theas inn

Our big, fat, Greek kiss...

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Ikarian highlights: beautiful sunsets, continuous ocean vistas, the islanders     What I am loving: swimming in a crystal-clear, turquoise sea     What I am struggling with: neither over-ordering nor over-eating Greek food      What I am missing: me time (school is out)     Most impressive thing about Ikaria: its energy     Most disappointing thing about Ikaria: its wine (an acquired taste)     New skill acquired: treating head lice (thank you, Goa)     Family broken/lost sunglasses tally: 13     Items packed that have still not been used: mosquito nets, hairdryer

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 16: 13th June 2017, Ikaria, Greece 

Well, we started in Greece, so we thought we'd (almost) finish in Greece. After all, with a month to kill before re-entering the rat race (our house is tenanted until the end of June), it seemed silly not to.

We hadn't always planned a revisit. When we first found out about Goa in monsoon, we had toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere in India. The favoured option was Dharamshala - it is the hilly home of the Dalai Lama, many Goans spend the rainy season there, and I have never been to the Himalaya. But that was before I remembered that we only have one set of cold weather clothes each, that I really couldn't face any more Indian food and that after 8 months in Asia, I was a bit tired of it (and in particular, of not feeling fully relaxed about what I could wear, when I could wear it and what was deemed 'culturally appropriate' behaviour for a woman).

 
23 hours non-stop
 

Photo caption: How parents deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top left); how children deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top right); the view from our room (bottom left), the view up to our room (bottom right)

So we looked further afield. Costa Rica seemed enticing, Vietnam and Ibiza too, and whilst all of them boasted what looked like awesome drop-in schools for the kids to attend until the end of the summer term, plus a beach-based lifestyle and a cool, hippy-yoga vibe, none of them offered nearby golf (which is a non-negotiable component of Bobopapa's chosen career).

And so the itinerary for our final European leg was formalised: a second (golfless) stint on the wild and beautiful island of Ikaria, followed by nearly a month on the coast of Catalonia, Spain. Greece thus became our omega as well as our alpha. For what neater way to tie up the loose ends of our trip? And how better to test how we'd changed, if at all?

 
Ikaria
 

Photo caption: beaches, mountains, river gorges and turquoise sea - Ikaria has it all...

It is said that Ikaria either kicks you or kisses you. Indeed, visitors have been known to head back to the airport shortly after their arrival. Similar to other energetic hubs, such as Bali and India, Ikaria holds a mirror up to your disowned emotional baggage. It lifts up the carpet and hides the broom. And when you're not ready to acknowledge what is hidden underneath, it can feel a little harsh. In September we certainly felt its power. But this time, after 9 months of rummaging into our darkest recesses, we experienced a softer landing. Perhaps Ikaria decided that we had transformed enough, that we needed a rest. And so it bestowed upon us a big, fat, Greek kiss.

And here's how it felt: my star sign of Virgo is related to the element of earth. And I am indeed extremely dependable and productive - a mistress of assessing and organizing. Unlike the dictates of this element however, I would not describe myself as orientated purely to what is real, and I frequently find it hard to feel 'grounded'. When yoga teachers prompt their pupils to picture their roots digging deep into the centre of the earth - to feel heavy and supported by it - I often can't. Instead, I usually feel as though I am hovering a little above the ground. In Ikaria however, it was the opposite: I literally felt as though I was being pulled downwards - solid, embodied, real!

 
Play time
 

Photo caption: Play time! Jumping the waves (top left); sampling organic, Ikarian, goat's milk, ice cream (top right); feeding the turtles (bottom left); exploring nature (bottom right)

The locals must sense it too. Because you just couldn't meet more grounded people. In fact, they are absolute models of authenticity. On Ikaria, the western malaise of 'not feeling enough' does not exist; you are simply presented with what is and there is no effort made to embellish it. You get what you see and you either take it or leave it.

The first time round, we found this a little awkward. As is the norm back home, we were expecting to be rewarded for being who we were with a constant torrent of perhaps fake but polite niceties and gushing reassurances. And so the islander's lack of vacant chit-chat automatically led us to think that we must be rubbing people up the wrong way. But we weren't. We just hadn't got it. This time, we understood that small talk simply doesn't exist here: words are neither spoken to fill spaces nor to make people feel better about themselves. There is no need for frills because everyone is loved for who they are. Everyone and everything is enough. And we soon followed suit.

 
our local haunts
 

Photo caption: our local haunts - Christos Raches (or the village that never sleeps) for home-made cakes from the women's co-operative (top left); Anna's Taverna (top right); Thea's Inn (bottom left) and trying to make the most of a dodgy internet connection in order to work from home at Artemis Studios (bottom right)

Other 'wounds' that had been stirred up in us the first time, revealed themselves as healed. The need to be 'in control' for example. A formerly big manifestation of this in me, was to always favour giving over receiving. (Because the latter often felt slightly awkward and embarrassing. So far so repressed English.) Not an issue this time though! Instead, I was able to revel in the incredible generosity of Ikarians: accepting a free gift in the supermarket (without questioning how the cashier could even make a gift of something that surely wasn't his to give?); gorging on almost daily, fresh cake deliveries from the restaurant below our room "for the children"; taking advantage, as encouraged, of the endless bounty of fresh apricots from the tree outside our room - and all this without worrying about paying for it or doing something in return. Indeed, I happily left my coffee bill unpaid for a whole 24 hours because they didn't have the right change for me at the time, and received with a smile both the complimentary donuts at Raphael's birthday dinner and the last minute rounding down of my room bill.

And on reflection, it is really not surprising that the Ikarians are generous. For this is just another by-product of being grounded: if you know that you are enough, just by being you, it follows that there is enough. Once you see everything through the lens of abundance, generosity flows naturally!

 
family
 

Photo caption: when you've treated the whole family for nits and can't get the greasy stuff out of your hair, there is nothing left but to tie it up and channel Erykah Badu (left); our second birthday on the road (right)

And so as each day passed, we were shown how much we had grown in our absence. On our first visit, we had filled our days with exploring and excursions. Caves, mountains, forests, beaches, monasteries, castles and medieval towers - all of them we had enthusiastically ticked off the list. This time, there was no list. Not just because we had seen everything there was to see, but also because we were content just being rather than doing.

I also amazed myself by witnessing how what had really bothered me last time, didn't seem quite so important now: the derelict cars by the sides of the road, the seriously sketchy internet connection. But instead of getting riled by these things all over again, I quietly accepted the status quo and got on with things as best I could. (And those that know me well will realise just how monumental this is; before our trip, drama was pretty much my middle name.)

 
nature
 

Photo caption: nature's slideshow - every sunset was slightly different but equally captivating...

And so our second leg on this quietly powerful island showed us both how we have changed, as well as how we are continuing to slow down. Not just in ourselves but also in the energetic winding up the trip. Because just as Ikaria served as a stepping stone between an easeful life in Europe and adventure backpacking in Asia, it acted as the opposite on our return. Which was deeply comforting. But also a quite odd. Because it made us feel as though we'd been in a bit of a time warp. Despite having spent two thirds of a year away, filling it with action-packed, assumption-challenging, culturally-awakening globe-trotting, the steadiness of Ikaria and its inhabitants almost made us question if we'd ever left. It seemed to make the intervening 8 months shrink into an almost imperceptible slice of time, when in fact they had felt quite the opposite.

Which is all down to the fact that Ikaria and its inhabitants don't really ever change. Indeed, they are defined by their slow predictability. Which is precisely why we love them. Unfortunately though, this made leaving quite a challenge. And it made me realise just how much this half of the trip has felt dominated by good-byes. For as we inexorably edge nearer to our return date, our departures become more and more emotionally charged: leaving Bali was an effort, departing from India was emotional and in Ikaria, I even shed a tear.

 
Xanthe
 

Photo caption: spot the difference - same sign (Xanthi), same girl (Xanthe), same rabbit. Who said we ever left? 

Fortunately for us, life on Ikaria will always be the same. Or at least I hope it will. Slow. Unaffected by the outside world. Untamed and natural. What changes is the way we fit in with it or not. It acts as a barometer for our internal landscape. We may always find it unchanged on our return, but each time it will present us with something different: exactly what it is that we most need to look at.

And luckily, it is still relatively unknown. For now. But shhh! Let's keep it a secret. I'd like it to stay that way...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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Eat, Pray, Love...

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Eaten: way more gluten/dairy/animal protein than my body needs or wants (and it shows)

Prayed: for safety, health and happiness during our travel adventure and thanked the universe for our good fortune in two Greek orthodox monasteries and most of the churches on Ikaria

Loved: both what is different and what is the same about the various people and places we have met, as well as each other in different and more lovely ways than I had imagined

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Thea and Ilia of Theas' Inn

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 4: 29th September 2016, Athens, Greece. 

We have been ‘on the road’ now for exactly one month. One down, ten to go. This is both comforting – we did it! – as well as scary, because the last four weeks have felt very much like a holiday and for that reason I’m not convinced that they 'count'. Although holiday is exactly what we wanted – a warm up for us all: time to practise living out of a rucksack, to acclimatise to being together all of the time, a chance to slow down and enjoy the lack of deadlines. I thought I might feel panicky and perhaps regret our hair-brained decision once we’d left home but actually it’s been quite the opposite (apart from a 2 minute wobble when scrolling through everyone's 'back-to-school' photos).

 
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Photo caption: strawberries, purslane and vines (left); feeding the goats (right)

In fact, not having any routine to follow nor having anyone to answer to has been SO liberating. We can do what we want! When we want! Which is kind of odd for me. Because as a Virgo, I like structure. Actually, that's an understatement, I LOVE structure - I followed the Gina Ford parenting method for goodness sake. But too much of anything starts to feel restrictive. And we were at that tipping point just before we left (come to think of it, this might well have been precisely because I birthed three kids in three years all of whom were 'encouraged' to follow Gina Ford). So in keeping with the walking paradox that I am, I had to go from one extreme to the other: from a strait jacket to naked; from parochial to feral; from a settled life to a nomadic one. And whilst I felt a bit guilty about dragging the kids along with me during the plannings stages, my doubts were proven to be wholly unfounded. We are all having a brilliant time!

 
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Photo caption: pottery workshop - making traditional coil pots (left) and painting my wheel-made dish (right)

So what did we do in our last two weeks on the enchanted island of Ikaria? Well, we built on the rapport that the kids had already helped us to establish with the locals during the first week of our stay. This was made easier by the fact that the tourist 'season' had already come to a close and we were part of only a handful left. In fact, even the majority of the Greek owners of shops, restaurants and rooms had either already headed back to Athens when we got back from Syros or were planning to. So our first move (in an attempt to manage our waistlines and watch our budget) was to move to self-catering studios just opposite our old lodgings at the aptly-named Artemis.

 
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Photo caption: chillaxing in a beach bar (left); the view from our room at Artemis (right)

This boasts a stunning view of Nas beach, a gorgeous pottery shop and overlooks the ruins of the temple dedicated to the goddess of the same name. And we filled our time with the simple things in life: we created ceramic cups, pots and jewellery by hand and on a wheel at the Artemis pottery workshop; I thinned the vines on Ilia’s farm (from which the food and wine is harvested for Thea's Inn), and we fed his menagerie of goats, sheep, hens, geese and rabbits. We milked his goats (or at least attempted to - I thought it would be easy with my extensive experience of the Mandela swing pump but no, I got a mere squirt compared to Ilia's strong jet) and then learnt how to make fresh cheese from it. And whilst Andrew shovelled and spread fertiliser amongst the vines, the kids picked the last of the season’s strawberries and my new favourite salad vegetable: purslane (a delicious leaf whose firm, crunchy stems and small leaves taste like a cross between salty samphire and watercress).

 
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Photo caption: modelling my new hand-made necklace and bracelet on our balcony (left); Raphael on the wheel - not bad for a 3 year old (right)

We did quite a bit of exploring too: we drove from one tip of the island to the other in the search of yet more secret beaches and trekked to a beautiful waterfall at the end of a steep canyon where we left five individually-crafted cairns in homage to it. (We had intended to go swimming in the fresh water pool below but I boycotted the idea after spotting no less than three crabs and an eel swimming in the river just round the corner. Luckily I only found out on our return that our sandals were “the wrong shoes” to have worn as there are snakes and scorpions on the trail!). We pilgrimaged to a haunting cave whose energy I found so moving it was almost overwhelming (I later found out that it is said to be the birthplace of Dionysus - no wonder the energy was strong - he was the God of wine, fertility and divine ecstasy!). We discovered even more formidable, pre-historic rock formations and came across yet more charmingly quaint churches (I have a new thing for tiny, village Greek churches – oozing spiritual energy with their simplified forms and pared-down but still gorgeously ornate, decorations).

 
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Photo caption: the teeny church on the very tip of the eastern edge of Ikaria both outside (top right); and inside (top left); Dionysus' birthplace (bottom right); the stalactites inside the cave (bottom left)

I even had my bottom warmed (actually ‘burnt’ is probably the better word) whilst hovering over an underwater, boiling-hot, thermal-spring jet. Apparently it had also recently been visited by Jamie Oliver whilst on the hunt for new, super-food recipes!

So clearly the island holds an energetic attraction for many and not just for those who want to join the Blue-Zone centenarian club. We have continued to enjoy meeting an eclectic range of visitors: a musician and the new star of the Time is Art documentary sequel who also introduced us to a slightly far-out branch of Mayan Astrology according to which each of us has their own Dreamspell Galactic Signature (I’m a Blue Night in case you were wondering); a fellow women’s circle holder and healer from New York; and a bohemian Austrian couple who were one of the first groups of travellers to come to Nas 35 years ago when it was renowned for both its authentic food as well as for its nudists (the beach still boasts a few ageing versions). Maybe its allure lies with its palpable energy (apparently some can’t stand it and have been known to leave the very day they arrive) or maybe it's because it is, for the most part, so unspoilt (there was no electricity in the village of Nas until the 1980s) which has allowed its raw and haunting natural beauty to remain mostly intact.

 
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Photo caption: my solo hike to Dionysus' cave - to ward off impending vertigo (at times it felt like the path was leading me off the edge of a cliff) I told myself to "just follow the red dot" (top left); half way there (top right); our trek upstream to find the hidden waterfall. The view back to the sea (bottom left) and into the mountains (bottom right)

And what are the things that we have learnt during our first month of travel? That the kids culinary repertoire has not really expanded despite forcing them to try at least one mouthful of each new food (“too many herbs”, “too spicy”) and that instead they have discovered a new love of olive oil and have been gorging on white bread drenched in it at every meal; that I need to wear a hat in the sun if I am to avoid returning looking like a mottled prune (I am now speckled with sun spots despite wearing daily factor 50 – one of the disadvantages of being over 40?) and that I should take photos of every room in every Airbnb we stay in as evidence of the state in which we left it: we learnt this the hard way - to our shock we were wrongly accused of leaving our accommodation in Syros in a complete mess which, according to the photos that were sent to us, looks like it had actually been burgled. And unfortunately for us, the owner doesn’t know that I am a Virgoan, control freak as well as a neat obsessive because I have no photos to prove it. It is slightly stressful knowing that her email notifying us of this was cced to her ‘family lawyer’ and that she hails from the most litigious city on the planet, but we are trying to let it go for now.

Other things that we have learnt? That Andrew and I still have no will power when it comes to eating out and that we consistently over-order; that one should never eat olives fresh off the tree - they are inedible; that the kids are amazing swimmers even when faced with waves that are much, much taller than they are (thanks to the intensive swimming course they underwent just before we left); that Raphael never, ever stops talking unless he is eating or asleep and that Coco never, ever stops singing unless she is asleep (when she sleep talks instead).

 
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Photo caption: dramatic scenery - where the mountain bowed before the sea (top); very rough seas didn't deter my lot. To clarify this shot somewhat, Andrew is 6ft 5 - see how much bigger the waves are than him and yet my brave little kids didn't bat an eyelid. Bobomama preferred to stay on the beach reading Vogue (bottom left); views of nearby islands from the very eastern tip of the island (bottom right)

Most importantly perhaps, we have learnt that we need to keep an eye on our budget earlier on in the month rather than tallying everything up in the last week. Currently, we are £200 over which I blame entirely on a overzealous bourgeois side: we booked flights to and from Ikaria rather than a ferry (the 35 minutes versus 7 hours just looked too tempting despite costing double) and we opted for a taxi to take us into the centre of Athens from the airport rather than the metro (this cost us a whopping £89 instead of £15). Needless to say we didn't repeat this mistake.

Since doing the books, we have however managed to keep the overspend down by subsisting on just 65 euros over two days including accommodation, food and wine - I splashed out on a 500ml plastic bottle costing 1.20 euros containing a white of no known provenance, no known grape variety and no known vintage. It was delicious. (Just don't tell anyone I am a wine specialist). Unfortunately though, this meant we didn’t sleep a wink. Our budget Airbnb flat may have been superbly positioned in some respects (only 10 minutes walk from the Acropolis and based in a very up-and-coming district bursting with trees and vegetation, dilapidated mansions, quirky boutiques and trendy art galleries cum coffee shops) but it was also located a) on the first floor just above a traffic intersection (think revving motorcycles) b) facing a busy roundabout (think accelerating motorcycles) and c) literally no further than 10 metres away from an overland subway line (think very loud screeching of metal on metal as each train went round the bend opposite our room every 15 minutes).

 
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Photo caption: culture balanced with play - view from the Acropolis (left); view of the Acropolis (right)

To make matters worse, there was a crane stationed just outside the front door for both days of our stay relieving the builders in the flat above us of the rubble and furniture they had just demolished (think hammers banging, saws cutting and the crane device inching up and back down all day long). How every single person that bothered to write a review of the flat failed to notice this beats me. Were they all deaf? Drunk on Ouzo? This hardship was partly assuaged by our tour of the Acropolis itself. It is just as splendid (despite undergoing renovations) as it was 23 years ago when I last visited. Predictably, I took pretty much the same photos as I took then although these now include a few more wrinkles and three small people.

 
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Photo caption: another day, another cliff walk (top left); majestic scenery (top right); a beautiful cat we fell in love with during our river gorge walk who followed us back to our room and whom we decided to secretly adopt for a couple of days. Just don't tell the hotel (bottom)

Our next destination is Myanmar. It feels exciting. And also slightly daunting. Not just because it is one of the South East Asian countries to which I have never been, nor only because I haven’t been back to the region in 7 years. The thing that makes me most nervous is that it is the first time I’ve been with children. Three of them. All under 7. And that Myanmar is not touristy. At all. In fact, it only really opened its doors to foreigners in the last decade and some still feel it should be boycotted because of its political regime. But I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to stick to my new mantra which is to ‘follow the red dot’ just as you do on a European nature walk – you know, those little chalked or painted stripes and dots that are placed strategically on trees or stones to show you the right way? Well I’ve decided to keep in sight only the next metaphorical dot and no more than that. To live just one day at a time and to react to the circumstances that unfold around me rather than try to map out an unknown future.

This is partly as a result of the Human Design reading (a bit like astrology) that I was gifted for my birthday just before we left (which said that if I adopt patience and accept the flow of life rather than pushing my own agenda regardless, all the right opportunities will come my way - and I like the sound of that!) and partly because it’s not that much fun being a planner. Unsurprisingly, it’s actually quite stressful trying to control the unknown because guess what? You can't! What is surprising however is how easy I’m finding this! Probably because I am a far less stressed parent since we left. The children definitely are being raised by the proverbial ‘village’ here which means that I am hardly ever in charge of all three by myself and if I do get to the point where I am about to get annoyed with them, I leave them with Andrew until I’ve got over myself. Thankfully these episodes is now quite rare because the kids are generally much better behaved as a result of spending so much time with others. They now get a lot of attention from a lot of people. The one potential downside of this is that they get too used to it. I worry slightly that they might come back super needy and assuming that everyone already loves or should love them. But since that's eleven months away and doesn't fit in with my new mantra, we’ll just have to cross that bridge if and when we get to it...

 
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Photo caption: a very tall man in front of a very tall building (left); our ridiculous flat in Athens - please note traffic light bottom right, crane in front, roundabout just to left and overland subway line right ahead (right)

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Where Icarus fell to the sea

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To ease us into travelling mode, our first destination on our year-long escapade is a European one. It is the island of Icaria, which is located in the Northern Aegean region of Greece. This is named after the son of Daedalus who invented the labyrinth. According to Greek mythology, Icarus and Daedalus tried to escape Crete wearing wings made of feathers and wax. Icarus ignored his father's advice not to fly too close to the sun, the wax in his wings melted and he therefore fell to his death just off the island that now bears his name. The moral of the story is that hubris, or excessive self-confidence, ends in tragedy. Hopefully this is not symbolic of our trip?!

island hopping...

Icarus is a mountainous island, 255sq m in size that is now most famous for being one of the world's five Blue Zones - an area where people live "measurably longer better". It boasts the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on the planet, dementia is almost unheard of, and rates of both cancer and heart disease are much lower here than globally. Ever since reading an article about it last year, I've wanted to visit and whilst we don't intend to stay long enough to test this theory out on ourselves, we do plan to adopt the local lifestyle which is said to contribute to this effect: low stress, moderate physical activity, a healthy diet, a daily nap and regular doses of the local red wine!

Since we will be there for the month of September - harvest season in the northern hemisphere - I'm also hoping we might get to pick some grapes and even help out making the wine. I'm sure it will bear no resemblance at all to the last time I participated in this back-breaking work, in the vineyards and state-of-the-art cellars of Chateau Latour (the Premier Grand Cru Classe that is now part of the LVMH group) but it definitely comes under the "necessary research" entailed in being a touring wine specialist!

Our stay will be in the village of Nas at Thea's Inn. Here, guests can join in with the cooking, milk the goats to make local cheese and pick olives to make local olive oil. Given that no-one wears a watch or locks their doors, it will certainly be an initiation into the 'slow living' lifestyle. Whether this is a good thing just before our next stop of 6 weeks volunteering in an Indian school or not, remains to be seen!

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