufonissia, Schinoussa, Donousa and Iraklia. This small island complex is known as the Small Cyclades.

Koufonissia, lying east of Naxos and west of Amorgos, is a set of two islets separated by a narrow strait of sea about 200m wide. Among those two, Kato Koufonissi is the uninhabited one and Ano Koufonissi is inhabited by about 200 locals. From there, one can also see the island of Keros at a distance. 


They were named Koufonisia [meaning Hollow islands] because of the existing huge caves which gave the impression to pirates who viewed them from a distance that the islands were hollow! At a short distance you will see the deserted Keros island. It has been designated as an archaeological site under protection, as major Cycladic Art finds have been unearthed there many a time.

fonissi is accessible by either the high speed boats - catamarans, as they are called - or the bigger conventional ferries; the former take about 5 hours to reach the island from the port of Pireas in Athens, whereas the latter takes about 7 hours (and is slightly less costly). Additionally, travelling on the larger boats gives you the chance to walk around on the deck and get a real feel of the sea breeze (whereas the catamarans do not offer the same freedom of movement on board). The schedules can be found in www.openseas.gr and one can also book online, as well.

If you ask me, the real magic begins the moment the ship reachest the island and prepares to dock. A picture speaks a thousand words... don't you think...? 

 My first time in the Small Cyclades was far too long ago for me to even remember... but what I do remember was a place that was out of this world, in the most beautiful and serene way.

Only a couple of years ago, two of my best friends and I felt the need to get away for 4 days and we decided on Koufonissi. Unfortunately, our plan was slightly altered when Evi was called to stay back for professional reasons. Sad as we were, Sophie and I embarked on that ship and made our way to that small yet heavenly island.

"Anemomylos House and Rooms" (www.koufonisia-rooms.com) where we reserved our studio, was only metres away from the sea and only about a 15-minute walk from Chora. "Chora" is the greek term we give to all the main towns of the islands.The Anemomylos property housed 5 different apartments of varying sizes that were allocated according to the number of guests it needed to accommodate. It was clean, furnished, linen was provided and there was a well-equiped kitchenette for those who were planning on staying for a longer period.

Evi had booked a beautiful small apartment at "Anemomylos House and Rooms" (www.koufonisia-rooms.com) only metres away from the sea and only about a 15-minute walk from Chora. "Chora" is the greek term we give to all the main towns of the islands.The Anemomylos property housed 5 different apartments of varying sizes that were allocated according to the number of guests it needed to accommodate. It was clean, furnished, linen was provided and there was a well-equiped kitchenette for those who were planning on staying for a longer period.


The following days were all about spending time wandering around the island, from beach to beach and simply enjoying the ultimately relaxing vibe. 

The best part of being on this island is that no car is required and one can simply walk from beach to beach. On average, it takes about one hour to walk from the east to the west side of the island... but when you stop and take a dip to cool off or go photo-crazy, it can take much longer... but these are opportunities you just can't miss.


(Photo: Fanos Beach)

The island's population is about 250 inhabitants. The coastline extends to about 14,4km and the most popular beaches are Foinikas, Fanos, Megali Ammos, Nero and Pori which is the one farthest away from Chora. 


(Bikini: Panos Emporio www.panos.com) 


(Photo location: The Devi's Eye)


Truth be told, some beaches were way too crowded to find some space or even peace... so we would simply move on to the next bay only several metres away... 

Travel Tip: Island-hopping during the period mid-July to mid-August ought best be avoided if there is a possibility to travel either before or after the high season.

However, in our case, the morning wake-up calls worked best. Luckily, neither myself nor Anne-Sofie would sleep long hours into the day... so we would set off not long after we would wake up.

Early mornings was the perfect time to locate a tree with some relatively good shade that could cover both of us. Not long after we had found it... the artistic tools would come into full view. :-) Sofie would write, I would draw. The surroundings could not have been more perfect!







(Photo location: Pori Beach)

Beautiful and large as Pori Beach was... the winds can really be a challenge for anyone aiming to pin their carry-on umbrella in the sand. I would simply recommend finding some shelter and shade under a tree.

When it comes nightlife and dining, the island may not have the huge variety of tavernas, restaurants and bars that its neigbours have, but it has a decent number of choices for its size. I vividly recall this one hotspot, "Sti Strofi" (in greek this means around the corner) where the queue would always be a mile long. It was a simple souvlaki take-away place and according to Tripadvisor, it rocks!

 

(Photo source: TRIPADVISOR)


We may have not tried the famous souvlaki or gyros because the queue was way too long for two starving girls to handle... By the time we reached Chora, after a full day of walking and swimming in the sun, waiting in line just didn't seem that appealing no matter how mouth-watering the take-away menu looked as we strolled by the mile-long queue of sun-burnt customers.

There were tavernas waiting, and that is where we were going... :-) 

One thing is for sure, that small island had the world's most delightful and colorful chora (main town) and I could hardly resist clicking away at my camera and capturing the beauty...

 



So, this was a taste of the ever inspiring island of Koufonissi which I would be more than happy to return to. An island that I would strongly recommend to those who desire an escape from the loud world and who feel comfortable in the serenity and special silence that the Small Cyclades have to offer...




COMFORT ZONES

Posted by Alexandra S on February 21, 2018 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)
I think it was Saturday... or Sunday. We met up at one of my favorite coffee spots, ESPRESSO HOUSE on Kungsgatan, in Stockholm. I had only briefly met Hasse through one of our contacts, Jonas Henningsson, who works for the swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Our initial acquaintance was made during a mingle session at the TUR Travel Fair in Gothenburg some years ago. With some people we just click well, and that was the case with Hasse.

After numerous chats on art, creativity and photography, we decided to take our creativity for a spin. I recall it was summertime, thus the great appetite to take our inspiration outdoors and explore Stockholm and what it had to offer two creative minds. After having our coffee and chatting for about an hour or so about various concepts we could work on, it was time to kick it off... so we headed towards Djurgården. 

The main theme of the day's photo session was inspired by THE BALLERINA PROJECT  which I was really into at that time. The difference was that OUR project would have a personal touch. After all, no one person is the same and no one person is one-sided either... 


Needless to say, I have absolutely no experience in modelling, and that was not even the purpose in this particular case. Although I do feel comfortable in front of a camera, this had nothing to do with being beautiful or picture-perfect in any way.

It was all about self-expression through dance...
through the effects of nature and the surroundings...
through the music we feel within... 
through the moment itself... 




 

Our photo expedition lasted about 5 hours with a break in between.
We made our way to Södermalm and had a brief lunch at "Mossebacke" (Slussen) before we set off again with renewed energy.

The next round of our photo shoot was done in a completely different vibe, not because our stop-over for lunch boosted our energy (which was also partly true)... it was the time that we spent walking around and talking about a whole range of topics and generally feeling more comfortable in each other's company that changed the dynamics, minute by minute. There was never any awkwardness between us and it was honestly as if we had known each other for years. 
It was that exact relaxed vibe that helped me loosen up a bit more and push myself creatively in front of his camera. The next round had a much more edgy and industrial tone to it, if I may use that word... 
What do I mean...?
Well.... 






The day was one of the most amazing ones I've had, and it was definitely something I wanted to repeat. Meeting people who are creative, innovative, fun to be with, inspiring is something I really enjoy doing and it is something that I feel has a mutual effect. We learn something from one another, we leave feeling "richer" in a more substantial way. 

About a year later, the adventure was repeated!!! Even more edgy than the last time! We used bridges, neglected parking lots with graffiti all around, rocks on riversides... etc. 

Here is an idea of what went down.



Although we didn't get the chance to proceed to Round 3 of this creative experience, I am hoping that it won't be long before we pick up again from where we left off, only this time with a completely new attitude... :-) 

For more of Hasse Linden's photography, go to https://www.facebook.com/PhotographerHasseLinden/" target="_blank">http://https://www.facebook.com/PhotographerHasseLinden/



MANI'S TOWER POWER

Posted by Alexandra S on February 15, 2018 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

The very first time I visited Mani, I have to confess I was in a rather restless and hopeless state of mind after having faced yet another failed attempt to achieve a goal I had worked really hard for. The Universe was clearly sending me signals and it was high time I listened.


Sensing my disappointment, my friend Stamatis suggested we take off for a couple of days and visit our friend Konstantinos who would occasionally spend time at his summer house... or should i say his tower, at Oitylo. 

Mani is accessible from both Athens (by car or regional bus) or from Kalamata. Kalamata, a rather significanltly-sized town in the Peloponnese (about 70.000 inhabitants) is a great starting point for many intriguing adventures. The International Airport at Kalamata also facilitates access from other countries too. Nowadays, from the nordics, I would recommend AEGEAN Airlines (www.aegeanair.com) as a very good and safe option reaching Kalamata airport.

Built on a hill overlooking the bay, Oitylo is a history-laden village. According to Homer during the Mycenaean Age this town used to belong to the Kingdom of Menelaos and took part in the Trojan War with its ships. 

Descending from Areopoli down the mountain side, in a little bay with deep blue coloured sea and the stone built houses, literally hanging from the rocky slopes, you will encounter a magical place called Limeni. Don't miss the chance to have a coffee-break or lunch and indulge in the soothing surroundings in absolute stillness.



After about an hour of basking into the sun, we made our way to one of the most extraordinary and magical locations in Greece, in my opinion at least... The Caves of Diros.

A secret underground world, divided into three caves, 4km away from the town of Pyrgos Dirou. The caves Spilaia Glyfada or Vlychada, Alepotrypa (meaning foxhole) and Katafygi are all in their own way beautiful and of rare archaeological value. At the Vlychada cave you will enjoy a 3,100m. tour of which only 300m is on dry land whereas the rest of the excursion involves embarking on a boat. The boat trip will take you through several beautiful chambers with enchanting Greek names such as the Crossroads of Nymphs, the sea of shipwrecks etc. 

After the ongoing research at the cave of Diros to date, the total length reaches 6.500 meters, yet the final length is still unknown... one more of the beautiful mysteries of nature.





Upon exiting the cave, we proceeded exploring the surrounding region. I'm not sure if words would even be enough to describe the intense joy one draws from the surrounding landscape, while at the same time achieving an utter sense of inner peace and strength, so I think I would let the pictures do most of the talking here...

 




Although it's been many years since I visited Mani, there were certain features that stood out from other places I had been to. First and foremost, one can not and should not expect the kinds of beaches they encounter on many Aegean or Ionian islands. The beaches one finds in that area of the Peloponnese are rather unique in the sense that they are mostly hidden away and one ought to have the appetite to explore (by car preferably) and then settle on a beach they feel an attraction towards. Not one beach is exactly the same and that is what makes Greece so unique. In Mani, specificallly, most of the homes are old towers, allowing for a completely different sense of style for those seeking that extra something in their holiday.

It is one of those places you turn to in order to escape the world. 

I sincerely hope you include the Peloponnese and its jewels in your bucket-list. And when you are there, make sure you check out the following: Kalamata, Methoni, Koroni, Pylos, Olympia, Kyparrisia, Monemvassia castle and Elafonissos Island.  

Curious already? Check out www.mythicalpeloponnese.gr and www.visitgreece.gr 


(Photo Sources: In order to provide a more complete image of the Mani experience, I needed some more photographic material I did not possess from my last trip to Mani. The photos which are not mine have been credited accordingly).


SKOPELOS - "Mama Mia" what an island!

Posted by Alexandra S on February 4, 2018 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)



At one point in time, one of the biggest chapters of my life was studying intensely to succeed in the Greek foreign ministry's entry exams to the diplomatic corps. However, life does not always give us what we wish for... or better yet, what we believe we want; it gives us something different... and most often, something better. It sets us on a path that I believe we are destined to follow... or at least that is what it feels like till today even with all its tremendous rollercoasters, the highs and the lows.

Hard as that chapter may have been for me though, it blessed me with some amazing friends whom I am lucky to have by my side today. Two of those wonderful souls are Anne-Sophie and Evi. Not only are they like soul sisters to me... they are among the best travel companions I could ever dream of.

Our first travel adventure together was in 2013 on the island of SKOPELOS, the renowned "MAMA MIA" island, more specifically one of the main locations where the filmshooting took place. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RBNHdG35WY


I will refrain from including photos of them in this post (discretion), but I can guarantee you, the fun we had was out of this world!

Evi was already on Skiathos, which is the island across Skopelos, so Anne-Sophie and I took the regional bus (KTEL) from the Central Bus Station in Athens and went to Agios Konstantinos which is a small town with its port about 2hrs45 minutes away from Athens. From there we hopped onto the catamaran which took us to Glossa, one of the ports of Skopelos. The boat ride took a little under 3 hours

The studio we had rented for the three of us was located at Milia beach and was indeed one of the most delightful locations on the island. Arriving around 23.00 at night only meant crashing our exhausted bodies onto our beds... but the following morning, our eyes encountered heaven.


As we were to meet with Evi on our second day on the island, Anne-Sophie and I decided we would just chill on the beach at Milia for the day and make our way into Skopelos town earlier that evening. 

Although the studio had its own kitchenette with its mini fridge and all the necessary utensils for someone who would enjoy a longer stay at the studio, there was also the option of a breakfast buffet on the common veranda surrounded by greenery and flowers, the bougainvillias being my favorite always :-) 

For the next few hours, it was all about relaxation on the beach beds under wide straw umbrellas, with our books, iced coffee by our side,and an alternating pattern of frequent dips in the crystal waters and soaking up some warm summer rays. 

...Oh and there was the occasional powerwalk in the sand up and down the entire beach a couple of times, just to get those bodies in action. It's very possible that Anne-Sophie was cursing me in her head that day... as the beach did extend quite far...! 


Later that evening we took off to pick Evi up from Skopelos town.

The evening turned out to be a loooong one... with quite a number of unpredictable and amusing moments... and that is actually what I love about these girls. We made our way back to the studio in the early hours of the next morning. Tequila shots, good music and great company can have that effect on you.

The next day, after we caught up on our sleep, we made our way to Kastani beach on foot, not far from Milia.

That beach turned out to be our favorite as we repeated the visit the following day.

A beach bar with good music, cushions, bean-bags, group sunbeds, friendly staff... etc. It was also quite convenient considering we had not rented a car this time.



Skopelos is an island I would characterise as being peaceful, offering gorgeous scenery wherever you go and the vibe is just easy-going... exactly what all three of us needed at that time.



(Swimwear by Panos Emporio www.panos.com)


Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos are the three islands of the Sporades Island comlex and I am hoping to be able to discover them more in the near future. I had already visited Skiathos a while back upon graduating from University, but it's time I paid it another visit soon.

What I would advise anyone planning on traveling to Skiathos and/or Skopelos, would be to rent a car, should your finances allow it. There is so much to see and having your own car available does leave room for more freedom when exploring. 





MAJESTIC SAMARIA

Posted by Alexandra S on February 1, 2018 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

The alarm clock went off at 6am and I leapt out of bed, wide-eyed and with the biggest colgate smile from ear to ear. The long-awaited day had finally arrived! One more adventure would soon be crossed off my bucket-list: crossing one of the longest gorges in Europe and the longest in Greece, the Samaria Gorge.

The bus left Chania Central Station and drove through some amazing landscape till we reached Omalos an hour and half later.

Tip: For those with a restless stomach... I would recommend taking one of those pills for sea-sickness since the road, although a good one, does have some winding turns along the way.

The Samaria Gorge hike starts at the Xyloskalo trailhead at an altitude of 1,250 meters in the midst of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori). The length of the passage to the limits of the national park is 12,8 km and the distance to the coast of Agia Roumeli is then another 3,2 km. 

There is a security point that checks all tickets both at the starting point of the gorge and one other point close to the end of the trail making sure that no one is left behind overnight. So, hold onto your ticket all the way through!

I stood for a few minutes taking it all in before descending the trail. The view, the moment, the fresh mountain air at the top...and in one word: Breathtaking.


The descent offered an exhilerating feeling every step of the way. However, what I realised rather fast was that most of the people entering the gorge and walking either behind me or ahead of me, seemed to rush through the trail; something I was not intending to do, so I just let some of them walk right by me. The surroundings were far too magical to just rush through. I was going to savour every second of the way.

To my surprise, the hikers' ages ranged from 1-85 years old, honestly!  There were families with children as young as 5 and some of those parents were even appropriately equipped and succeeded in carrying along their almost new-born babies! That was definitely an unforgettable and precious sight in my eyes. There were couples of all ages and there were solo hikers like myself just enjoying the hike at a more normal (non-rushed) pace. 


The gorge of Samaria is the biggest, most imposing and beautiful gorge in Chania and in Europe, and that is why it is internationally renowned and the most visited, since more than 300.000 people have the opportunity to cross it each year. 

Crossing the Samaria Gorge takes an average of between 4 to 6 hours depending on your chosen pace. One of the blessings of this trail is the fountains and springs you find along the way, so all you need is one of those 500ml bottles of water that you can refill along the way... and let me tell you, that water is HEAVENLY. I think I must have drunk about 8 litres till I reached the end. 

The main fauna species is the world-famous Cretan Chamois (wild goat) (CAPRA AEGAGRUS CRETICA) or "kri-kri" as it is more commonly known, an extremely beautiful and dashing animal that has been preserved and is now living freely in the gorge of Samaria and in the three gorges parallel to it.

Among the well-known flora species, you find the perennial gigantic cypresses once used in shipbuilding and in the construction of the pillars of the Palace of Knossos by the Minoans, etc.

There is a total of 450 species of Cretan flora in the gorge, of which 70 are endemic, i.e. they grow in the gorge only.

Shoes: you will need a good pair of steady sport shoes or hiking boots. Do not even think about wearing sandals or anything with toes exposed or even thin-soled shoes...! The terrain is rocky and you'll hopefully wish to keep your toes upon leaving Crete... :-)

Sunscreen: Absolutely!!! (Face and Body sunscreen with a minimum of 15 SPF and of course higher if your skin is fair or sensitive. Mine was 30SPF and I did need to add some every 1.5-2hours as it was August when I went.

A Hat/cap: YES! There were some draughts that would blow my cap away, so keep that in mind when choosing the hat.

Backpack: YES! A light backpack is of course needed to keep your sunscreen, water, a couple of snack bars/power bars or a snack to give you a bit of a boost when you need it. 


Although you will obviously want to enjoy the beauty around you, remember to keep your eyes on the trail as the terrain is quite rugged.

The gorge can usually be visited from the beginning of May till the end of October, unless there are bad weather conditions.

There are guardhouses of the State’s Service of the Park (Forest Inspection Service) at the beginning of the gorge (in the village of Samaria) and at its end.

A doctor is also available to serve the visitors of the gorge, as well as a helicopter airport in Agia Roumeli.

The gorge has a lot of narrow passes that are called “gates” but the narrowest pass, “the Iron Gate”, is 3 m wide and 300 to 700 m high from both sides. There are a lot of spots where you can walk over the river of the gorge on small wooden bridges.



5 hours later, I reached Agia Roumeli: the picturesque little village at the other end of the gorge, on the southern side of Crete, touching the Libyan Sea. Although not as exhausted as I had thought I might have been, the view I encountered was definitely a sight I had been longing for especially in that final hour of my hike :-) 

The scheduled ferry was due to leave at 16.00 so I had the chance to take a swim, eat something and relax until it was time to leave. The ferry would take the crowd to Chora Sfakion from where the regional buses would be waiting to pick people up and then head to various directions: Chania, Heraklio, Rethymno, etc. 

(Photo of the beach at Agia Roumeli from www.agiaroumeli.com)

Would I cross the Samaria Gorge again? 

Most definitely YES!!! :-) Over and over again...

www.incrediblecrete.gr 

 

One-way ticket to Crete

Posted by Alexandra S on January 31, 2018 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (2)

Crete is one of Greece's top destinations, no doubt! With an incredible flow of international tourists reaching the island annually, it was high time I visited the island a second time myself and explored it my way. I ventured off solo, but I was lucky to have some amazing friends who made my stay even more memorable and for whom I am forever thankful. So here's how it all went down:


Spontaneity is what defines me for the most part, and that is also what defines much of my holiday ventures half the time. There is of course the basic planning involved, like buying the actual ticket to the destination as well as booking some overnight stays. Additionally, I always download the bus/boat schedules to have handy and certain details of places I know I will want to visit, no matter what. After that, it's all about the moment and the mood.

"May I have a one-way ticket to Chania, please?" was the sentence that started an amazing one-week journey on the beautiful island of Crete, from west to east.

The general idea was to arrive in Chania, spend a couple of days there exploring that region and then move towards Heraklio and the eastern part of Crete.  

A few days after I had bought he ticket, I was on a ship leaving the port of Pireas at around 21.00 and was due to arrive the next moring at 06.00 at the port of Souda, just outside Chania.


As much as I love flying, being at sea is a feeling that can not be compared... for me at least. Regardless of how long the journey is, if you have good company and a place to rest, the summer holiday automatically takes on a different vibe. By good company, I meant Victoria Hislop's amazing book "The Island" that was actually based on Crete, and specifically, Spinalonga (www.victoriahislop.com). 

I barely slept, as the excitement would hardly let me. However, I woke up around 04.30 and made my way to the ship's cafeteria for a coffee which I took with me out on the deck at the rear end of the ship.

There is honestly something magical about dawn. The same salty air that waved the greek flag above me, was the same sea breeze that brushed upon my face and awoke me softly... the same sea breeze I had grown up to adore.

As we pulled into the port of Souda, backpack in hand, I got off the boat and made my way to the local bus that would drive us into town. I checked into my hotel and then set off to explore Chania. (For the record, I have to say I was so impressed by Crete's regional bus networks! A network I was going to be using throughout the week: Always on time, professional, service-minded staff and excellent drivers. The buses were all well-maintained AND some even had free wi-fi on board, oh yes! (www.e-ktel.com) 



(About Chania: Text from www.incrediblecrete.gr) 

The old town is located on and around the hill of Kasteli and was built over the ruins of the Minoan city Kydonia. It is surrounded by the Byzantine walls, the Venetian walls and the sea. The town of Chania, the first capital of Crete, kept its historical centuries-old heritage almost unaffected. Its flair has attracted scientists, philosophers, poets and artists from different countries and it has become a cultural centre.


The Minoan civilization left behind grand tombs and interesting pottery objects. During the Venetian and the Ottoman rule, people of different nationalities and religions co-existed. Christians (Catholic and Orthodox), Jews and Muslims, have left discernible traces and produced particularly interesting creations.

Here's a taste of Chania through my camera lens and also an introduction to the history and culture of Chania


 



 





The Great Arsenal, which is used today as a convention and exhibition centre is eye-capturing. Along the harbour, small cafes and restaurants create an inviting atmosphere. On the hill of Kasteli there are still parts of the old Rector’s palace and its court. The excavation site of ancient Kydonia and the ruins of the church of St. Maria of Mirakoli (1615) are located near there.

 


In the area of Halepa is the palace of Prince George, the house of Eleftherios Venizelos, the French School (1860), the church of St. Magdalene (1903) and the church of Evangelismos. Other places are of interest from later years: “Villa Koundourou”, the Workshop of Fine Arts and the Youth Centre, the Municipal Park (1870) with its clock, the Market (built in 1913, a cross-shaped building with hundreds of small shops), the Park of Peoples’s Peace and Friendship, the Court House, the Prefecture, the “Venizelion” School of Music, the Historic Archives Museum, the War Museum and the Museum of Chemistry.

* * * * * 

The first day at Chania ended with an amazing dinner with three amazing friends and colleagues. Manoli F, Dimos P and Manolis V, Thank you for making the first day at Chania such a wonderful one.




After having explored the the southern side of Chania's region over the next couple of days - visiting the Beaches at Paleochora and a day trekking the Samaria Gorge - the final night before I took off for Heraklio, left me with the most beautiful taste. As I was wandering around town and had a bite to eat, I caught a few musical notes in the air and decided to follow the sound. That sound lead me to the waterfront where there was a dance performance with varous dance schools. One particular moment stayed with me... Crete's future generation; so full of energy, joy and music!


The story continues on the next article with a lifetime experience trekking in the Gorge of Samaria.

Stay tuned!



Spetses - Island of the aromas ("Isola di spezzie") Part 1

Posted by Alexandra S on January 23, 2018 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Summer after summer we would head southward either by car to Porto Heli and spend a month in Costa, or take the catamaran from Athens to Spetses and stay there for a month, usually in August. Whichever scenario played out, Spetses was in the plan!

Porto Heli and Costa are a beautiful setting in the Peloponnese, not far from Nafplio, approximately 2.5 hours from Athens. Will come back with another blog entry for Porto Heli and its surrounding region in another post. For this post, Spetses is in focus.

Spetses can be reached from the Peloponnese, either by catamaran from Porto Heli or sea taxis.
For boat connections: www.openseas.gr 


(Photo: Porto Heli - Source www.greece-is.com/a-treasure-hidden-in-plain-sight ) 

I was quite lucky to re-visit the island again twice this year as I was called to accompany the Estonian TV crew for the filming of two documentaries to be broadcast on the National Estonian Television channel, whereas later that same month I would accompany a group of Tour Operators. In both cases, the aim of that visit was to introduce the islands of the Saronic Gulf to the Baltic countries who are among the countries in GNTO Scandinavia's area of responsibility. These islands are ideal for any traveler wishing to escape to a nearby island while visiting Athens, be it for business or pleasure. 

Saronic Islands: Aigina, Agistri, Poros, Ydra and Spetses. 



(Spetses, Dapia - Main harbour)

Spetses was originally named "Pityoussa" due to the vast extensions of pine trees on the island. Later, the island was named "Isola di spezzie" by the Venetians (1220 - 1460 A.D) who were mesmerised by the incredible natural aromas on the island.

The island boasts a long naval tradition and is famous for its significant contribution to the 1821 War of Independence. It was here that the revolution flag was raised on 3rd April 1821. The island has managed to retain its individual traditional character thanks to its well-preserved grand captain mansions, still bearing eloquent witness to the island’s glorious past.

Upon entering the island, one meets the picturesque Old harbour and Dápia, a tourist and commercial centre where the heart of the island’s entertainment beats. To the right of Dapia lies Poseidonion Grand Hotel (www.poseidonion.com/en) the island's indisputable trademark. The hotel was first built in 1914 and was the brainchild of Sotirios Anargyros, a visionary benefactor who was responsible for much of Spetses’ development. Furthermore, it represented the cosmopolitan face of the island and soon became one of its famous landmarks, a favourite destination for high society, royalty and wealthy Athenians.

Following a meticulous five-year restoration programme which brought the hotel fully up to date with the finest facilities, fixtures, and fittings while carefully preserving the original architecture of the building, Poseidonion Grand Hotel, fully refurbished, re-opened its doors in the summer of 2009, ready to welcome new visitors.



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)


What I love most about this hotel, and I am pretty sure I speak on behalf of many who have already visitied, is that even though the entire establishment exudes a sense of luxury, class and a minimal style that I adore... it is very "inviting" and every guest feels relaxed and at ease, yet it still evokes a sense of respect, given its history. 

However, it is one thing for me to write about it, and a different thing for someone to actually experience it. So, don't take my word for it... visit the island. Whether you choose to stay at Poseidonio or simply indulge in a refreshing coctail on the "Verandah" during sunset... or better yet, reserve a table and enjoy a scrumptious lunch or dinner by their fantastic Chef Mr. Stamatis Marmarinos... I can guarantee, it will be a day to remember. As for the wines...? Bliss! 


(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)

A shade of heavenly blue greets you the second you step out on the veranda and say GOOD MORNING, WORLD! :-) And YES, a horse-drawn carriage ride till the Old Harbour (about 20 minutes there and back) is what I would recommend while on the island... especially if you are a romantic like myself :-)

Along the way, you will have the chance to see captain mansions taking you to a journey back in time. The architecture is simply amazing and the range of pastel colours amid all the vegetation leading to the Old harbour on the right side, while having that enchanting stretch of blue waters to the left as the carriage makes its way to the Old Harbour... truly magical. 



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)


(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)



Source: www.bouboulinamuseum-spetses.gr

Only two minutes' walk from Dapia, one finds The Bouboulina Museum.

A visit to Bouboulina’s Museum reveals the fascinating story of the heroine of the 1821 Greek War of Independence, Laskarina Bouboulina, who until recently had the honor of being the only female Admiral in world Naval history.

Source: www.bouboulinamuseum-spetses.gr


Source: www.bouboulinamuseum-spetses.gr

Upon our arrival to the museum, we were greeted by Pavlos Demertzis-Bouboulis, a 6th generation Bouboulis, and a very eloquent speaker and representative of his family's (and Greece's) history. The story of Laskarina Bouboulina is an extremely fascinating and inspiring one that, in my opinion requires an entire post of its own, so stay tuned! 


Source: www.bouboulinamuseum-spetses.gr

Could not resist sharing this lovely photo of Professor Linnar Primägi while on our filming and carriage-ride to the Old Harbour with Nikolas who was also an amazing guide!



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)

To end this post on a happy tone, here is our selfie with "Magas", Nikolas' horse. Magas, or μαγκας in greek, is someone who could be best described as being a fully genuine, dignified, laid back and big-hearted soul. It is actually hard to put this term in words in english... but when you meet a soul like that, you know you are in good hands :-)



(Photo: ©Alexandra_S_Art)

There is so much more about this island, so instead of composing one long text... I thought it would be best to come back to you with a different post. 
A little more about the local setting, the gastronomy, the arts and crafts on the island, its cosmopolitan nature, it's landscape and also a very unique experience at the "Bostani": where nature meets lifestyle.
Stay tuned for more!!!
Love,
Alexandra


ELIXIR OF LIFE

Posted by Alexandra S on January 2, 2018 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

The delicious, nutritional ruby beneficial red seeds of a pomegranate are not to be taken lightly.
Why?


1. Research shows that pomegranates can help prevent or treat various disease risk factors:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- oxidative stress
- hyperglycemia

2. Pomegranates have even been shown to provide anticarcinogenic effects. 
The high amounts of anti-oxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C and iron in pomegranates fight against free radicals, stopping them from damaging cells. Pomegranates thus prevent many cancers, especially prostate cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.

3. Aphrodisiac: Pomegranate seeds have been proven to decrease cortisol levels by one third, while raising testosterone levels in both men and women. 

4. Boosts Immunity: A medium sized pomegranate contains 15% of the daily required vitamin C, which is very essential for a good immune system.

5. Bone Health: Pomegranate, if taken daily can give strength to bones and prevents osteoarthritis.

6. Helps prevent Alzheimer's Disease

7. Youthfulness, acne treatment and skin regeneration: Collagen is the basic component of your skin which ensures that your skin remains soft, smooth and firm. Certain compounds present in pomegranates stop the enzymes from breaking down collagen, thus maintaining skin health.

8. Hair Benefits: Strengthens Hair follicles, adds shine and luster to dull hair.
How To Select And Store?
Selection: When buying pomegranates, always choose the fruits that are plump and round, heavy for their size and have rich, fresh color and flavor. They should have a thin yet tough skin without any cuts or blemishes. Their crown should be free of molds. Larger fruits are juicier than their smaller counterparts. The seeds sacs are generally of the size of your fingernails. The pips resemble corn kernels but are reddish, slightly translucent and have a thinner skin. The color of the rind need not necessarily be red. It can vary from being completely red to reddish brown, but this will not affect the quality. Always prefer to choose the deeper colored fruit. Since pomegranates do not ripen once picked, it is advisable to buy fully ripe fruits.

Storage: At room temperature, pomegranates can last up to two weeks. When stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Whole fruits can be stored up to a month in a cool, dry area and can even be refrigerated up to two months. While it is not recommended to freeze the whole fruits, the seed pips can be frozen in an airtight bag for up to one year. Fresh juice can be refrigerated, but it should be used within two to three days. Cut pomegranates should be consumed within four days as the flesh deteriorates quickly once the fruit is opened.

General sources: 
www.draxe.com/pomegranate-seeds
www.eatsomethingsexy.com/aphrodisiac-foods/pomegranate
www.ergo-log.com/pomegranate-reduces-cortisol-by-a-third.html
www.stylecraze.com/articles/top-10-health-benefits-of-pomegranates/#gref


CHAPTER ONE

Posted by Alexandra S on January 2, 2018 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (0)

"Every chapter of your life will demand a different you". 

Somehow that feeling hits home not just at the end of a year and on the 1st of January but EVERY time we undergo a phase where we are shaken up by circumstances and are called to make new decisions based upon what we need to make us happier and achieve our life goals... or at least bring us steps closer to our dreams.

Resolutions can be related to just about ANYTHING life-changing... from creating new healthy nutritional habits to changing certain patterns of our behaviour, or even deciding to change our job, take up a new hobby or even start a new venture.

Although we all have our own new chapter to write, I can't help but feel that many of us seem to be making similar new year's resolutions... 

1. EFFORT IS A CLEAR INDICATION OF INTEREST. If someone really wants you in their life, they will make room for you. Live your life, and what is meant for you will not pass you by.   

2. BE MORE FEARLESS IN THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS - Fear less, dare more. 

3. DON'T LOOK BACK IN ANGER. The past should be left right there, in the past! Regret, feelings of revenge and hate hurt no one but the person who is holding onto those feelings. Seek to understand and then forgive yourself and others and then move on to creating a better tomorrow. Stop assuming every person in your path is the same as the previous or the next. 

4. WONDERFUL YOU: If it's loving, spontaneous, communicative, motivational and giving you are... do not stop being that. If someone did you wrong and exploited this nature, know that NOT EVERYONE in this world is like that, not at all. Do not become who you hate. The sun doesn't give a f*ck if it blinds you, it just shines!!! (Just be a little bit more alert about the other person's reactions next time, and where needed, hold back that energy supply). The love that you have given away ALWAYS comes back in the least expected of ways.

5. DARE MORE: Winners are not the ones who have never failed, but the ones who never quit. Just because one method didn't work, it doesn't mean another will not be more efficient. Patience, hard work and the right approach will get you much further than just sitting around and waiting. Fear is only in your mind, whether it is in a professional or personal aspect. You will never know unless you try.

2018, LET'S DO THIS!!!



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