Kefalonia, Greece

Without checking the blog archives, I couldn’t remember when just the four of us last went on holiday outside England.

This holiday came at just the right time for us, and was perfect. Due to our schedule limitations, we decided to limit this trip to the Island of Kefalonia. We had been tempted to rush around trying to ‘tick boxes’ all over the country, but this was the wiser choice.

Early August is peak season, and we were lucky to get a reservation at Avithos Beach Resort. Furthermore, in order to explore the island much beyond your resort, renting a car is essential. This too was a bit of a struggle last minute. Via the hotel, we probably paid more for the vehicle, than we would have with a little more preplanning. But with such a variety of interesting and beautiful places to see it still felt like money well spent.

We hired the car for two days, giving us time to also relax and enjoy our resort. One day definitely isn’t enough to see all that we wanted to see. Even more days are required if you want to visit the neighbouring island of Ithaca, or hike up Mount Ainos.

Hamel and I are both confident and experienced drivers, but it’s been a while since either of us have driven a manual left hand drive car, and that too on small, poorly marked, winding hilly roads. So when Google Maps said it would take ten minutes to get to see the purple sunset at Spasmata Beach, we should have allowed 20. That way, we wouldn’t have ended up missing it by two minutes.

We learnt from this quickly, and added a buffer to every journey thereafter. On our first day excursion, we covered the West of the island. From Avithos in the South, to the Venetian influenced village of Fiskardo in North is a 56km drive. We stopped along the way at the stunning viewpoints for the famous Myrtos Beach, and Asos Castle. At the picturesque Fiskardo, we paused for a well deserved Pornstar Martini at Panormos. Here, we watched the well off play on their catamarans against the ‘old world’ backdrop.

On our journey back down South West, we stopped for lunch at the nearby Alati All Day Bar & Restaurant. This top rated restaurant, is situated right next to the magical little white pebble beach in Alaties Bay. We could’ve happily spent the day here, but we had a different agenda.

The highlight of the day was our next stop. The red sand, Xi Beach on the South coast of the Western peninsula. The children and I enjoyed playing with the sand, and with the ball in the sea. Hamel however, never one to miss on an opportunity for a natural spa, chose to walk to the cave at the end of the beach, and caked himself in mud. Then, after diving into the water to wash himself off, managed to lose his RayBan sunglasses in the process . But his skin was nice.

We were a little behind schedule, but were determined not to miss out on our sunset again. So, with still more to see, we took a short-cut by riding the €12 ferry from Lixouri to Argostoli. We skipped the Saint Theodore Lighthouse and De Bosset Bridge, having seen both from afar. We did however, make a stop at Sinkholes of Argostoli. These are located on the Agioi Theodoroi Cape by the Katavothres Club Restaurant. The water from the sea mysteriously disappears into the ground here, and apparently reemerges on the other side of the island, in the lake cave of Melissani. We really just wanted to show the children this interesting geological feature, but actually this would also be a great spot to watch the sunset.

But we had other unfinished business, so we moved on. The town of Argostoli is the island’s capital, and was quite lively around the pedestrianised centre. There are a lot of bars and restaurants to choose from. We went with a recommendation from a locals, and tried some of the vegan selection at Baroque le Bistrot.

With dinner taken care of quickly, we made sure we got to Spasmata Beach with plenty of time to spare. Having learnt from the experience of the previous day, we parked in the carpark on the airport perimeter road. (Google Maps suggests a small residential road further up the beach). There, as the sky refracted the last light of the sun into a series of deep pinks and purples, we had a drink at the beach bar, and reflected on the great day we’d just had.

The next day we made an early start, conscious we only had the car until 6pm, and yet another long drive back up north. We made the decision to foresake Drogarati Cave, and visit only Melissani Lake Cave. The cave itself was as beautiful as the grottos we’ve seen on Capri, and boat ride just as short. So, picking a day when there weren’t cruise ships on the islands, and getting there just before the day-trippers started amassing at 10.30am, meant we were in and out within 15 minutes. Not having to queue for an hour in the blazing sun, made us feel very smug.

The reason for all this hustle, was that we wanted to maximise our time on Antisamos Beach. This has become famous for its scenes in the film, ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’. It turned out to be a pebble beach, but we still had a lot of fun. We played in the sea, relaxed on the Mojito Beach Bar sun loungers, and hired a water slide peddle boat.

Before and after our road trips, we were in and around our hotel. On one of the days we walked down to the nearby Sarris Winery, and tried five of the local wines, including an unusual orange wine. After wine tasting, we spent the rest of the day on Avithos Beach. Avithos doesn’t make any of the lists online, but is actually a clean, soft sandy beach, with a nice little beach bar, and shallow aqua marine waters that stretch out a fair distance.

We ate in a number of small restaurants close to our hotel over the course of the week, and they each deserve a mention, as we can’t really say we had bad food anywhere. These were: Meraki Restaurant, Esperides, Gyro House. They served simple food, but you could taste the freshness of the ingredients in even the smallest establishments. This sometimes meant that the sharpness in the cheese and yoghurt took a little getting used to for our urbanised palates. It did add a sense of authenticity, though.

All in all, this was a really lovely family holiday. There was plenty to do to keep all of us entertained, and there was still enough time to feel rested. This was now my third time to Greece, and once again, I left feeling a strong desire to come back and see another part.

New York, USA

I’ve lost track of the number times I’ve been to New York. It’s as familiar to me as London, and I love them both just as much. This time, however, I owe a debt of gratitude to my cousin Priyanka, who earned an expensed trip as a reward for her hard work. She kindly chose me, and our sister in law, Krupa, as her travel companions. This five day break was as therefore, as much about quality time with family, as it was the world class settings.

It wasn’t all perfect. Our Virgin Atlantic Flight was the worst long haul I’ve been on in years. They didn’t even have salt and pepper. On arrival, immigration took 2.5hours; I can’t remember it ever taking this long. But rant over, moaning out of the way, the rest of the trip was a truly refreshing break. I came back to England reenergised.

Over the course of the trip I got to catch up with relatives on both Hamel’s and my side of our family, as well an old friend from London. These connections made the trip that much extra special. But, on top of this, I also managed to find some time for myself. With some early morning runs, I pushed myself to strengthen both my mind and my body. ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’, right?!

I’ve always loved the food in New York. This time, I got to visit an old favourite pizza joint, Rubirosa, and also got my Taco Bell fix before the end. I compensated for this indulgence by doing a lot of walking and rowing on the boating lake in Central Park.

On a trip where socialising was the focus, I’ve got to give mention to all the different eateries and drinking establishments I got through this time. In no particular order, I loved all the following: El Vez, Grand Banks, Juniper, Boqueira, Los Tacos @Chelsea Market, Buddakan, Baar Baar, and Mr Purple Rooftop Bar.

I’ve got to give a special mention to the Speakeasy at Beauty & Essex, in which you get a complimentary Prosecco in the female toilet (sorry gents).

In search of a unique view, we paid $44 to go up to the Observation Deck at The Edge. This was perhaps a little over priced for what it was. But if you do decide to go, then a free attraction next to The Edge, The Vessel is also worth a visit.

The other special thing I managed to do on this trip was take in a Broadway Musical. These are world renowned for a reason. Hamel was green with envy because somehow I combined Aladdin (no longer showing in London’s West End) with a date with one of his closest cousins, Shivani. We had an amazing evening.

Prices seem to have gone up considerably in New York, since I visited last. Despite this, the City still retains its magic, and I know it will draw me back again soon.

Ras Al-Khaimah

As we move towards a post-COVID world, each country has its own set of rules and requirements for entry. So to ease ourselves back into exploring the world again, we picked an ‘easy option’, and booked an all inclusive resort based holiday in the UAE. However, but this time, we ventured out of Dubai for a slight change of scenery. One thing that hadn’t changed though, was the company we went with. As on a number of previous travels, we once again went with the Khimasias, with whom we have now visited four continents.

Our flight out on Emirates was as good as it always has been, but on arrival we had a problem with our transfer which temporarily soured the mood. We had pre-booked with a reputable company, and followed the instructions on arrival. To cut a long story short, after waiting around for an hour in the place were told to, we were informed we had ‘missed’ our driver. It took some forceful persuasion, and a refusal to accept ‘no’ for an answer, but we were eventually given our transfer with the original driver, and an hour and a half later, we made it to Ras Al-Khaimah. Thankfully our return ride back to the airport at the end of the holiday was smooth and uneventful.

After that, the rest of the vacation was as expected. The Hilton Beach Resort at Ras Al-Khaimah is by no means the nicest luxury hotel we’ve stayed in, but for the price we paid, we have no complaints. At 30ºC, the weather was pleasantly hot, and the pools and sea all the more inviting. The staff were extremely warm and obliging. Our ‘all inclusive’ package had some restrictions with where we could eat and what we could drink, but there was enough to satisfy each of us without needing to spend to much extra money. We divided our time between the Salt Water Pool, Kids’ Pool and the Private Beach during the day, and played games in the communal lounges and bars after dinner. It was a week sun, sand and relaxation, and just the break abroad we needed.

The highlight of my holiday was my tandem Skydive from 13,000ft in Dubai. It was exhilarating and liberating, and every bit as amazing as my previous skydive in Taupo, New Zealand 11 years ago. My husband, Hamel, Vishal and Parita, opted for slightly less white knuckle experience to enhance their own experience of the holiday, and spent a few hours in the spa instead. Judging by the glow on all their faces, they found their hammam, rasoul and massage treatments were a perfect end to their trip.

Athens, Greece

This mini break was a ‘trip of firsts’. My first holiday abroad for over two years. My first trip alone with my sister-in-law. My first time in Athens; and my first international travel in my new avatar as an independent travel agent!

The opportunity came about as my sister-in-law asked me to accompany her for a formal engagement she had to attend. We flew out on Sunday, and returned on Tuesday, and stayed at the Electra Metropolis Hotel, which provided a lovely stop for lunch with a view of the Acropolis from its rooftop bar.

As we walked around the city, some of the little streets reminded us both, of the gulleys in India. We soon realised that everywhere has a view of the Acropolis when we went up to Sense rooftop bar at the AthensWas Hotel. This was confirmed the next day, when we went rooftop hopping to: Hyper Astro Bar, MS Roof Garden, 360 Degrees, Attic Urban and finally Misafir (a shisha bar). We ate gyros and pastries at an outdoor restaurant, Bairaktaris, and I would highly recommend trying the Peinirli at Ergon House.

With only a limited time for sightseeing, we prioritised the Acropolis, and made an early start to avoid the crowds. As the flagship attraction for Greece, we felt it was the one place we had to go and see, however with the amount of renovation it is currently undergoing, meant much of what we saw was sadly obstructed by scaffolding.

I had a bit of free time on the final day, and made the most of it by doing a little research for my planned trip back here in the Summer, with my family. I found out some very useful information about day trips and excursions to the nearby beaches and islands, and am really excited about bringing the kids, and sharing what I’ve learnt with clients.