Author: Natalie Chatalie

The Cats of Paxos

Following on from my Cats of Istanbul post, I decided to continue to allow the evidence to pile up for my crazy cat lady trial one day by sharing some pics of all my favourite moggies from Paxos, Greece. Just like in Istanbul, I again suffered a severe case of empathy and affection for the street cats and set about giving them indigestion by supplying them with more food than their poor deprived bellies probably knew what to do with.

We stayed in an apartment about a fifteen minute walk out of Gaios, so the bulk of these cats are the little family that lived around the apartment. The poor things were noticeably thinner and riddled with more infections than the cats who hung around the town squares and they were very wary of humans, so mostly not inclined to want any direct contact with us. But we had to be very careful in any case not to get scratched and unwittingly bring home any diseases for our own cats, so it’s not like we were upset we couldn’t pick them up for a cuddle.

By the end of the week their individual personalities had come through, they were a lot more comfortable around us and, maybe we’re imagining this bit, they seemed all a lot healthier to have had a week’s worth of good feeds.

Paxos Cats

This is Buddy (Yes we named them, shut up). He was the friendliest and least scared of humans. The owner of our apartment’s husband described him thus –  “He’s my favourite, no dick, very smart!”

Paxos Cats

Here’s Champagne. Did you know when they spay a cat they chop a chunk off their ear? I did not. I just thought a hell of a lot of them had been street fighting.

Paxos Cats

Here’s Mummy (we put lots of imagination into these names!!) and her 4 kittens. We only saw the kittens after about 4 days. They hid in the bushes and only came out when she called them, so we made sure we fed her a lot so she could look after them.

Paxos Cats

This little one was the only kitten who had the guts to come out from behind that fence. It was definitely the runt of the litter and made a good attempt to eat that dry food, even – I hope you’re not eating while reading this – throwing up half way through, reingesting the throw up and eating away again. Niiiice. I doubt dry food like this is good for such a tiny kitten but what are you gonna do when you’re the runt and you’re starving?

Paxos Cats

Indulging the human with the big metal thing she keeps pointing at them.

Paxos Cats

Here’s Balls. Bet you can’t guess why we named him that? Balls had this worried look on his face all the time and after Buddy, was the most affectionate of the lot. I loved him. Poor little guy was also petrified of the massive alpha-male cat who showed up a couple of times, but to be fair so were the girls.

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Paxos – what to know before you go

If you’re looking for a quiet Greek island, somewhere there won’t be hordes of 20-somethings trying to figure out the fine balance between just waking up with a raging hangover or in  hospital with alcohol poisoning, then Paxos could possibly be the place for you.

Located 14 km’s south of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, Paxos is only only around 10km’s long and 4km’s wide. It started life waaaaay back in ancient times when the god of the sea, Poseidon, was looking for a little weekend getaway spot for himself and the wife. So, being a god, he simply swung his super cool trident and chopped off the bottom bit of Corfu. Sorted.

If you’ve discovered Paxos for yourself but you’re still not sure if it’s the right Greek island for you, hopefully the below will help you make up your mind. Here’s what I think you should know about Paxos before you go.

Hire a Boat

A boat hire is must do for at least one day on Paxos, even if you’ve never driven one before. The west side of the island is the choppy/scary side, so often the boat companies won’t let you even attempt it on windy days, but the east side has plenty to keep you occupied. Starting from Gaios (which we did) there’s oodles of small beaches and calm inlets to pull into ans explore all the way up to the northernmost village, Lakka.

Starting at only 40 Euros a day (plus petrol) boat hires in Paxos are surprisingly affordable, a whole heap of fun and kind of freaky at times if you’re a complete novice. But surviving a near death experience will just make for more exciting holiday stories. Kidding. Just be sensible, relax and trust that your little boat can actually handle much mightier waves than what you’re freaking out about in the open sea sections and you’ll be fine.

There are many boat hire companies in all of the Paxos villages and I’m sure you’ll get similar quality boats and prices, but I should mention the guys we used are called Paxos Real Estate and Boats for Hire in Gaios and found them to be great. Eleftheris gave us a detailed lesson and safety briefing in the harbour before we set off and Katerina was just as helpful (and hilarious) during the paperwork part.

Below is an example of the secret little spots you might discover when exploring by boat. Not too bad, huh?

lakka Paxos

Hike to the Tripitos Arch

Located on the western coast of Paxos, Tripitos Arch is somewhere most visitors will find whilst in a boat. It looks like this…

tripitos arch paxos

As you may have guessed by the fact that I was able to take this shot, you can get there on foot too. But it’s not easy. Well, not easy to find I mean. The actual hiking bit is not too bad. I’d read as many blogs as I could for clues but except for quite a few sites telling me I should have ordered myself a detailed hiking map before I left the UK, there were no really helpful instructions. So I went to one of the tourist shops in Gaios and bought the most detailed looking map of the three basic ones they had on offer and asked the shop guy to point out to me where it was. It took him and about five of his friends and relatives to find it eventually on the south coast, so if you actually manage to find the thing, give yourself a big pat on the back.

We hired bicycles and set off to see if we could find the right hiking trail to start with. Here’s a big tip. Paxos is hilly. Bicycling is hard.

Feeling like we’d missed the hiking trail, we asked the owner of a store on the side of the road if he knew where it was. When I said the arch was proving difficult to find, he agreed it should be better sign posted and clucked in understanding, saying “We have a stupid Mayor”. Unfortunately, his instructions went like this – “Go back down this road. Where the hill is the flattest, turn left. Walk 400m up. When you are facing the sea, go right. You will think you should left here, but no, first go right. Then when you are facing the sea again, go left. And then you will be there.”

Ummm… well, yes… on reflection he was absolutely correct, but it’s always easier to decipher cryptic clues in hindsight. After a bit of doubling back and lots of frustration we eventually saw a little sign pointing into an overgrown ‘path’. So yes sorry, this is now unhelpful Tripitos Arch blog post number 205 and I have in no way helped you with how find the bloody thing. But maybe the pictures are inspiration enough to go on an adventure.

Can you spot the human in that shot? Yep, you can walk right out onto the arch!

tripitos arch Paxos

Don’t Expect Food Heaven

Finding amazing food is normally top on my wishlist for a fantastic holiday but even the owner of our apartment admitted that Paxos is not known for its food. I’m sure we could have found some places where the dishes were a cut above, but three times it cost 30 Euros for a couple of mezes (nothing fancy – dip, cheese, tomato salad), a beer and a coke and the food was average at best. Even the bakeries were a disappointment. A bag of 10 small brioche buns had 7 that were hard as stone and a mix of local style cookies were so tasteless we threw them away. Boo. We did have very tasty ice-cream almost every day though, so they get that right. After a day or two I accepted we weren’t going to be blown away in the food department so we switched to cooking our own meals and taking lunch out with us.

Except for one place we tried in Lakka (the northernmost village) we ate all of our food in Gaios. This Lakka meal was easily the best of the trip, so maybe that’s where you have to go for value for money, tasty food.

Anti-Paxos

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Athens Street Food Festival

Athens’ Urban Scene – where to go when you’re done with the classics

Athens is undeniably one of the best cities in the world for immersing yourself in the ancient world, but what do you do after a few days when you hit ‘peak history’? Where do you go for more modern, urban entertainment? According to my list below, the answer is Gazi, the cool, industrial area north-west of Athens’ Old Town. Here’s seven places where you can get yourself a mix of food, drinks and music, plus art that isn’t quite as old as all the rest up there on that ubiquitous hill. And yep, four of them are in Gazi.

Technopolis

Located on the site of an old gasworks, Technopolis is a mixed arts venue where you can see just about every form of art and performance you can think of. It’s an interesting space to check out but unless you’re there for a specific event, you’ll probably not need more than an hour or so to have a good nosey about. Entry to the site is free, but there’s a small charge for some of the exhibits inside, like the small museum that tells you about the history of the gasworks.

Technopolis

The Technopolis gasworks chimneys make finding the place in the dark a cinch.

Technopolis

People gathering to enjoy the free jazz festival concert.

Athens Street Food Festival

The very first Athens Street Food Festival happened to take place when I was there (May 2016). From what I saw it was a huge success, so keep an eye on their Facebook page to see if there’s one happening when you’re there. Held in a huge abandoned building, it was just across the road from Technopolis (cnr Ermou and Peireos Streets). Handy. Inside there were over twenty street food stalls with food from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. There was also a DJ and stage set up for live music later, a couple of bars and a genuinely friendly vibe all round from both the staff and revelers. It was family and dog friendly too, not that you’d have your dog with you while you’re traveling, but anyway, now you know there’s dogs to fuss over if you’re missing yours.

Athens Street Food Festival

Athens Street Food Festival

Bios

Bios is another mixed media venue with arts and fashion events, film screenings, seminars, photography exhibitions, dance, theatre and, my favourite, a rooftop bar with a view of the Acropolis. I would definitely check their website or Facebook page to see if there’s any events on that interest you while you’re in Athens, but if not, the roof is a chilled place to have a few drinks. It’s a little tricky to find though, so here’s a tip. Bios is on the corner of Peireos (very happening street it appears)  and Salaminos Streets. If you walk into the bar on the ground floor you’ll not find any stairs to a rooftop inside. The stairs are outside on Salaminos Street. Again there’s no signage and it looks like the entrance to an apartment block, but head on up a couple of flights and you’ll find the terrace. There was a very mixed crowd when I was there early evening (even an elderly couple sitting on some sun loungers enjoying a cocktail) but I suspect the younger, hipper kids turn up en-masse closer to midnight.

Bios rooftop bar

Bios rooftop bar

Avdi Square

Bordering the corners of Leonidou, Kerameikou, Giatrakou and Germanikou streets in Gazi, Avdi Square is where the locals go to hang out and where, if you do too, you’ll get a real feel for what Gazi is all about. The square has the Municipal Gallery, restaurants with chairs that spill out onto the square and, as Gazi’s also known as the LGBTQI centre of the city, you’ll find the very popular lesbian bar Myrovolos here too. There’s regular street parties, festivals and art displays, but even if nothing much is going on it’s simply a good place to wander to during the day (closest Metro station is Metaxourgio), have some drinks or a meal and enjoy some prime people watching.

For some reason I have no photos of the time I spent in the square. Probably something to do with the fact it was our last stop on a six venue ‘hop’ and I may or may not have lost control of my arms and/or vision by then.

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Barcelona’s Gracia – the artsy neighbourhood

I recently went to Barcelona for the fist time. By myself. And once again I’m left pondering how many things have to go wrong whilst solo travelling before you can credibly declare yourself cursed? And more importantly, why don’t I have more friends? By my calculations it’s three. Not friends, I mean you need to have a shit solo holiday three times before you can start believing there’s been some jiggery pokery in the universe and your travel fortunes.

Last year I went to Istanbul solo. Wasn’t the most successful trip ever. No power or water in my apartment for two days out of four, humid September weather I hadn’t packed for and an early morning groping by some arsehole on the way to my airport bus. Barcelona on the other hand gave me two firsts, but not the kinds you can show off on Facebook about. Nah. Barcelona gave me my first ever dose of food poisoning and a £350/14hr flight back home when I realised way too late, like, at the departure gate, I’d booked the wrong date for my return journey. I have one more chance. After that, god help me, I’ll have to resort to solo travel group tours (is that an oxymoron) for my own safety.

I’m still not sure what I thought of Barcelona. It was January, about ten degrees, but that’s not a complaint because the sun was still out and there were no crowds. There was a palpable relaxed vibe to the whole city which I enjoyed, especially in the deserted, calming, beach-side Barceloneta. It’s undoubtedly beautiful, the architecture is stunning, the people are friendly and the food is good. But it just didn’t have that thing for me, that thing that hits you about a place almost the second you get off a plane, the instant click, like meeting a stranger at a party who gets your t-shirt quote without having to explain where it’s from.

So here’s the best I can do, the one thing I did quite like; Gracia, a village directly north of the Avenue Diagonal. Experiencing a bit of a surge in popularity lately, it’s essentially a family neighbourhood, but if you let yourself get lost wandering the grid-like streets you’ll soon see it has a lot to offer visitors too. Gracia is full of beautiful architecture (again), decades old specialty food shops (cheese, ham, legumes, bicycles, confectionery), endearingly cluttered bodegas full of colourful locals, street art, restaurants and little hidden squares just made for sitting to take a breather and people watch.

Gracia Barcelona

There’s some of that architecture. The first floor is always the fanciest because it was typically where the owners lived

Gracia Barcelona

Late afternoon sun makes for great shadows in shots.

Gracia Barcelona

I love old school shops. So much more character than modern chain stores.

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Beyolgu, Istanbul’s trendy hood – in pictures

Think Istanbul and what springs to mind? Mosques, markets, kebabs, Turkish Delight? Well, yes probably, if, like me, you’d never been to Turkey and just had stereotypes to go on. But surprise surprise, there’s another side to the city that straddles two continents. Once you’ve ticked off all the usual suspects, hip and happening Beyoglu is definitely an area you should spend a day wandering around.

Here’s why.

Istanbul 10

Amidst trendy, tourist magnet shops, much of the area is dotted with grand Ottoman era mansions. Once known as Pera, Beyoglu’s Greek, Italian (particularly Venetian and Genoese) and western European influences are evident in the Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles of the beautiful buildings you see on every street. They’d been left empty and crumbling for decades, but the young are moving in, the buildings are being done up and cafes, restaurants and bars are doing a huge trade. The area is still very rundown, but walking around the streets it’s very easy to imagine the grandeur of the past. And it’s easy to see how that grandeur may soon return. Personally, I kind of like the current shabby/cool vibe.

istanbul 7

istanbul 8

istanbul 9

Istanbul 6

Street art seems to be quite popular here too. (more…)

Istanbul Hans

Most visitors to Istanbul will find themselves in a market sooner or later, and while shopping meccas like this are my idea of hell, there is one little known aspect to them that are well worth seeking out; the hans. And when I say seek, I do really mean seek, because if you didn’t know they were there, well, you wouldn’t know they were there.

Long ago the hans functioned as small inns, places where the travelling merchants who supplied the markets with goods from far and wide would stay for a night or two. These days they are workshops for what’s left of Istanbul’s craftsmen. If you’re brave enough to wander down passages off the main isles in places like The Grand Bazaar, The Spice Bazaar and the Old City Market, you’ll no doubt soon find yourself in a han. Here you’ll get to see workshops where men practice skills passed down for centuries to make textiles, shishas and probably most of the items you’ll see for sale out in the main thoroughfares of the markets.

While the hans are not exactly sign posted for tourists to find, don’t be shy, there’s nothing stopping you walking around and having a look. Some people will be busy and not want to be approached, but if you whip out a smile and a hello, many will be happy to show you what they are doing and let you take a photo. These men are true artists and their skills are dying out, almost as quickly as the hans themselves are. With parts of a roof missing here, chunks of a wall falling apart there, there’s such an ancient and authentic feel to them, but they certainly wouldn’t be passing any health and safety checks.

Great Mother Han Istanbul

A textile workers room

The Great Mother Han Istanbul

The Great Mother Han Istanbul

Within the hans there are little cafes where you can go for a tea or something to eat, or have one brought to you throughout the day by a cafe worker like this.

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