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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.

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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?

#CookTogether with Riverford

I love cooking.

It all started when I was a little girl, with me watching my mum cook all our meals from scratch.

My first memory of getting involved (and my mum was great at that, she always had the patience and the enthusiasm to have both my brother and myself “help” her out) was making dough balls on a winter’s day in my mum’s cosy, steamed up kitchen.

My love affair with food grew as the years flew by and I got to travel and see the world.

There is nothing I love more than a hot fondue after a day out and about in the snow, when in Switzerland. Or a fresh salad, full of earthly goodness and some Feta cheese, as a bonus, when dining out in Greece!

I had hoped, once I had children, that they will inherit my love for travelling and adventure.

My wish came true!

Emma is becoming a passionate and astute traveller who can charm the socks off a Turkish palace guard for a smile(and a picture!), who would excitedly exclaim “I want bougatsa!”, as soon as we land in Greece and who can withstand radical change of travelling plans better than any grown-up I know, and see the positives in it too!

But one thing I wish we could do better in is trying new things when it comes to food! There are always “safe” things we rely on when travelling (like chicken and pasta and loads of bread!) but I would love to see Emma tucking into a bowl of whatever is put in front of her, wherever we are in the world!

So, when this week, Riverford Organic Farms approached me about their latest(and very exciting!) #CookTogether campaign, I knew this could be our breakthrough to a new world of exciting tastes and culinary experiences!

 I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and told a very keen-to-cook-together-with-mummy Emma that we were going to make a Romanian recipe I used to love as a child!

Here is how we made the whole experience safe and fun for both of us:

1. Although you won’t see it in our pictures, as I forgot to photograph it, we used an IKEA children’s stool for Emma to reach the worktop.

forsiktig-children-s-stool-white__0179379_PE331769_S4The stools are sturdy, safe and make working in the kitchen with small children a pleasurable as well as very safe experience, as no-one is balancing on high chairs in close proximity of knives and hot stoves! As you can see, perfect height for Emma to work safely!

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2. Before we started cooking, we reinforced hygiene rules Emma knows too well from school and from watching “I Can Cook” on CBeebies. We washed hands with plenty of soap and dried them thoroughly. Not worth risking a beautiful, passing down of life skills experience becoming a germ-swapping disaster, especially when cooking in hot climates like we did yesterday!

3. Planning is key, when it comes to cooking with small, enthusiastic children!

The recipe I chose to make with Emma, Romanian stuffed peppers, allowed her plenty of independent actions, which led to a very enjoyable first cooking experience and built her confidence immensely.

Here are some pictures showing Emma working like a pro :-):

– using the blender for the first time ever, to mince carrot and onion for the stuffing:

DSC_0384– washing the peppers I had removed the seeds and end from:

DSC_0388– stuffing the peppers herself, I was not allowed anywhere near, as this was her dish to make :-)!

DSC_03934. My last tip, which has more to do with us as grown-ups, used to make things happen quickly and efficiently, is to allow plenty of time and have a lot of patience with your budding little cook!

Enjoy the experience, even in the smallest of details, like allowing the children the last touches to “their” dish.

Emma insisted on creating a pattern with her peppers and although it would have saved me time, saying no and arranging them myself, quickly and randomly, I understood that allowing her to finish was communicating respect and passing her full ownership of the dish!

DSC_0397As she grows, we will use our cooking together experiences to learn about weights and quantities and volume and much more, but for a first time ever, I think we did great, what do you think?

Oh, before I forget, here are Emma’s peppers, ready to be devoured!

DSC_0401Why don’t you take the time to #cooktogether yourselves these coming weeks, while the kids are on school holidays?

Riverford has this great incentive for all of us wanting to get involved and will pick the best tips for cooking together with our children in a competition draw that could get you a self-catering family holiday in south Devon with the lovely Coast & Country Cottages, lunch or dinner for the whole family at the Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant on our farm, plus a Riverford welcome box and recipe boxes to enjoy during your stay!

Don’t be shy, just share your tips on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook under the hashtag #cooktogether and tagging @riverford.

Good luck and happy cooking times, building memories with your little ones!

A second day in Istanbul

Last night, we aimed to eat out at a local restaurant not far away from here, but it was closed.

It was the Eid, after all and we didn’t expect small, local restaurants to be open on the equivalent of our Christmas Day!

Our lovely hotel guide thankfully had a back up plan and took us to one of the touristy parts of the town, to Kalamar, a fish restaurant.

We were told all day yesterday that the Turks would be celebrating and knowing how family-oriented the Muslim culture is, I did expect the place to be full of foreigners.

It wasn’t!

Young and restless local Turks  were out with their girlfriends and close friends, having their bayram with loud drum music, singing and dancing (on tables, Emma would add!) and plenty of food and drink!

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On the second day of Eid, the atmosphere in Istanbul reminds one of European countries on Boxing Day.

Tranquility. Contentment. Peace.

We had a day planned in the Bazaar, which is only two tram stops away from the hotel where we are staying but sadly(for us), it was closed on account of the religious celebrations.

Instead, we decided to have a relaxed day and take part in the merrymaking implicitly,  by buying sweets for relatives and friends at home and absorbing in the city’s somnolence from a shady narghile and coffee shop.

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The coffee shop we stopped in had plenty of locals smoking what must have been their morning narghile and we joined in unassumingly. We even bought chocolate cake from the sweet shop next door, to blend in completely ;-)! Our narghile and cake came to around £10, not bad for an authentic experience in the heart of town!

The sea could be seen from the top of the hill and after the narghile, we decided to stroll down towards it.

Having crossed below the Bazaar tram stop, we seemed to have left the noise and busyness of the tourist shops behind and we found ourselves merging into the very heart of what the real Istanbul is.

Small coffee shops where Turkish men(only) gather for a game of tavli and a chat, under the thick shade of the old trees.

Street vendors who sell you orange juice for a lira. Always, always with a smile on their face:

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Appealing(and much more reasonably priced than the ones close to the Blue Mosque) food shops, like Fatih Kofte, where old Turks appear quietly shortly after midday, for a çorba, a bit of warm, freshly baked in the stone oven bread and a sweet:

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Our lunch of chicken, veggies and mash(for Emma) and a kebap plate for us was 30 lira, again, around £7.00. It is 7 p.m. and I am still to feel hungry after our filling meal. Oh, and ladies, the place features CLEAN, European toilets so if you are allergic to holes in the ground, then do stop by :-)!

We loved our second day in Istanbul!

We are heading back to Thessaloniki tomorrow afternoon but we will definitely try to squeeze in some more adventures before departure!

Talk soon!

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!