Time to Breathe. Portugal.

Last year I developed a really bad anxiety. It was hard to leave my house, go to work, sit in an office, see people… I thought every single time I would leave home I would die on my way to work. I could not focus on my work in the office, since I was already worried that because I didn’t die while getting there, it would happen on my way back. I was getting panic attacks just from thinking about having to speak to someone I didn’t know or even changing plans last minute. I can add so many different things to this list, but you already have an idea of what was going on. I felt completely paralised.

I was trying all the different things to help myself – meditation, CBT, counselling, yoga, gratitude journals etc. Nothing really made a difference. In late November, I was told to take some time off work, start the meds and chill. One of my colleagues advised me to get some winter sun somewhere outside the UK. My initial response was: I can’t treat this as a holiday! However, that night I got smashed (alcohol solves everything, right?..) and booked a very last minute flight to Portugal. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it since I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. Well as you can guess, I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t make it.

I got to the airport just in time, booked some sort of accommodation for my first night in Faro while queuing to board the plane and I was off. I was freaking out – what on earth was I doing? What if I die in Portugal? What if I get panic attacks every time I go outside and I’ll have to sit inside my room all the time?

It turned out that leaving my usual environment was the best thing I could had done for myself. Finally, I had no responsibilities, other than to keep myself fed and enjoy the surroundings. I didn’t have to sit in my room feeling completely useless with no way out. I was still worried, but my mind was focused on different things and eventually I started feeling alive.

I spent my first night in Faro and caught the train to Lagos the next day. It was so quiet there! There weren’t any crowds and some beaches were completely empty. I walked a lot, I sat on the beach, read my book and breathed. I felt how more and more energy was coming back to me and I found myself finally smiling.

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I’ll share some photos, although perhaps don’t look at them if you feel sad about not being able to travel due to covid-19.

I met some girls on the beach who were also living in the UK and took a short break to get some sun. I could not believe it, I was talking to strangers and enjoying it! We spent couple of evenings together sharing the dinners and chatting. I was anxious and happy at the same time.

Four days passed quickly and I went back to the UK. Things weren’t back to normal, but the trip helped me to take a break from constant worrying and I felt slightly calmer when I returned. I think travelling helps to put things into perspective and reminds you that there is much more out there than just what’s going on in your head. And when you awake your senses (say with the cold ocean water) it doesn’t leave you any time to think, only time to feel.

Santorini

I had no expectations for Santorini. I thought I saw too much of it on instagram and I imagined it to be too touristy for my liking. However, I thought I’d probably never get a chance to go there with the family again, so we added this island to our itinerary.

I have to admit I was very wrong about Santorini. Yes, it was touristy, but October was a perfect time to visit. The temperatures were high during the day, evenings not yet cold and tourist numbers manageable. A lot of them would go back to their cruise ships in the evenings, so the island didn’t feel crowded at all.

I honestly didn’t expect to be so positively surprised by the beauty of Santorini. I didn’t expect such impressive panoramic views and those iconic white houses I saw on instagram to be located on extremely steep cliffs, looking like icing on the cake. The day we arrived, it was already quite late, but we made it just in time to watch the sunset. We wandered up through Fira’s tiny winding streets not realising that there was a breathtaking view waiting for us just around the corner. The colours of the sky, little islands nearby and water were changing quickly; there were clouds hanging above parts of Santorini, making some of the tiny white houses disappear. You could feel that sleepy evening silence creeping in and everything sinking into the darkness. Sharing that moment with my family was a beautiful bonding experience.

The next morning we spent swimming and enjoying on one of the black sand beaches. After lunch, we decided to do a little hike from Fira to Oia. That was my absolute favourite thing to do in the island and probably a highlight of the whole holiday. The walk was only about 10km one way, well marked and a pretty easy (as long as you don’t do it in midday heat). I’ll share some photos, however I have to warn you that they don’t give you that sense of freedom and happiness I was feeling while walking on this rugged island.

The views were breathtaking all along the way and I almost had to force myself not to take photos every second step. We stopped a lot just to appreciate the view, so the walk took much longer than expected. I have absolutely no regrets, there is no point in doing this walk if you don’t have enough time to appreciate the surroundings. We made it to Oia just in time for another incredible sunset.

This little town felt much more “spacious” than Fira. I have no idea how to explain it, but it had a sleepier atmosphere, the streets felt a bit wider and the views didn’t seem to disappear in narrow streets.

Even though the walk we did was very popular, it is something I will never forget. Doing it with my family and sharing the excitement, the feeling of freedom, the surprising vistas along the way and seeing their smiley faces it’s what life is all about.

I think you can see as many photos of Santorini as you like, but until you are standing on the cliff there, appreciating the surrounding view, feeling wind and sun in your face and being nearly blinded by the whiteness of the houses, you don’t realise what the island is all about. Perhaps it would had been a very different experience if we visited during the peak season, but I believe that the magic of the place can’t really be hidden even under the crowds of tourists.

My holiday in Greece was over. The joy of it is still alive today.

Paros

Deciding which islands to visit in Greece is probably one of the hardest things when planning your holiday there. There are roughly 6000 islands, with over 200 being inhabited. Even if you were on a reaaaaally long holiday, it would still take hell lot of time to see them all. Obviously, some of them are much more famous with tourists than others, so I was trying to find just the right balance between touristy and unique when planning my family holiday.

Paros attracted me with its beautiful beaches, stunning little towns and good public transport options for getting round the island. It turned out that the beginning of October was just the perfect time to go, as the days were still hot, but manageable and there were few tourists around. Also, after I booked my trip, I learned that one of my now best friends is from there, so she sent me some stunning photos from her holiday in the island. I could not wait to go!

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If I remember correctly, it took us roughly 4 hours to get from Piraeus Port to Paros by slow ferry. The journey itself was really relaxing and we even managed to spot some dolphins.

As soon as we got out of the boat in Parikia (Paros port town), we found a brilliant little spot for lunch, called Hellas Taverna. I have to say their Gyros (kebab style dish) was one of the best ones I tasted in Greece.

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We had a short walk around Parikia and were astonished by its beauty. There were little streets, with white houses and beautiful blossoms everywhere. Wandering in these beautiful little and almost empty streets felt like a dream…

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We then caught a bus to Naousa, where we stayed for the next couple of days. Our accommodation had a beautiful balcony with the view to the town and a bit of Aegean sea. It was also really close to Piperi beach, which was convenient for the family with different interests in beach life (I absolutely hate lying on the beach for hours).

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Naousa felt much smaller than Parikia, but it was cosy and had some interesting streets to explore as well.

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The next day we decided to walk to Kolimpithres beach, which was just over 3km (or 2 miles) away. When we got there, the beach turned out to be really different from any I’ve seen before. There were beautiful rock formations everywhere and several sandy parts of the beach were separated from each other by these rocks. Finally, I didn’t mind spending a day on the beach since I could do some rock climbing too!

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I have to say, I imagine that during the season this beach gets packed and I don’t think I would want to be there with the crowds. Otherwise, highly recommended!

We also found a perfect place near the beach for lunch, with loads of happy cats and the biggest baklava slices!

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The walk back to Naousa was fabulous. It was just before the sunset, so warm evening colours were making the landscape even prettier.

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…we also spotted a very creative cat. Clearly proud of its work 🙂

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Getting out of Paros wasn’t as straightforward as we thought it would be. Why? Well the transport workers decided to go on strike exactly the day we had to leave. We weren’t informed about it, so we’re waiting at the port for a while and only when the ferry was “late” we checked to see what was happening. We managed to get tickets for the fast ferry later on that day, which were much more expensive. I have to say that the journeys on slow ferries were much more enjoyable, with more space to relax outside, so I would never pay for the fast ferry again (unless I had no choice).

Two and a half days were definitely not enough for this stunning island and I would like to go back there for at least a week. Strangely, I have a feeling I’ll definitely find myself wandering around the streets of Parikia again one day….

 

 

Athens

Both of my parents had their 60th birthdays last year, so we thought the best way to celebrate was to have a family holiday somewhere warm. It’s incredible how difficult it can be to plan a holiday when you choose to travel from two different countries.  There was no point for me flying to Lithuania from Scotland first, just so I can take the same flight as the rest of my family. Finally, after checking hundreds of flights & dates, I found a perfect destination – Greece.

Greece has been on my list for quite a while and I was happy I would get to see it with my family. I arrived to Athens late on Saturday and headed to the hostel I booked for the night. My parents and brother were arriving on Sunday afternoon, so I had a bit of time to explore the city by myself.

As soon as I got out of the metro, I realised the neighbourhood  was a real party district. Success! Loads of people were out and about, the bars were buzzing and I loved the vibe of the place. It was nearly midnight when I got to the hostel, so there weren’t many people chillin in the common area. Well, I was a bit disappointed, I fancied going out for a drink with some new random friends, but that didn’t seem like a possibility. I got some food and a beer and chilled on the rooftop terrace instead.

The next day I decided to go for a wander while waiting for the family to arrive. I remembered the entrance to Acropolis was free that day, so I joined the crowds and explored this very iconic place. It was hot, crowded, so I had a quick walk around and headed out hoping I would come back here with my parents. I’m glad the visit was free, as I’m not sure that 20 euro entrance fee is worth paying for… It’s just my opinion though. Unfortunately, by the time my parents arrived, the Acropolis was closed, so they didn’t get to see the inside, but we stayed on the Areopagus Hill to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful experience.

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The next day we left super early to get a ferry to one of the islands, but I’ll talk about our island experiences in the next couple of posts. We returned to Athens on the last day before catching the flights back and had another day to explore this beautiful city.

We found this amazing place called the Brunch Factory. The make brilliant food with incredible portion sizes (almost impossible to finish) and the atmosphere there is lovely. I’m still dreaming about their pancakes….

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What I also liked about the city was that it kept surprising us. You’d walk around and almost out of nowhere some beautiful ruins would pop up, or you’d find yourself in a beautiful little streets where residents find ways how to introduce as much greenery as possible.

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We also decided to go up Mount Lycabettus, since we kept seeing it from the distance and wondered what was up there. As soon as we started going up the hill we spotted a massive wild tortoise just roaming around. I’ve not seen a tortoise this size before, so I was super excited. The tortoise could not care less and strolled past me with no interest whatsoever. No offense taken.

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It was hot, so going up was a bit of a mission, but the views of the city were fantastic.

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I loved this beautiful city and would recommend it to anyone. Now I can’t wait to start writing about my Greek island adventures! 🙂

 

 

 

Summer Holidays 2019

I am sitting in my room, which is now slowly turning into a jungle with all the new plants I recently bought (let’s call it lockdown fever) and I am feeling extremely home sick. I am slowly losing hope that I will be able to see my family anytime soon and it makes me sad. I thought writing might help, but…I realised that the next trip which happened after I returned from Sri Lanka & Dubai was my trip home to Lithuania and then to Berlin to see my best friend Rasa. I was meant to see my family and Rasa a month ago too, but this didn’t happen due to Covid-19, so I was determined to skip writing about my last summer’s trip and just jump straight to my holiday in Greece. Then I thought that running away from my feelings would only make me feel worse, so here I am, looking at the photos and trying to write something that makes sense (at least to me).

It was my dad’s 60th birthday last July. I missed a lot of different birthdays, funerals, various other celebrations since I moved to Scotland, but there was no way I was missing my dad’s birthday this time. The time at home turned out to be the most relaxing and I loved every minute of it. The weather was beautiful, so I was swimming in the lake twice a day, eating all the berries I could find (there were loads!), foraging for mushrooms and spending time with family.

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I really hope I will get to go back this summer too. Even if I don’t do that much when I’m at home, it’s so good to relax a bit and to spend loads of time in nature.

My dad’s birthday is three days before mine and even if I don’t particularly like celebrating my birthdays, I love making those days a bit more special. Spending some time with my best Rasa in Berlin was one of the best ways to do it.

Rasa got me some cake for breakfast, then we went to get new piercings (I finally got my conch pierced) and we had a long wander in the botanic garden. Some good food, drinks and jazz afterwards with a slightly drunk walk home, what else do you need?

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Oh and I have a tradition to go to C/O Berlin every time I’m in the city. Their photography exhibitions always inspire me and encourage me to look at things from a new angle (at least for the next few days). Last July they had a fascinating exhibition related to food, here are some amazing works to finish this post.

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I’ll write something more exciting and happier next time 🙂

Helsinki

Exactly a year ago I was wandering around Helsinki, thinking how amazing it was to finally visit Finland.

Spending Christmas at home usually means getting flights with a random stop over somewhere and this time, I could spend a day in Helsinki on my way back to Edinburgh.

I arrived quite late, so after I checked into my hostel, I went for a wander around some of the busier streets in Helsinki. The Christmas mood and the decorations were all around the city, so it felt quite magical.

The city’s streets were frozen, so it didn’t take long until I found myself lying on the pavement. I decided that a pub might be a safer option, so I went to one across the street from my accommodation. I was surprised how quickly the local guys came to chat with me and I had couple of good conversations about life with the randoms. Finnish people seem to know how to live – boats, friends, fishing and freedom were the things they said they valued and I then realised I missed my summers in Lithuania.

Next day was all about exploring the city. I headed towards the market I spotted last night (it was closed then) and checked what local specialities were sold there.

I also walked past the Allas Sea Pool and saw people swimming outside, which made me regret not having a swimsuit with me. Even though it was a minus temperature and everything was frozen, they seemed to be really enjoying themselves in the heated pool.

I had a long walk around some parts of the city taking care not to land on my bum again. It was not the easiest task!

Eventually, I went back to the market to get some food since I remembered seeing a van selling fish. I went for a selection of things and it was delicious.

My last stop was the new Central Library that was recommended to me by one of the guys I chatted to the previous night. I love architecture and this building was a treat to my eyes. A beautiful and modern public space that seemed to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Even though I really enjoyed my short visit, I’d love to see Helsinki in summer. It is a green city and I imagine on a long summer day it would be a very relaxed and enjoyable place to chill. I’ll definitely go back to Finland one day, I want to see more of the country and chat to more of the amazing locals.

Ghent & Brussels

I wish I knew who, when and where planted an idea in my head that I needed to go to Ghent. It had been bothering me for a few years, so in January earlier this year I finally made a weekend trip to Belgium.

The flight times were perfect hence on Friday night I found myself looking for some dinner in Brussels with my friend Ingrida.

The next morning the plan was to catch a train to Ghent for a day of exploring. However, we first stopped for some amazing sandwiches in a place called De Pistolei. Tasty bread and fresh ingredients reminded me how nice it is to be back to the mainland Europe.

We then got to the train station and found out there was a fire in one of the tunnels, so all the trains were cancelled until further notice. We thought we’d wait for a bit and wonder around Brussels while the fire issue is sorted. So we had a wander around the centre and checked out the wee peeing boy fountain (Manneken Pis) and the main square – the Grand Place. I have to say I was really impressed with the architecture and I loved the level of detail on the buildings.

We returned to the main train station in about an hour and were told that the trains weren’t running there yet but we could catch one from a different station. So that’s what we did. I couldn’t almost believe that after so many years of thinking about going to Ghent I was finally on the train heading there.

The weather wasn’t great, it was really freezing and rainy but nevertheless, the city looked beautiful. Medieval architecture gave a sense of mystery and excitement.

I loved the fact that loads of people were cycling even in this crappy weather and secretly wished people in Scotland were more like that.

To warm up, we decided to wander into the place called Broesse, which attracted our attention. It first looked like a beautiful plant shop but we soon spotted a cafe part of it and decided to stay for a drink. While drinking my tea I kept looking at one beautiful plant and after a long hesitation I left the shop with it. I realized I’d have to walk with it everywhere for the next couple of days and take it on the plane with me, but I was quite excited about my new plant. I gave him a Lithuanian name Gentukas which translates as Little Ghent.

We then decided to grab some food at Balls & Glory. A funky name for a place with some delicious meat balls with various fillings.

I was also told that when in Ghent we had to try the local sweets Cuberdons. It wasn’t hard to spot places selling them and I have to admit they were delicious.

We also checked out some local bars, enjoyed the night lights and eventually caught a train back to Brussels. Ghent felt like a beautiful dream.

Before heading back to the hotel we stopped in Goupil le Fol bar for some more drinks. It’s such a weird and captivating place! It is full of little rooms, plenty of decorations, interesting light and a feeling of mysterious labyrinth, making it quite an unusual and a must bar to visit in Brussels.

The next day we spent a lot of time visiting various chocolate and antique shops as well chilling. Brussels felt like it had a surprise on every corner and it was exciting to be discovering all these amazing little things and beautiful buildings in the city.

It was a great weekend and I would go back to Belgium any time. Gentukas survived the plane journey and he is now happily enjoying his life in Scotland. He even had some tiny blossoms in summer 🙂

Curonian Spit in Lithuania

In June 2018 I went back to Lithuania for my brothers graduation and I spent a few days with my parents in one the most beautiful places – Curonian Spit. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage, 98km long and shared between Lithuania (north) and Russia (south).

It’s a complete paradise that I recommend visiting to anyone going to Lithuania. You can get there by taking a very short ferry ride from Klaipėda. The area is famous for it’s original fishing villages like Nida or Juodkrantė, various folklore stories, giant sand dunes (tallest migrating dunes in Europe) and various other things you wouldn’t find anywhere else in Lithuania. I also loved beautiful and very colourful old houses, nice food and very relaxed atmosphere. Some of my favourite things were:

1. The Dead Dunes (also called the Grey Dunes)

These are the huge (up to 60m) tall dunes that moved so fast between the 17th and the 19th centuries that “swallowed” several villages along their way.

I really couldn’t believe it was in Lithuania, I felt like in a middle of the desert especially because it was really windy and I felt sand in my face.

It’s quite a popular spot and parking can be challenging, but be patient and you’ll be rewarded. There is also a small charge to enter the path leading to the dunes.

2. Parnidis Dune and the Sundial

Remember I first visited this place when I was a kid, it really left a huge impression on me. Beautiful panorama from up there and you can see the Russian border as well. Apparently it’s the only spot in Lithuania that has perfect conditions for a sundial.

We went up to the area to watch a sunset one evening which was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s easily done from Nida town and its a beautiful spot to sit down, enjoy a drink, company and the view.

3. The walk up to Dune of Vecekrugas

The tallest Dune in Curonian spit and just a really enjoyable walk with nice views.

4. Raganu Kalnas (The Hill of Witches)

I love the imagination of the artists who created all the sculptures. Go for a stroll and pick your favourite!

5. Bike rides

I didn’t cycle when I was there but saw loads of people doing it and it made me a bit jealous (I love cycling). There are loads of beautiful forrest paths all around Curonian Spit (most of them well connected) that are great for cycling and exploring the area. Some people said cycling around Curonian Spit was one the highlights of their trip.

6. Chilling on the beach

It felt really relaxed when I was there but I know some places can get crowded. The Baltic Sea can be a bit chilly, so don’t expect a Mediterranean holiday, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying yourself. Lithuania is pretty awesome in summer anyway.

Don’t forget to try delicious smoked fish and have a fab holiday!

Hamburg

In May 2018 I agreed to catch up with one of my best friends in Hamburg. Not sure if it was a joy of finally seeing her again, the weather, the city or the combination of them all, but I had an absolutely fantastic time there.

What really surprised me about Hamburg was that there was so much variety. Some extremely peaceful and lovely neighbourhoods, plenty of green spaces, amazing botanical garden, beautiful canals and the port, interesting red light district with loads of bars for everyone’s taste, second hand markets during the weekends, art and so on.

I’m just going to share a bunch a photos from my trip, but would recommend anyone to visit the city and experience it for themselves.

Batumi

Going to Batumi was like going back in time. I remember seeing some of my parents’ photos from years ago when they used to travel in the Soviet Union. Almost everything in Batumi felt like being transferred to the scenes of the old photos and the feeling was really rather strange. My parents agreed with me. Even though you could the place was changing and there were new buildings popping up all around the city, that didn’t change the post soviet feeling that was hanging in the air.

I have to say that the city is really popular with tourists and offers quite a variety of things to do. You can relax (sort of) on the beach, walk along the seaside promenade, explore the city from the ferris wheel or a cable car going up to the viewpoint in the hills or even visit a local zoo. Plenty of choice for food and even a few amazing cake shops which was important during the visit since it was my birthday. I got to celebrate it on the rooftop terrace, enjoying the night view of the city with good wine, variety of cakes and my parents’ company that rarely happens during my birthdays these days.

It really impressed me that the city was very cycle friendly. Probably more than pedestrian friendly since cycle paths were always available which sometimes wasn’t the case with the pavements. Obviously it didn’t matter most of the time.

One thing I really enjoyed in Batumi was flying with a paraplane. A short but really fun experience that gave me a different view of the city. Would recommend it to anyone.

Overall I liked Batumi, but don’t think I’ll be back to this city anytime soon. Having in mind all the development that is currently going on, I imagine next time I see Batumi it will have a very different vibe.