Category Archives: Europe

IF GREECE IS THE WORD…..

If Greece is the word, then Athens is the capital letter.

Greece conjures up images of white washed cube-shaped buildings, blue domed topped churches, clear azure waters, sunny days and stunning sunsets. Most people are in a hurry to get to the islands.

But stop for a minute, no wait, stop for a few days.

Athens is often overlooked in the rush to get to the islands. Behind the often first impression of dirt and grime, the uninspiring architecture of the six storey blocks of apartments is an exciting city with an intoxicated blend of the ancient and the new.

My tips on why you should spend time in Athens.

  • GET EXPLORING

The capital is full of ruins. Some are ancient and some even date back to the 60’s when the building codes weren’t so stringent! The Parthenon is the crown that sits proudly atop the Acropolis, and well worth a few hours wandering around this monument and surrounds. The city feels like an open air museum as there are ancient temples, sporting arenas, archaeological digs everywhere. Many of the Metro stations are also museums housing artefacts uncovered while digging the underground train system. The new Acropolis Museum now floats above a working archaeological site because they kept finding new things as building progressed. In fact whenever they turn earth to build something, it feels that they uncover a new ancient site.

  • GET EATING

Greek’s relationship with food is a bit like the friendship between Kiwi’s and their sheep, its love at first sight. It would be hard to starve in Athens as the opportunity to eat is ever-present…except for breakfast which seems to consist of a thick, strong coffee and an even stronger cigarette. While the Plaka offers many tavernas with great views of the Acropolis, my advice is to head into the back streets to discover better, more authentic tavernas. A rule of thumb is –  if it is small with plenty of locals then it is going to be worth trying. Of course, being empty isn’t a true indication that it should be avoided as you just might be too early. Greeks love to eat late and generally lunch can start anywhere between 2-4pm and dinner rarely begin before 8-9pm.

  • GET PARTYING

I’m not sure if the Greeks invented socialising, but they certainly have perfected it. If a Greek asks to meet for a coffee what they are really saying is “let’s sit for a couple of hours slowly sipping a frappe and talk about the issue of the government, the football, or the good old days”. Athens is full of many great café/bars (a hybrid venue depending on the time of day). If you are feeling adventurous, seek out a Bouzoukia and have a night out watching the locals enjoying an entertainment that is part traditional and part Vegas. It is a night full of sequins, strobe lights, cheesy choreography, and smoke machines and due to OH&S restrictions, plate smashing has been replaced with flower throwing.  You may not understand the words, you may not even like the music, but there is no mistaking the emotional singing and the renditions of melancholic longing for a time long gone – and that’s just the audience.

  • GET SHOPPING

As summer heats up, like the streets, the shops begin to empty as everyone, tourists and locals alike, begin

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ermou Street

the exodus to the islands. This means that most retailers drastically discount their merchandise to entice the Euros out of the few wallets left in Athens. A great opportunity to bag a bargain. Two main shopping regions in the city centre are Ermou Street which is a pedestrian only street full of international and local brands, and if you prefer more boutique style shopping then head to the nearby suburb of Kolonaki.

 

 

 

  • GET LOST

For a big city, Athens is a relative safe city to walk around and get lost in. My advice is to walk the back street of the city centre and you will discover a little taverna or a laiki (a local street market), or a zacharoplasteion (sweets shop), or a little bar. You might discover neo-classical buildings dating back centuries or maybe some modern street art. You will definitely see Greeks going about their daily lives. The Acropolis may be the heart of Athens, but the streets are the veins teeming with real life.

  • GET OUT

Before you get out of Athens, I recommend that you get right out of Athens because there is so much to see. Catch the tram down the coast to one of the beach clubs for a day of relaxation, or travel a bit further to the upmarket suburb of Glyfada. Highly recommend getting out of Athens and visiting the Peloponnese region, or heading up to Delphi. If you really want a “wow” moment, then I cannot recommend enough, a trip north to see the monasteries of Meteora, impossibly built on top of these sandstone pillars. Just amazing.

To head straight into the islands is like going directly to dessert before having main course. Yes you will be instantly satiated but once the sugar rush has subsided you feel quite empty.

You can’t really understand Greece until you have spent some time in Athens. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

Of course if you can’t extend your time in Athens, then this video will help you to get the most out of your short time in an amazing city.

The Dont Forget Travel Group is a boutique agency that specialises in custom-made holidays.

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BEST VALUE HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS FOR AUSTRALIANS RIGHT NOW

Australian Dollar hits 7 year lows!

The start of 2016 hasn’t been good for the Australian Dollar against the US Dollar. Ok, lets be honest, 2015 wasn’t so good either. The little Aussie Battler is in for a battle as our dollar is heavily linked to the economic fluctuations of our biggest trading partner, China…And their outlook isn’t so crash hot. (Ed: Don’t use the term “crash” when talking about currencies) 

Its perfectly fine to skip this section of the newspaper (Ed: Are you sure people still read newspapers?) or glaze over when watching the news when this topic come up, but the danger is only looking at the headline or listening to the lead in comment and thinking its all of a sudden too expensive to travel anywhere.

In the majority of the cases, the headline is about the Australian Dollar’s value to the US Dollar, and yes, over the the last 12 months the $AUD has fallen in value by 17% against the $USD. (Ed: I remember the good old days when the dollar dropped below $.50).

To the traveller this means that when you arrive in the United States everything is automatically 17% more expensive than it was 12 months ago. The $4.00 coffee at Starbucks will now cost your $4.68 and that $100 pair of jeans will now cost you $117. Obviously this means that you either need more money to do all the things that you want, or cut back in some areas. But it doesn’t mean that you have to cross the US off your list completely.

currency change jpeg

Source: http://www.XE.com comparison of AUD 15 Jan 2015 vs 15 Jan 2016

There a few shining destinations to think about if you want good value for your Australian Dollar. If you are a skier, or love nature, or you just love going to a really nice place, then head north to Canada or south to New Zealand. The Australian Dollar is slightly up against these two currencies so it wont hurt your hip pocket. (Ed: what if they fall skiing and land on their hip?, I guess the burgeoning wallet full of cash will cushion the fall).

The United State’s southern neighbour, Mexico, also offers better value for money this year.

If you really want to drive your dollar further (Ed: I think Budget own this tag line) then grab that plane ticket and head to South American countries like Argentina and Brazil (Ed: you need to warn the reader that Brazil wont be cheap during the Olympic Games). Another destination to put on the list is South Africa. South Africa was relatively cheap before, but with the $AUD’s value increasing by over 20% against the Rand, it is now “a must”. (Ed: If you need me, I will be in Cape Town).

Its not all doom and gloom.

There a a lot of little gems and this may give you an opportunity to visit a place that you may not have had at the top of your list. Don’t let the headline stop you from getting out there and discovering the world.

For those that dont like to read, here’s the info in an infographic form…..

BEST VALUE DESTINATIONS FOR AUSTRALIANS RIGHT NOW.

The Dont Forget Travel Group

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

“From the four walls that currently surround you to the infinite potential of space, this week we’d like you to show us your take on room, rooms, or a room.”

Not one for being obvious, I didn’t want to fill this challenge with lots of photos of great hotel rooms. Instead I chose a few of my favourite “rooms”.

Athens

Athens

Ok I just said I wasn’t going to fill up on hotel rooms, but this is the view from my favourite hotel room overlooking my favourite city in my favourite overseas country. Whenever I can see the Parthenon sitting proudly atop the Acropolis, I feel happy….and very much at home. I’m sure I must have been Greek in a former life!

 

 

 

 

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

One of the biggest gripes that travellers have is the lack of room offered by airlines. Maybe one of reason why this is so is because Singapore Airline’s stole everyone’s extra space and added it to Business Class on their A380. There is so much room it can fit 2 champagne drinking passengers.

Moet et Chandon Cellars

Moet et Chandon Cellars

Speaking of champagne…..(nice segue) this stairway leads into the room that I discovered that I actually do like champagne, when you drink it at the source. This stairway leads to the Moet et Chandon tasting room which is at the end of a labyrinthine network of underground tunnels and cellars. After a tour of the cellars the corks were popped, the bubbles fizzed and my tastebuds did a hallelujah dance. The French sure know how to make champagne. Up to this moment I had only given a polite smile through gritted teeth whenever I had to have a glass.

Belvedere Ice Room Whistler

Belvedere Ice Room Whistler

Speaking of drinking… (another nice segue) one of the strangest rooms I have ever been in is one made completely of ice. The walls, the bar, the shelves, the seats were made of ice. It was called the Belvedere Ice Room and served ice-cold vodka.  On a trip to Whistler I found myself in this room tasting vodka after being kitted out in a heavy fur-lined jacket. It was great fun. The downside was that due to the freezing temperature, you can’t stay all night in the room, even though the cold spirit is warming you on the inside.

Bayon Temple Campodia

Bayon Temple Campodia

There are many different type of spirits (yep, another segue), some alcoholic and some spiritual. On a recent trip to Cambodia, while exploring Bayon Temple’s many rooms I was surprised to come across this buddha . Despite believing that the temples of Siem Reap were abandoned, it was obvious that I was wrong. The Buddha had been cloaked in a bright saffron-coloured sash and surrounding the seated figure were many offering. Some of them were recent offerings proving that this was still an active place of worship.

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In their day, the temples of Siem Reap would have been considered opulent, (here comes another segue) but nothing like the opulence experienced at an exclusive dinner in the Hall of Battles, one of the majestic rooms in the Palace of Versailles.  Believed to be the first dinner staged at the Palace since Napoleonic times, it was a privilege to feel like a privilege member of French Royalty.

Speaking of privilege (ok enough with the gratuitous segues), I have had the privilege and pleasure to have this as my view from my Santorini room.  Really don’t think there is anything more to say…just open a bottle of ouzo, nibble on some grilled octopus and just enjoy.

Santorini Greece

Santorini Greece

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the weekly photo challenge, but with the added twist that every photo has to have a travel element to it. Enjoy! #postaday

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

Put letters together to make words. Put words together to form sentences. Put sentences together to produce chapters. Put chapters together to tell stories.

There is an order to letters and to keep the letters in order there is the alphabet. To bring each letter to life is a picture that represents that letter, either physically, metaphorically or graphically.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words here is my 26,000 word essay!

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The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the weekly photo challenge, but with the added twist that every photo has to have a travel element to it. Enjoy! #postaday

THE COLD FACE OF GALLIPOLI

THE COLD FACE OF GALLIPOLI

The Gallipoli campaign was brutal and not for the fainthearted. I went in believing I knew what I was in for and somehow came out the other side as the face of Anzac Day 2006.

Sitting at the stage area overlooking Anzac Cove

Sitting at the stage area overlooking Anzac Cove

Anzac Day is all about reflection, so let’s we reflect…

I had been prepared for the emotion of the occasion, but I wasn’t prepared for the coldness of the occasion. It was freezing with an onshore wind blowing off Anzac Cove. The day had been a sunny autumnal day, but this was just a tease. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the temperature didn’t drop, it plummeted.

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After a 5 hour bus trip from Istanbul (which they showed Mel Gibson’s “Gallipoli” on-board to get everyone into the mood) we arrived at Anzac Cove around 6pm on 24th April. Being on one of the first buses (as there isn’t public transport everyone has to belong to a tour group to gain access) to arrive we had options – lie on the grassed area behind the VIPs which would give you a limited view, but with the chance of getting some sleep, or sit in the stand where you would be guaranteed a great view, but very little chance of any sleep. I chose the latter as I thought “seeing” was whole point of being here.

Despite wearing a t-shirt, shirt, polar fleece jumper, windproof jacket, two pairs of Explorer socks, jeans, a beanie (purchased during the night from a local Turk) and all snuggled inside a sleeping bag it was not enough to ward off the cold that had now seeped its way into the core of my bones. I remember thinking I may be uncomfortably cold, but imagine also being wet and coming ashore under the cover of darkness, to a future that probably wasn’t going to end well.

To relieve boredom, every hour, on the hour throughout the night, either a Military band played, or a 15 minute documentary of the conflict, or a detailed description of where the troops were at that specific time back in 1915, or images beamed up on the big screen of the crowd from the closed circuit cameras. It was both entertaining and informative. A constant stream of buses depositing more people added to the carnival-like atmosphere. By 5.30am there was about 10,000 people squashed into Anzac Cove. I am pretty sure there was not one Australian backpacker left in London!

Amongst the crowd were AFL and NRL football jumpers, Wallaby tops, hats with

Crowd building with the Sphinx in background

Crowd building with the Sphinx in background

the Oz flag, the canary yellow of the Fanatics etc and the closest thing to nationalistic I had was an Austereo polar fleece with a capital A on the front. During the night I was feeling so unpatriotic I haggled with a local Turk selling flags – eventually getting a bargain for 4 Turkish Lira (approx. $4.00). I had got a great deal and I felt good. Back at my seat, with chest swelling with pride, I unfurled the flag to discover that it was only printed on one side. Damn you Turks, you got the better of us Aussies again. The reverse side was completely white!

It was at that moment when a camera on the end of a massive boom, swung around zooming in on me. I could see myself on the screens scattered around the amphitheatre. Luckily the wind changed direction so that the Australian flag side was visible; otherwise it would have looked as though I was surrendering by waving the white flag. I remember thinking “look solemn and pensive and resist the urge to make a face or wave maniacally”.

The service itself was quite stage-managed with many speeches by dignitaries. It

Last Post being played at Dawn Service at Anzac Cove

Last Post being played at Dawn Service at Anzac Cove

felt more like a celebration than a memorial service, so it wasn’t as emotional as I thought it was going to be – that was until the lone bugler played the Last Post and the Reveille – spine chilling stuff.

A few days later I discovered that it hadn’t been a closed circuit tv. The footage was beamed back to Australia and Channel 9 used my image as the opening and closing scenes of their national news bulletin! My cold, but solemn face had been on television every hour throughout the day all over Australia.

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I had turned up to pay my respects and walked away from Gallipoli as the face of Anzac Day.

The Don’t Forget Travel Group

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

I love getting high!

Never one to suffer from vertigo, I love being high….whether it be on top of a mountain after trekking for a few days, or from the Observation Deck of a skyscraper where the effort was no more strenuous than pushing the elevator button. I have always enjoyed sweeping views, particularly vistas from being “On Top” of things.

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The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the Weekly Photo Challenge with the added edge of each challenge is to have a “travel twist”.

#Postaday

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

The challenge this week is “Monument”. After all the sites I have been fortunate to have seen, this was one of the easiest photo challenges. Once I started sifting through the digital photos  I realised that one particular monument kept on standing out…..The Parthenon.

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The Parthenon sits proudly, and defiantly, atop the Acropolis for all to see. Sometimes she is naked, and other times she is shrouded in mystery when she is covered by scaffolding. I love the fact that you can see The Parthenon  from almost anywhere in central Athens. I always get a “warm and fuzzy” when walking down a little Athenian alley and suddenly catch an unexpected glimpse of The Parthenon. I don’t know why I have this reaction.

Originally built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, The Parthenon has also been a treasury, a mosque as well as a munitions dumped which resulted in an explosion that caused extensive damage.

Like a Greek cabbie instinctively drawn to taking the most costly route, I am drawn to visit The Parthenon every time I am in Athens. I feel a trip to Greece is incomplete without paying homage to this amazing monument.

The Don’t Forget Travel Group is taking part in the Weekly Photo Challenge with the added challenge of trying to make all photos travel related. #postaday