Crete has been on my bucket list since I could remember. There were so many feelings rushing through me as I thought back to my time as a kid, fantasising about adventuring through an intricate labyrinth to escape the ruthless appetites of the minotaur, and being in awe of the Minoan civilisation that, before it eventually fell, once was the highlight of Western world. As part of my bachelor's degree, I did some courses on Classical Civilisation, so it was just a dream come true (as corny as that sounds) to step on the rich fertile soils of Crete (it is known for its delicious produce - note that even a plain tomato salad, with lettuce leaves, sprinkled with feta cheese and drizzled with olive oil, tasted amazing!) and have a dip in the warm and wonderful Mediterranean seas.
We stayed on the Northern coast, in Stalis, at a lovely little mountain top hotel as part of a package trip. Possibly the best decision ever was when Han, my love, decided to rent out an ATV. They're not ridiculously expensive, you can pay about 15 Euros per day (although I'm not sure if that's a particularly good deal locally!). We had the best time hopping from beach to beach! Stalis beach is probably, and solidly, one of the loveliest beaches I've had the chance of experiencing. There's just pure, unadulterated sand everywhere - no bumps and weird things that stick to your feet - just granules of sugar-like grains that soothe your little toes as you enter into the water.
Food was really reasonable, we'd spend approximately 10-15 Euros per meal, which would often include a delicious glass of red wine. Everything was so ridiculously tasty. I'd recommend having seafood, but the oven-roasted lamb just blew my mind. Olives are so fresh, that they have an initial bitter taste, but really delightful (which is strange, because I often don't care for bitter flavours). Han quickly became a fan of the local brew, the Greek beer Mythos (which is refreshing and smooth). Crete, like many parts of Greece, is filled with adorable cats. Han seemed to be feeding them more than himself...
Crete has a real mix of offerings for any holiday-goer, family friendly activities, very touristic parts with clubs and restaurants and then something a bit more cultural and historical for artsy-types. I hounded Han about going to the Palace of Knossos, as it was somewhere that I had my eye on for ages. The Palace of Knossos, for those of you who might not know, was where many Greeks believe the story of the Minotaur originated. It was an important centre of the great kingdom of the Minoans, a civilisation that came before the Ancient Greeks as we know them, and apparently one of their main centres in Knossos was laid out in the form of a maze-like layout. The civilisation worshipped the bull as a holy creature, and you can see that the animal features heavily in their frescoes and art. Put the bull and the labyrinth together, we get the myth of the great Athenian hero Theseus, who slain and escaped the clutches of the minotaur. To get a better idea of the actual civilisation that lived in this impressive palace, with 1,300 rooms, a theatre, extensive store rooms and impressive aqueducts, the Archeological Museum of Heraklion is a must for any keen historian or lover of Antiquity. There you will see great examples of Minoan art and beautiful golden pieces such as jewellery and the famous Minoan honeybee pendant.
Just note that there's a bit of controversy surrounding the Palace of Knossos site, which is often considered the "Disney Land of Archaeology" (and I don't mean by way of rides...). Brit Sir Arthur Evans, responsible for most of the excavation of the site, was said to have overdone it with large scale restorations. The idea was to replicate parts of the ruins so viewers across the ages could imagine what it actually looked like back then. I didn't think it was too bad, but I understand quite a lot of historians and archeologists considered this an attempt at washing away the authenticity of the site.
We also visited the old leper colony, which was eventually abandoned following the discovery of the cure for leprosy. Spinalonga was carved out as an island by the Venetians, who ruled Crete in the 16th Century. The Venetians built fortifications there and the architecture is impressive and imposing. In the early 1900s up until the late 1950s, it acted as home for a quarantined, functioning society for those who were unfortunately living with the disease. Lepers were able to live together peacefully, have children, receive worship and start businesses on the island. It's definitely worth a visit! You'll have to get a boat (often available through a tour package) to the island and buy a ticket for entry.
Another real highlight was exploring the caverns in Mount Ida that were said to have housed Zeus. According to myth, Zeus (who later became the king of the Olympian gods) was prophesied to overthrown his father, Chronos, one of the titans. Chronos was suspicious of all his offspring so would swallow each and every child that his wife, Rhea, would produce. In a defiant attempt to save her baby, Rhea hid Zeus in Mount Ida where she arranged for him to be raised by a goat (or other variations of the myth say he was raised by nymphs or Gaia, another deity that is the primal mother goddess under Greek mythology). Rhea fooled her husband Chronos by providing him with a rock, passing it off as the newborn, which Chronos swallowed whole. Long story short, Zeus grew to his full size, defeated Chronos and managed to save his previously eaten siblings and restore them to life, then rightfully taking his kingdom. Note that the caverns are really interesting and there are amazing rock formations. One word of warning would be however is that there are two paths up, one newer one and one older one. I'd recommend the newer path up, as it's a bit easier to hike and much safer. I would also recommend wearing comfortable shoes!
If you have time, it's also worth visiting a small village named Mochos up in the mountains in the North. It's charming and quiet. We ate at a fantastic little taverna named Portego, run by a lovely little family. The food was incredible, extremely affordable and accompanied by (if you're lucky to catch it) Greek dancing in the main square. The dancing tends to take place on Wednesdays and if you're sitting close - be warned! - you might end up taking part yourself (Han and I ended up dancing with adorable local children dressed up in intricate and well made traditional dress).
Overall, it was a really eye-opening and wonderful trip. On our last night, what was lovely was we had the chance to visit Malia. We were totally taken away by the beauty of it. If you're closer to the coast, it's quite noisy and filled with lively bars and more commercial businesses, but if you could towards the older parts, like the old town, you'll find peaceful alleyways boasting stunning tavernas with delicious smells.
Hungary was mind-blowingly beautiful. What started as a business trip unravelled into a spellbinding adventure for two of my closest friends, my other half, Han, and me. We swam in the Danube river, cycled to a castle in Nagymaros, conquered hills in historic Budapest and enjoyed some Tsaikovsky whilst eating pizza by the riverside.
The food was incredible, so full of flavour and colour; the architecture of Budapest was stunning and at night (even more captivating as castles and historic sites were lit up across the horizon, glimmering against the night sky) and local strangers warmed up to us as if they were our longtime friends.
We enjoyed what was possibly the most incredibly tasty pizza we've ever had (complete with some rich and full red wine) by the Danube. We had Blue Danube playing in the background, whilst watching the sun's glow slowly filter out into the sunset and listening to the rhythm of the water.
My colleagues and I did the typical touristy stuff in Budapest, but also partook in some luxurious highlights! We went on a lovely river cruise and dined at the Fisherman's Bastion. The Fisherman's Bastion is a must-see; it was something out of a fantasy novel, with stunning views and violin soloists littered around mysterious alleyways and spiralling staircases. No trip is complete without an evening in the Gellert Spa (renowned for that Swiss Re party, apparently!), complemented by some impressive Hungarian traditional dancing (with some awe-inducing acrobatics comprising of balancing a variety of objects on dancers' heads!).
This adorable couple and their gorgeous house brought us inside to see their garden, with hanging grape vines and roses creeping along every nook and cranny. They had a pet turtle that poked out from its little pond when called and beautiful little details hidden in different parts of their home. They told us of their luxurious double-life, living in the Canary Islands during the winter and enjoying their stay in Budapest during the summer. The husband of this pair is Hungarian, whilst his wife is German. It was so sweet to hear about their lives and how they brought their own little touches to their charming home in Hungary, which has been in the family for about a hundred years!
After a long day of cycling and conquering Nagymaros' hills, we took a lovely dip in the Danube. We swam right outside a medieval castle (far in the distance, which can be seen just on top of the hill!). It was something out of a fairytale.
Sorry for the terrible, double pun! Cutting to the chase, I'm really feeling the bomber jacket trend at the moment. As I'm a real fan of mixing and matching, I love taking something casual and clashing it with something else that's a bit more feminine and prettier. That's what I've tried here, with this delicate lace shirt with its subtle frills and high colour. I think I got it from a sample sale at M FOR MENDOCINO in Toronto, Canada (a store I frequently visit when I'm in town). For that extra hint of easy-going, I've added ripped jeans to the outfit. These from HOLLISTER are a usual frontrunner in my weekend wardrobe, because they're so comfortable!
Crushing on silhouettes this early summertime; my wardrobe is rejoicing at this find from LAVISH ALICE, a brand that features modern and chic outlines and unique detailing. In particular, I love how this blazer features a cape, making it feel quite regal and sophisticated!
We shot this in the courtyard of one of my favourite places in London, the VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM. It's so wonderful in that so many of London's museums are free, and you can actually get some decent sketching out of the exhibitions at quite a few of them, including the V&A. Some weekends (and Friday nights, when they open later than usual) I sit inside in peaceful stillness, on one of the foldable chairs they provide to visitors, to refresh my drawing "skills" (of which I lack considerably!).
This cut out dress from FRENCH CONNECTION is one of my favourites, it's figure-flattering and the colour really complements my skin tone. I was delighted to find that they match well with this pair of heels from TED BAKER, which has some pops of pink tones and floral details.
It was an absolute dream working with the spectacularGINA BRAR on her collection! I was also able to sneak in an interview with the emerging designer, published in MEADE MAGAZINE. There were many highlights that were had, working again with one of my close friends and super photographer connections JEVGENIJAand makeup and beauty guru SHIRLEY HO.
A little sneak peak of the interview here:
"Running a fashion brand, much like any business, involves wearing so many different hats and finding the balance can be challenging. Whilst I would love nothing more than to spend my days focusing on being creative and creating new designs, the reality is that my attention is as focused on growing the business as it is on designing. It is a constant balancing act, to ensure that all aspects are being run smoothly, from keeping our website and social media up to date to balancing the books and managing our supply chain. There is a whole bunch of very unglamorous processes between sketching a collection and having the finished garments to hand, but once you see the complete collection, it is always such an amazing feeling so the hard slog is definitely worthwhile."
There comes a time when you finally get to go to one of those places that has been RIGHT ON TOP of your bucket list since you could remember. I was so happy to cross off Pompeii when I went to visit. It was an absolutely incredible experience, enriched with history, culture and a lot of delightful cuisine. What really took my breath away was being able to see the ruins, filled with gorgeous mosaics, insights into Roman life back thousands of years ago, and the understanding that actually, there isn't too much different about us today as they were back then.
We started our trip in the town of Pompei (that's with one "i", distinguished from Pompeii, the site of the Roman ruins), it was charming, though with the presence of many international brands, interestingly! Our first stop was the gorgeous Shrine of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary of Pompei which was from the exterior, a pretty building at first, but when you entered, that was when the "wow" factor kicked in.
As you can see, the level of detail and intricacy of the interior of the Shrine is spectacular. Everywhere, you can see delightful Renaissance/Antiquity-inspired influences as well as gloriously angelic images. The amount of gold, when viewed in person, was a tantalising delight for the eyes.
Once you were able to see the interior of the dome, you can see a gateway to heaven. How beautiful is this storytelling, with such gorgeous and full colours? Sad that my camera was a little shaky to really make out the full details and of course, do this justice. However, absolutely stunning to see. It was a nice surprise to see something like this when we were mainly interested in coming for the Roman ruins. That's what I absolutely love about travelling, you never know what you'll come across next.
Another thing we got up to, on our second day, was reach the peak that was Mount Vesuvius. It was intimidating at first to be staring down at an active volcano. Well, if you're going to go, you might as well go by way of volcano. That's a pretty awesome death if you ask me. We walked part of the way, but it would have been impossible to reach the top. Resorting to hitch hiking, we were able to jump on board an Italian tour bus, pay our fare and get safely to the top.
As you can see (or rather not see, because my camera did not do this justice at all!), the view was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, it was a little smoggy though. Han (my other half) and I were surprised to learn that this region of Italy was quite polluted. We did find at times the air could be quite choking. Hence, it's advisable not to visit during peak season, where people come in drones to see the historical wonder that is Pompeii. It was just humbling to think that when we were staring at gigantic Mount Vesuvius, this was where everything happened - where an entire city was buried under ash.
The next day, as the Roman sites tend to close quite early, we made our way to Herculaneum (a lesser known site) and the infamous Pompeii itself. It was phenomenal being able to compare the two, where Herculaneum was sort of a resort town for the extremely rich, and Pompeii being a powerful centre of commerce. We were overwhelmed with wonder at the charming Herculaneum, which was a much smaller site, but nonetheless had many treats in store. It was also much easier to see more of everything than it was at Pompeii.
Pompeii on the other hand, we spent hours there. I would definitely recommend going on a guided tour, which are unfortunately very expensive, but worth it. We splashed a lot of cash hiring a university student who was studying archeology - it was great because we were able to get a context of everything we saw. We saw the red light district, the intricate poet's mosaic (the renowned image of the dog, which sadly I took a horrible picture which I am ashamed to reveal), their version of McDonald's (thermapolai, fast food restaurants where Pompeiians would grab, eat and go) which were everywhere, I think the guide mentioned that there was literally around 200 of them littered through the city, and the "Pompeii for the future" still underground.
"Pompeii for the future" is a marvellous and incredible concept. Large sections of Pompeii still remain hidden to this day, and why? It's being preserved for the future. Pompeii suffered quite a bit of damage during the Second World War, and in realisation of this, Italians made a conscious decision to keep part of Pompeii for the future, should anything similar happen in the future. History is something so sacred and important, to know where we came from, and also to understand the progression of civilisation and from where we have inherited aspects of our modern life.
I revelled in seeing the amphitheatre and thinking of all the classical and powerful plays that audiences would have watched. What was really impressive was seeing their version of the coliseum which was so beautifully preserved and scale-wise, formidable. What I loved most, however, were the delicately painted frescoes, depicting everyday life and the divinities, as well as epic stories. We hardly saw a fraction of what Pompeii offered, given it was 170 hectares of land that it covered. It was easy to get lost, and just get overwhelmed by the scale of things - I just cannot wait to go back again to explore even more.
I only wish we had more time to visit the Museum of Naples, which I heard has so much to offer by way of art and relics from Roman Pompeii.
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Based in London, UK, I often collaborate with likeminded people on TF* projects, gathering creatives from all sorts of backgrounds. Having been published in a variety of magazines including JUTE, DREAMINGLESS, INSTITUTE, UNFOLDED, and NOCTIS, I enjoy creating something new and exciting. Get in touch and I'll get back to you if I'm interested!