It feels very unseasonal writing about summer when it is so close to Christmas (37 sleeps!), but I have 6-months of blog catching up to do so am just going to get on with it. Hopefully, this post will be a warm break from all the tinsel crafts, shopping guides and gingerbread recipes doing the rounds this time of year.
We had the good fortune to be able to take a 4-week holiday this summer and decided to spend it in Greece and Cyprus. Although we have visited Crete many times, we had yet to take our son to Cyprus where the Greek God(zilla)’s dad is from.
We went back and forth over which islands to visit after Cyprus but eventually decided that we would stop for 3 nights in Athens and then get the boat to Naxos for a week before heading to Crete.
The Greek God(zilla) took charge and booked planes, boats, hire cars and hotels leaving me only to pack and to find a house sitter who could feed the fish.
I dusted off the biggest suitcase I could find in the loft and started to mentally ‘edit’ my holiday wardrobe. I pulled garment boxes out from under the bed, discarded most of the contents to the ‘no longer fits’ pile and threw the rest in my suitcase. The Greek God(zilla) tripped over that huge purple case – tucked neatly away in a corner on the other side of the room – EVERY SINGLE DAY for 2-weeks before we left. Each time he complained that I was taking too much ‘crap’ and to make his point, stuffed 3 pairs of shorts and a t-shirt into a small rucksack and declared ‘that’s how it’s done, love!’
Our flight to Larnaca – on the southern coast of Cyprus – was quite turbulent and uncomfortable, not helped by the Greek God(zilla)’s frequent trips to the bathroom following a few too many hot chillis on his pizza the night before, and the mid-air realisation that he had forgotten to order a gluten free meal for me… or on any of our flights! Fortunately, I had loaded up on an omelette at the airport while the Greek God(zilla) had been shopping for batteries in the duty-free lounge. Of all the items to think ‘I’ll get that at the airport’, why batteries?! Electrical items maybe, but the batteries for electrical items, not so much.
We were met at the airport by one of the Greek God(zilla)’s many cousins. I was immediately struck by how much she reminded me of his sister in both looks and mannerisms so warmed to her right away. She had prepared a huge lunch for us back at her house, which I practically inhaled while the Greek God(zilla), who was still feeling a bit tender, prodded cautiously for signs of extra hot spice.
After lunch and a good catch-up, she drove us to our hotel, the Frixos Suites Hotel Apartments in Larnaca, which had been recommended to us by another cousin who works in the hotel business. It was absolutely perfect for our stay. The rooms were clean and modern, the pool was refreshing rather than ice-cold and the inclusive breakfast options included pancakes and chocolate spread, so our 6-year old thought he was in heaven every morning, or at Yiayia’s house.
The following day, we were invited to a family lunch to celebrate an aunt’s 82nd birthday. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to pack more than 3 pairs of shorts and a t-shirt so did not have to join the Greek God(zilla) when he went emergency clothes shopping in the morning.
There was more family get-togethers throughout the week and we were made to feel incredibly welcome by everyone we met.
It would be remiss of me to write a post about Cyprus without mentioning the amazing food! We dined on delicious seafood, meze platters, grilled fish, meats and salads. Everything we tasted was so fresh and flavoursome and the portions were very generous.
By far, the most emotional part of our trip was when we visited Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus to Engomi, the village where the Greek God(zilla)’s dad is from. We saw where his old house once stood but has since been destroyed. We then went to the edge of the ghost city of Famagusta, which has been left untouched since the 1974 invasion.
It was devastating to see and we all drove back to our hotel feeling contemplative.
We spent the most wonderful week with the most wonderful people and I definitely left a little bit of my heart in Cyprus, but it was time to move on to the next leg of our trip.
We arrived at the five-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Athens late afternoon and wasted no time in checking out the view from the hotel’s rooftop bar.
As we had only a few days here we decided to hit as many of the tourist sites as we could, starting with the Acropolis above the city of Athens.
We also spent a morning in the Acropolis Museum, which is a fascinating way to escape the August heat and costs only 5 euros to get in. However, we then ended up spending about €50 in the museum gift shop on shiny children’s books about Greek myths and legends, so it was a bit of a false economy for us!
One of the most fun places we visited was the original Olympic stadium from the 1896 Athens Games. The Greek God(zilla) raced our son around the track – and lost – while I videoed the whole thing for posterity… and Facebook, obvs.
This was my first visit to Athens and I absolutely loved it. We walked around ancient ruins, enjoyed leisurely summer lunches and stayed in a beautiful hotel, but beach life was calling.
We took an early boat to Naxos, the largest and greenest of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean. The easiest way to get to Naxos is by ferry, but the port was chaos when we arrived as hundreds of tourists disembarked at once.
The manager of the Aegean Palace Hotel in Plaka sent a driver to meet us, but we couldn’t find each other in all the hubbub so ended up sharing a taxi with another couple. This hotel was another recommendation from a local and they couldn’t have chosen better for us.
We spent one night in the fancy Aegean Palace and moved to a self-catering maisonette in the 3 Brothers complex in the same resort for the rest of the week. The accommodation was quite basic in itself, but we spent so little time in our room that it didn’t matter.
We were situated on the main strip and just a stone’s throw from the beach, but one of the highlights of this hotel has to be its taverna, which relocates to the beach at night.
There are plenty of fantastic tavernas to choose from in Plaka, but we went back to the 3Brothers taverna time and again for the magnificent food and to dine under the stars.
Our stay on Naxos was definitely the most relaxing part of our trip and we all took to beach life like wet feet to sand. We read, we swam, we reclined by the (freeeeeeeezing cold) pool and we took our time doing it all. Our biggest decisions every day were about whether to go to the pool or to the beach and what to eat.
We did venture into town for dinner one evening and took a stroll up one of the island’s most famous landmarks, the Temple of Apollo, which overlooks the ocean. The temple started to be built over 2,000 years ago, but it was never finished. All that remains today are some columns and fragments, but when the sun sets behind it, it is magical.
We left Naxos feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to meet up with the rest of our family and friends in Crete.
We arrived in Rethymnon just in time for dinner at a local taverna. The Greek God(zilla)’s parents and his two sisters were already there, my sister and her family were to arrive the following day and others would be joining us throughout the week.
We usually stay with Yiayia and Papou, but this year we booked into Summer Dream just 2-minutes away.
We know the area well and tend to gravitate back to our favourite places every year. We have cocktails at Pearl at the end of the promenade to watch the sun set over the horizon, we go to Peperoncino in Rethymnon Old Town for pizza and to Tropical Taverna for lunchtime drinks. Every year on my birthday, the Greek God(zilla) takes me to the beautifully situated Avli restaurant for dinner and then we go to the same jewellers to buy a small souvenir with my birthday euros from Yiayia. We have been repeating this tradition for so long that the manager of the jewellery shop greets me with a warm smile and a big hug as soon as I walk through the door.
We are certainly creatures of habit in Crete, but while it is great to be so close to the beach and our favourite tavernas, we also like to explore other parts of the island.
One of our favourite days this year was a trip to Souda with my sister. The kids snorkelled in the crystal clear sea with their dads, while we made ourselves comfortable on sun loungers. After a mouthwatering tuna steak for lunch at a beachside taverna, we drove across to Damnoni beach to soak up the rest of the late afternoon sun.
It was a rare moment of tranquillity in a crazy week. With my son turning 7 and me turning 27 *coughs* (43) the same week, there was a lot going on.
Before we left London, Grenglish boy had requested a Harry Potter themed party so I had carried costumes, wands, parties bags and lightning bolt tattoos across oceans to make his birthday dreams come true!
His 7th birthday was as traditional as we could make it with presents, cakes and party games with his cousins. Later that evening, we hosted a big dinner at a local taverna in his honour and – after a long day as Chief Entertainer – I finally started to relax and got stuck into the rosé. Our little wizard was wiped out at the end of the day and as a special birthday treat, we invited his Auntie BB over for a sleepover.
I awoke the following morning another year older, but sadly none the wiser as I rubbed my poor post-rosé head. Fortunately, my birthday is always a much lower key affair. We started the day with a frappé at Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete and one of my favourite places to visit. The Greek God(zilla) shared a cheese and honey pie with Yiayia and I felt the hangover cloud start to lift as I took in the magnificent scenery.
Later that evening we all went out for dinner to a fabulous restaurant off the tourist track called Zisis, frequented mostly by locals. The Greek God(zilla)’s sister took charge of ordering for the table, but with lots of recommendations from our waiter, admitted she had no idea what was coming! The feast that followed kept us going for at least a couple of days. We had stuffed vegetables, courgette flowers, beans, dips, bread, sausages, potatoes (mashed, chipped and boiled) and beef, chicken and lamb cooked in a multitude of ways.
I rolled out of there with a full belly and an even fuller heart, but it was almost time for our Greek island adventure to end. Although we had had the most amazing holiday, I was looking forward to being reunited with my own bed and to seeing the Greek God(zilla) in some different clothes.