Our big, fat, Greek kiss...


Ikarian highlights: beautiful sunsets, continuous ocean vistas, the islanders     What I am loving: swimming in a crystal-clear, turquoise sea     What I am struggling with: neither over-ordering nor over-eating Greek food      What I am missing: me time (school is out)     Most impressive thing about Ikaria: its energy     Most disappointing thing about Ikaria: its wine (an acquired taste)     New skill acquired: treating head lice (thank you, Goa)     Family broken/lost sunglasses tally: 13     Items packed that have still not been used: mosquito nets, hairdryer


POST 16: 13th June 2017, Ikaria, Greece 

Well, we started in Greece, so we thought we'd (almost) finish in Greece. After all, with a month to kill before re-entering the rat race (our house is tenanted until the end of June), it seemed silly not to.

We hadn't always planned a revisit. When we first found out about Goa in monsoon, we had toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere in India. The favoured option was Dharamshala - it is the hilly home of the Dalai Lama, many Goans spend the rainy season there, and I have never been to the Himalaya. But that was before I remembered that we only have one set of cold weather clothes each, that I really couldn't face any more Indian food and that after 8 months in Asia, I was a bit tired of it (and in particular, of not feeling fully relaxed about what I could wear, when I could wear it and what was deemed 'culturally appropriate' behaviour for a woman).

23 hours non-stop

Photo caption: How parents deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top left); how children deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top right); the view from our room (bottom left), the view up to our room (bottom right)

So we looked further afield. Costa Rica seemed enticing, Vietnam and Ibiza too, and whilst all of them boasted what looked like awesome drop-in schools for the kids to attend until the end of the summer term, plus a beach-based lifestyle and a cool, hippy-yoga vibe, none of them offered nearby golf (which is a non-negotiable component of Bobopapa's chosen career).

And so the itinerary for our final European leg was formalised: a second (golfless) stint on the wild and beautiful island of Ikaria, followed by nearly a month on the coast of Catalonia, Spain. Greece thus became our omega as well as our alpha. For what neater way to tie up the loose ends of our trip? And how better to test how we'd changed, if at all?


Photo caption: beaches, mountains, river gorges and turquoise sea - Ikaria has it all...

It is said that Ikaria either kicks you or kisses you. Indeed, visitors have been known to head back to the airport shortly after their arrival. Similar to other energetic hubs, such as Bali and India, Ikaria holds a mirror up to your disowned emotional baggage. It lifts up the carpet and hides the broom. And when you're not ready to acknowledge what is hidden underneath, it can feel a little harsh. In September we certainly felt its power. But this time, after 9 months of rummaging into our darkest recesses, we experienced a softer landing. Perhaps Ikaria decided that we had transformed enough, that we needed a rest. And so it bestowed upon us a big, fat, Greek kiss.

And here's how it felt: my star sign of Virgo is related to the element of earth. And I am indeed extremely dependable and productive - a mistress of assessing and organizing. Unlike the dictates of this element however, I would not describe myself as orientated purely to what is real, and I frequently find it hard to feel 'grounded'. When yoga teachers prompt their pupils to picture their roots digging deep into the centre of the earth - to feel heavy and supported by it - I often can't. Instead, I usually feel as though I am hovering a little above the ground. In Ikaria however, it was the opposite: I literally felt as though I was being pulled downwards - solid, embodied, real!

Play time

Photo caption: Play time! Jumping the waves (top left); sampling organic, Ikarian, goat's milk, ice cream (top right); feeding the turtles (bottom left); exploring nature (bottom right)

The locals must sense it too. Because you just couldn't meet more grounded people. In fact, they are absolute models of authenticity. On Ikaria, the western malaise of 'not feeling enough' does not exist; you are simply presented with what is and there is no effort made to embellish it. You get what you see and you either take it or leave it.

The first time round, we found this a little awkward. As is the norm back home, we were expecting to be rewarded for being who we were with a constant torrent of perhaps fake but polite niceties and gushing reassurances. And so the islander's lack of vacant chit-chat automatically led us to think that we must be rubbing people up the wrong way. But we weren't. We just hadn't got it. This time, we understood that small talk simply doesn't exist here: words are neither spoken to fill spaces nor to make people feel better about themselves. There is no need for frills because everyone is loved for who they are. Everyone and everything is enough. And we soon followed suit.

our local haunts

Photo caption: our local haunts - Christos Raches (or the village that never sleeps) for home-made cakes from the women's co-operative (top left); Anna's Taverna (top right); Thea's Inn (bottom left) and trying to make the most of a dodgy internet connection in order to work from home at Artemis Studios (bottom right)

Other 'wounds' that had been stirred up in us the first time, revealed themselves as healed. The need to be 'in control' for example. A formerly big manifestation of this in me, was to always favour giving over receiving. (Because the latter often felt slightly awkward and embarrassing. So far so repressed English.) Not an issue this time though! Instead, I was able to revel in the incredible generosity of Ikarians: accepting a free gift in the supermarket (without questioning how the cashier could even make a gift of something that surely wasn't his to give?); gorging on almost daily, fresh cake deliveries from the restaurant below our room "for the children"; taking advantage, as encouraged, of the endless bounty of fresh apricots from the tree outside our room - and all this without worrying about paying for it or doing something in return. Indeed, I happily left my coffee bill unpaid for a whole 24 hours because they didn't have the right change for me at the time, and received with a smile both the complimentary donuts at Raphael's birthday dinner and the last minute rounding down of my room bill.

And on reflection, it is really not surprising that the Ikarians are generous. For this is just another by-product of being grounded: if you know that you are enough, just by being you, it follows that there is enough. Once you see everything through the lens of abundance, generosity flows naturally!


Photo caption: when you've treated the whole family for nits and can't get the greasy stuff out of your hair, there is nothing left but to tie it up and channel Erykah Badu (left); our second birthday on the road (right)

And so as each day passed, we were shown how much we had grown in our absence. On our first visit, we had filled our days with exploring and excursions. Caves, mountains, forests, beaches, monasteries, castles and medieval towers - all of them we had enthusiastically ticked off the list. This time, there was no list. Not just because we had seen everything there was to see, but also because we were content just being rather than doing.

I also amazed myself by witnessing how what had really bothered me last time, didn't seem quite so important now: the derelict cars by the sides of the road, the seriously sketchy internet connection. But instead of getting riled by these things all over again, I quietly accepted the status quo and got on with things as best I could. (And those that know me well will realise just how monumental this is; before our trip, drama was pretty much my middle name.)


Photo caption: nature's slideshow - every sunset was slightly different but equally captivating...

And so our second leg on this quietly powerful island showed us both how we have changed, as well as how we are continuing to slow down. Not just in ourselves but also in the energetic winding up the trip. Because just as Ikaria served as a stepping stone between an easeful life in Europe and adventure backpacking in Asia, it acted as the opposite on our return. Which was deeply comforting. But also a quite odd. Because it made us feel as though we'd been in a bit of a time warp. Despite having spent two thirds of a year away, filling it with action-packed, assumption-challenging, culturally-awakening globe-trotting, the steadiness of Ikaria and its inhabitants almost made us question if we'd ever left. It seemed to make the intervening 8 months shrink into an almost imperceptible slice of time, when in fact they had felt quite the opposite.

Which is all down to the fact that Ikaria and its inhabitants don't really ever change. Indeed, they are defined by their slow predictability. Which is precisely why we love them. Unfortunately though, this made leaving quite a challenge. And it made me realise just how much this half of the trip has felt dominated by good-byes. For as we inexorably edge nearer to our return date, our departures become more and more emotionally charged: leaving Bali was an effort, departing from India was emotional and in Ikaria, I even shed a tear.


Photo caption: spot the difference - same sign (Xanthi), same girl (Xanthe), same rabbit. Who said we ever left? 

Fortunately for us, life on Ikaria will always be the same. Or at least I hope it will. Slow. Unaffected by the outside world. Untamed and natural. What changes is the way we fit in with it or not. It acts as a barometer for our internal landscape. We may always find it unchanged on our return, but each time it will present us with something different: exactly what it is that we most need to look at.

And luckily, it is still relatively unknown. For now. But shhh! Let's keep it a secret. I'd like it to stay that way...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...


3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD POST 13: 5th March 2017, Ubud, Bali.   

6 months ago, we took our two eldest children out of school, our youngest out of nursery, stacked most of our boxed-up belongings into six self-storage units, lent out our car, rented out our newly-renovated house and got on a plane to Greece.

Given that we are now just past the half-way mark of the entire trip, here is a round up of what went right, what went wrong and how we have changed. And for an update on our physical progress, click here!

COUNTRIES & PLACES VISITED (for at least one night):

GREECE (4 weeks living like locals): Athens; Nas (Ikaria); Ermoupolis (Syros) - we based ourselves in Nas (the last hippy outpost of the island and the source of its culinary fame), first, in a hostel and then in self-catering accommodation. Travel-wise, we interspersed longer day excursions with shorter trips and added a 3 day spell on nearby Syros to break up the month (and celebrate my b'day)! This worked well although the driving was quite tiring given the state of most of Ikaria's roads and the fact that it is actually much bigger than it seems on a map!

Highlights: feeling like one of the family in Nas; the to-die-for cakes (orange semolina, baklava and cheese cake); the crystalline sea water; dancing into the night at the village panigyria. (Read more in my 4 Greek blogs: So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, GoodbyeWhen in Ikaria, do as the IkariansFirst the Shabby, now for the Chic & Eat, Pray, Love)


MYANMAR (3 weeks exploring): Yangon, Bago, Inle Lake, Old Bagan, Mandalay - this was our first Asian destination. We backpacked our way round the country using public buses and hired, private mini vans. The thrill alone of being back on this continent (with its exotic smells, tastes, sights and sounds) kept us going for two weeks until the slightly too-fast pace of travel caught up with us and we all got ill with (dengue?) fever. This forced us to adapt our strategy and slow down. We found that 3 nights was the absolute minimum we need to stay in one place in order to get a sense of it without feeling rushed, and 5 nights in the same hotel is the minimum we need in order to retain the energy to continue at that pace.

Highlights: the sheer scale and splendour of the Buddhist temples; the generosity, hospitality and easy affection of the Burmese. (Read more in my 3 Burmese blogs: The Land of Temples, Pagodas & Stupas; Magnificent MyanmarTaking the Rough with the Smooth)


THAILAND (4 weeks living like locals): Bangkok; Mae Nam (Koh Samui) - Thailand was booked as a last-minute respite after so much exhausting rushing around in Myanmar. There was also the lure of some beach time and the promise of an international school. In our haste however, we'd forgotten it would be rainy season (so beach time was limited), and the school turned out to have closed the day before we arrived. This taught us to plan ahead a little more. We stayed put in the same town on the same island, firstly, in a hotel and then in a luxurious, self-catering, private villa (off Airbnb). The latter not only saved us loads of cashola but also gave us a real sense of belonging and quickly felt like home. As in Greece, we hired a car and explored the island during day trips.

Highlights: shopping like locals at fresh markets; driving a truck; trekking in the jungle; Thai curries. (Read more in my 2 Thai blogs: Taking the Rough with the Smooth & Time Out Thai-Style)


LAOS (2 weeks exploring): Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoy - we felt ready for an adventure again after living like expats on Koh Samui so travelling round Laos seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately however, we didn't quite realise how non child-friendly it was with its exclusive, chic restaurants and equally exclusive (for different reasons) adventure tourism. Using public transport (boat and bus) to get around was hard, because the former are pretty terrible (no pee stops, no meal stops, crummy seats and no suspension) and the heat during the daytime was relentless. Accommodation wasn't great either and the people weren't very welcoming, so even though we followed our new strategy of staying in one place for at least 5 nights, Laos was probably the worst leg of our trip.

Highlights: travelling up the Mekong by boat; the dramatic, mountainous scenery of northern Laos; my decadent facial at Amantaka. (Read more in my 2 Laotian blogs: Exposing Cultural Differences & It's the People that Make the Country)


INDONESIA (16 weeks living like locals): Ubud (Bali) - Bali was also booked as a last-minute respite from Laos and originally we only planned to stay for the festive Xmas season. But the slow pace and quality of life available in Ubud, quickly prompted us to extend our stay. We have enjoyed just one (pimp) Airbnb villa for the entire duration. Having finally outsourced schooling, we have been proper expats for this stint of our trip and have not really done any sightseeing or cultural activities!

Highlights: the welcoming warmth of Pelangi school; the breadth of healing modalities available in Ubud; finally learning Bahasa. (Read more in my 2 Balinese blogs: Beautiful, Bountiful Bali & Living Life in the Slow Lane)



What worked:

  • lugging two English and two French (very bulky and hugely heavy) anthologies of bedtime stories around with us. These help create familiarity and routine in new and foreign bedrooms.

  • not bringing toys. Luckily the kids have each other and having a private pool definitely helps. (Thankfully, Peppa Pig is also accessible worldwide).

  • taking daily probiotics. I'm convinced that this alone has greatly reduced the overall incidences of runny tummies especially given how prone the two youngest kids are at both licking public objects or putting their (unwashed) fingers in their mouths at all available opportunities. In fact, aside from our Myanmar blip, severe upset tummies at least once in each of the kids (thank God for codeine phosphate), an ear infection, a parasitic infection, an anemone sting, countless mosquito bites and the two self-inflicted ailments that resulted in trips to A&E (a damaged ear drum and a cut to the cheek), we have all escaped pretty unscathed.

  • bringing a plug-in night-light for the kids (left behind in Thailand).

  • carrying a mini sterile kit: I was able to convince the doctors not to attempt a non-anesthetised stitching procedure on me and to use my steri-strips (which were not available in Luang Prabang hospital) instead.

  • giving up on homeschooling: unless you have permanently opted out of the official schooling system in your country, do not attempt to home/un-/or world-school your children. This is only for the very patient, very creative and very motivat-ing (and -ed) type of parent. Needless to say, we both sucked. Enrolling the kids in the nearby international nursery/school was the best decision ever: they are now thriving and we have some time to ourselves! The girls have picked up the basics of a new language, they have made friends with children from a whole range of different nationalities; they have reconnected to a working rhythm including homework, show-and-tell presentations and class assemblies, and they even do weekly yoga and gardening. What Raphael gets up to at nursery is frankly awe-inspiring and way better than anything back home.



What didn't work:

  • assuming that our children (7, 5 and 3) would suddenly become adventurous eaters because they were being exposed to different flavours and styles of cooking. They will now just about (aka be forced to) eat food that is a tiny bit more "spicy" than they are used to. Please note "spice" for them means an-amount-so-teeeny-that-it-is-barely-perceptible of soy sauce or coconut milk, as opposed to actual spice or chili). We have therefore found that it is much easier to order them western dishes when out and we try to be as self-catering as possible.

  • bringing audio CDs: most hire cars are so basic that there either are no speakers in the back or it is impossible to vary the balance between front and back sets. Since most don't have air con either, you need to open the windows in order not to die of heat. It is thus very hard for the kids in the back to actually hear any of the story being read unless the CD is on full volume. Bobomama then gets deafened as well as bored silly so we quickly aborted this as an entertainment option.

  • bringing large versions of expensive toiletries to "get me through the trip". This only works if you are not travelling with a back-pack into which you have to squeeze all of your family's stuff. Unfortunately for me, most of my wholesale-sized, exorbitantly-priced Dermalogica facewash oozed into the recesses of my wash bag during our first month away as a result of being squashed. I have since resorted to buying toiletries on-the-go. Hopefully I won't look 20 years older on my return as a result.

  • global travel adaptor plugs: these are so top heavy in order to accommodate so many different types of plug, that they topple out of sockets. Avoid.




 Travel 'hacking' tips:

  • negotiate on Airbnb! Prices are geared towards one or two night-stays and are usually ridiculously high. For stays longer than this, email all the villa owners whose places you like the look of, and offer them the price that you can afford to pay (however small this might seem in comparison). You might get some outrage but some will respond and you will end up with a good 'local', long-term rate on a very nice place.

  • do not pack anything on the outside of your rucksack even though there are hooks to hang things off and nets to secure things behind. These are deceiving. It will get nicked.

  • use packing cubes. I had never even heard of these before this trip but they have quickly become indispensable. They divide an otherwise chaotic mass of stuff into individual compartments, and can be used as mini suitcases when staying somewhere short-term with no room to fully unpack.

  • most visa applications specify that you need to provide proof of an onward journey on arrival at customs. This is a major hassle if you don't actually know where you are going next or when. So don't bother. We have not once been asked for this (touch wood).





Have we changed? Yes! Are we definitely going home? Yes!

Our trip has not always been easy on a practical or emotional level, and there are undeniable challenges of travelling abroad, including: super uncomfortable Asian pillows; huge hotel bills (thanks to having to book two rooms to accommodate 5 of us); the stress of trying not to lose too many things every time we change destination; the very basic standard of very basic accommodation; lack of privacy (villa staff come and go as they please, unannounced - the gardener has seen me naked at least 5 times); the sometimes intrusive, physical curiosity of Asians; tropical insects - particularly cockroaches and scorpions; trying to avoid the heat of the burning sun and trying to avoid catching mosquito-borne, dengue fever.

But the benefits of being far from home far outweigh the disadvantages, including: outsourcing the cleaning and laundry; living in luxury accommodation with staff; owning a private pool large enough to do proper laps in; constant warm temperatures; swimming in warm seas; the magic of fireflies; sleeping under a magnificent starlit sky; being serenaded nightly by cicadas and frogs; re-visiting the uber-luxurious Amanresorts.

This year of travel and exposure to other ways of living has helped us to work out who we really are. I always saw this 'gap' year as an opportunity to be re-birthed into the blue-print of me that was hiding behind the masks. The me that lay beyond the adopted habits of my peer group and generation, behind the family patterns I have inherited and absorbed, underneath both the societal belief systems that have been imposed on me, as well as the pervasive collective attitudes of my socio-economic class, culture, race and nationality. And it has done all that and more.

Will we carry on exactly as before on our return? I hope not. Because doing things that are out of the ordinary (and out of your comfort zone), keeps you alive. It is also fuel to the engine of gratitude. I want to continue to feel alive and grateful, so I want to continue to travel. That doesn't mean I don't also appreciate my creature comforts. I no longer crave some aspects of English life as I did after a month or so of hard-core backpacking, but I am not ashamed of admitting that I do miss some aspects of the life we had and am looking forward to it resuming.

The solution: to be based in the UK during term time and to dust down our backpacks for some adventure travel every school holiday. Is this realistic? Why wouldn't it be? We are, after all, the creators of our own reality. I want to incorporate what to me, is the best of both worlds: Bourgeois and Bohemian. And I can. So I will. And this blog -  and you, dear reader, - are going to hold me to it...



To see where we are on a map, click here!

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On connecting...


Yesterday’s yoga class was about staying connected. It was my first proper Yin class as opposed to a restorative one, and jeez, was it tough! We started by sitting on our knees with our toes bent back underneath us. I have only ever done this once before in a pregnancy yoga class designed to help you “get used to” the agony that is labour. In actual fact, whilst it may be a technique that works to great effect in Thailand where it originated, it did nothing of the sort for me. It is a pose with which I do not wish to get more acquainted. The following one - pigeon (or sleeping swan as our Aussie teacher called it, held for over 5 minutes each side in order to help us “melt into it”) - was not to be taken lightly either. My contorted body resembled neither that of a pigeon nor a swan, sleeping or awake. As a distraction from the pain, I focused on the theme for the class and the reason behind this particular series of asanas: that the increasingly common sense of emptiness we are all prone to feeling (which is encouraged by our consumerist, capitalist societies - after all, you will only buy yet more stuff if you think you 'need' it to feel whole), is the result of a disconnect with our earth element.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, each of us holds the energy of all five elements within us (wood, earth, fire, metal and water) although one will be more dominant than the others. That of the earth helps us feel grounded and safe. And when it is out of balance, we can feel empty, needy, obsessive, worry unnecessarily about the future as well as suffer from digestive issues. Whilst many of us may unconsciously turn to addictive behaviours or substances in an attempt to numb these uncomfortable feelings, it is only through reconnecting with and rebalancing the earth element that we can reach a longer-lasting sense of calm.

This struck a chord with me because I have recently been feeling pretty empty and needy myself. Unhappy and feeling like I'm missing something, despite living in a gorgeous villa in a stunning setting in a tropical, welcoming and beautiful country. Which has been very frustrating when I know only too well how much there is to be grateful for and happy about. A classic case of shonky earth element.

Usually for me, the most effective way of looking behind what is really going on is to parent my child energy (more about this in my next blog). But when your earth element is out of whack, this becomes tricky because it is precisely this which allows us to inner parent. As the Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture writes "the Earth element grants us the ability to internalize the mother by learning to nourish and care for ourselves".

So instead of doing the deep inner work necessary to make me feel better, I've been relying on the quick fix of other people behaving in a certain way or on my surroundings to be ‘just right’ in order to feel calm. (It's so much easier to blame others or external circumstances, don't you think?) The problem with this is that it does not deliver a quick fix: other people and things can never really be counted on. Selfishly, they tend only to be concerned with themselves. So you end up having to do the work anyway.

Luckily there are also other ways to restore the connection: by practising yoga (and in particular, a form that focuses on opening up the spleen meridian), by communing with Nature, or by doing anything that takes us out of our heads and puts us firmly back into our bodies in this present moment (such as meditation, dance or sport).

[easy-image-collage id=985]

So as a reminder to me to connect to my earth element, and to come back to the 'present' next time I am feeling particularly needy or empty, I retrieved a beautiful stone from the bottom of my rucksack that was pilfered in September from a beach on Ikaria. I have decided to carry it around with me as a sort of talisman. For not only are stones the natural symbol for the earth element but this one in particular probably has its own unique healing power, drawn from its exposure to the transformative “radioenergy” of the thermal springs near which it was found. It is also a lovely yellow which is a reminder of the light within us all. So far so New Age - that's the Bohemian half : )

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Image: Christian Schloe

Eat, Pray, Love...


Eaten: way more gluten/dairy/animal protein than my body needs or wants (and it shows)

Prayed: for safety, health and happiness during our travel adventure and thanked the universe for our good fortune in two Greek orthodox monasteries and most of the churches on Ikaria

Loved: both what is different and what is the same about the various people and places we have met, as well as each other in different and more lovely ways than I had imagined


Thea and Ilia of Theas' Inn


POST 4: 29th September 2016, Athens, Greece. 

We have been ‘on the road’ now for exactly one month. One down, ten to go. This is both comforting – we did it! – as well as scary, because the last four weeks have felt very much like a holiday and for that reason I’m not convinced that they 'count'. Although holiday is exactly what we wanted – a warm up for us all: time to practise living out of a rucksack, to acclimatise to being together all of the time, a chance to slow down and enjoy the lack of deadlines. I thought I might feel panicky and perhaps regret our hair-brained decision once we’d left home but actually it’s been quite the opposite (apart from a 2 minute wobble when scrolling through everyone's 'back-to-school' photos).


Photo caption: strawberries, purslane and vines (left); feeding the goats (right)

In fact, not having any routine to follow nor having anyone to answer to has been SO liberating. We can do what we want! When we want! Which is kind of odd for me. Because as a Virgo, I like structure. Actually, that's an understatement, I LOVE structure - I followed the Gina Ford parenting method for goodness sake. But too much of anything starts to feel restrictive. And we were at that tipping point just before we left (come to think of it, this might well have been precisely because I birthed three kids in three years all of whom were 'encouraged' to follow Gina Ford). So in keeping with the walking paradox that I am, I had to go from one extreme to the other: from a strait jacket to naked; from parochial to feral; from a settled life to a nomadic one. And whilst I felt a bit guilty about dragging the kids along with me during the plannings stages, my doubts were proven to be wholly unfounded. We are all having a brilliant time!


Photo caption: pottery workshop - making traditional coil pots (left) and painting my wheel-made dish (right)

So what did we do in our last two weeks on the enchanted island of Ikaria? Well, we built on the rapport that the kids had already helped us to establish with the locals during the first week of our stay. This was made easier by the fact that the tourist 'season' had already come to a close and we were part of only a handful left. In fact, even the majority of the Greek owners of shops, restaurants and rooms had either already headed back to Athens when we got back from Syros or were planning to. So our first move (in an attempt to manage our waistlines and watch our budget) was to move to self-catering studios just opposite our old lodgings at the aptly-named Artemis.


Photo caption: chillaxing in a beach bar (left); the view from our room at Artemis (right)

This boasts a stunning view of Nas beach, a gorgeous pottery shop and overlooks the ruins of the temple dedicated to the goddess of the same name. And we filled our time with the simple things in life: we created ceramic cups, pots and jewellery by hand and on a wheel at the Artemis pottery workshop; I thinned the vines on Ilia’s farm (from which the food and wine is harvested for Thea's Inn), and we fed his menagerie of goats, sheep, hens, geese and rabbits. We milked his goats (or at least attempted to - I thought it would be easy with my extensive experience of the Mandela swing pump but no, I got a mere squirt compared to Ilia's strong jet) and then learnt how to make fresh cheese from it. And whilst Andrew shovelled and spread fertiliser amongst the vines, the kids picked the last of the season’s strawberries and my new favourite salad vegetable: purslane (a delicious leaf whose firm, crunchy stems and small leaves taste like a cross between salty samphire and watercress).


Photo caption: modelling my new hand-made necklace and bracelet on our balcony (left); Raphael on the wheel - not bad for a 3 year old (right)

We did quite a bit of exploring too: we drove from one tip of the island to the other in the search of yet more secret beaches and trekked to a beautiful waterfall at the end of a steep canyon where we left five individually-crafted cairns in homage to it. (We had intended to go swimming in the fresh water pool below but I boycotted the idea after spotting no less than three crabs and an eel swimming in the river just round the corner. Luckily I only found out on our return that our sandals were “the wrong shoes” to have worn as there are snakes and scorpions on the trail!). We pilgrimaged to a haunting cave whose energy I found so moving it was almost overwhelming (I later found out that it is said to be the birthplace of Dionysus - no wonder the energy was strong - he was the God of wine, fertility and divine ecstasy!). We discovered even more formidable, pre-historic rock formations and came across yet more charmingly quaint churches (I have a new thing for tiny, village Greek churches – oozing spiritual energy with their simplified forms and pared-down but still gorgeously ornate, decorations).


Photo caption: the teeny church on the very tip of the eastern edge of Ikaria both outside (top right); and inside (top left); Dionysus' birthplace (bottom right); the stalactites inside the cave (bottom left)

I even had my bottom warmed (actually ‘burnt’ is probably the better word) whilst hovering over an underwater, boiling-hot, thermal-spring jet. Apparently it had also recently been visited by Jamie Oliver whilst on the hunt for new, super-food recipes!

So clearly the island holds an energetic attraction for many and not just for those who want to join the Blue-Zone centenarian club. We have continued to enjoy meeting an eclectic range of visitors: a musician and the new star of the Time is Art documentary sequel who also introduced us to a slightly far-out branch of Mayan Astrology according to which each of us has their own Dreamspell Galactic Signature (I’m a Blue Night in case you were wondering); a fellow women’s circle holder and healer from New York; and a bohemian Austrian couple who were one of the first groups of travellers to come to Nas 35 years ago when it was renowned for both its authentic food as well as for its nudists (the beach still boasts a few ageing versions). Maybe its allure lies with its palpable energy (apparently some can’t stand it and have been known to leave the very day they arrive) or maybe it's because it is, for the most part, so unspoilt (there was no electricity in the village of Nas until the 1980s) which has allowed its raw and haunting natural beauty to remain mostly intact.


Photo caption: my solo hike to Dionysus' cave - to ward off impending vertigo (at times it felt like the path was leading me off the edge of a cliff) I told myself to "just follow the red dot" (top left); half way there (top right); our trek upstream to find the hidden waterfall. The view back to the sea (bottom left) and into the mountains (bottom right)

And what are the things that we have learnt during our first month of travel? That the kids culinary repertoire has not really expanded despite forcing them to try at least one mouthful of each new food (“too many herbs”, “too spicy”) and that instead they have discovered a new love of olive oil and have been gorging on white bread drenched in it at every meal; that I need to wear a hat in the sun if I am to avoid returning looking like a mottled prune (I am now speckled with sun spots despite wearing daily factor 50 – one of the disadvantages of being over 40?) and that I should take photos of every room in every Airbnb we stay in as evidence of the state in which we left it: we learnt this the hard way - to our shock we were wrongly accused of leaving our accommodation in Syros in a complete mess which, according to the photos that were sent to us, looks like it had actually been burgled. And unfortunately for us, the owner doesn’t know that I am a Virgoan, control freak as well as a neat obsessive because I have no photos to prove it. It is slightly stressful knowing that her email notifying us of this was cced to her ‘family lawyer’ and that she hails from the most litigious city on the planet, but we are trying to let it go for now.

Other things that we have learnt? That Andrew and I still have no will power when it comes to eating out and that we consistently over-order; that one should never eat olives fresh off the tree - they are inedible; that the kids are amazing swimmers even when faced with waves that are much, much taller than they are (thanks to the intensive swimming course they underwent just before we left); that Raphael never, ever stops talking unless he is eating or asleep and that Coco never, ever stops singing unless she is asleep (when she sleep talks instead).


Photo caption: dramatic scenery - where the mountain bowed before the sea (top); very rough seas didn't deter my lot. To clarify this shot somewhat, Andrew is 6ft 5 - see how much bigger the waves are than him and yet my brave little kids didn't bat an eyelid. Bobomama preferred to stay on the beach reading Vogue (bottom left); views of nearby islands from the very eastern tip of the island (bottom right)

Most importantly perhaps, we have learnt that we need to keep an eye on our budget earlier on in the month rather than tallying everything up in the last week. Currently, we are £200 over which I blame entirely on a overzealous bourgeois side: we booked flights to and from Ikaria rather than a ferry (the 35 minutes versus 7 hours just looked too tempting despite costing double) and we opted for a taxi to take us into the centre of Athens from the airport rather than the metro (this cost us a whopping £89 instead of £15). Needless to say we didn't repeat this mistake.

Since doing the books, we have however managed to keep the overspend down by subsisting on just 65 euros over two days including accommodation, food and wine - I splashed out on a 500ml plastic bottle costing 1.20 euros containing a white of no known provenance, no known grape variety and no known vintage. It was delicious. (Just don't tell anyone I am a wine specialist). Unfortunately though, this meant we didn’t sleep a wink. Our budget Airbnb flat may have been superbly positioned in some respects (only 10 minutes walk from the Acropolis and based in a very up-and-coming district bursting with trees and vegetation, dilapidated mansions, quirky boutiques and trendy art galleries cum coffee shops) but it was also located a) on the first floor just above a traffic intersection (think revving motorcycles) b) facing a busy roundabout (think accelerating motorcycles) and c) literally no further than 10 metres away from an overland subway line (think very loud screeching of metal on metal as each train went round the bend opposite our room every 15 minutes).


Photo caption: culture balanced with play - view from the Acropolis (left); view of the Acropolis (right)

To make matters worse, there was a crane stationed just outside the front door for both days of our stay relieving the builders in the flat above us of the rubble and furniture they had just demolished (think hammers banging, saws cutting and the crane device inching up and back down all day long). How every single person that bothered to write a review of the flat failed to notice this beats me. Were they all deaf? Drunk on Ouzo? This hardship was partly assuaged by our tour of the Acropolis itself. It is just as splendid (despite undergoing renovations) as it was 23 years ago when I last visited. Predictably, I took pretty much the same photos as I took then although these now include a few more wrinkles and three small people.


Photo caption: another day, another cliff walk (top left); majestic scenery (top right); a beautiful cat we fell in love with during our river gorge walk who followed us back to our room and whom we decided to secretly adopt for a couple of days. Just don't tell the hotel (bottom)

Our next destination is Myanmar. It feels exciting. And also slightly daunting. Not just because it is one of the South East Asian countries to which I have never been, nor only because I haven’t been back to the region in 7 years. The thing that makes me most nervous is that it is the first time I’ve been with children. Three of them. All under 7. And that Myanmar is not touristy. At all. In fact, it only really opened its doors to foreigners in the last decade and some still feel it should be boycotted because of its political regime. But I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to stick to my new mantra which is to ‘follow the red dot’ just as you do on a European nature walk – you know, those little chalked or painted stripes and dots that are placed strategically on trees or stones to show you the right way? Well I’ve decided to keep in sight only the next metaphorical dot and no more than that. To live just one day at a time and to react to the circumstances that unfold around me rather than try to map out an unknown future.

This is partly as a result of the Human Design reading (a bit like astrology) that I was gifted for my birthday just before we left (which said that if I adopt patience and accept the flow of life rather than pushing my own agenda regardless, all the right opportunities will come my way - and I like the sound of that!) and partly because it’s not that much fun being a planner. Unsurprisingly, it’s actually quite stressful trying to control the unknown because guess what? You can't! What is surprising however is how easy I’m finding this! Probably because I am a far less stressed parent since we left. The children definitely are being raised by the proverbial ‘village’ here which means that I am hardly ever in charge of all three by myself and if I do get to the point where I am about to get annoyed with them, I leave them with Andrew until I’ve got over myself. Thankfully these episodes is now quite rare because the kids are generally much better behaved as a result of spending so much time with others. They now get a lot of attention from a lot of people. The one potential downside of this is that they get too used to it. I worry slightly that they might come back super needy and assuming that everyone already loves or should love them. But since that's eleven months away and doesn't fit in with my new mantra, we’ll just have to cross that bridge if and when we get to it...


Photo caption: a very tall man in front of a very tall building (left); our ridiculous flat in Athens - please note traffic light bottom right, crane in front, roundabout just to left and overland subway line right ahead (right)

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First the shabby, now for the chic...


Kids’ Homeschooling: 3hr     Bikram Yoga Series completed: once     Rain: once     Books read: 0     Parks visited: 5     Favourite local dish so far: giant prawns     Local food now sick of eating: goat’s cheese/yoghurt     Average adult one-on-one time spent per day: 2 minutes     Number of steps required to descend/ascend from our Syros dwelling to the edge of town: 275     Number of times we have had to carry moaning children up them: every single time     Total number of Greek words learnt and used: 10     Number of cheap pairs of sunglasses bought and damaged before I had to resort to a decent (ie. expensive) pair (despite leaving my three expensive pairs at home so that they didn’t get damaged/stolen during our trip): 2     Item of packing I definitely didn't need to include: hairdryer


POST 3: 14th September 2016, Ano Syros, Greece. 

Living like locals is all very well but sometimes a girl needs a little bit of glamour. Especially on her birthday. The older I get, the more I feel it necessary to ‘go away’ in order to feel sufficiently special. (Demanding? Moi?) So having weighed up various options, including Amorgos (almost purely because it is where my favourite film ever, Le Grand Bleu, with its formerly swoonsome lead actor Jean-Marc Barr, is filmed) and Mykonos (dismissed as too Ibiza-chic for our current parents-of-three-under-seven status – it would just get frustrating not being able to join in with the parteeee) we settled for an injection of sophistication and busyness from the nearby island of Syros. Its bustling main town, Ermopoulis, is the capital of the Cyclades group of islands and is home to the Aegean university, immigration office and even a casino. It offered the perfect antidote to the stupor induced by seven days on the rural idyll of Ikaria. That said, the island is actually pretty tiny; it took only ten minutes to cross over to a beach on the opposite side and you could probably explore the whole thing in a day.


Unlike Ikaria, which mostly consists of barren rock rising steeply out of the ocean, with its main road circling at least 50 meters above this, on Syros most of the road network is at sea level itself. This has made for a blissfully welcome change because going to the beach no longer demands we assume the qualities of both goat (balancing precariously on tiny outcrops whilst scaling down a rock face) and donkey (carrying towels, body boards, water, snacks, towels, wallet etc) at the same time. That missing adrenalin rush has been transferred instead to the place in which we are staying - largely because there are no internal stairs. These have been added as part of a renovation and since railings wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the (very arty, tasteful, minimalist) decor, there are none. We tried to ban the children from using these vertiginous death-traps joining each of the house’s four floors by themselves but that only lasted about an hour. Now I’m just crossing my fingers.

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Photo caption: narrow medieval streets with overhanging balconies (left); our scary, internal stairs (top right); multi-coloured wood contrasts with white-washed walls, green cacti and mottled stone pavings (bottom right)

Otherwise the house (found on AirBnB) is pretty awesome. It is part of the original medieval settlement of Ano Syros founded by the Venetians in the 13th Century. Crammed higgledy-piggledy on top of one another, as well as scattered on either side of a steep hill, the stocky, thick-walled dwellings slightly resemble a giant’s unsuccessful Jenga game, all of which is ring-fenced below by a crumbling, brick-lined moat. Counter to expectations, crowning the hill-top is not a castle but a huge Catholic cathedral, the latest (and fifth version of a religious monument erected on the site) built in the 19th Century. So, sitting proudly atop the opposite hill (no rivalry intended of course), is an equally huge Greek Orthodox church built at exactly the same time.

Narrow, winding steps criss-cross over the steep mound that is the old town, both connecting as well as separating inhabitants from each other. Our house boasts no less than three doors onto street level, each of which is at a different height. Our windows look almost directly into our neighbour’s about a metre away on each side. It is both comforting as well as disconcerting.


Photo caption: he timeless back-streets of Hermoupolis

As glamour goes, Syros is not particularly so. We’re not talking designer Mykonos. But there are funky shops, majestic Venetian mansions, shady outdoor restaurants and a few cool-looking wine bars. The scene feels both timelessly Greek as well as up-and-coming; authentic as well as swanky. This balance was beautifully exemplified by Ono: a cool beach bar/restaurant sufficiently in tune with the scene to consider itself not merely an eatery but a ‘concept’, adorned with pre-requisite sunset loungers shaded by crocheted parasols, outdoor and indoor massage areas accompanying the in-house spa (which I did sample), Crystal champagne at 400 euros a bottle on the wine menu (which we didn’t sample), a designer clothing and eyewear shop, and anthemic beats. Unbeknownst to us before choosing it as the venue for my birthday celebrations, it has already featured on Vogue’s list of ‘under the radar’ must-visit Greek island bars. So as a true Bobomama, I did.

a bit of Champagne

Photo caption: BoboMama loves a bit of Champagne (top); sunset at Ono concept (bottom)

As for the nitty gritty of travel, I am already bored of all of my clothes. In fact, I was fed up after about 5 days and my daily selection hasn’t got any larger (apart from a sneaky pair of sandals and some jewellery). I am also most definitely over doing the laundry. Rather sadly (as it is so mundane), this is proving to be the second biggest challenge of the trip so far. Not surprisingly the kids are not producing any less for me to wash than they did at home and yet here I am equipped with only two paltry tubes of travel wash and a miniature travel washing line (pegless though – pretty nifty actually) which hangs only half a load at the best of times.

Past outsourcing experiences have not been entirely positive: our old hostel in Ikaria managed to re-categorise everything that would formerly have been considered ‘light’ into a new ‘shade-of-blue’ category (despite my having pre-divided the load before submitting it - clearly they thought I was being fussy and just bunged it all in together); and they then managed to shrink Andrew’s t-shirts in the tumble drier. These shouldn’t be allowed on the island at all frankly, given its searing temperatures and its famous meltemi summer winds, but it was exactly because of the latter and the staff’s fear that our clothes would be blown off-shore by them that they resorted to using one (at least that was their excuse).

Unfortunately for Andrew however, when you are 6ft 5 with a long body, not one millimetre of t-shirt material can be spared; his resulting crop tops had to be ‘let go’ of. In Syros, I do now have my own machine but the spin cycle doesn’t work so everything comes out weighing a ton and needs individual hand-wringing before being hoisted up the gravity-defying, rail-less stairs onto the roof terrace to be scorched of all colour (I have at least learnt this – clothes must be dried inside out here).

Greek Orthodox church of Syros

Photo caption: the 19th Century Greek Orthodox church of Syros. There is something about the unabashed gawdiness of these that I just love. They always have a great atmosphere and feel very warm and inviting (left); I'd never seen this before but I'm assuming this was the fashion at one point? It's not a great one. Tiny spaces are left for the head of the painting to poke through; the rest has been "adorned" with silver. Presumably because it was thought to be more precious at the time and therefore more of a tribute to God? Unfortunately all of the paintings in this church had been covered in this way (right)

The biggest challenge of all however has been carving out adult together/alone time. As we are now in a house as opposed to spread over two hotel rooms, this has meant we can share a room instead of being divided up amongst the children (good). Unfortunately however, this has not meant that we have actually spoken together for longer than 5 minutes without either being interrupted or falling asleep with exhaustion (bad).

At the moment we are still being very active and like to go out for most if not all of the day to explore our destination. This is exciting and fun but does not leave much time for anything else. The time left over has to be spent on eating, food shopping, pharmacy visits, homeschooling or catching up on work, which doesn’t really leave any space for reflection, self-reflection or adult conversation. I am finding this quite frustrating, but know that we will get better at this the longer we are abroad and the more we are able to stay in one place.


Photo caption: The warden of the church had been looking after it for no less than 45 years. Prior to that he had sold fish and chips on Manley Beach, Australia. He couldn't wait to sneak out into the vestry to play his harmonica and show the children a little jig. You can never judge a book by its cover! (left); My birthday "cake" Greek style. The most honey-drenched baklava you can imagine alongside orange and honey-drenched polenta (?) cake. Luckily the kids didn't really like it so I had to have their portions too (right)

I have nonetheless managed two bouts of solo exercise even though this freedom came with a price to pay: yoga on the beach (I felt like a pretentious numpty doing it in the first place but even more so when the whole of the local Greek population stared me through the sequence) and a brisk walk to the nearby village in the dead of night (the only time I could squeeze this in was between 10.45 to 11.45pm). The positives on both occasions were serene, beautiful surroundings and in the latter case, nothing other than the moon and starlight to lead the way. It was pretty special.

Other travel perils to note so far have included a horrible, poisonous anemone sting for Xanthe which has metamorphosed over the last week from what resembled a large burn, to a criss cross of varicose vein-coloured lines and finally to an itchy host of slightly oozing, pitted scratches. I had no idea anemones were poisonous. Luckily at the time I had some Anthisan with me on the otherwise deserted beach which, I was later told by a pharmacist, made all the difference. We will now be avoiding all rocks with any form of sea vegetation on them just to be safe!


Photo caption: school lunch time entertainment Greek-style. Having popped to the park we heard whistles and shouting so I rushed the children down to the port to see the street "carnival". It turned out it was just the kids on their school lunch break. Hoards of them playing in the square surrounded by mothers sipping coffees in the cafes surrounding it. There were about 15 of these electric cars doing a loop round some trees. Irrisistable (left); on our walk into the port one evening we came across this 7 year old boy putting on a puppet show for passers-by. His grandfather in the room behind had proudly made it for him based on his favourite boytime activity. The "soundtrack" to the puppet show was blaring with granny and a friend sat on little wooden chairs showing encouragement. It was so lovely (right)

What I am loving on the other hand, is meeting so many new people, each with their own story and intrigue: a Bulgarian/American couple in their 60s from San Francisco tracking down every centenarian on Ikaria as part of their quest for the secret elixir of life; a ceramicist from the Acropolis museum (we have already lined up a family pottery day); a renowned Turkish director; an aspiring Greek actor/director and his wife who founded the quirky This Famous Tiny Circus Theatre Group; a half-Indian/half-Italian (just think of the food delights he must have sampled growing up) former New Dehli B&B owner who will shortly be returning with his lovely French/Swiss/German girlfriend to set up and run a new one this autumn (he has inspired us to re-route our travels in order to go and visit them), the French host of a residential 5 Rythmns dance group and a beguiling young man who I met on the deck of the ferry leaving Ikaria who had been staying, along with various other urban hippies, in part of a controversial "camp" located on the beach of Nas. I had already learnt from our former hostel owners that these were somewhat pejoratively referred to as ‘river dwellers’  (since they merely sleep in the gorge at night but enjoy the creature comforts of the restaurants above the rest of the time). Half way through our esoteric conversation he let slip that his father is an eminent politician. I do love a fellow Bourgeois Bohemian.

Certainly we must seem above-averagely fascinating for once with our family-of-5-taking-12-months-off-to-travel-the-world tale, and perhaps this is bringing out the best in others. Or maybe we are just being exposed to the more laid-back, off-season travel crew. Either way, the world does definitely seem like a more open, exciting place once you’ve committed to exploring it!

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