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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