Friday, 9 May 2014

The Cheap Greek Holiday Guide....

Holidays in Greece are no longer considered low cost holidays. Gone are the days where the exchange rate made you feel like a Drachma millionaire in a paradise, with notes to spare at the end of the week. This paved the way for the advent of the All Inclusive holidays, with companies like First Choice now entirely dedicated to this style, and away went the cash flow of Greek holiday destinations like Corfu. The knock on effect was that prices in resorts rose in a desperate bid to make some profit from the few half boarders and self caterers available. Vicious circle, ad infinitum.

Drachma to Euro

Combined with the general increase of the cost of living across Europe, Greece is no longer the spendthrifts haven it used to be. But, and this is a big but, it can still be affordable. Too many people let price dictate where they go, rather than deciding where they want to go and finding the holiday within their budget. You should invest your time, not your savings, in getting away to your ideal destination.

A little research takes your money a whole lot further. With such resources available as Tripadvisor and so much information widely available online there really is no excuse not to get where you want to go at the price that is right for you.

 I had a scout around online, looking at the end of this month for a week, and there are some amazing bargains to be had. Thomson, I hate to admit, came up trumps with flights and self catering apartments for just £162.00 per person. And I’m talking decent time flights, i.e. normal waking hours, and in a nice resort. Cosmos came a close second at £179.50 for a similar deal. I could have checked out other package holiday companies but it goes too far against the grain for me to delve too far down that road.

If you’d rather go independently, return flights I found from £88.00 – £142.00 through the big holiday companies and Easyjet. Rooms are very easily sourced through sites like, and my personal favourite for bargains and sound reviews,, which has the added advantage that you can pay when you get there. I find their website very easy to navigate and have used them several times in the last couple of years with great success.

Corfu - Beaches

So for roughly £200.00 you can get to Greece and back and have a weeks’ accommodation, what are you waiting for, and what are you going to do with the rest of your spending money? My advice is hiring a car; all the franchised companies like Avis, Hertz and Alamo operate in Greece. They do tend to be expensive though, especially into high season. So back to trusty Google you go and source a local car hire company, who will meet you at the airport with a smile, words of wisdom and a better price.

Corfu - Taverna

Now you’re all set to go and explore, which in turn brings you more savings. Getting away from the main resorts means getting away from those inflated prices I was talking about earlier. The best food I have had in Greece has always been in little, out of the way villages, where the food is locally sourced, the wine made in the village square and the price tag unbelievably minimal.

So with just a few clicks, you can create a voyage of discovery in the land of myths and legends; swim in azure seas, sample local cuisines and find secluded beaches to bathe on, all at the touch of a button

Sunday, 27 April 2014

5 Fabulous Reasons to Visit Corfu in Spring

Corfu is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year; unfortunately many people see it as only a high season destination, choosing to come in July and August with the rest of the hoards. If your only desire is to lounge on a beach with a million Italians, fight to get anywhere on the roads and complain that it’s too hot, and then this is fine and dandy. But it does seem a shame to travel all this way and not actually appreciate the incredibly bountiful flora and fauna, the rich and colourful history and above all its innate beauty.

Corfu Town

1)      First off, to state the obvious, it is cheap. Thanks to budget airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair it is now possible to fly into Corfu much earlier and indeed later in the ‘season’ than previously. Charter flights all start at the beginning of May, some not really kicking in until late June, which made getting here not for the faint hearted. Out of season it involved flying in via Athens, with an inevitably long stop over; or coming by ferry from either mainland Greece or Italy, which although a very pleasant and scenic way to arrive, it takes a huge chunk of time out of your holiday.

In addition to the cost of getting here, the cost of car hire and accommodation is drastically reduced, although if I can offer a word to the wise, it’s worth checking your car for petrol and your room for heating as both are needed but not necessarily present as you’d presume.

     2)     Another major benefit, as I indicated earlier, is the fact you have the island practically to yourself. Apart from a few diehard Grecophiles pursuing their philhellenic predilections, you can travel most areas with relaxed ease. In high season, the number of hire cars, scooters and tourist coaches on our sometimes miniscule roads can turn a pleasant coastal drive into something approaching an excursion nightmare for those of us less keen to reverse back on a cliff edge to make way for the
more aggressive drivers. On top of that, it turns the more popular beaches from this.....

Barbati Beach, Corfu, in Winter

To this.......
Barbati Beach, Corfu, in Summer

  So spring is a time you can explore the coastline and mountains in peace, stopping off at traditional, year round tavernas and kafenions for sustenance, amongst the locals who will appreciate your presence a whole lot more pre season.

3)      This time of year also produces a plethora of festivals; from carnival week, with its strong venetian influence, in February, Easter week in April to May Day coming up shortly. There are plenty of opportunities to experience genuine Greek culture and spirit as opposed to the increasingly contrived and rather seedy Greek Nights that afflict even the five-star resorts in Summer. There are also many Panegyri’s (Ancient Greek for ‘gathering’) in the villages across the island. Each one widely looked forward to and the entire population is involved in preparations and participation in these street festivals that go on all night.

Panegyri - Festivals Greece

      4)      On a slightly more altruistic and vital note, bluntly put, we need you. Tourism has dropped dramatically all over Greece in the last 10 years. I have heard many an argument as to why this has happened, blaming everything from the introduction of the Euro to the Greeks inherent inability to look beyond today and invest in their own future. Personally I believe there are many contributing factors and apportioning blame is not the answer. Encouraging all year round tourism is. Especially on islands like Corfu where tourism provides approximately 80% of the income, you can imagine the catastrophic effect of basically only having two or three months where we are really bustling. 

      I was pleased to see that the Greek National Tourist Organisation has finally cottoned on to this fact. Olga Kefalogianni, the Minister for Greek Tourism, announced at November’s World Travel Market that they would be working closely with Uk tour operators to increase awareness to the fact that Greece is open for business all year round. I do however find it strange (tongue in cheek at this point) that they are not working closely with German tour operators considering German tourists account for the largest group of visitors that we have here......Still, one step at a time.

Fireflies, Corfu

 5)  Last but by far from least, it is amazingly beautiful at this time of year. After the rains of the winter, the first sunny days appear with blue skies and promises. The fireflies emerge, these nocturnal beetles can produce an amazingly luminescent display across the olive groves and vineyards and it is a truly magical sight which only happens in springtime. Blossom and flowers burst into life, providing a colourful backdrop to our Emerald isle that puts Joseph’s coat to shame. The birds return from their winter sojourns to warmer climes and the air rings with their tremolos and trills as nest building and the sheer joy of flight is expressed through song. We even get Flamingos, all be it briefly and when I hear the first, sonar like call of the tiny Scops Owl I know that summer is well on its way.

Flamingos, Lake Korrison, Corfu

This time of year the island comes to life, bombards the senses and is absolutely enchanting, it would be a shame if you missed the show.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Easter on Corfu.....

This is one of my favourite periods on the island, especially when the weather is fine. Everything starts to spring into life, quite literally in the case of the flora, and more metaphorically in the case of the people preparing for the onslaught of the summer season and tourists.

Today is Palm Sunday, the start of ‘Holy Week’, traditionally celebrated around the world by processions of worshippers carrying palms to represent the branches strewn before Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 

Corfu Easter Parade
Corfiots however have made it their own, by parading the holy body of Saint Spyridon (the islands patron saint) around town with much pomp and ceremony. 
It is a custom dating back to 1630, in memoriam of the relief of the island of the Plague, which, in 1629, had claimed many victims from the people of Corfu. All 15 philharmonic bands of the island take part in this procession which follows the trail of the old Venetian city walls. 

As ever on the island, particular foods are sacrosanct to the whole proceedings and at lunch people enjoy the traditional dish of the day: stackofisi or cod bianco with Skordalia (garlic-infused mash potatoes).

Easter Eggs RedGood Monday to Thursday see the islanders shopping for the celebrations to come, cooking for the celebrations to come and in the case of the philharmonic bands, practising for the celebrations to come. On Maundy Thursday, the Service of the Holy Passion is held in the churches. In the Duomo, the Catholic Cathedral, 12 candles are lit and put out one at a time after the reading of each of the 12 Gospels. On the same day, the ringing of the first bell means it is time for the Easter eggs to be dyed red, a custom that symbolises the rebirth of life and nature. Unless you are under 12, in which case you did it last week at school, and your eggs are by now broken and in the bin after dying everything they touched an immovable, pale rouge to remind your mother what week it is.

 Good Friday sees procession mayhem; the processions of a representation of dead Jesus (epitaph) begin early in the afternoon, based on a strict programme which derives on old protocols. At 2:30 pm there is the procession from the church of Agios Nikolaos at Faliraki. At 4 o'clock it is the procession of the church of  Agios Georgios which begins from the Old Fortress and goes through the central roads of the town and the Liston alley. As time goes by, more and more processions come out and even meet at various points of the town, a cacophony of sound enveloping the entire area. How they manage to co-ordinate this extravaganza, given the general inability of the Greek people to agree on anything, amazes me yearly, but it’s damn impressive to watch.

Saturday starts off with yet another procession of the holy body of Saint Spyridon, the poor old soul must be exhausted by now. Established in 1550, when the Saint saved the island from famine it is accompanied by the famous philharmonic bands of the island, which likewise must have sore feet by this point.  At the same time there takes place the procession of the Epitaph of the church of Saint Spyridon, a custom which originates from the Venetian ages. The philharmonic bands play Calde Lacrime by Michelli, Hamlet by Faccio and Marcia Funebre from Beethoven's Eroica.

Corfu at Easter

Corfu Pot Smashing
11.00 o’clock sees my particular favourite part of the whole performance, the pot smashing. Nothing can really describe the sights, sounds and atmosphere in Corfu Town at this point; it is a truly unique experience. It’s about 10 minutes of madness and mayhem. How there aren’t more injuries or fatalities is something only St Spyro himself can answer, as huge pots, made for this purpose, are hurled out of the highest windows of the majestic venetian buildings that epitomise the islands capital. 

Corfu Pot Smashing
I have heard several interpretations of this noisy yet spectacular habit, it possibly bears the influence of the Venetians who would throw old objects out of their window on New Year’s Day, so that the New Year would bring them lots of new things. It has been said it could be either a representation of the stoning of Judas Iscariot or the breaking open of Christ’s tomb.  Another, more likely, explanation is that the custom is of pagan origins. By smashing things and making loud noises the Ancient Greeks wanted to wake up Persephone, the goddess of spring, and accelerate the coming of spring. Whatever the origins, this sight definitely belongs on your ‘bucket list’.

At midnight hoards of people congregate to the central squares of Corfu town and villages, to celebrate The Resurrection. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by thousands of lit candles: on balconies, on window sills or held by others attending the ceremony. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at 12.00 sharp with drum beats and fireworks across the island, the most impressive display being in Corfu Town itself.

Corfu Fireworks Easter

Easter Sunday itself is no time to be a vegetarian in Greece. Everywhere you go you will be assailed by the charcoal and herb laden aroma of lamb on the spit being prepared in every town, village and family home as the celebrations continue; on a less religious note perhaps after 40 days of fasting, but with equal fervour and gaiety.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Travel Broadens the.....

Waistband usually, also the overdraft, but it’s always worth it. Whether you’re into island hopping, city breaks or skiing japes, nothing compares to the sense of freedom you get from venturing somewhere new. Waking up to a different skyline definitely alters your perspective on the world, even if it’s to remind you how nice home is.

This year’s top destinations, as provided by TripAdvisor’s traveller’s choice, have provided a few surprises. Paris has finally fallen from its no. 1 spot after bad publicity in the last year. In fact it fell to seventh place, which is something that will take more than the city providing its  famously rude service industries with etiquette manuals (I kid you not) to change. Although as they claim to have received 32.3 million tourists last year I would imagine they are not pleading poverty just yet.

Taking its place on the top spot, leaping up eleven places to knock the frogs off their perch is a rather unexpected Istanbul. Turkey’s largest city has ranked highest overall based on numbers and quality of reviews for hotels, restaurants and attractions over a 12 month period. Well done them I say. Consistently good service across the tourist industry to that level is a huge achievement, and one than other so called hot spots should take note of. 

Hanoi, Vietnam was another surprise. Debuting in eighth place it is obviously worth investigating further than just looking it up on Google. So are Rome, London, Beijing and Prague who all made the top of the listings.

So where’s it going to be next? I suggest you get out your atlas, find a pin and see where fate is taking you. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Sacred Art of Packing - Top 10 Tips

It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it, whether it's for a holiday, a family visit or for business purposes, most of us find packing more stressful than the actual flight. 

Some people like to make lists, some obsessives like to start packing a week before, while other more zen like creatures just chuck it all in at the last minute. All types of packer generally agonising over the endless possibilities of doom and disaster that could occur should they forget that one vital item

I have become quite blase over the years. I came to realise at some point on my travels, that unless I suddenly get the inexplicable urge to trek through the Amazon Rainforest, chances are I'll be able to buy a replacement of the forgotten item quite easily. Once you get this into your head, the pressure's off, and you are free to pack in peace and harmony. 

So I tend to chuck it in at the last minute with nothing more than a mental checklist. There are a few points that do make it easier though:

1. Pack shoes first, then fill in the gaps. Your goal: create a level surface.

2. Rolling clothes, dresses, sweaters, and even jeans — maximizes space in the suitcase. Sounds a bit mad but it really does work, lessens the crease factor too.

3. Bag It Up, ‘Air Compression packing bags’ are miraculous, squeezing air out of clothes, giving you more room in the suitcase. Giant Ziploc bags work, too. Just roll them tight. I use Ziplocs in various sizes for everything from toiletries to wet swimming gear and always pack a few extras. 

4. Head to Toe, check that you've packed everything you need by mentally dressing yourself from shoes and socks up to goggles and hats.

5. Outfits, think about the number of outfits you need and subtract one. You still won't wear everything you pack, nobody ever does! Unless your travelling with kids, then the rule is to plus two outfits at least.

6. Adapters, carry the adapter for your destination (duh) — a multi-plug version is the best, so you can plug all your gadgets in at the same time. 

7. Liquids, Gels, creams, pastes in your hand luggage must still be in containers of no more than 100ml and placed in a transparent, re-sealable plastic bag no larger than 20cmx20cm. 

8. Add a tie/belt/strap/scarf to your suitcase/backpack so you can easily identify it at the luggage carousel. The brighter and funkier the better.

9. If two or more people are travelling, split belongings between checked luggage so if one case goes missing, each of you will still have a change of clothes. You'd be amazed how many people do not do this.

10. Airlines mislaid 42.4 million suitcases last year, reason enough never to put anything you would hate to lose in your checked luggage. But take heart, 85 per cent of all lost luggage is found within 48 hours.  

Intrestingly, in Britain, luggage not reunited with its owner within 100 days is auctioned for charity. You can attend the auctions at Greasbys in Tooting, London (020 8672 2972;

Mr Bean has a rather unique way of doing things, let us know your packing tricks!

Friday, 28 March 2014

“London is a roost for every bird”

I’m not entirely sure what Disraeli had in mind when he said that, but you can bet your bottom dollar it was not this.

As I mentioned previously, many things have changed in London over the last decade, but really? A big blue bird? In Trafalgar Square? I was horrified, it is incongruous, unattractive and plain bloody pointless. Apparently the sculpture was selected by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, a panel of specialist advisors that guides and monitors the commissions for the plinth. I can only assume that they are all on some kind of medication. Either that or they are sitting at home laughing their collective heads off.

Needless to say the British press had a field day when it was unveiled by the ubiquitous Boris Johnson back in July last year. Out of the many, many, barely veiled puns that made the headlines I think my vote has to go to TheHuffinton Posts, no holds barred: “Boris Johnson In Trafalgar Square With A Massive Blue Cock And Disgruntled Woman”. Can't say fairer than that.

Of all the works that have been displayed so far, Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' was probably the coolest and at least vaguely relevant to the the location.

But they all, without fail, look totally out of place in one of the capitals most famous tourist attractions that receives over 15 million international visitors a year. Next up will be a skeletal horse, loosely based on the sketch by Stubbs of the original statue intended for the plinth. Then in 2016, keeping up with the 'stand out like a sore thumb' school of artistry, we are in for a bronze sculpture of a hand, in a thumbs-up gesture. With the thumb tip reaching 10 metres high it will be hard to ignore, I'm sure the headline writers are rubbing their hands together in anticipation.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Home is where....

On life's continually amazing journey, I find myself resting on my laurels in London for a few weeks before returning to The Rock. This is the first time I've stayed here for any length of time in about a decade. My has it changed; my decision to leave 11 years ago still holds good. 

Despite, or maybe because of, a winter season in the French Alps, my desire to get back to Greece and Corfu is as strong as ever. It's like a drug that gets under your skin and there's no ignoring the craving. I've seen people fall under it's influence in the space of a weeks holiday. They get a dreamy look in their eyes and start scheming to come back before they hit the departure lounge, and if Corfu airports departure lounge doesn't put them off coming back nothing will.

I love living there for many reasons. I like living somewhere where random people say good morning to you and assume the right to question your family history and life story without shame. Admittedly those same people will tell all and sundry your story with gay abandon but hey, that's community for you. I also like the fact that when summer arrives it arrives without doubt and I don't have to spend August hoping for an Indian summer. I like eating outside, drinking frappe on the beach and best of all, being able to have a smoke with my beer if I so choose. There are, of course, many things that can frustrate, bank queues, hypochondria and power cuts to name but a few. But none of these things detract from the sense of freedom I get there, my entire life feels like a holiday, in defiance of the humdrum; school runs, supermarket shopping, work and bills. 

What am I looking forward to most? Seeing my kids, that's a given. Living in a house instead of a small room that looks like a sauna, of course. Reunions with that eclectic bunch that I call my friends, can't wait. But the initial thing, the thing that makes me smile no matter how many times I do it, is landing at Corfu airport. For those who have never done it (why not?), the initial approach gives you splendid views of one of the most beautiful islands Greece possesses. Depending on your approach, you will pretty much see most of the island before circling widely then starting the descent into what some people find a pretty freaky landing. You either get to come in low, over a main road, the traffic on which has to be stopped a safe distance away and the breaks get slammed on hard as soon as they touch the runway to avoid plunging into the lake at the end. 

Or you get to come in low the other way, which gives you the impression that your landing in the lake, and the breaks get slammed on hard as soon as you touch the runway to stop you plunging into the line of traffic impatiently waiting for the lights to change on the road at the other end. 

Either way it's a blast. The smiles you see on the faces coming through the arrivals lounge are 90% relief, or in my case, 100% joy.