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.

Farm Stay, East Sussex

In the year of Staycations, this one was our highlight. We had an amazing week away in August, with six other families from one of our closest friend circles. Amazingly we were able to find somewhere that could accommodate all 26 of us. We booked out the entire New House Farm Country Retreat, which meant we didn’t disturb anyone else, and felt completely secure as our children roamed freely from dwelling to dwelling.

It’s taken me a while to write about this because it was a really special trip, and I’ve been struggling to find the words to do it justice. In terms of our day to day activities, there are a lot of highlights to speak of. I will talk about them first, as fundamentally, this blog was created to share my holiday experiences with fellow travelers. However, there has always been a deeper philosophy underpinning it all, and this staycation, more than any other trip in the past two years, has given me pause to reflect on it once again.

The holiday itself had a little bit of everything. It was bookended by visits to Bodiam and Hever Castles, which are so different from each other, but equally worthy of going to see. In between, we filled our time on the farm with some wholesome, family centred activities: eating, drinking, playing games, swimming, and relaxing in the hot tub together. We took advantage of our countryside surroundings and went hiking in the woods, built a den in the forest with the kids, admired the vast array of animals around us, stoked up the fire pit, and gazed at the star-lit night sky, in which I saw my first ever shooting star.

All the unfettered free time around the Farm Stay was balanced by some structured excursions. Keeping to a rural theme, we visited Bedgebury National Park, where there was so much to do, we made two trips. On our first visit, we first explored the grounds on foot along the 3.25mile Hidden Secrets Of The Pinetum Trail, and then took the children to Go Ape after a picnic lunch. The second time out, we hired some good quality light weight mountain bikes. Taking one of the family friendly 5.6mile ‘blue’ biking trails, we got immersed ourselves even deeper into the forest for a few hours.

However, as a large group coming from London, we were never going to stay away from urban living completely. Therefore it was no surprise, that we found time to go shopping at the McArthurGlen Outlets in Ashford, and gave our patronage to a couple of nearby country pubs: The Milk House, and The Queens Inn. So as to not to leave the children out, we took them on the Rye Murder Mystery Walking Tour, which was a great way to keep them entertained, while we got see this really pretty historical town.

But as I was trying to say earlier, what made this a special trip, wasn’t the collection of sights we saw, nor the particular experiences I’ve listed above. When I reflect on this staycation, it’s clear that the source of our joy was the quality of our interactions with our friends, and the amount of time we afforded ourselves to spend in their company. What we actually did each day, didn’t really matter in the end. This seems very obvious; hardly a profound revelation. Yet, perhaps too often in the past, we have been guilty rushing around to do so many things, and when we could have spent more time sitting in the company of the many fascinating people we have met on our journey so far.

My husband and I have chosen to spend most of our lives traveling the world at every opportunity, and our experience has been a rich one. We’ve stopped briefly, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but I’m sure that next year, we will be going abroad again, as there is still so much more we want to see. Our time in East Sussex was with some of our closest friends, who are as family to us. However, the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ), – the whole world is one family, remains at the heart of this blog, and we will remember this as we hopefully return to international travel very soon.

Isle of Wight

Another school inset day meant we were able to link up once again with our most common travel companions, the Khimasia family. We resurrected our booking for a weekend on the Isle of Wight, which had to be postponed from last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We got the Red Funnel Ferry from Southampton to East Cowes. Our girls found it amazing that we were actually taking our own car on the ferry across with us, a concept that as adults we’ve long taken for granted. Once on the island, we headed straight to the sandy Ryde Beach. We spent the whole afternoon here. It was quiet, clean, and all the children wanted to do was build forts with their new buckets and spades. The tide was out, which allowed us to wade in the warm shallow waters between the sand banks out to some considerable distance. With the sun beaming, and the view of the Portsmouth skyline visible across The Solent, I was reminded ever so slightly of my holidays in Dubai. That evening, after freshening up in our AirBnB, we went for dinner to The Cadet Beach Club, where we enjoyed great service, very nice food and cocktails, and a lovely view across Appley Beach.

Saturday was our one full day. We took an anti-clockwise route round the island. We first visited the world famous coloured sands of Alum Bay, which, with it’s 21 different shades, is one of the most picturesque beaches on the Isle of Wight. From here, we made the short walk up to The Needles chalk stacks by the Old and New Battery. It was a clear day, but we still weren’t able to make out Old Harry Rocks across the water, at the start of the Jurassic Coast, where we’d been just a few weeks before. What we did not expect to see from here, however, was Hurst Castle, by Milford on Sea. Hamel and I went on one of our first dates there, some 14 years ago, before we got married. It was very windy here, which instantly reminded me of how it had been there that day, and in that moment a decade and a half of memories blew through my mind.

We then moved on to Compton Bay with the ‘Dinosaur Footprints’, where we spent two hours on the beach, watching the sea, while the kids did what they love doing best… digging holes in the sand. We returned back to our accommodation via a scenic drive around the Southern Coast, briefly stopping for a photo in the slightly more upmarket Ventnor.

The Island is so small, that before our late afternoon ferry home on our final day, we had enough time to first drive all the way down to the Southern Coast again. Along the way, we made a visit to the lovely Garlic Farm, where we saw an albino peacock and tried some black garlic ice cream. From there, we drove down to Shanklin for afternoon tea at The Old Thatch Tea Shop, which had a kind of feel of the ‘old world’ about it. Our last experience before going back to the mainland was hopping on the Cowes Floating Bridge to go and have a look at the Yacht Haven, which looked a nice area to explore, had we had more time.

And with that, we felt like another part of England had been conquered. This again, is an example of a destination very close to home, that we had put off visiting for so long, at a time when the whole world had been open to us. But this trip confirmed why it had been on our wish list in the first place. The global pandemic has undoubtedly been challenging, but we’ve done our best to look for opportunities in these difficult times, and in doing so have learnt to appreciate more and more of what is already around us.

The Jurassic Coast, Dorset

For the second year, non essential international travel is ill advised.  We have therefore followed on from 2020, and spent the past six months taking day hikes in and around London, and enjoying the world famous sights of the city we’ve grown up in.

However, my birthday weekend threw up an opportunity for our first break away, so we organised a three night family holiday to the Jurassic Coast. Last year I had such a lovely stay at Gloucester House Hotel, Weymouth, that I decided to make this our base once again. Jonathan’s and Karen’s hospitality was just as warm and welcoming as before, and it was definitely the right choice for my family.

Our short trip was incredible. We lucked out with the weather, and the whole experience reminded me a bit of our visit to the Amalfi Coast a few years back. We didn’t spend much time in Weymouth itself, but an evening stroll on the deserted beach on the first night, got our mini break off to a perfect start. The kids were excited just being on the sand, and the simplicity of us being alone by the sea filled me with a real sense of peace.

Our plans over the following three days took us first West, then East. We followed an itinerary we had designed to allow us to see as much as possible, without feeling too rushed. For us, one of the key draws to this region, was the promise of fossils, and so we made this our first priority. A couple of hours scavenging along the foreshore of Charmouth Beach while the tide was out, yielded a small haul, which we brought home as our souvenirs. I found fossil hunting quite therapeutic; although we did it as a family, the concentration required to spot the fossils and gemstones amongst the shingle gives it a slightly solitary quality, and when you find a hidden treasure, the gratification is instant and lasting. From there, we drove to the lovely seaside town of Lyme Regis, where we stopped for lunch, before walking beyond Monmouth Beach, to the ‘Ammonite Pavement’. Here, the remains of thousands of ammonites, an extinct group of marine molluscs, are embedded in the limestone ledge, forming a spectacular graveyard of fossils. The landscape here is unique, and is as interesting as any I’ve seen on my travels around the world.

The following day, we took ourselves to the very start of the Jurassic Coast, to see Old Harry Rocks, supposedly named after the Devil according to one legend, and a pirate smuggler in another story. Old Harry Rocks were created through thousands of years of erosion by the sea and were originally a part of the c65million year old chalk ridge-line that runs across the south coast joining up with the Needles on the Isle of Wight (which we will be hopefully visiting in just a few weeks). After an al fresco lunch stop at the Bankes Arms Inn, we then walked down to South Beach on the South West Coast Path. We spent the afternoon on the clean sandy beach, which lies in the sheltered Studland Bay, and has the woodland as it’s backdrop, giving it a very tropical feel.

Before heading home on the Monday, we visited the most well known geological landmark on the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door. From the carpark, we took the steep hike up to the viewpoint, humorously named Scratchy Bottom. With the Man O’War Beach and the famous arch for our view, we ate our picnic lunch, and soaked up the beauty of our surroundings. To round off our holiday, we walked the 1.7miles to Lulworth Cove, where we sat on the white stone beach, while the girls entertained themselves endlessly, throwing pebbles at the stone pile they made for themselves as a target.

The Jurassic Coast has been inscribed by UNESCO as England’s only natural World Heritage Site, for the outstanding universal value of it’s rocks, fossils and landforms. Having seen many of the world’s natural wonders first hand, I fully appreciate why they felt this place was special, it’s an amazing feeling to realise how close to home it is.