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Visiting Istanbul…by mistake!

As you know from my last post, we have been travelling within Greece in the last weeks and were meant to be back to Thessaloniki, where we have our summer base, yesterday.

But as life has it, I am writing this post from a sunny hotel lounge in…Istanbul!

Let me tell you how we got here.

Yesterday, on our way back to the airport, we had a very near car crash. A crash which would most likely have been fatal for all of us, had it had happened.

We then proceeded to return our rental car to Goldcar Rental in Koropi. We had experienced issues with them when we had picked up the car and we allowed half an hour to return the car this time.

Foolish miscalculation!

Their ATM wasn’t working and after FOUR(!!!) unsuccessful attempts to return our deposit, we knew we were very close to missing our flight back to Thessaloniki.

Which we did…

We sat there, shell-shocked after the near-crash,  furious following the car rental mishaps (which, from the sound of that office yesterday, seems to be the rule, not the exception!!) and got further annoyed when we realised that Ryanair’s “Keep Greece Flying” campaign had actually been so successful that there were no cheap available flights until the weekend!!

There was only one thing to be done, hubby said. Since we had been given another chance to live and were not lying in a Greek ditch, we had the duty to live fully these “extra” moments, days, weeks and years we had been gifted.

Logical trail of thought after this revelation?

 Putting us all on a flight to Istanbul, a city we had been talking about visiting for years!

Unbeknown to us, Ramadan finished last night, around the same time we flew into Istanbul.

We had arrived into the Muslim equivalent of Christmas Eve and felt it immediately in the people’s mood.

Emma needed a visa, as all British citizens do, so after we waited to clear the customs for an hour and a half, we were pulled out of line by a jovial young soldier who with evident love for children, lead us kindly to the right office. Visa was issued on the spot for a fee of 25 euro and we entered Turkey with a flow of celebrating Muslims who had come to visit family and friends from all over the world!

Our hotel, History Hotel Beyazit,  small, central and very reasonably priced had sent a courtesy car to pick us up from the airport. The driver was still there, waiting with a smile on his face, after a two hour wait!! We had to cover the 25 euro fee for his trouble and fuel and we did so unresentfully as we had been told about it from the start and the service provided went way above what an European hotel would have provided. (As I am writing this, one of the reception workers has approached me with coffee. From the house. How very kind!)

Our family room, booked through Booking.com, is £42 per night, with beautiful hot and continental breakfast included. Do try their Turkish rose jam, it is as wonderful as I remember it from when I was a child!

The rooms are smallish but very clean and functional. The service is that of a five-star hotel, fruit was sent to our room today, as soon as we returned, tired and dusty, from a day of exploration!

And what a day we had!

After a filling breakfast, we walked five minuted down the road to take the tram.

Tram tickets cost 4 lira per tocken. We had to purchase something from a small corner shop so we can change our 10 and 20 lira bills into coins in the automat.

There is security in every tram station as, we have figured out, people like to take a free ride, when the opportunity arises :-). But the security guys are kind and helpful to the tourists, and even if they don’t speak English, they would show you in sign language what you are meant to do.

Do change around 20 to 30 lira into tockens if staying for more than a day in Istanbul. The tram is handy for reaching all the landmarks and you will need one tram token each journey you take.

Hint: push the gate firmly after inserting token, they are not like the ones in the London subway and we did look a sight this afternoon, when we got stuck and waved our tram goodbye from the wrong side of the barrier, all in 40 degrees!

Once again, I was touched by how attentive and kind people here are to children! The Turks take their time to talk to you and help out if they see you travelling with a child. Emma got high-fives, cheek caresses and loads of smiles when out and about today, and a picture with one of the handsome soldiers in the Palace as well ;-)

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We did the sightseeing today with the clear intention NOT to spend on entrance fees. We thought it unwise, with a five-year old, who gets easily bored when looking at buildings and artifacts, in tow and considering the hefty fees for some of them!

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The only money we intended to spend was the Bosforus cruise. Emma loves boats and we thought that a two-hour trip would not be too tiring for her. She loved the sights but after yesterday’s events, got tired and slept, lulled by the waves. We enjoyed seeing Istanbul from afar, found fascinating seeing the two sides(Asian and European) and realised what an eclectic city this is, with skyscrapers and ancient mosques cohabiting harmoniously side by side.

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What we were not prepared to pay were extortional prices for water and food in the historic area!

We are also finding it hard to haggle over everything, especially with older people, as we were raised to respect the elderly and goes against the grain to try and “cheat” them out of their merchandise. So, old man from the sweet shop, never mind, we are still enjoying that £6 halva and do not resent you riping us off ;-)!

Our advice is, talk to the people in your hotel before you head out! We now know a good, local and reasonably priced place to eat and we have found out that when buying ANYTHING, drop the price by half and haggle :-), they will respect you for it!

I am heading back to my family now.

We will be here for another two days and I intend to write another update on Istanbul, on the bazaar and other wonderful places!

Come back tomorrow night, if you enjoyed this post!

Happy Eid!

Stunning Andros Island

We have been in Greece for over two weeks now and have done some serious travelling so far.

We are based in Perea, near Thessaloniki, where we rent a small apartment all year round. I am planning on writing a blog post on how this is possible, to have a holiday home in a warm, Mediterranean climate, without necessarily paying top pound for your holidays.

But today, I will introduce you to the island of Andros, one of the beautiful Cycladic islands but less known than Mykonos, the over-touristy and loud one!

Andros, with a rich history and known in the olden days as Micra Anglia(Little England), due to its cosmopolitan and cultured atmosphere, can easily be reached by ferry boat from the port of Rafina, in Athens. We had a pleasant, less than two hours ride and arrived here mid-morning.

We had rented a car in Athens as we wanted to have flexibility of transportation in the capital so our ferry boat journey in, with the car and three passengers, was 82 euro. The island is small and we haven’t used the car since we arrived so if you plan to do a week’s holiday on the island only, I would recommend not renting a car.

The port is small and homely and finding your way around is easy, thanks to visible road signs and the very polite and friendly habitants of the island.

We were immediately in awe of its scenery, as the Greek Cycladic natural beauty is indeed stunning:

Andros scenery

We usually choose our accomodation via Booking.com as we are frequent customers and have reached a genius level recently, meaning we have access to discounted rates and better rates.

Hubby did the honours this time and decided to treat us to something extra special and not via Booking. He chose this amazing place in Chora, the very heart of the island, called Eleni’s Mansion, right in the very centre of the town and within walking distance of the beach and local restaurants.

The rates are 100 euro per night, with breakfast but we decided to buy our own delicious cheese and spinach pies from the local bakeries and are paying a reduced rate of 75 euro per night. That is a mere £53/per night for a five-star boutique hotel, not bad in my books!

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032If you are after a different, luxurious and relaxed stay in the Cyclades, then you need to try this place! The place features high ceilings and original art work, which has been restored to its glory, as you can see from the pictures.

Last night, after a refreshing siesta in the beautiful and naturally cool room(due to its exterior, full height, wooden window blinds and a very clever arichtectural design, which keep the natural air flowing), we took to the town for a leisurely walk and a light dinner.

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We loved the easy slopes of the walk that take you from one end of town to another and the cool breeze that seem to bless this part of the island. We spent great quality time together and had a healthy meal of chicken skewers cooked in the grill, a big Greek salad and refreshing tsatsiki in the local psitopolio(fast-food but to Greek standards!) for less than £15!

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Emma and daddy are enjoying a day by the sea now while I am trying to catch up with my blogging. I will be joining them for lunch in a minute! They report the beach is sandy, the sea is warm and clean, the sunbeds are plentiful and the unbrellas exotic!

Keep an eye on our Instagram feed for more stunning pictures and a full update of our summer Greek holidays!

How have your summer holidays been so far, can’t wait to read your blog posts too!

What the recent Greek drama has taught me…

As you may know, we have been in Greece for the past two weeks.

We flew in the same Saturday the Greek government announced that they were unfortunately running out of cash(!!!), had imposed degrading capital controls on all its citizens, and into an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty.

Alex and I have followed closely the whole thing, trying to get our heads around the  ramifications of the two possible outcomes to the issue: Eurozone leave or a possible “deal.”

We naively cheered the bravery of the “OXI” just to wake up the following morning to the disappointing news of Varoufakis’ news of Minister No More.

We understood, as a couple who had to deal with banks and debt and interest-only payments, that this was all a game, a dirty political and financial game, on a much larger scale.

We hoped that, just like we did, a few years ago, the Greek government will SEE that the only way out of debt and stupid, generational, financial bondage was to call the IMF for their bluff and move onto a new chapter.

A difficult chapter, for sure, it would have been, but a chapter that would have shown their genuine care for the Greek nation and their desire to reconstruct a country that is on its knees financially, emotionally and in its infrastructure.

But you know what?

Fear won.

The desire for momentary comfort and a crass carelessness for the future generations’ well being  have prevailed and have made this young and “revolutionary” government look like flipping puppets.

Yes, there will most likely be an insufficient injection of much-needed capital being pumped into the country from Monday.

But at what cost?

Very important questions  were not once asked during these two weeks by the Greeks, who either

– flocked to the banks in complete panic emptying the country of essential cash,

– buried their hand in the sand of illusions and celebrated a victory that was never to be theirs or

– blamed the inapt government and decided to put their hope in a God who has nothing to do with this whole financial mess.

“How much of the initial debt has been paid?

“Why does the IMF act like a nasty and unscrupulous money lender which no-one dares challenging(just like in one of those Italian mafia movies from the 80s ?)”

“Whose interests are being served by entering a newer, stricter financial bondage?”

“Why does the nation have to pay for mistakes made by banks and inapt rows upon rows of governments whose only genuine desire had been to grow richer at the expense of the poor?”

“How will the poor survive, how will the economy recover, how will the country pull through this?”

“Why has tourism, the only lucrative thing at the moment in Greece, has been included into the new measures and the money that could have been used from it to reconstruct the economy will now be used to pay a never-ending and doubtfully legal debt ??”

“How will this game end and when?”

Once again, and at a larger scale, I conclude that:

– human beings prefer immediate comfort to confronting issues which will haunt their children and their children’s children.

– courage runs out when it is not fueled by solid knowledge and factual information.

– “faith” is easier to claim than a clear cut approach to a very tangible issue.

Greece, may your decisions, made emotionally and under exterior pressure, not haunt you for ever and ever.

May you one day learn to stand for your children and your future and publicly reject all the malakies that were forced upon you as truth.

May you one day re-find your beauty and glory and pride.

downloadDisclaimer: the opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. They do not represent the entire reality of the Greek situation, as I am not God to comprehend it all. This is a personal, blogger’s view on a country’s financial and emotional collapse. Take it as such. Thank you!

Dear Religious Leader…

Last week, my Facebook page exploded.

I made statements that were taken as affronts and there were lengthy and sometimes harsh reactions to my reality of hurt.

Meanwhile, things have been addressed and waters have been cleared.

But if I had learned anything during this first year of grief, is that religion has moved far away from what it initially was meant to be.

So I decided to write a letter.

A letter addressed not only to Christian leaders everywhere but to all religious leaders as I know that my situation has not been singular as a bereaved parent.

So, here goes:

“Dear Religious Leader,

A long or short time ago, you felt a calling in your heart to serve God with your life and make ministry your job.

I know that you came from a place of dedication, genuine interest and love for your God and His people.

But the years have passed, social strategies have been accepted as the Bible or Torah or Qur’an and simple sentiments like hope, compassion and companionship have been replaced by big words like feasibility, relevance and AVs.

I have watched over the years religious communities change and transform and as a young attendant, I cheered the contemporary approached to religiosity, sang every new worship song there was and never grasped the big truth that I knew nothing of the reality of pain.

This is the main reason I am writing this letter to you, dear Religious Leader!

Last year, I lost my baby boy to leukaemia, at the very tender age of five and a half months.

And you know what we encountered, which not in a million years had we expected?

We encountered SILENCE.

Yes, as a modern Church (and I refer to every kind of religious gathering and organisation with the generic term of Church), we have forgotten how to deal with pain and loss.

We have become so good at reaching out, at proselytizing, at creating social clubs under all sorts of names. Your establishment’s name has most likely (and to your pride and joy) become the equivalent to pleasant gatherings of friends on a Saturday or Sunday morning or afternoon. Or a place where big and revolutionary ideas are debated and where young men and women believe or are made to believe they have found the vocation and the calling for their existence.

But what most of us have forgotten or were never taught to be is…human.

So here is my heartfelt call to you, as a Religious Leader.

Go back to the basics: love, acceptance, presence, compassion.

People need now, more than ever before in history, to feel loved and accepted. As they are. With their eating issues. With their sexual confusion. With their mental illness issues. With their pain and grief. With their anger.

When my grandad died of cancer at only 47, leaving 7 small children behind, my granny stopped functioning. The task ahead left her completely paralysed emotionally. For days and weeks after my grandad died, my granny forgot how to live and her children depended on the kindness of relatives and village friends.

And then, the young priest in the village heard about it.

And he came to see her.

Every single day.

With no words of wisdom or clever explanations or rebuke for selfish behaviour.

He understood that the pain was stronger than the desire to live.

And for a while, for days and weeks at end, he came, sat down with her and fed her.

He fed her morsels of bread dipped in sweet wine.

Literally.

To give her body sustenance.

And her spirit strength to fight on.

My granny eventually recovered and lived to see all the 7 children marry and make a life for themselves.

We were raised with this story.

It stayed in our family history.

Engrained in us, in our consciousness.

Love is simple.

Love is acceptance of situations and circumstances. And most important, of people.

Love is presence. Presence in the mess. Presence in the pain. Presence in the incomprehensible.

Love is compassion. It is empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagining for a moment the devastation of the soul. And speaking from a place of rawness, not a place of haughtiness and ready made answers.

The Church will start being relevant again to this generation when the leaders, first, and through their example, the attendants, will understand that love in action has always been the only answer.

When pain and loss and death will be accepted as part of life and as an inherent component of our mere existence.

When expressing pain will be perceived as the norm and accepting raw souls in our midst the rule, rather than the spoiler of an overly manicured and shallow reunion of fronts, where crying and lamenting is a “joy breaker.”

So, dear Religious Leader, next time someone in your community or in your proximity suffers a great deal of pain, approach with open arms and shut mouth.

Do the practical and the obvious.

Feed, soothe, be.

Thank you, in the name of all bruised and suffering souls which you will most definitely encounter on your way!

8243dd63-64fe-4ca3-8fc7-14f3adefdfcdImage, courtesy of Unsplash.

One Year On…

10364056_10152023112966512_1808747011739674804_nMy son has been dead for a year.

How did we manage to survive the initial emotional Hiroshima?

How did we remember to breathe when the pain was stronger than the desire to stay alive?

How did we live beyond the very traumatic firsts: the first night without our boy, the first week, the first month?

And now, the first year.

I don’t know.

I still don’t know.

All I know is that even if it sounds like an eternity, this year has changed nothing when it comes to our longing for a different ending and to our emotional pain.

We still think of Georgie every day.

We still miss his presence.

We still wonder how it would have been to be four, everywhere we go. For pizza, to the beach, on weekend trips.

We still feel his physical absence, even now, after a year.

We miss having another car seat at the back.

We miss having another mouth to feed.

We miss buying blue swimming trunks and shark t-shirts.

We miss seeing Emma learning to share and love and protect her younger sibling.

We miss the joy we would have felt.

We miss the normality we feel we were so entitled to, so many other families are!

We claw our way out of the dark every single day.

We fight to stay alive, to want to be alive, to give meaning to our existence.

Nothing is serene anymore.

Nothing is a given.

It is all conscious choice.

And deciding to use every breath we take and every word we utter meaningfully.

It is careful living.

It is painful living.

It is living with the awareness of human fragility and pain and death.

Sweet boy, are you happy where you are?

Are you proud of us and the way we continue to live here, despite the strong magnetic pull we feel to come and join you in the peace and the quiet?

Can you feel our love and determination to make your existence known?

Can you feel our fierce desire to honour your sweet spirit and joyfulness?

Can you feel our hearts still attached to yours, for ever and ever?

Can you still feel our deep, deep love for you?

We love you.

Mummy, daddy and Emma.

BritMums Live 2015

This was the first year I attended BritMums Live and I am so glad I did!

It took me over a week to condense down ALL the things I had learned, experienced and enjoyed but finally, here is my synopsis of two wonderful and very insightful days.

Let me start by saying that I went to London with no expectations as this proved to be the best policy I could have adopted. The bloggers’ conference delivered over and beyond my dreams but IF I had approached it with expectations of possible sponsorships for next year, of big brand giveaways or the like, I think I would have let myself down.

Saying that, BritMums Live 2015 proved to be a truly inspirational place to be, with sessions that inspired me and, dare I say, shaped the destiny of my future in blogging.

I met and listened to strong women who through the power of their words and utilising the strength of sisterhood, have been reshaping and molding our worldview on important subjects such as disability(the beautiful Hayley, Downs Side Up), neonatal loss and bereavement(the tender-hearted and inspirational Leigh, Headspace Perspective) , charity work(Michelle PannellMummy from the Heart)and women-run businesses(Kate Hardcastle,  Insight with Passion).

I had moments of revelation and felt that my blogging, my whole existence actually had been validated listening to sessions like Shouting Back: Women’s voices loud, proud & online and Digital Activism: Shaping the world we live in. I realised that the deeply-engrained desire in my heart to make a difference in the world can be transformed from dream and desire to reality through blogging and intelligent involvement in digital campaigning!

IMG_2762I met in person bloggers I had known for ages in the virtual world and we became friends, for real! It was so touching to meet and cuddle up to Leigh, with whom I had kept in touch ever since our little boys flew to heaven and who had been a source of strength and comfort to me from afar so many times:

10363098_10152828033431780_3776694032655618272_nI admired Vicki’s(Honest Mum) flawless sense of style but, most importantly, was impressed by her genuineness, warmth and candor. She poured love and affection on both Leigh and myself like a healing oil and shared a tear with us, talking about our precious Hugo and Georgie.

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I made new friends and got to know lovely ladies with whom I share the difficult experience of postnatal depression and the victorious sense of overcoming the monster of social and emotional isolation that depression entails. One of the very practical means of becoming more involved in digital campaigning will be for me supporting the slaying of the dragon of antenatal and postnatal lack of support and understanding.

IMG_2764Another important aspect in BritMums Live was learning from the experts and brands how to run a blogging business professionally and successfully.

Both BritMums in Conversation with Bloggers and Brands and Travel Blogging: The latest Inspirations sessions provided priceless advice and common sense principles. These will once again, excuse me for repeating myself, shape Mama’s Haven’s  brand and blogging approach in the months and years to come and hopefully support it becoming from an amateurish blog a professional and successful brand, dare I say??

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I found being at BritMums Live extremely beneficial, on every single level. Professional, emotional, confidence wise and friend wise.

I will be booking my next one as soon as the tickets are released and will be looking forward to catching up with everybody I got to know and love this year!

Angel’s Face: A Review

I have become very selective with my reviews in the past few months for a number of reasons.

One, and the most important, has been the lack of time due to a (nearly, towards the end of June) full-time job in education.

The other has been the subsequent desire to act professionally, not letting brands and PRs down with delayed or very late posts.

I therefore decided to accept for reviewing only products I absolutely loved and could dedicate an hour to writing a beautiful, heartfelt blog post on.

And Angel’s Face has been absolutely one of those and more!

I loved their name from the very beginning and saw it as perfectly befitting for Emma. At the end of the day, she has a little angel of a brother in heaven and wearing something that would remind us of Georgie is always a privilege and encouraged in our home!

Emma was sent an absolutely gorgeous Neon Pink Tutu Skirt and a sweet, sweet t-shirt. We loved the beautiful hat box packaging the tutu arrived in, check it out and let me know what you think:

neon-pink-tutuEmma was so thrilled to have such a wonderful surprise box to open and although she had a friend visiting when the post arrived, she decided to change into her new outfit ASAP!

11119327_10152792266571512_4921123849041852761_nShe told me she felt like a princess wearing the beautiful tutu and only took it off when daddy arrived home that evening. She did it so that he could try it on as a modern Dad’s hot pink mohawk, to my Instagram and Facebook friends’ delight:

11420040_10152791647401512_699143654_nJoke aside, we loved the product, the service and the frills. I have my eyes on a couple of items on the website that I will be buying in the months to come. I am hoping one of Emma’s birthday presents will be a matching doll tutu for her teddies:

blooming-lovely-doll-skirtI also LOVE their silver charm bracelet and will be probably adding it to Emma’s order, as another tender reminder of a little angel boy residing in heaven:

silver-charm-braceletDo have a look for me and let me know what would you fancy yourselves? Would you be as daring as to order a tutu for yourself,

adult-tutus.jpgwould you kit your baby girl in gorgeously befitting frills,

emerald-baby-tutuor would you be tempted by their angelic t-shirts?

wings-t-shirt-rose-pinkDisclaimer: we were sent the tutu and the t-shirt for the purpose of reviewing. We were not compensated financially or in any other way to write this post. The opinions expressed are genuinely our own and true to reality.