Quick Trip to Athens

First of all, Athens is an enormous city full of cars, high rises, and lots of people. To get to our Airbnb apartment, we had to drive through it all. Once we found the apartment, parking was another matter…completely non-existent. After we checked in, Cameron and I drove the rental car to the airport then took the train back to the apartment. Thank goodness for Apple Maps!

So, we arrived in the afternoon, and we had the next full day to see everything we wanted then we had a 6 am flight out the following day. Talk about a whirlwind trip to Athens! It turned out perfectly! We visited the Acropolis, the Acropolis museum and did all our shopping in about 36 hours.

We bought sandals from Pantelis Melissinos, the Poet Sandal Maker. If you plan on purchasing some sandals, give yourself lots of time and buy them a day or two before you leave. It’s a busy shop, and they can make adjustments or additions if your sandals don’t work perfectly you. They added additional leather pieces to my daughters’ sandals so their feet wouldn’t slide off the bottom.

The Acropolis is a must-see. Go early. The Acropolis museum was beautiful and sad. Many ancient artifacts had been removed years and years ago for “safekeeping” in London at the British Museum. There are replicas in Athens, so you have to use your imagination…a lot.

There was an impressive lego replication of the Acropolis that had a miniature Gandalf for some reason. We were entertained.

Next, it’s on to Oia, Santorini….

On to Delphi

After two nights in Kastraki, we left for Delphi. It’s a 3-hour drive through the countryside. Did you know that there is a lot of cotton grown in Greece? I didn’t. We passed by many fields.

Driving in Greece is relatively straight forward. The roads aren’t busy, but there are tolls. It seems like a lot of tolls. You will need cash and change. There is always a lane with an attendant, so you can pay and get change.

Delphi is basically on the side of a mountain, so the views are impressive. From the village, you can walk to the ancient sites and the museum on a flat walkway, once you get to the main street. Delphi has a lot to offer, considering its’ small size. There are lots of restaurants, hotels, and shops to accommodate all. We found the best takeout gyros in Delphi, at Dionysios Souvlaki Gyro Shop. It’s on the one way street the buses take through town as they head back to Athens. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again the next day! We ate so fast we didn’t take any pictures.

There are two ruins to visit: the ones you have to pay to see and the ones across the road that you do not have to pay to see. They are both worth the visit. The museum is interesting, too. My mythology loving daughters loved it all!

The Theatre at the Sanctuary of Apollo
Sanctuary of Athena

Delphi is a cute little town that can be covered in one full day. 

Cliff Top Monasteries

I had never heard of Meteora until my husband Cameron started talking about it. He kept telling me about a scene from a James Bond movie that was filmed in Greece, and there were cliffs. It was not a lot to go on, but we discovered Meteora once we started our online search.

It looked interesting, so we put it on our agenda. Meteora is the main reason we didn’t drive a loop from Athens and back. Instead, we flew in to Thessaloniki, in the northeast part of mainland Greece. Meteora is a three-hour drive from the airport, so that was reasonable. We had a SIM card and used the phone to direct us. It was easy.

We stayed in the little town just before you get to the monasteries. It’s called Kastraki. Kalabaka is larger with lots of restaurants and more nightlife. We enjoyed the restaurants in Kastraki, and it was very quiet at night.

Kastraki, in the shadows of the cliff top monasteries

There are five monasteries and one nunnery that can be visited. They all close for one day each week, and it’s a different day for each place. These monasteries and nunnery are on the top of seemingly inaccessible cliff tops. That these were built in the 1500s is a remarkable architectural and engineering feat.

You can drive around all the monasteries on a one-way road and stop and visit the ones you want. You can also walk from monastery to monastery. Warning, it would be a long walk with lots of ups and downs.

The views are beautiful, and many people come out to see the sunset each day. It’s a very peaceful place.

Planning Our Greek Adventure

Early last year we were planning a Fall holiday overseas. We originally were going to go to Scotland but thought the weather in October would be too cold so we looked for a Southern Europe destination that would be warm and ended up in Greece for two weeks.

OK, Greece it is. Now, where to go? Lots of people had recommendations for us, and almost all of them said to go to the islands. Our kids are big fans of mythology and history, so we had to include some ancient sites, too. Cameron wanted to see Meteora, one of the locations where “For Your Eyes Only” was filmed. How much time did we have?!

We planned on driving and didn’t have time to do a loop, so we flew to Thessaloniki and drove to Kastraki, in the shadows of Meteora. From there we drove to Delphi then on to Athens. Next, we flew to Santorini to stay in Oia then on to Crete.

A monastery in Meteora

We usually stay away from the tourist scene but made an exception for Santorini. A Greek friend of ours said we couldn’t go to Greece and not go to Santorini. Fine, we’ll go there. Oia is a pedestrian-only town that is lovely to wander through early in the morning.

Oia, Santorini at sunrise

Crete was a complete unknown for us. It just happens to be the most southern Greek island, and we figured it would be the warmest by later October. We were looking for some time at the beach.

So, that is our plan in a nutshell – Meteora, Delphi, Athens, Oia, and Crete. Now, where can I get a gyro?

Our Favorite Markets on Sunshine Coast

After our adventure at Lone Pine, we headed to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. The Sunshine Coast is amazing! It’s our favorite place for beaches. Commercial and residential development is managed, so there is almost always a green belt between houses and the beach. There are countless paths that take you through, and once you are on the beach, you can’t see the houses. It feels like I’m in the middle of nowhere on a beach. There are only a handful of people ever on the beach, depending on the area. It is a very relaxing place to be.

Castaways Beach in the early afternoon
Sunrise Beach later in the afternoon

We stayed at Castaways Beach. This was an excellent location for us – halfway between Noosa and Peregian. We got seafood from the Noosa Junction Seafood Market. The Noosa Farmer’s Market was also excellent. We purchased fresh fruits and vegetables, locally farmed-meat, mud crabs, and Maleny dairy products plus tried out a couple of the food vendors for an early lunch. I had chicken roti from Dragon Roti, and it was delicious!

Another of our favorite things on the Sunshine Coast is the Eumundi Markets. Check them out when you are in the area. This is an enormous market with produce, food, decorations, jewelry, and more. Our favorite booth is Nature’s Cutting Boards. The boards are made from camphor laurel and smell divine. We have many at home, and still, we buy more. Check out what we got this time. If only they weren’t so heavy…

Camphor laurel cutting boards

Does Anyone Want Mud Crabs or Bugs?

Do you like seafood? I like mild fish and most shellfish, but I LOVE lobster and crab! 

When Cameron and I took the kids to Australia ten years ago, we went with my Mother-in-law. She would talk about catching and eating mud crab when she was a girl growing up in Queensland. Mud crab doesn’t make me think I want to eat that plus they have black shells before they are cooked. Little did I know that it is the best tasting crab I’ve eaten. It’s sweet, and there is lots of it. These crabs are huge! The first one I ever ate was as wide as Cameron’s size 12 foot is long, weighed over 2 pounds with a dominate claw as big as my hand and three times as thick!

Cooked mud crabs – Yum!

Another thing that doesn’t sound appealing to eat are bugs, which are slipper lobsters. I tried them in a restaurant in Cairns years ago, and they tasted like a delicious cross between crab and lobster with the texture of lobster. Every time I go back to Australia, I eat as many bugs as I can get.

Cooked Moreton Bay Bugs – Double yum!

This trip was no different. We ate at least four mud crabs, and I lost count of all the times I ate Moreton Bay bugs. I would eat the bugs every day if I could. So good!

What is your favorite seafood?

Lone Pine – Keeper for a Day

My family loves animals and loves to have hands-on experiences with them. Queensland is a great place to get up close and personal with animals and hold many of them. Our favorite place to accomplish that is Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. Lone Pine has been around since my Mother-in-law was a girl and we visit every time we are in Brisbane.

One of so many koalas

This time we decided to sign up for the Keeper for a Day program. It’s a six and a half hour program that takes you behind the scenes and in the enclosures to interact with all kinds of animals. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone and the top experience of our trip. After our first encounter in the enclosure with the dingo, both of my daughters told me separately that they “want to do this when they grow up”. It’s a pricey endeavor, and I recommend it and would do it again!

The echidna, Rex, has been at Lone Pine longer than anyone can remember. She came out to eat when we brought her some food.

We gave scratches to the dingo and made a toy for her. Prepared food for and fed the platypuses and cassowary, Chicky. Fed and held the barn owl before and during the birds of prey show. We took a shingleback skink for some outside time in the sun. We fed freshwater turtles, the echidna, Rex, the Rainbow Lorikeets, the kangaroos and wallabies, and the emus. We held koalas and snakes, too. It was at Lone Pine that we learned wombats’ poop is square shaped and where the name of this blog comes originates.

Chicky has an intimidating stare but put some crickets in with her and she will find them all!

Don’t miss a visit to Lone Pine!

Scones, Scones, Scones

We like tea. We like scones. We love them together. Not just any scones…..only really delicious scones. We check British-influenced cities before we travel to see who has the best scones and we always visit them.

We have strong opinions about cream and jam and the order they are applied to the scone.

The Cream

Must be thick…Devonshire cream thick. There can be no cream running off the scone. The cream goes on the scone first, then the jam.

The Jam

Must be thick, very fruity, and not too sweet. Berry is my favorite. The jam goes on top of the cream.

Eat and enjoy.

One thing we noticed on our last trip to Australia is that we prefer scones that have fruit in them. I used to think the best scones had nothing in them, but now I find them boring. The best ones we had had dates in them. They were so good! We got them at the bakery in Peregian on the Sunshine Coast. They were warm out of the oven and very delicious.

Part of our “problem” with scones is I make an excellent ginger scone thanks to a recipe from Cooks Illustrated. Our standards are high, so not just any scone passes our criteria.

The scones at Claridge’s in London were delicious. The scones at The Empress in Victoria, British Columbia were not. Where have you had the best scones?

Cookies or Biscuits?

I love visiting the cookie/biscuit aisle in the grocery store. In Australia, they put the biscuits right beside the tea because one always has a biscuit with tea at tea time. It makes so much sense! I love tea, as mentioned in a previous post about scones, and who doesn’t like biscuits?!

Have you heard of TimTams? They are a delicious chocolate coated cookie with wafers and a flavored cream in the middle. This last trip involved many, many packages of TimTams. We found new and exciting flavors, and the girls and Cameron gorged themselves. The favorites ended up being the TimTam Slams with malt and caramel filling. Ridiculously good!

Zoe deciding which flavor to get. One of everything will do until we run out!

Cadbury is another favorite stop of ours. We can get Cadbury chocolate in Canada when we visit my parents in Victoria, British Columbia, but the chocolate we get in Australia is usually way less expensive because of the sales every other week at Coles or IGA. We enjoy our fill of all the varieties and take some home to enjoy.

Every kind of Cadbury bar

I feel like I’m forgetting something….what is it? Ginger Nuts! How could I forget Ginger Nuts? This is a perfect tea cookie. It’s crisp and gingery and gets better when dipped in tea. We purchased some Ginger Nuts in Sydney, and they were very different from the ones we got in the Northern Territory 3 years ago and different again from the ones we got in Queensland. We looked it up, and there are unique recipes for the different regions. There used to be 4 or 5 companies making the cookies until they consolidated into one manufacturer. They settled on one recipe, and the people in the different regions complained because they didn’t get the biscuit they expected. Now Arnotts, the manufacturer, makes four different recipes, and each state gets the biscuit they expect and enjoy.

Any wonder we all came home carrying some extra weight around our middles and some packages of Cadbury, Ginger Nuts and TimTams to savor after arriving home. When are we going back?!

Barefoot…in the Grocery Store

Barefoot in Coles in Noosa

One of our favorite things to do in any foreign country is going to the grocery store. It is so fun to wander the aisles to see all the items not available to us at home.

One thing so interesting to us is bare feet in a grocery store or any store in Australia. We could be in a store that is miles from the beach, but we still see bare feet. I saw someone walking around Circular Quay in Sydney in bare feet. I’ve never seen that in any other place we’ve traveled to.

Cameron and the girls had to try it out in Peregian and Noosa. It is still so strange to see. I went into a seafood shop in bare feet, and it just feels so wrong! I feel like someone could kick us out at any moment.

I do like the relaxed feel it brings to the stores, but it would take a while for it to feel natural to me.

Have you seen bare feet in groceries stores in other parts of the world?