Latest Posts

A Gourmand’s Guide to Thessaloniki-Part 1

My love affair with Thessaloniki started a long time ago, in my late teens.

During my last summer holidays in secondary school I had the opportunity to spend a week in a youth camp near Thessaloniki. Funnily enough, the camp was close to Perea, the small town where Alex and I decided to set home years later!

That first time, I wasn’t exposed to the Greek culture much. The camp we were in was an international Christian camp and English was spoken more than Greek.

But at the end of the week, that Sunday, our small group was invited to a Greek Orthodox assembly and that is there I met for the first time what is described at typical Thessalonians, warm, genuine and very hospitable people who are still my friends, even after all these years!

The draw was so strong that when I was doing my master’s degree in Romania and was offered an Erasmus scholarship, I immediately decided to go for Thessaloniki.

I spent four and a half months then learning a bit of the language, finishing my American literature degree while being completely emerged in the Greek culture by staying with some of the same lovely people who opened their homes and hearts to us.

Years later, having been married to a Greek man who was missing his home land terribly, we decided to make the bold move and try and live in Greece for a year.

Our choice to live in Thessaloniki during that time was far from accidental.

I had love strings pulling me back here, you see.

That project didn’t work out, unfortunately, the living in Greece for a year.

We returned to Northern Ireland at the end of that summer but not before deciding to make Perea and Thessaloniki our summer home, as I explained in a previous post.

Now, Thessaloniki is our dreamy escape whenever we want a touch of magic and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

IMG_3376This year, Thessaloniki waterways has introduced very handy boat rides from Perea to the very heart of Thessaloniki and we have already enjoyed a couple of relaxed day trips in this way.

IMG_3368The trips are 2.70 euro each way, last about an hour and children under 6 go free.

The same company has routes connecting other neighbourhoods with a limani(small port), like Kalamaria, to the main port of Thessaloniki. You can find all the necessary information regarding the timetables(the boats run more or less hourly, but please do check before, as you don’t want to scorch in the hot sun waiting for the elusive boat!) and destinations, onto their Facebook page.

Thessaloniki has seen many cultural and culinary influences over the years. Smyrna(today’s Izmir) particularly comes to mind and you can read more on the dramatic political events of 1922 here. As with every political upheaval, migration followed in Smyrna’s case and with it came beautiful influences when it comes to food and especially what I call, the culture of sweets of Thessaloniki!

smirni3If you do Thessaloniki as a savvy traveler, it is a must that you do as many as your tummy allows you of their eateries(of which I will have to write at a later date, as they deserve their own proper space and mention!) and zaharoplasties( sweet shops) and try each of their own specialties they had preserved as staples of times long gone and everlasting influences!

There is Terkenlis‘ tsourekia, Konstantinidis‘ millefeuilles, Agapitos‘ armenovil ice cream and Elenidis‘ trigonakia, Ble‘s artisanal, pieces of art chocolate sweets and Hadzis‘ syrupy sweets(toulumba me kaimaki is still on the list, auntie Mimi!), to name just the crème de la crème !

Images original from and courtesy of the respective sweet shops’ websites.

Have I made you terribly hungry for amazing sweets?

Will you give Thessaloniki a try next time you visit Greece?

There is so much more to Greece than the beach and its resorts and I truly hope this post will inspire many of you to come and visit and eat, as we say often, “where the locals eat!”

I promise to come back with a different post on Thessaloniki’s amazing eateries at a later date, their food is worthy of a post of its own!

cropped-dsc_0011-shoes-line-up-centre

My Nametags- A Review

Emma attends a lovely school in Northern Ireland which tends to be on the organised side.

So, as expected, as soon as she finished P1 we were presented with a list of things for Emma to bring along when she return to school at the end of August, as a big P2 :-).

11824940_10207316719740044_8249379392440578391_nA quick glance at the list and you would notice that the word “named” is recurrent at an alarming rate. This is a big school and name tags are the only way to keep track of everybody’s possessions and ensure the forgetful ones don’t go home missing cardigans or coats or school bags!

So I did feel overjoyed and very relieved when the very kind people at My Nametags approached me on Instagram and asked me if we would be interested in reviewing their new Hello Kitty name tag range!

10408578_10153546605614973_4906096464237568249_nThe PR girls kindly forwarded us the relevant link and let us choose our preferred Hello Kitty design. Emma went for the pink and white stripes, with a Hello Kitty ballerina on.

As we are in Greece at the moment, the tags were sent to Northern Ireland and we can’t wait to get home at the end of August and get everything labeled, from Emma’s uniform and cardigans, to her new PE shoes, pink Pritt Stick(to match the labels, of course!) and her new exercise books she will be receiving as soon as she starts school!

11705359_10153542469694973_6355635322268553842_nI trust the labels will be of great quality and lasting, as advertised on the website and as publicly acknowledged this year by Feefo, which awarded MyNametags with the Gold Trusted Merchant award!

11078241_10153356616814973_4260256154038169816_nAs a mum, I think that the Hello Kitty set of 56 tags, priced at £13.95 is a fair price and will provide us with plenty of stickers for the whole school year and probably more!

The website provides also colour, black and white stickers and iron-ons and gears for schools and care home bigger orders as well as families.

Disclaimer: we were promised a set of Hello Kitty tags in exchange of this review. The opinions expressed are entirely our own. We were thrilled to be able to work with My Nametags as we find it a very useful company for all mums of school aged children and we truly hope we will be able to review again next year!

NSPCC_PANTS_Talkpants AW.indd

#TalkPANTS with NSPCC

If you know me at all, you know that I have for many years longed to make a difference in this world and have been actively and vocally advocating for change, especially when it comes to vulnerable children and adults.

So, when last week, NSPCC approached me as a blogger and invited me to be part of their Underwear rule campaign, I felt hugely privileged to be allowed to use my public voice to raise awareness about such a sensitive topic like keeping children safe from sexual abuse.

I will start this post by saying that as a young girl raised in communist Romania, I consider myself extremely lucky to have had two very near sexual abuse misses.

One occurred one hot summer day, when I was visiting my mum in the hospital where she worked. I don’t know where my brother was that time, we usually did everything together and I am sure, his presence acted as a safety shield many times from sexual predators. But this time, he wasn’t there, my mum’s work place was hot so I went outside for a bit of fresh air. I remember this young guy approaching me, he was no older than 16, I assume, and asking me if I wanted the special pen that he had dangling from his neck. I loved stationery even then and the lure of a new pen(yes, it takes THAT little!!) made it worthwhile in my head, to accompany him down some dark steps.

My “luck” was that he walked in front and not behind me. Something spooked me. And I had a change of mind, fast legs and a presence of spirit that was uncharacteristic to a young child.

I ran to safety.

I even placed the darn pen on the steps for him to find and retrieve, I didn’t want anything from him!

I didn’t know but somehow, I suspected that something horrible was going to happen to me if I walked a step further.

What I wish to have known is PANTS, the Underwear Rules that the NSPCC is trying to make parents and carers aware of:

  • Privates are private
  • Always remember your body belongs to you
  • No means no
  • Talk about secrets that upset you
  • Speak up, someone can help

What I wish is that such things existed back then, in the communist Romania and that my mum had had a conversation to me about these things, making me aware in a simple way, of sexual predators.

As it turned out, I didn’t even have the courage to tell my mum what happened(and prevent that guy from doing the same thing again to other little girls, more importantly!) because I assumed that somehow it had been my fault, being lured in, and that I will be told off!

Sadly, these things continue to happen more often than we know.

They happen closer to us than we will ever want to know.

And if we want to protect our children from them, we need to speak openly and age-appropriately about the subject, we need to tell them clearly these things are preventable and not in any way, their fault.

By empowering our children with knowledge and age-appropriate information, we will be hopefully raising a generation of children who know not only about virtual world dangers but also about much closer ones and how to protect themselves against them efficiently.

I have already had a conversation with Emma on the subject. I will be using the PANTS steps again, to make it very clear to her, that even at 5, she can protect herself from abuse.

NSPCC_PANTS_Talkpants AW.indd I will continue to talk PANTS!

The @NSPCC Underwear Rule is a simple conversation you can have with your child to help keep them safe from abuse.

I am spreading the word and sharing with all the parents parents reading this post today #TalkPANTS.

Disclosure: we have been asked to raise awareness about the campaign by NSPCC. We were not remunerated in any way to write this post.

Silence

I sat there, in silence,

remembering the silence we shared

two summers ago.

When you were only a grain,

in my pregnant belly.

I sat there, willing my memory

To go back and find you there,

A squirming little life,

Full of promise and joy.

I sat there, in silence

and I remembered the times,

we shared, just you and me.

Those dark nights at home, when your little bones were sore.

Those long days on the ICU ward,

with only each other

and the beeping machines pumping chemo into your tiny frame

as company.

I sat there, with my precious memories

of you, sweet baby boy,

feeling you close,

so very close

to my very bruised heart.

I sat there, in silence,

and for a split moment in time,

our love

managed to transcend death and space and time,

and we were together,

once again.

10356346_10152046389746512_7680036680479956208_n

11822579_10152910584456512_3518639275191551323_n

House of Fraser: A Review

When House of Fraser approaches us for a second time with the opportunity to review some of the children’s toys on their website, I jumped for joy.

We first worked with House of Fraser at Christmas, when the toys’ section was launched on the website and we had loads of fun creating our Fraser Bear snow story.

We knew they would be reliable, prompt in delivering the toys and very courteous, just like they were at Christmas.

Who in their right mind would not like to work with such a lovely company!

We were allowed to choose and we were sent the most wonderful Disney Lego, of Rapunzel and her tall tower, to Emma’s complete delight!

I_5702015124621_50_20140228We were getting ready to leave for Greece and we made it clear that our review would be written from abroad. The lovely people in charge of PR still agreed to send it to us, all in good time and with tracked mail too, to ensure safe arrival.

Emma is five and a half and as any child with no siblings in the house, needs constant entertainment and interaction.

I was as glad as Emma was to be able to bring our Disney Lego along, knowing that building it would make an engaging and stimulating activity and will mean hours of uninterrupted play.

As soon as we landed in Greece and made ourselves comfortable once again in the apartment, Emma wanted to start putting her Rapunzel tower together.

We love Lego and have loads in the house but the Rapunzel tower is probably her tallest construction so far (we have Anna and Elsa’s palace at home Ariel’s underwater kingdom and Merida’s castle and we can’t wait to return to Northern Ireland with the new addition and create an all princess Lego land in our living room :-).

Emma is only five and a half but she can now follow Lego instructions and build 6 to 12 easily, due to the very comprehensive and clear pictures that come with the manual.

11822579_10152910584456512_3518639275191551323_nWe are grateful to House of Fraser for choosing to work with our blog again and for the beautiful Rapunzel tower.

We apologize it has taken us so long to put this review up and we hope we will be able to work again with such a customer-friendly brand.

Disclaimer: we were sent the Lego for reviewing purposes. We were not remunerated in any other way. The opinions expressed are our own entirely.

When grief falls like a hammer

I have been doing well.

As well as a bereaved mother can be doing, shortly after such an important milestone, as Georgie’s death first anniversary.

But grief is a wheel which keeps turning and keeps mauling your soul, over and over and over again.

I know that talking about Georgie’s life helps other parents, finding themselves in the same horrific situation we have, a year and 30 days ago.

I have been receiving messages from people all over the world.

And Georgie’s story has been recently published by a women’s magazine in Romania, and I had the absolute honour to introduce my baby boy to a Romanian audience of caring new mothers.

But the crust has been ripped off the wounds, once again.

I have been waking up frequently during the night, tormented by the same questions.

Why my boy? Why like this? Why was he allowed to cross the threshold of existence only to know excruciating pain?

Why, Lord, oh, why?

I have learned to live with the pain.

I have learned to cope with the pain.

I have learned to manage my pain.

But at times, at times, I need to let the waves of sorrow wash over me.

I miss holding him.

I miss seeing him smile.

I miss who he would have been now, a toddler and a much loved son, brother, grandson and nephew.

I miss Georgie.

I miss my son.

11012429_1012018892165374_1566343147883775721_nCan you hear me, sweet boy? Can you feel my sorrow for you?

I hope it reached you like beautiful butterflies, enticing you to run free in lavender fields and play without a care.

I hope it reached you like warm, summer rain drops which make you want to dance and giggle and shout for joy.

I miss you, son.

Now and forever more.

Living la vita bella

We have been living what for most people in cold countries is perceived as “the dream” for three years.

Slightly by accident, as most things happen with us, three and a half years ago, after an unsuccessful  stint of trying to live in Greece, we decided to return back to Northern Ireland.

But not before we made the decision that we liked Greece as a holiday location and we secured a place where we could return every year.

How were we able to do that?

We were “lucky”, as the financial crisis had already hit the country and the rental properties were hard to let out and, in consequence, much cheaper than they had been.

We moved our furniture from the house from which we had tried to made a home into a much smaller and cosier apartment in the vicinity and locked it for the next 9 months.

At 350 euro per month (approximately £250), we realised that it was quite the intelligent solution for making our dream of hot summers possible.

According to a survey published by Lloyds Banking Group in 2014, a family pays an average of £1,404 per person for an overseas holiday. For a family of three, that would mean £4,212 for a week in the sun, usually in a crowded resort, with touristy prices and limited options for entertainment and cultural exposure.

We both like figures and things that make financial sense so we soon realised that an apartment would cost us less to keep for a whole year than booking a holiday for a week somewhere.

Plus, we would be in a local neighbourhood, with plenty of supermarkets to shop in, two open air markets to buy our fresh fruit and vegetables in and the sea, only a short, 10-minute walk away!

IMG_3366We chose Perea, a small town 30 minutes from Thessaloniki, which has the intimate and secure feeling of a village but all the advantages of a town. As I said, shops, markets and the sea are in close proximity but being that bit further away from a busy town it means we don’t get the noise, the dirt and the stress a city entails, especially in summer months.

Last year, when our Georgie was sick and the money was scarce, we decided to sub-let the place. We had two sets of tenants, a fact that you may want to consider if you want to keep a holiday place throughout the year and use it only for the summer months.

We were very lucky one time and less than that the other, when it comes to tenants.

The first guy, a Greek bachelor who still depended on his mother emotionally and financially(like many do here, as part of the Greek culture!), left the place after a few months with electricity bills unpaid and in an awful mess( we had to bin bedding, pillows…etc as he had been plain dirty!).

Our second set of tenants, a housewife and her hard-working man, in their mid-40s, tended to the place beautifully, were extremely grateful for the furniture we left in the apartment(as Greek properties come most frequently unfurnished) and left the place spotless for us when we arrived this summer.

We have also chosen a place from where we can easily access the airport, which allows us freedom of movement during the summer months. The proximity to the Thessaloniki airport(we are a mere 15 minute-drive away) and the brilliant campaign Ryanair launched at the beginning of July, made it possible for us this summer to enjoy short trips to Athens and various islands in Greece.

I know that I have painted a very rosy picture of our summers in Greece and talked about advantages so far.

What I need to add, to make the picture realistic, is that our summers in Greece are spent as a local family.

Yes, we do travel but most of our weeks are spent living life as any Greek family does, with our days regulated by the mighty sun (it is too hot to be outdoor between 12 and 19, so we hide behind white shades and in air-conditioned environments) and the need to work from home, to keep the dream happening!

Hubby and I do take turns in the office to stay on top of our work and blogging and most afternoons, it is only daddy and Emma going out for a swim, while mummy stays home and works!

We are in our mid-30s, early-40s and we dream of owning our own place here in the future.

A place where we can spend our summers for now and retire when we grow old.

But for now, we are content.

Living la vita bella is possible, even in one’s youth, if compromises are made and expectations adjusted.

Has my post encouraged you to consider living your summer months abroad? Are you living your version of vita bella? If not, what is preventing you from making it happen?