Kids' homeschooling: 0 Beach time: 1 and a half days Weather: awesome Books read: 0 Time spent in kids' parks / soft-play areas: 2hrs Time spent on cultural activities: 1hr Alcohol consumed: alot Quality of alcohol: pretty bad
3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
POST 1: 1st September 2016, Ikaria, Greece.
Family rooms: book them at your peril. Three nights into our trip and we have tried as many different combinations. Each is almost as bad as the other and all result in not wanting to have anything to do with the other members of that so-called 'family' by the time morning arrives.
Our first shot at it came after a 5 hour journey (which should have taken just 1 - thank you rubbish airport train, probably the ONLY thing you need to provide is a service that runs on time) to the glorious Premier Inn at Stansted. We were given the 4-beds-in-a-row-with-a-cot-bed-on-the-end option (the only way they would actually take 5 of us was by pretending that Raphael, now 3, still sleeps in a cot). Source of arguments: who got to sleep nearest/furthest to the window/mummy & daddy and who was allowed most time playing in the "den" underneath this row of bedding. (Luckily, this was partly made up by the fact that the beds actually ARE damn comfortable - you were right, Lenny Henry).
Second night we thought we'd try it Greek style and mixed it up with three sets of bunk beds:
You can guess the source of the arguments this time: who got the top bunk versus who was actually old enough to stay in the top bunk not to roll out in their sleep and splat themselves from the potential 8ft drop below. Third and last time (in that we are now stuck with this for at least two weeks because of a reservation 'oversight') is the two-room family option: one adult in each supervising either one or two children depending on which combination of the three is causing most problems, with clothes/toothbrushes and shared toothpaste/shampoo/soap shuttling back and forth across the communal patio depending on which room needs them most desperately. Unluckily for her, we are separated by one quiet, single, female traveller occupying the room in between ours.
Do any of these options work? Well, we are just four days into travelling and we are all knackered. Each time that sleep is required the kids suddenly decide that they are either not tired at all (having moaned about being tired all day) or all of them suddenly need the loo. And when they do eventually drop off, two of them sleep "shout", the littlest sometimes still has accidents, and one is a massive fidgeter (which wouldn't usually be a problem but it is when you are sleeping so close to them that they are practically in your bed or if their bed is tied to yours in the form of a bunk). Indeed, I really should be trying to nap now but instead I am writing this whilst it is fresh in my mind lest I forget the more challenging aspects of this travel adventure malarkey. Because in true authentic Bobomama style, this blog will provide the realist counterbalance to my edited highlight reel of beautiful instagram shots.
So how has the trip panned out so far? It has been an almost perfect mix of struggle and beauty. Our rubbish train journey to the airport was balanced by a serendipitous encounter on our flight to Athens: our neighbours from Cambridge sitting in the row in front of us. Unluckily for them, the prospect of a peaceful flight with just their quiet ten year old who keeps himself to himself (whose double-figure birthday and obsession with Ancient Greece was the catalyst for their trip) was ruined by our three lively, entertaining under-sevens kicking seats, crawling under seats, swopping seats, crying, singing loudly and arguing!
City Circus hostel in Athens was uber cool and had a terrace overlooking the Acropolis which looked amazing lit up at night. The hip mixture of guests included travellers who had brought their instruments with them and when we discovered the view they were having an impromptu, alfresco jamming session on fiddle, ukulele and mini accordian.
The hostel environs were also an eye-opener: urban cool in a way that reminded me of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter - lots of quirky shops, bars and restaurants and its once-grand town houses now tattooed with multicoloured political slogans and graffiti. It felt edgier than Barcelona though - enough that I felt a bit vulnerable with the kids: boarded squats, crouched figures in corners doing secret things to their bodies and glazed, lost looks to many of the local residents. My wariness was justified by the fact that the group of policeman I had assumed were just hanging out at the end of the street the afternoon we arrived, were still there in the morning.
We didn't get to see any of the sights this time round (we will be back for two nights at the end of the month) but had a quick preprandial wander through the park, up the street vendor-lined avenue to a pleasant square dotted with cafes-with-a-view. Needless to say the kids stopped at every stall to pick-up/man-handle all of their goods and when not doing this they were either moaning that all we ever do is go for walks or that the path was too steep. We appeased them with half an hour spent on the swings and see-saw in an impromptu playground found in amongst the cafes. (It never ceases to amaze me just how many of these there are around. I'm sure I never noticed even one as a traveller before I had kids!)
We had a quiet supper in the hotel's funky restaurant with our old neighbours and left the staff to entertain/babysit our children who not only nonchalantly sat themselves at the bar with other guests to chat with the sommelier (adorned with pre-requisite funky handlebar moustache and Parisian-style stripey T) but also ordered their own (totally inappropriate) adult desserts from him (which they then left) and spent the rest of the time playing in the (edgy) street. Luckily my children can be kind of cute and charming sometimes too and the waitress very sweetly actually thanked ME for (unknowingly) entrusting her with them as we went up to bed. Odd.
And so here we are now in the first destination of many: Ikaria, the Island of Long Life which is just off the coast of Turkey. Despite choosing it because of its slow pace of life, we did the Bobo thing and opted for the 45 minute flight on a teeny aeroplane rather than the 7 hour ferry from Athens. Just as well because the 70km car ride from the airport along a road/dirt track that literally 'hugged' the coastline (part glorious, part hair raising) and the fact that the host of the Inn we had booked online was not actually expecting us until October 1st would have finished us off otherwise.
The rooms are more shabby than chic, small and hot but they overlook the sea and the staff are affectionate, kind and super tolerant with the kids. The food so far has been hit and miss (home-made bread, fresh figs, fava-bean puree, lemon meringue pie, ourzo pasta, prawns, goat stew, yoghurt - more like UK Onken than the rich Greek yoghurt we have at home, goat's cheese - think ricotta meets burrata, local honey, sardines, tsatsiki: HIT; squid and then chicken so grilled they had turned to carbonised cardboard: MISS).
And rather disappointingly, the wine so far has been crap. (For those of you who want a more detailed vinous update, I have so far tried 5 different indigenous varieties: Roditis - very average, lacklustre and thin, like a cheap Pinot Grigio; Malagouzia - because my favourite type of wine is rich and full-bodied and this is meant to deliver just that - it didn't; Assyrtiko - from Santorini - it was the best so far with reasonable fruit and a medium body; an unnamed red wine which was so old/had been so badly stored it was light brown and tasted of off prune juice and an unnamed white wine (to take away the taste of the red) which was similar in style to Retsina. I actually secretly like Retsina - just don't tell anyone I'm a wine specialist). Luckily, or unluckily for me (this has yet to be decided) Greece has a huge range of indigenous grapes on offer (not surprising given that winemaking originated here) so I still have a long list to work my way down slowly. I just hope the quality is better than the quantity offered...
To see where we are on a map, click here!
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