Paradise Shaken – Earthquake on Kos Island 

I still can’t believe that we experienced a major earthquake on Kos island. It’s what you see on your Facebook newsfeed and not what you expect on vacation. 

(Photos above – top photo – I photographed this building on Wednesday. Below it is an image published by thesun.co.uk showing the post-quake damage.)

I was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. It had been a lovely day in sunny Kardamena, a little village on a Greek island, just off the Turkish coast. The day had ended with coffee and tea with hubby under the Bougainville, counting the swallows that made the tree their home. 

In an instant, swallows scattered and idyllic became frightening as a 6.7 earthquake shook the island. As the hotel building swayed from side to side like a little boat bobbing in stormy waters, the sense of powerlessness we felt was frightening. My first thought was to get to the kids and my hubby, immediately followed by a realization of how powerless I was against Mother Nature’s wrath and then a strong determination to do whatever I could to keep my girls safe. 



(The iconic image of the gates to the old Jewish quarter bedecked with Bougainville. I made hubby and the kids pose in front of it for a photo. The photo showing the damage is credited to sfgate.com)

The earthquake probably lasted minutes or even seconds but felt like ages. I remember the details in slo-mo. Running to cover our one daughter, telling my husband to cover our other daughter. Once the swaying and tremors subsided, the vast majority of the hotel’s guests congregated in the courtyard and exchanged stories – an involuntary form of debriefing, I think. Then we did a check around us for damage, did our Facebook safety check-in’s and scoured social media for news. 

Fortunately, Kardamena and its inhabitants were unharmed. There were a few scary moments – including the hotel’s pool spilling down the paving like water out of a tilted glass, a few guests experiencing cancelled flights and scared young children – but the impact was mostly emotional. My heart went out to a group of Italian boys and girls who insisted on sleeping on the pool loungers outside as they experienced a devastating quake recently back home. 


(Photos above: The  melding of two great empires in architecture – Ottoman and Ancient Greek – is no more. I took the photo of my daughters by it in 2016. The photo for showing the quake damage from this morning is credited to bbc.co.uk)

On the opposite side of the island, the damage is heartbreaking – many gorgeous, ancient structures that have been around for centuries and millennia were damaged as was the port. I have marveled at the gateway to the old Jewish quarter, stared in awe at the beautiful minarets of Ottoman mosques and have taken many photographs of art and architecture that simply does not exist in our modern world. I can’t believe these are reduced to rubble and damaged now. 


(Photo above – I took this in Kardamena this morning. The quiet streets is the only sign that something had occurred.)

Many were injured in Kos town and Bodrum and sadly two tourists lost their lives. These are stunningly beautiful countries. My thoughts are with those injured in Bodrum and Kos and my prayers go out to the families of those who have passed away. #prayforkos #kosearthquake #kardamena #kos #greece #prayforbodrum  #bodrum #turkey


(Photo credit: Growing Up Greek Style) 

Paris – My Tips For Planning Your Visit to the City of Love

0b9b24fa-78ec-42a7-b4e9-a8485ce34bccParis accurately conjures up images of couples in love, strolling hand in hand along the Seine, sipping café au lait at a bistro on the Champs-Élysées  and devouring gastronomical delights by candlelight after a full day of filling your soul with art, history and the unique bohemian air that permeates the city. White sheets and tangled limbs chase the morning’s frost away only to step out onto chilly balconies, warming liquid in hand to see clusters of Parisians unhurriedly enjoying gossip and smoke breaks in time with the slow tempo of the age-old buildings that surround them.

The only people that rush in Paris, are the sightseers off to one more art gallery, museum or an item on their bucket-list. I imagine that those Parisians who are not yet immune to the throngs of tourists scurrying about the most visited city in the world, must be amused by us. I can’t imagine wanting to see Paris to it’s fullest and not feeling the urgency to add more to the itinerary as you go along. There is so much and all of it is magnificent.

Valentine’s Day naturally makes me think of love and as a recent self-professed travel addict and bucket-lister, my thoughts roam to Paris. Paris, with it’s dramatic and macabre history of rolling heads, power-hungry and petulant rulers, pestilence and drama is hardly the type of city that would logically be considered to be the City of Love and epitome of romance. Yet, it’s the very fact that despite all it has been through, Paris and its people live, laugh and love through it all – as strong and persistently as the beautiful buildings that form its landscape.

My Valentine’s blog is dedicated to the city of Paris, my love, my husband, that took me there and the beautiful children of mine that shared it with us.

Here is my directory of where to stay, eat and the top sites I recommend that you visit. I like to know exactly what I’m getting, how and when so my inner control freak rebukes at the thought of travel agencies. Instead I spend inordinate amounts of time painstakingly researching and cross-referencing reviews on where to go, stay, eat, shop and how to travel.

Note – I do not get paid to refer or advertise any establishment that I’m recommending. My recommendations are my personal opinions based on my travels and are colored by my experiences as a South African expat living temporarily in the Middle East. I’m a mom of tween and teen girls who are as different as chalk and cheese. I travel with them and hubby. I do not prescribe to budget holidays nor the lifestyles of the rich and famous. I like hotels / restaurants / sights with top reviews that offer good value for money. I do not eat McDonald’s on holiday and I won’t stay in fancy hotels where I need to shush the kids every 2 minutes. I do not limit my children simply because they’re children. My kids go to art galleries, museums as well as amusement parks and candy stores. If you’re like me, I may save you some time in planning your trip to Paris…

 

Where to Stay: 

Hotel Ekta (http://www.hotelekta.com/en/) met ALL my requirements and thoroughly deserves their top rated 25th spot on Tripadvisor and 9.2 rating on Booking.com. Despite being a 3 star hotel, it has a 5 star rating and location. I found it the equivalent of quite a few 5 star hotels that we’ve stayed at and at a fraction of their prices. The design of the hotel is contemporary, modern. It is a step away from Avenue des Champs-Élysées, has it’s own breakfast-serving restaurant, a terrace garden and offers suites with terraces. We stayed in the Terrace Suite which had a shared bathroom with amenities, a kitchenette, a separate adults room which led to a furnished terrace and a lounge with ample space for our many suitcases, a safe and a sleeper couch that turned into a bunk bed. Even though the children were with us, waking up in Paris with a view of grand old buildings and the overcast Spring sky is unarguably romantic.

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Rooms range from 115 Euro to 305 Euro per night.If you decide to stay here, you don’t have to have their breakfast as there are many nearby restaurants – including a Starbucks. I highly recommend that you ask the hotel to book a table for you at the famous patisserie, Laduree, for breakfast one morning.

Hint: If a website doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for, call the hotel and negotiate. Have a look at booking websites as well as hotel websites because one of these sites may have a discounted rate.

What to see

A few days ago, my husband pointed out a few places we hadn’t yet been to in Paris despite having visited twice this past two years. I replied that it would take weeks to see all that Paris had to offer and that would be seasonal, so a return is inevitable. I won’t thus be listing every place we’ve visited but am rather going to focus on the ‘hot spots’. If you’re a museum and art lover, I strongly suggest that you buy the Museum Pass. You can purchase it in advance on the official websites (http://booking.parisinfo.com/il4-offer_i147-paris-passlib-paris-pass.aspx – the official tourist website for Paris – or the museum pass website – http://en.parismuseumpass.com/) or during your stay in Paris at a tourist office or through the hotel’s concierge if they offer that. It also allows you access to other attractions and discounts. As well as being cheaper, it allows for fast-tracking at certain attractions. We used it to gain magnificent views of the artists’ quarter, Montmartre and the  Champs-Élysées from the terrace of the Arc de Triomphe.

Tour Eiffel

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The Eiffel Tower (http://www.toureiffel.paris/) is one of those bucket list attractions that you absolutely have to visit. The first time I was at the Eiffel Tower, my younger daughter refused to go up as she was petrified of heights and so we picnicked on the grass at its based and explored the little market across from it, along the Seine. My eldest daughter had been to the top on a school tour and although she described the view as astoundingly beautiful, the many notices coming from the intercom system about being weary of pick pockets put a damper on the experience. Coming from South Africa, where crime is rife, I was not in the mood for that. I found a great compromise that made my visit to the Eiffel Tower more memorable than an elevator ride and a few pics of a view. I booked a table at 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant. It has its own entrance so again, I skipped queues, and its own elevator. We booked an early evening sitting and paid extra to ensure a Trocadero view. It was worth every cent. We sat by a window directly in front of the Trocadero and could see the bridge across the Seine, the boats cruising up and down as well as the market across the road. When the sky darkened, we were treated to a spectacular view of Paris lit with a multitude of golden lights. The dinner itself was gourmet and beautifully presented. Even my younger daughter’s meal was made with special care and ended off with an Eiffel Tower shaped dessert. The only let down was the service. I think our waiter was allergic to children. We did not let him spoil the experience for us though. Very little can in such an atmosphere where every few minutes a bottle cork is popped and restaurant patrons are cheering for another happily engaged couple. It was incredibly romantic.

The chill in the air and late hour after dinner ensured a nearly empty viewing platform and we managed to walk around and take photos to our heart’s content completely undisturbed.

This dinner is admittedly expensive at 87 to 120 euro per adult and 26 euro per child. Lunch is cheaper at approximately 42 euro per adult and 19 Euro per child. I wanted to see Paris by night. It was worth every euro.

Hint: Print or save your confirmation as it appears on the screen after you pay as I did not get mine in email straight away and had to contact the restaurant to forward it to me. The ‘early bird gets the early worm’, so email or Facebook message the restaurant requesting a good table with a view if you’ve booked one as soon as you’ve received your confirmation. There were other tables in the same category that did not have a seat right by the window.

The Louvre

No visit to Paris is complete without a visit to The Louvre (http://www.louvre.fr/). I’ve heard about how massive it is, how much time it takes to take it all in and not knowing where to look for certain pieces. I’d also, on a previous visit, spotted the long queues to get in. With tightened security in light of terrorist attacks, the queues can be even longer. My research offered a solution in the form of a private guided tour of the Louvre. There are many and they vary in price. Again, I wanted a top rated guide at a good price. I found that Paris Muse (http://parismuse.com/) deserved their excellent reviews.

The tour guide met us at the Arc du Carrousel at 10 am. By then the lines of people waiting to enter the Louvre were inordinately long. We sailed past them, behind our guide and entered the building seamlessly. That was the first reason I was glad I booked the tour. The second came when she whipped out a treasure hunt map and a list of questions and began engaging the children. She wove stories that my husband and I were drawn into as well and when the children went off with her to hunt for clues, it gave us time to have a leisurely look at what we wanted to. The third reason for using a private tour guide such as this is that there are bits of information that is not stated on plaques next to exhibitions. This guide offered a treasure trove of interesting facts that we would not have noticed on our own. Lastly, we managed to get prime spots to take pics with highly photographed exhibitions such as the Sphinx and Mona Lisa as our tour guide knew how to move around and through the crowds.

Why did I book a private tour guide and not one of the many group tours available? As a family paying per person, even with child rates, it is often cheaper to book a private guide. Additionally, a private tour guide matches the tour to your pace, stopping longer at exhibitions that you’re interested in and whisking past those that don’t engage you.

Paris Muse’s prices are middle of the range at 320 Euro for the 2 hour family Louvre tour including a prize for the children, entrance fees and the tour guide’s services. (http://parismuse.com/tours/paris-muse-clues-louvre-family-tour/)

However, if you’re on a tight budget then it is perfectly fine to visit the Louvre on your own. All museums are free for children under 18 and all EU citizens under 26. Proof of age may be required in the form of official identification such as a passport copy or ID card.

Notre Dame

I know many who love the building and fondly think of the fabled hunchback. Compared to the older, more beautiful churches in places such as Istanbul, the UK and other parts of Europe, however, it is disappointing. It is beautiful but it is not as beautiful as it is made out to be. However, if the likelihood of you visiting other churches in Europe is slim, then do go have a look. In this case, it will blow you away. dscf1897-1

Hint: Book a tour to see the towers. Paris Muse offers family, private and group tours to Notre Dame. The queue had a waiting time of over an hour and we opted to forgo it. Also, in the square in front of the cathedral there are steps leading down to an archaeological museum. It is tiny but worth the quick 15 to 20 minute visit if you want insight into how Paris has changed over the centuries. They have a few interactive digital games that engage the children as you move through it. 

Moulin Rouge

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The movie! The song! The legend! The many pictures of the iconic windmill! It is a must in Paris. However, I would suggest that you arrange for a babysitter through your hotel. The show is for 6 years and upwards and they even serve kiddies’ meals. The meal will be enjoyed in beautiful surroundings, with excellent singing, choreography and fantastic acts – from stunts to trapeze. The catch… the ladies go topless in the first song and don’t put their tops back on. We did try to look past the nudity because we were in Europe and the Europeans tend to be blasé about this sort of thing. However, my husband did feel a tad uncomfortable with his daughters at the table and my teen did go a lovely shade of red at times.

I honestly recommend it though. The most unbelievable act was when the floor parted and up rose a gigantic aquariam filled with anacondos. A beautiful snake handler swam amongst them without flinching. What made it even more amazing was that our table literally touched the tank. http://www.moulinrouge.fr/?lang=en

Hint: We didn’t buy the most expensive tickets. We bought mid-range tickets a few months in advance and I emailed the establishment to ask for a good table. They obliged. 

Seine River – Cruise or Walk?

If you really must cruise along the river or you have a free ticket in one of your passes, then do hop aboard. Personally, I found it to be like a bus tour on water. A lot of inaudible talking over the speaker system and sitting around staring at scenery without actually getting a proper look at the sights.

Otherwise, walking is a much better way to see the Seine. Paris is made for walking and there are ample benches and good walkways all along the river, offering close up views of beautiful buildings, fascinating houseboats and the Parisians’ daily lives. On the street level, there are many bridges to cross, including the famous Bridge of Lovers with its locks as testament to lasting love, as well as book stalls, museums and eateries.

It is a much more educational way to see the Seine for the children and an infinitely more romantic route for lovers.

Hint: the Seine is easily reached from tourist hot spots such as the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. We had no difficulty obtaining directions. Wear comfortable walking shoes as the cobble stones don’t take kindly to heels. 

Arc de Triomphe

Arc De Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) is found along the Champs-Élysées. This spectacular piece of architecture commemorates the French soldiers who fought during the Napoleonic wars. An eternal flame burns at the base of the arch. The detail and architecture of this monument alone is worth the visit. Inside the building, spiral wrought iron stairs, straight out of a gothic novel, wind up towards a historic level where bathrooms, tourist shops and the history of the arch may be found. Thereafter, comes the highlight of the attraction – the unbelievably spectacular views of Paris including the famous Bohemian suburb of Montmartre where Moulin Rouge is situated and the Eiffel Tower. The view of the Champs-Élysées itself is grand.  http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/

Disneyland Paris

Magic everywhere! A much smaller Disneyland than the one in the US, it does have a number of rides and being in France, there is an odd mix of American Disney with a hint of France. It makes for a fascinating experience. I love Disney so I don’t mind the queues, waiting for parades and the themed food. I thrive on it as do my children. Hubby, not so much. I won’t go into detail about Disneyland Paris here as I think it deserves a blog post of its own. I will recommend the following though:

  • While a day trip from Paris is easily accomplished via train directly from Paris, I recommend that you stay at a Disneyland Paris during peak times as it gets packed. It is not unheard of to wait in queues for 2 hours. My daughter did  a day trip from Paris with her school and managed to do 3 rides for the entire day while my younger daughter and I who were staying at a Disney hotel managed to do double that during the extra magic hours exclusive to hotel guests before it opened to the public – and on the same day!
  • There are a number of excellent nearby hotels – from 5 star to unrated. However, if you do the math and calculate the cost of the park entry plus the accommodation, it makes more economical sense to stay in a cheaper Disneyland Paris hotel if on a budget. I’ve stayed in two hotels there – the first was with my daughter at the Wild West themed, Hotel Cheyenne. It was a 2 star hotel but breakfast was adequate, it was clean and one fast past per day and extra magic hours were included. The second time we stayed at the top, 5 star Disneyland Hotel at a 50% discounted rate when they had a special on accommodation. While I don’t think this hotel is as posh as it is made out to be and the breakfast is not that much better, the hotel is situated at the very gates of the park and there are extra fast passes included in the stay. Many recommend the mid-range, 3  star Sequoia. I may try that out next time.
  • Buy the meal plans – they work out much cheaper. I recommend the half-board plus plan. Also book your tables way in advance. Excellent restaurants are Bistro Chez Remy, Walt’s, Auderge de Cendrillon and Blue Lagoon. 
  • Don’t book the tours. I did a Paris bus tour. It was horrible. If you want to claim to have seen a city from the seat of a bus, then this is a good option for you.
  • 617155be-bbe9-4359-b90f-4a53293dd616If you need a break from Disneyland, consult the ladies at the tourist office outside the train station and they’ll advise on villages you can take a train or bus to. We opted to go to nearby Lagne, which had a tiny medieval village (2 small streets), good restaurants, a bakery with the best meringues I’ve ever had and award-winning croissants as well a good beauty salon. There were many locals that did not speak a word of English but that added to the fun. 

http://www.disneylandparis.com/en

Where to Eat

This all depends on your budget. You can dine in Michelin star splendor for a steep price, see where your feet find you and stop off at a bistro or pop into the ample global dining franchises that have even infiltrated France. There are very few places to go wrong as far as food is concerned, particularly if you stick to French food.

I recommend…

Macaroons and breakfast from Laduree on the Champs-Élysées – a Parisian institution (the best macaroons I’ve ever had). If you don’t want to eat here, then do pop in to gawk at the impressive array of pastries and sweets. I bought one of the most beautiful dessert cookbooks I’ve ever beheld here. Even if you don’t like macaroons – just buy one, preferably vanilla and try not to moan when it hits your tongue.

Crepes – most places sell crepes although my daughter swears that the artists’ quarter has the best creperies

Roasted chestnuts from a traditional roastery – I found some in the market next to Eiffel Tower when I was there last.

French hot chocolate – thick, liquid heaven and served with ample amounts of cream.

If you’re craving fast food – the entrance to a small mall (and paid fancy toilets with a toilet menu and posh colored loo paper – I kid you not) is under the bridge at the road next to the Louvre’s pyramid structures. The mall is called Carrousel du Louvre. 

Hint: The best food I’ve eaten in France is in a village that’s a 30 minute public bus trip away from Disneyland. It was also the cheapest as Paris and Disneyland inevitably charge ‘tourist prices’. So, if you’re a foodie, consider renting a car / taking a bus or train to explore the nearby villages. Regarding Laduree – if you want to avoid the busy period, go for the first breakfast sitting. Afterwards, it becomes considerably busier until late afternoon. 

Getting there and getting around:

Getting around town: 

While taxis are plentiful and you can easily hail one or arrange one through the hotel you’re staying at, I recommend that you buy a Paris Visite travel card and use that for public transport. Paris metro is one of the most user and tourist friendly metros I’ve used and if you don’t know which line to use, you can always ask your hotel’s staff beforehand.

For more information:

 http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21879/visiting-paris/

http://booking.parisinfo.com/il4-offers_p7-transport.aspx

I absolutely do not recommend that you use the tuk-tuk style vehicles. They’re an absolute rip off. We had a nasty incident of triple checking prices and then being ripped off anyway and dropped off in the wrong place. When we informed the hotel, they weren’t surprised and urged us not to use them.

Hint: A European’s view of distance is different to a South African’s as they walk and take public transport whereas we drive. So, when in Europe, when someone tells me a place is a short 30 minute walk away, I take public transport if I’m in a hurry or the kids are tired because it is most likely 45 minutes to an hour away. If they tell me it’s 10 or 20 minutes then I’ve found that it is generally okay to make the kids walk quickly if rushed. 

Transfers: 

After combing the Tripadvisor forums and online blogs, I discovered that Prestige Transfer (http://prestige-transfer.com/) was the most recommended transfer company. Sure, you can get a taxi from the airport or take the metro. If travelling with kids though, I recommend using this transfer – they’re affordable, reliable and provide excellent service. I do not recommend travelling with the metro. It was not fun at all to lug huge suitcases around with us up and down stairs, cobbled streets, hills and past throngs of people. We did it once and not again. If you’re transferring from Charles De Gualle airport or Paris to Disneyland Paris, then this transfer company is also a good option. If the French countryside bores your children, then the in-car tv playing Disney movies will keep them occupied.

Flights:

From Europe or the UK, it’s fairly easy to get to Paris via train but as I only know of people that have done this and haven’t done so myself, I won’t elaborate on this here. Flight options depends on where you’re coming from. I recommend that you do a search on https://www.skyscanner.net/ or Google to see which airline flies direct or with as few flights as possible to Paris. This is a sanity saver when travelling with kids. I then book my flights directly through the airline’s website as I’ve found that to be cheaper every time – not to mention more secure. From Kuwait, I fly to Europe with Turkish Airlines and preferably transit in Sabiha Gocken as it is the quieter airport. I’ve found this to be not only a cheaper option but also excellent value for money. Why pay three times for something very similar with a European airline or Emirates Airlines?

Paris Is Always A Good Idea… 

I did not always love Paris. In fact, the first time I visited it, I hated it. I fell in love with Paris on my second visit when accompanied by all the loves of my life – my husband and both of my children. There is something about the city, when visiting with those who hold your heart, that taints the entire city in the light red hue of romance and if it is magic, then consider me be-spelled by Paris.

This framed Audrey Hepburn quote my husband photographed in Hotel Ekta says it all…

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Happy birthday, Christoph! Check out Christoph’s birthday blog celebrating great reviews for his poignant, courageous story of Ludwika. “Celebrating my birthday with this re-blog: Readers’ Favorite 5 Star Review for “Ludwika A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany” 

Celebrations are in order. Source: Readers’ Favorite 5 Star Review for “Ludwika A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany” | writerchristophfischer Celebrations are in order. I’m now the…

Source: Celebrating my birthday with this re-blog: Readers’ Favorite 5 Star Review for “Ludwika A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany” 

Summer in Nafplio, Greece, with My Two Daughters

Cerulean blue skies, white-washed houses with the deep blue of the sea in the background. Speedos and bikinis, night clubs and plate-breaking.zarah tolo donut That’s what I expected from Greece and got it, but discovered so much more. There’s history, gastronomy and indescribably clear seas. There’s warmth and welcome, a natural inclusion of children and a charmingly simple approach to living. Plus, Greece has the best donuts I’ve ever had, sold right on the beach!

I joined the throng of expat wives escaping the desert heat and took my kids to Greece last summer. We started our vacation with nearly two weeks in the lesser known Peloponnese.

We went during the financial crisis and friends and family gave many, well-meant suggestions to cancel our trip. As Greece was at the top of my bucket list, there was no way I was going to oblige. I am happy to say that the media fed the public a bunch of absolute hogwash. There was ample cash at ATMS, no shortage of food and not one protest. It’s a good thing I didn’t listen because my Greek vacation was my best vacation to date. Here are a few highlights from my time in Nafplio in the Greek Peloponese. I will post blogs on Tolo, Poros, Athens, Crete (Chania and Rethymno) and Naxos at a later date.

Athens Airport to Nafplio – getting there...

corinth canalWe got our first glimpse of the famed Greek ocean when we stopped at the Corinth Canal. It is on the way to Nafplio from Athens airport and is well worth the quick stop. There is also a bungee jump station for the more adventurous. (I would rather slurp bugs through a straw than bungee. Thanks.) There are also boat rides through the passage. The Corinth Canal is a 19th century passage carved through a mountain – literally – with the Ionian sea on one side and the Aegean sea on the other.

Nafplio

The town… Nafplio is one of the most romantic places I’ve been to with winding, cobbled roads, canopies of bougainvillea and balconies overflowing with pots of tomatoes and flowers. Orange trees scent the air and wild olive trees remind you that you’re in Greece. nafplio street 2.jpgOnce a capital of Greece, Nafplio is rich in Ancient Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Venetian history. Palamidi castle watches over the town from the hill and Bourtzi fort keeps guard on a man-made island in the middle of the bay. Between these two iconic structures lie museums, colorful Venetian buildings and ancient monuments.
Despite its romantic atmosphere, kids won’t lack for entertainment. My children nafplio below palamidiloved the miniature train tour around the town and there were horse-drawn carriages and electric bike options too.The public parks and playgrounds are pretty, beaches boast calm waters and activities such as visiting the castle, fort and war museum will engage the imagination. Palamidi castle is vast and offers breathtaking views over Nafplio and even a functional church inside its walls.

nafplio square mimeOn weekends, thnafplio streete squares become a hive of activity when visiting Athenians fill up the restaurants alongside tourists. Children play next to ancient fountains and mimic the mimes and freelance entertainers meandering about.

Once you’ve seen all in Nafplio, there are excursions to nearby historical sites and quaint countryside villages provided by tour operators and taxis. The most notable are visits to Epidavros / Epidauros, an ancient Greek theater, and the ruins of the Bronze Age citadel, Mycenae. We found enough to keep us occupied in Nafplio and Tolo and did not visit these sites. It gives us a reason to return. 😉

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Exploring a dark, prison cell at Palamidi Castle

I remember walking through the square on our first night in Greece and realizing

church on palamidi castle

The still operational church within the Palamidi Castle walls.

that it was way past midnight. My first reaction (an ingrained South African reflex) was fear and I quickly looked around. No one else was afraid. People were merrily socializing or going about their own business and it felt safe. In that moment all the anxiety I’d been feeling about traveling alone with my girls to a foreign country dissipated. In that moment, I gave myself permission to let my anxiety go and embrace my time in Greece.

nafplio local beachThe beach… Although Nafplio doesn’t have a sandy beach,  it does have a designated swimming area where many older, local women flock to cool off in the afternoons. The seabed consists of pebbles so I’d recommend a good pair of swimming shoes.  It’s more like swimming in a pool than an ocean tidal pool and, after walking around the old town in the heat, welcoming.

Accommodation…We stayed at Anthemion Guesthouse, located on the outskirts of anthemionNafplio. If offers family-friendly accommodation with spacious rooms, terraces, landscaped gardens, a great breakfast and a huge pool with a poolside drinks and light meal service. The best thing about Anthemion was that the family that owns and runs it, doesn’t just treat you well, they treat you as one of their own. They even stayed late with me one night when I needed help after I had to unexpectedly cancel accommodation on the next leg of my trip. The reason for their great reviews on booking.com becomes clear once you’ve stayed here.


gelarto nafplioFood… 
My older daughter is a foodie like me and has an adventurous palette and my other daughter likes to have her food plain and simple – the less ingredients, the better. The Greek cuisine catered for all our tastes from warm, homemade crusty loaves to tzatziki made with the heavenly yoghurt to grilled calamari with salt and olive oil to prawns cooked in a rich tomato and feta sauce. A visit to Gelarto for watermelon ice cream is a must. Yes, gelato is Italian but the Greeks make great ice-cream – I think the intense summer heat offers a good incentive.

I had a few presumptions of Greek cuisine that was checked at the door. I learned that the Greek salads served at home (even in Greek restaurants) is a unflattering relative of the robust, authentic dish. It has no lettuce and definitely does NOT have vinegar in the dressing. (The recipe is at the bottom of this blog.)

Another lesson quickly learned was that Greek portions are huge. One main dish is enough for 2 adults and a Greek salad can easily feed three, so the girls and I ordered a main course and one or two side dishes and shared it between us. Greeks also serve their food at just above room temperature so do not expect piping hot food to arrive at your table. In the summer heat, you don’t want your food that hot anyway.

The Greeks have a wonderful tradition of serving water and bread (most often complimentary) as soon as you sit down at the table. This is often accompanied by a bowl of olives and olive oil (they steer away from butter). After you’ve eaten, you are served with a complimentary plate of seasonal fruit, which was watermelon when we were there. It’s a generous and welcoming gesture – much like the culture in general.

A return to Nafplio is on my bucket list – next time hubby has to be with.

Greek salad, the way the Greeks make it, was a revelation. Have a look at the recipe and see why…

Authentic Greek Salad

authentic greek salad

  1. Place ripe, red tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl. A Greek taxi driver told me that he never buys a tomato that looks perfect – it has to look naturally imperfect, red and be slightly firm still. I don’t buy perfect and imported tomatoes anymore. It makes a HUGE difference. About 4 medium tomatoes.
  2. Drizzle a good quality olive oil over the tomatoes. About 3 tablespoons.
  3. Add chopped cucumber (approximately 1.5 cups), a few slices of onion, 1 sliced green peper and a handful of black or kalamata olives.
  4. Top it with a slab of feta cheese.
  5. Drizzle the feta with a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle it with a half a teaspoon of dried oregano.

No seasoning or vinegar is needed. The olive oil mixes with the tomato juice, oregano and feta to create its own dressing.

To me, this epitomizes Greek cuisine – healthy, good quality ingredients, simple cooking techniques and maximum flavor.

Directory of Accommodation and Transport

Accommodation – If like me, you want kid-friendly accommodation with a pool, wifi and a good breakfast, then you can’t go wrong with Anthemion Guesthouse. http://www.anthemion.gr

For transfers to Nafplio from Athens I’d recommend Maria from Greek Taxi. http://greek-taxi.gr I used her taxi service to get to Tolo on one occasion and I know they do excursions to towns near Nafplio too.

For transportation within Nafplio, there are a number of taxis available at the taxi rank within the town center. As the old town is pedestrianized, you’ll probably only use a taxi to get to your hotel if it is outside of the old town (as we did – although we could have walked) or for excursions to nearby beach towns (Tolo) and historical sites (theater of Epidavros). Taxis are well regulated and there is a price list on a board at the taxi rank.

greek balconies with flowers nafplio.jpg

 

Mama’s Got A Life – I Flipped My Blog

The Art of Juggling Balls. Yep, that’s me, ball juggler extraordinaire. It’s dirty work that can get sticky at times, make you wheeze from exertion and messy-dress in a hurry. That’s the mad, amazing reality of my life living as an expat in a country where I don’t speak the language and the customs take a moment or two to decipher while raising two girls, yo-yo dieting with intense determination, keeping the flame burning with my hubby, traveling to bucket list places and embarking on the the scariest, most personally demanding writing project of my life.

I’m a mom in pursuit of her writing dreams while navigating life as an expat wife and #YOLO (You Only Live Once) is my mantra.

Join me as I post about my travels, foodie adventures, writing musings and whatever other balls I may be juggling at the time.

Image

When Love Is Enough

I’ve always believed in love. I sighed into the pages of my mom’s stolen Mills & Boons as a kid and when I got older, I cursed Rhett Butler for not loving Scarlett enough. I wanted a man that loved me as deeply as Heathcliff loved Catherine and a connection like Romeo and Juliet had. That instantaneous, mind-blowing, all-consuming love. The kind that steals your breath and heart and changes your world completely.

I’ve always believed that I’d find it too. And I did. I found it when I was young, hopeful and at the cusp of becoming my own woman. It seems right that I fell in love as an 18 year old University student because our love could evolve and grow with us – together and more complete for it. I recently read a quote by Aristotle, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies” and I thought ‘Yes’! It made sense to me because I truly believe that we were born to love each other.

My husband drew a young woman all his life, having a penchant for scribbling. When we initially met, he still drew her. She was me. Not, we looked similar. She. Was. Me. My doppelganger. (I’ve seen the proof from early years too.) The romantic in me would like to believe that it is the soul’s cry for help. Ironically, he stopped drawing her shortly after we fell in love.

Unlike the standard romance, when we met, ‘it’ didn’t hit me then. I did not experience love at first sight (although I have no doubt that many do experience that too). Like Cher said, it’s in his kiss. When we first kissed it was as though the linchpin clicked into the wheel of my life and set things in motion. I knew then that we were meant to be together and if I walked away, nothing would be as good, as fulfilling, as strong or as bright as when we were together. Apparently he felt the same. 🙂

Imagine the agony when everything conspired to tear us apart. We were betrayed or abandoned by friends, harmed and were harmed by loved ones and persecuted without trial by all. Not only did people fail to understand how we could love each other coming from different racial, cultural, religous and socio-economic backgrounds, they also did not approve. Their disapproval was vehement, vocal, visual, physical and violently omnipresent. When we were forcibly separated, the pain I felt was so intense, it propelled me into a state of catatonic existence. Every day I didn’t spend with him was one that belonged to a blurry period in my life underlined by pain and longing. To this day, I can barely remember what I did during those two years. And honestly, I thank my psyche for allowing me the bliss of traumatic amnesia.

blog 15th anniversary

But all’s well that end’s well. Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to go through what we had to. Was it the universe demanding balance? Did we need to go through such pain to be able to experience this intense love? Was it the time and a lack of understanding underlined by the recent hatred or ignorance created during apartheid – i.e. was what we went through post-apartheid ‘teething problems’? It no longer matters. Thankfully, we never took our gloves off. We fought hard and cleverly and we won. Since then, many bridges were mended and we’re still together 15 years later.

On our wedding day, I walked down the aisle to “Still The One” by Shania Twain. I thought the words were valid then. They’re more valid now:

Looks like we made it

Look how far we’ve come, my baby

I’m glad we didn’t listen, look at what we would be missing

They said, I bet, we’d never make it but just look at how far we’ve come, still together, still holding on…

You’re still the one I want.

And just as I was sure as a little girl that I would meet my true love one day, back then I was sure that whatever we had thrown at us, we would make it. I never had a single doubt that we’d survive. He didn’t either. For us, love was, is and always will be – Enough.

Happy 15th wedding anniversary, honey.  As the inscription on the inside of your wedding band says… Love Eternally, Aneesa

 

My Muse was Steamy, Muddy and Wet

Re-blogged from Victoria’s Gossip (http://victoriasgossip.com/blog/?p=2678)

Head on over to Victoria’s Gossip to stand a chance to win a $20 Amazon GC and ebooks! 

http://victoriasgossip.com/blog/?p=2678

My Muse was Steamy, Muddy and Wet by Aneesa Price

In June this year, I found myself stuck. I could not move forward with my current novel. I tried everything, from going for walks on the beach, to exercise and taking time out to read. Nothing worked. I knew I had a story to tell. In fact, I could feel its need to surface but something was blocking it from even sticking a finger out of the black hole life’s events had buried it in.

Dramatic much? Well, sure. I know I was being hugely melodramatic. I have a good excuse, though. My husband had left a month earlier for Kuwait and the kids and I were anxiously waiting for our visas so we could join him. Our family was relocating to the Middle East and had packed up, sold up, rented out and a myriad of other things. These tasks are stressful on their own, add them all together and you get a guarantee for brain-whipping migraines. The funny thing about stressing is that the more you stress, the more you stress about stressing, so the problem just compounds. I eventually gave up and focused on the kids as they were going through the change too and had the disadvantage of not fully understanding the reasons for it.

One day I took them to a day spa. While they giggled in the lemongrass-scented bubbles of the hydro-bath, I went off to enjoy a steamy moment in the rasul. A rasul is a Moroccan steam room on an über-luxurious scale. This rasul was lined in white marble and black stone with glints of sparkle in it. In the middle of the square room was a plunge pool to cool off in if the steam became unbearably hot and to the side, on the built-in seating area, rested a wooden bowl of Dead Sea mud. The treatment consists of applying the mud to your body, steaming and then finishing off the session with warm rain cleansing your skin as it falls from the star-studded ceiling. (And yes, the ceiling really does look like the night’s sky in a rasul.) It is an act of blissful self-indulgence.

After a few moments of mentally going through lists of things to do and emotional frustrations, I found my mind wandering. At that moment I began to relax and a new scene began forming in my mind. Thank goodness! And, the scene that kick-started the return to and completion of Supernatural Seduction was born.

rasul nice pic

An excerpt from Supernatural Seduction – Sophie and Sylvain have an interesting encounter in the rasul:

The therapist steered her away from the hot tub though towards a room signed “Rasul.” Following instructions, she hung her robe, stepped out of the slippers, and entered the room through a frosted glass door. The therapist had since left, and Sophie was alone in what must be the most decadent steam room, she’d ever seen.

Steam clung to the atmosphere of the room, making it comfortably hot. Music streamed in through hidden speakers. In the middle of the room was a small, square plunge pool, decorated in mosaic tiles and above them. The ceiling mimicked the night’s sky where thousands of tiny lights twinkled in a multitude of colors.

“What do you think?” Sylvain asked from behind her. He’d stepped into the room and was wearing only the baggy shorts that surfers wore. Her gaze raked over his chest noting the long, lean torso, and rippling muscles as he moved towards her. Her eyes moved up towards his broad shoulders and strong neck. The enticing vein throbbing with his blood made her fangs hurt and they dropped. Then she made another mistake and looked at his face. The man was too good looking for his own good. For a moment, she wondered why on earth she was there with him, half-naked, and across the Atlantic.

“What is this?” she inquired.

“A rasul,” he replied. “Although not Moroccan, this is the nicest one I’ve been too, and whenever I visit this hollow, I try to find time to come here. It is relaxing, although I don’t think I’ll be doing much relaxing after seeing you like this.”

Sophie ignored the scorching touch of his eyes as they swept over her body and thanked the Goddess that she’d had the forethought to shave and have a pedicure done recently. “Well it certainly is an original way to end a date.” Sophie tried to detract from the predatory gleam in his eyes as he took her hand and led them to the built-in marble seats.

“Who said anything about ending?” Sylvain stated before he dropped his head and took her lips with his. The room was hot, but her insides were hotter. He tasted of cumin, mint, and the sexy thing that hot dreams were made of. She heard herself moan and he used that opportunity to slip his tongue into her mouth. Tongues battled, pulling, and sucking while their lips locked together as though they wanted to breathe each other in. Dieu! This was heavenly.

Sylvain continued his oral assault while his hands brought her forward until they were kissing, chest to chest, her hardened nipples against his sculpted muscles. Darn, but if the vibrations that rippled through his six-pack didn’t turn her on even more. Involuntarily, she moved in and swung her arms around his neck, lacing her fingers in his hair, and pulled him down to her. She wanted to feel every inch of him, especially the hardness growing against her belly. Sophie moved to straddle him, bringing them even closer. Sylvain hissed as she began to move, grinding her pelvis against his. Then everything went frantic. Pushed by the unexpected force of their passion, she forgot everything, but his hands gliding down her back and cupping her buttocks to bring her further against him. The tranquil music permeating the room was forgotten and replaced by her moans of pleasure. Putting everything into the kiss, she drowned in it.

“I want you more right now than anything I can remember,” Sylvain broke away from their kiss. “But, I did promise you retribution for your earlier teasing and I’ve been looking forward to claiming it.” 

Supernatural Seduction - CG2 - Final Cover

 

“Once again Aneesa Price succeeds in transporting us to this magical world full of romance, action, & excitement! I am a true Aneesa Price addict…constantly needing more, more, more!” ~ Jeni’s Bookshelf & Reviews

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Supernatural-Seduction-Coffin-Series-ebook/dp/B00E1LF496

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supernatural-Seduction-Coffin-Series-ebook/dp/B00E1LF496

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/supernatural-seduction-aneesa-price/1116227626

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/338802

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18218817-supernatural-seduction

Vive Les Femmes! The True Legend of The Coffin Girls.

The Coffin Girls really did exist! The fille à la cassette  were 18th century, French immigrés sent to the shores of Louisiana from France. These virtuous brides arrived under the strict supervision of the Ursuline nuns with nothing but little wooden boxes containing their belongings or trousseau.  In this blog, I speak of the legend that inspired my paranormal romance series.

The Legend

 museum pic of CG casket

In response to a request  for wives from Louisiana’s French settlers, the French authorities, with the aid of the Ursuline nuns, hand-picked marriageable young women from convents and orphanages. Approximately 500 young women were ‘dispatched’ to Louisiana, including New Orleans. The superstitious locals dubbed them as Casket or Coffin Girls and spread tales of vampire arrivals. It was said that the coffin-shaped boxes of trousseau were found to be empty when opened. The Ursuline sisters stored the caskets on the third floor of the convent and sealed the windows and doors, which led to the belief that this was done to prevent sunlight from killing or maiming the vampires hidden therein.  Other allegations were that the girls themselves were vampires due to their pale complexions and sickly appearance.

lg-embarkment-of-the-casket-girls-1250

Logic could explain much of that – the grueling journey across the Atlantic, that they would not have been able to afford the 18th century version of Louis Vuitton suitcases and that the third floor windows were sealed by standard issue hurricane shutters of the time.  The motives for the rumors were perhaps due to jealousy because these young women were admired for their French origins and virtue, or it could possibly have been due to discontent regarding the administration of the French, colonial rule?

Ursuline_Convent_New_Orleans_1733

My Novel Inspiration

When I began researching vampire legends, I knew I wanted to write a paranormal series centered on strong women. I wanted to create heroines that were the equals of their male counterparts, that were powerful and confident – survivors rather than victims. The casket-carrying girls provided me with inspiration for my own tales and I employed artistic license to ponder what their lives could have been like.

In Supernatural Seduction, Sophie provided an opportunity for my speculations:

“When she had been introduced to her fiancé, Pierre, his kind brown eyes had welcomed her, although his manner had been all business. He was one of many gentlemen of French descent who had visited the Ursuline convent to peruse the available wives. The act was humiliating. Some gentlemen openly leered at them and Sophie felt that the only thing stopping them from ‘testing the goods’ was the presence of the nuns. Others were like Pierre – all business and a few, too few, were shy.” (From Supernatural Seduction, Book 2 of the Coffin Girls Series)

“The nuns had subjected them all to ‘checks’ of their virtue, a demeaning physical examination that Sophie would rather forget. Sophie had therefore braved crossing the Atlantic and squared her shoulders against any angst she might feel. Being a secret empath and with the buckets of trepidation being felt from the other girls all around her, forced ignorance was survival tactic.” (From Supernatural Seduction, Book 2 of the Coffin Girls Series)

In Coffin Girls, book one, Anais, the witch-vampire leader of the Coffin Girls, describes her relationship with her husband:

“I met my husband when I was brought to Papillion Plantation. It had another name and another life within it then. It was the time of slavery, racism and prosperity for the plantation owner – before the wars of North versus South. Disease was rife in New Orleans – not just the fever but the disease of arrogance. My husband suffered from that. And I’ve come to realize that it was the root of his insanity.” At Conall’s lifted brow, she explained, “To me, racism and slavery isn’t normal and neither is rape and torture. He was guilty of all of that.” (From Coffin Girls, Elegantly Undead, Book 1 of the Coffin Girls Series)

Coffin Girls is always priced at 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Supernatural Seduction is priced at 99 cents until the end of the release event tomorrow and is also available on all ebook websites and in print. You’re welcome to join the Facebook release event for fun games hosted by Release Day Diva, swag and ebook prizes (18 years and older only).

Event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/583662281684227

Coffin Girls

Coffin Girls New Final Cover

A sexy, female vampire with secrets.

A sinfully-handsome witch prince on a mission.

A formidable Vampire Council with something to hide.

A vampire descendent from the original Coffin Girls, Anais runs a successful event and wedding planning business from her majestic New Orleans plantation house. To the Vampire Council, she is seen as an exemplary hostess and household head of a misfit bunch of vampires.
When Yves, her maker and head of the Vampire Council requests her assistance in hosting the mysterious, yet dashing Prince of Witches, Conall, she has no option but to accept. But Anais is the keeper of secrets; secrets that can kill. Protective of her family’s undiscovered uniqueness, Anais is guarded, yet intrigued by the enigmatic witch prince.
Conall and Anais are drawn together when confronted with fatal encounters and an unimaginable destiny… if she’s willing to accept it and fight.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Coffin-Girls-Elegantly-Undead-ebook/dp/B008N0GWVA

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Coffin-Girls-Elegantly-Undead-ebook/dp/B008N0GWVA

Barnes & Noble:

 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coffin-girls-elegantly-undead-aneesa-price/1112407366

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/205913

Supernatural Seduction

 Supernatural Seduction - CG2 - Final Cover

Witch-vampire, Sophie, has the power to feel and influence others’ emotions. With the establishment of the Coffin Girls as warriors for the Goddess that kick supernatural ass, the effects of her empath abilities threaten to harm her. Sylvain, the mischievous and seductive fae prince and Coffin Girls ally, offers her the assistance of the fae to hone her powers. Sophie is drawn to Sylvain, which unnerves her as her hope for love has only ever led to devastation. The two of them must face the demons of their past, unknown enemies and new evil to find true happiness at last.

“Once again Aneesa Price succeeds in transporting us to this magical world full of romance, action, & excitement! I am a true Aneesa Price addict…constantly needing more, more, more!” ~ Jeni’s Bookshelf & Reviews

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Supernatural-Seduction-Coffin-Series-ebook/dp/B00E1LF496

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supernatural-Seduction-Coffin-Series-ebook/dp/B00E1LF496

Barnes & Noble: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.barnesandnoble.com%2Fw%2Fsupernatural-seduction-aneesa-price%2F1116227626%3Fean%3D2940045151405&h=2AQGmssU7

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/338802

 

Related articles:

The Mystery in Our Midst by Jim Serra, http://kplcblogs.typepad.com/kplcgm/2007/09/they-walk-among.html

Casket (Casquette) Girls from Geni.com, http://www.geni.com/projects/Casket-Casquette-Girls/436

Casquette girl from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casquette_girl

Casket Girls of New Orleans: Founding Matriarchs or Vampire Smugglers? by Liz Genest, http://www.gonola.com/2011/08/09/casket-girls-of-new-orleans-founding-matriarchs-or-vampire-smugglers.html