Having been on very few holidays in the first half of 2018. We had a lot of holiday remaining. My birthday is coming up so we wanted to do something fun. There were a few options on offer including Porto, Portugal, Marrakesh, Morocco and Los Angeles, USA. But we decided on New York City.
Flights from London to New York are cheap, highly available and always on offer. You can easily find flights for less than £400 and they even get as low as £200 on deals for low-cost airlines. We luckily found some cheap flights on Virgin Atlantic, and although they have lost their luxury mark by having no baggage unreserved tickets, they still apparently offer cocktails.
Now this is where the cost comes in! Accommodation in New York, is not cheap. If you want to stay in a hotel for anything less than £120 you will end up being very disappointed. Even searching away from Manhattan in Brooklyn and the Bronx you will struggle to find something feasible. In fact this is the reason that we decided to only go from Monday through Friday rather than Saturday to Sunday which would have been cheaper flights.
We always try and get a good deal and so we often look at the options available on all the different sites out there, but we have never found a deal that made sense on Airbnb. This is mainly because we never want to stay in shared accommodation. This time however, we thought we would take a gamble to save on the cost. If you want to also take a gamble, you can use our link here to save on your first stay! www.airbnb.co.uk/c/robertw6840
Our place is on the Upper East Side, near a Metro station, central park and some bars and restaurants. We will provide an update after our stay and maybe its our new way to see the world on the cheap!
Does anyone have any recommendations? Anyone who has ever lived in or visited New York, please leave a comment below, we are very excited to try out some awesome places and want to try whatever we can in the city. I am looking to have Mexican on my birthday, and we have found a few places, but if you know anywhere that is a must go, then let us know!
Not knowing much about New York, we found some Youtube videos online that we used to get suggestions. Sarah Funk, below seems to give really good tips and we recommend her videos.
Tomorrow’s our last day :'( But what better way to spend it than relaxing, drinking and soaking up the sun. We had heard of a beach or two around the island and visited a number already. We made our way up to the only corner we were yet to visit and to the lovely long beach of Santa Maria.
How long can a book be
Around 2 years ago, I received in the post a book about the offshore banking environment. I started reading it almost straight away. I am still reading it. However, finally I am getting close to the end, having made my way through around 150 pages in the week of holiday. Jenny on the other hand made it through two and a half books. This day was mainly for reading books sitting on the lovely beach and soaking up the final rays of sun.
Greece Kebabs (Gyros) have chips within the wrap. This is a treat that we couldn’t turn down lightly. After our enjoyable swim in the sea, walk up and down the beach and a drive across the island looking to try and go horse riding. The stables were shut :(. So we made our way back to the quaint alley with the kebab shop, sat in the shade and enjoyed another tasty gyros.
We had to kick a group of travellers from South Africa off of their tables as they were taking up about 5 tables between 8/9 of them. And we then got to enjoy laughing at them argue over the payment of the bill which was arguing about “70 cents!, but that’s like 50 Rand”
Margarita’s House Crèche
The only issue with this day was finding a sunbed by the pool. For some reason, everyone seemed to be doing the same as us and there was very little room around the pool. In fairness there were two sunbeds, but the lobster hue of both of our skins made both of us prefer one that wasn’t in the sun. And we really enjoyed relaxing the afternoon away before making our way up to the sun deck to watch the final sunset with some ciders.
Our last supper
We wandered up and over the hill and into town for one last meal in Naousa. This is a really nice town, with so many options for eating, drinking, shopping and wandering. Luckily as well only parts of the town have become overrun with tourists, which for the most part we tried to avoid.
This night however we thought we would join the crowds, and enjoy a light lunch on the waterfront. Though we did end up staying at the quieter end of the waterfront. It was a pleasant restaurant called Mediterraneo with reasonable prices so we decided that we’d have small starters as well as a main.
More please sir
Well, the starters came. They were anything but small. Jenny had two whole halloumi-type cheeses wrapped in filo pastry and I had 5 balls or zucchini larger than golf-balls. To add to which I thought I would enjoy one final greek salad which always comes with two whole blocks of Feta. My gosh we were already getting super full
Before we had finished our starters (I still had half a feta to go) they brought our main courses. A whole plate of big prawns for Jenny and large plate with 4 pork steaks two pitta breads and what looked to be two portions of chips. I tried to eat it all, I did, but unfortunately I had to leave a small piece of pitta and a few little chips. I have to say though that it was really tasty. To jenny’s great delight, the neighbourhood kitties also thought our food was very tasty.
“Home James, please spare the horses”
And there you go! That’s the trip to Paros, Greece wrapped up. We got home, packed up our stuff and got ready for the long travel day ahead of us. A drive, a ferry, a bus, a plane, a train, a metro and finally a walk later, I am sitting at home writing this to you.
Paros is highly recommended to anyone looking for a sunny, relaxing and enjoyable time. On second thoughts, please don’t go, it’s our little gem.
As I said in yesterday’s blog we had another early start today to go diving. We made our way down from Naousa to Pounta again to get to Eurodivers. They seemed to be the most well organised dive shop on the island and when we arrived 10 minutes late they were very good at getting our stuff together.
The forgetful NAUI Diver
A feature of the day was both of us forgetting pretty much everything about diving, setting up the equipment, hand signals and everything else in between. This wasn’t helped by the fact that initially we had to admit that we’d also forgotten our certification cards. They almost refused us to dive, but luckily the NAUI site has a handy little tool to find your card number and we were on our way.
Water like a mirror
Even having grown up near water, spending time on boats and being a reasonably proficient swimmer, I am not particularly fond of small boats. Unfortunately this was a small boat, a 10 foot (or so) rib with a solid hull, fortunately, the weather was perfect, the sea was barely moving and the sky was a beautiful clear blue. We made our way to the dive sites, both of which weren’t too far from the dock and prepared our equipment.
The diving was nice, though there was not a huge amount of coral or fish. Annoyingly, the GoPro decided to fog up on the first dive, though I managed to fix that for the second dive by holding it in the sun for a short while. The second dive was quite interesting and we went a bit deeper and through a pretty cool archway tunnel.
Around the island we go
A few days earlier, a very offended sommelier had informed us that Paros “was not that small”, so we decided to confirm that for ourselves by using the afternoon to drive around and through the island. We can confirm, it is small. It doesn’t take an hour to drive around the whole island, but he was correct that it is indeed not that small.
Jenny wanted to practise her driving so I focused on giving her directions, and she did a really good job. But this did mean that we didn’t get many/any pictures of the beautiful scenery but the Greece Travel Guide website has some lovely photos of Lefkes that you can look at.
We had somewhat turned up our nose at the main port town of Paros, thinking it to be too loud, too dirty or not classy enough. We were however pleasantly surprised. Walking around in the day, there are a number of winding narrow streets similar to those of Naoussa or on Antiparos. With little shops selling souvenirs, close or ice-cream. We found the ice-cream.
There are also many windmills on Paros, with a lovely one looking over the bay and over the town. Within which there is a bar/cafe, for some reason it was closed, which we were a bit disappointed about, but we walked up and around anyway, enjoying one of our last few days on the beautiful island.
There is even a “castle” built out of scraps from local ancient Greek ruins. Or as an american tourist said “why did they build the wall from mill stones”
Another lovely meal in Naoussa
The one issue with Margarita’s House (our lovely hotel) is that to do the short walk into town you have to walk up a steep hill and then down the other side. The upside of this is that you can get some lovely photos, and get to walk off the meal at the end of the night.
The meal was a pretty standard fare in a Greek tapas restaurant which we happened across as it’s on the same street as Le Sud and Soso. The food was good, and the price was reasonable, we drank a litre of wine. The atmosphere also was pleasant and the waitress was very nice. Unfortunately, she was a little forgetful, and we had to ask her three times for our water, and she never brought my coke. But she was extremely apologetic about it, and you couldn’t help feel for her running around all evening.
Another day gone, there is only really one more to go before our travel day!
The seas around Paros are crystal blue and what better way to explore them out on a boat. Captain Ben was our day cruise of choice, we were deciding between Ben and Yianni but when we got through to Yianni it sounded like he was in a hurricane and said his boat would not be ready for ten days.
We don’t like mornings, I think we have made that clear. And so even when a fun day is ahead of us we still struggle to get out of bed. Especially when sleeping off the amazing meal at Siparos (see yesterdays blog for that). We had to get to the south of the island by ten where we huddled with other tourists until a big red boat with “Captain Ben” emblazoned on the side turned up.
The main feature of the day is jumping in the water and attractive spots along the way. The Captain (Ben) drove very close to the cliffs to allow us all to take beautiful photos of the scenery around Paros and Antiparos.
There were some really nice stops and we both got to do a fair bit of snorkelling in the crystal clear waters. Of course there are always lots of other people and so you don’t see many fish. But it’s still very pretty.
After a few chances to swim in the ocean we end up at a cove accessible only by boat ⛵ where we stop a while to relax on the beach. I think this is mainly to give Ben’s heart a break since he spends half the time in the water demanding people don’t swim too far or stay away from the rocks.
They loaded us up with a snack of octopus, calamari and sausage (yum!). And then request we wash it down with a pint of Ouzo (yuck!) We left our glass full minus a little sip.
I even got to practise my Baywatch running, dig a couple holes and top up my sunburn. The equipment is quite good quality and the staff are very helpful, serving drinks and putting out a load of beach toys for the time on land.
When we got back to the boat they served up lunch which was delicious and good portions too. Some Greek salad, pasta salad, pork and chicken skewers and some potatoes. Later they brought round some whole fish as well!
One exciting feature of the boat was that it had a slide off the back which went straight into the sea. We got some videos which I will put up later. Ben and the other staff were very good at making sure the slide was wet and the exit was clear. And it was a good novelty to slide down into the sea. I even jumped off the top of the boat.
One of the most exciting features of the day is an archway that you can swim through and people climb up to the top to jump off. Given the recent issue my brother had from a similar exercise I decided to not jump myself, but instead watch others do so. Unfortunately neither of us got a good picture of the archway so here is a nice one from the Captain Ben website.
After such a long day in the sun we were both very sunburnt, tired but very relaxed. We headed home and cooked some supermarket pizzas before wandering into town so I could live out my childhood with a big bunch of candy floss. There was even a bit of traditional Greek dancing and music going on in the centre of town.
We finished up with some “icecream rolls” where they make the icecream in front of you on a really cold plate. It’s quite fun, but at 7 EUR a bowl it was a bit pricey!
Anyway that’s it for today. We have another early morning tomorrow (groan) to go diving so these blogs are going to be a little late.
This trip was mainly to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary and so today was the all important day and right in the middle of the holiday too. It was a really lovely one.
We exchanged cards and gifts and ate breakfast in bed. But we needed to go into town since, as the car rental man put it, “I think someone drive fast into kerb and bend tire.” “Oh no!”, we both exclaim. “Oh, no problem, we take sledgehammer; bang bang all ok”
We had to wait 30 minutes for the wheel to be repaired and reblown. So we wandered into the lovely winding streets of Naoussa. Where I finally found myself some replacement flipflops, the shop owner even let me try his own to show that they become more comfy. And I convinced Jenny to get a Gyros for lunch while we waited.
Sand and Sea
This trip has mainly been about relaxing. Where we’d normally take the opportunity to see ruins or read placards on museums we have taken more opportunities to read our books and sit in the sun. This day was just the same, we made our way down to the beach next to our hotel and sat on the rocks, swam in the water and relaxed in the sun.
To be honest that was most of the day done and we came back to our hotel and lay down and caught up on an episode of “The Bridge”, it’s getting very tense.
The one booking we made before getting to Paros was dinner for our anniversary. Hearing the best place to eat in Greece was Siparos in the north this was the place to book.
From the street it is relatively unassuming, quaint and beach bar like. Inside it is too not ostentatious but it is obviously very nice. We started with cocktails, had some lovely starters of mussels and vineleaf parcels and finished with some delicious mains.
My main was a veal fillet lightly cooked, with a hot stone and fragrant salts to finish, they even carved at your table. Jenny went for the fish spaghetti, which even I thought was delicious (and I don’t eat fish).
And the view
All of the above. But the view as well. This place is lovely. There was a small sailing yacht and a small jetty which got momentarily used. And you could look across this calm but beautiful bay back to Naoussa. The weather has been so beautiful you could see Mykonos in the background about 40 km away. “Best weather in 20 days” according to Captain Ben (see tomorrow’s blog for that)
Now three days into our trip to Paros, relaxing really is the theme of this trip. We hoped to go diving but waking up too late and not being able to get through on the phone we resigned ourselves to reading our books and watching the boats sail past.
Time to move
After a few hours of increasing our chances of skin cancer we got going to a fish restaurant recommended by our good friend Chris. So we made the long drive of 15 mins over to the east side of the island.
Christiana looks like an average beach bar/restaurant but the staff were really lovely and the view across to Naxos was completely charming. You even got to choose your fish from a drawer in the counter.
Refreshed and having walked the front, we set off once more. Jenny again at the helm. Becoming quite the driving pro. We decided to cruise around all four corners of the island of Paros to get a feel for the place. We lucked out and came across a nice little town called Piso Livadi, which had a lovely beach with calm warm water and friendly people. We stayed a while and soaked in the water.
Having been unable to dial through on the phone we decided it was best to head to the dive center directly. Eurodivers shop is a standard beachy chilled out place with pleasant staff. We booked on to two dives on Monday which we are really looking forward to. The drive to get to the dive shop was spectacular and compares to those in Montenegro, see our other blogs about that.
We finished off our relaxing day with a 12 wine flight of tasting at the Moriatis Winery. This is the biggest winery on the island of Paros and the staff here were absolutely charming. They really made the experience. (Un)Fortunately we got a little bit tipsy and had a bit of a wandering route home in the dark.
We managed to inhale our taco leftovers which were still super tasty and tried to drink our free bottle of wine (a treat for our anniversary) which was not as tasty before hitting the hay and calling it a night.
What a lovely day of just relaxing. Oh and we even managed to book onto Ben’s sailing tour for Sunday! Very excited!
Coming to the end of our trip to Montenegro we were running out of things to do, so we set off on a drive to the old Capital, Cetinje. On our way we noticed a sign to Lovcen view point, so we changed direction and headed off. The road wound up the mountain and we passed multiple people with trees on their roof. We had seen in Budva earlier people selling these same brown leaved branches. We searched online, to no avail, more on that later.
As we drove up the valley to Lovcen, the road started to get a little snowy. The road was not busy and so the snow got deeper and deeper. Eventually after about an hour of driving the snow was about three inches deep. We probably should have used chains. But we started a steep climb up the valley with high mounds of snow on each side of the road. Having not come across anyone in at least 40 minutes we were not worried about the single track road. Anyway we had a 4WD!
How wrong we were! rounding a corner we saw a Land Rover, right in the middle of the road. The door wide open. There seemed to be just enough room to get around, but that involved going through the deeper snow. Again, how wrong we were! Halfway around the corner the car lost traction and started sliding towards the open door on the Land Rover. The 15 year old child ran around and shut the door, but it was too late, we was stuck and merely centimetres from the Land Rover.
After a few minutes of spinning wheels and pushing from the 15 year old and his dad, Rob had to allow the child to turn the steering wheel whilst he applied the agreed amount of pressure. We blame it on the child parking his car in the middle of the road. But it is probably because Rob is “the worst driver in the family, by far!” – ask his mum.
Eventually after a big more sliding we got to the top of Lovcen. We then had to walk about what seemed like a few hundred steps through a tunnel. The tunnel itself was like something out of a James Bond movie. There was no-one there and the wind blew down through the tunnel. But the view was amazing as you could see all across Montenegro; on one side down to the lake and the other side down to the sea.
After our hazardous drive up the mountain, we needed to drive down the mountain again. Luckily we came across no vehicles, though the car slid around quite a lot. we were happy to make it back to a solid, snow free road.
The old capital of Cetinje is smaller than the current capital and has even less to do. We grabbed some lunch in a small cafe to rest off the stressful drive and walked around the small town, taking some silly photos.
The high street itself, although pretty empty, was relatively pretty for Montenegro and you could tell this was an older city. Apart from walking up and down this street and the surrounding roads, there was still not much else to be found. Though we did see even more people buying and selling small oak trees with brown leaves. We managed also to work out what this was later in the evening.
It turns out that it was Christmas Day! In the Orthodox Church they use the Julian Calendar and so Christmas falls in the first week of January. One of the traditions in Montenegro, amongst Serb Montenegrins seems to be Badnjak. This seems to involve chopping down a young tree and burning it as a blessing for the coming year. Unfortunately we missed the actual celebrations though we could see them and hear them from our hotel room and we caught a little snippet of the tree burning in the centre of Budva.
Exclusive guests only
On our way to Budva we had seen an amazing island linked to the mainland by a man-made causeway, which we decided we wanted to visit. Looking online we saw it was called Sveti Stefan and so we made our trip down there.
The view is really cool and we were really excited to park up and go in. We paid the £3 parking fee! (Most expensive in Montenegro we saw). Unfortunately once we got to the causeway there are some guards and you aren’t let through, turns out it is an exclusive hotel resort. We were a little disappointed as we had no plans for the rest of the day and we were already hungry so we took some more photos and went our way trying desperately to try find some food.
Jenny CAN drive
We had a few days in Budva and the surrounding area to just relax, soak up the atmosphere (eating and drinking) and get lots of photos. It was really lovely to take that time and we really wanted to stay for quite a lot longer. Some of the exciting aspects for us both were the Ballerina out on the rocks along the coast and all the animals that wanted our attention.
Unfortunately we came to the end of our trip. Packed up and in the car we set off early to make our morning flight from Podgorica. Jenny hasn’t driven in quite a while (about 7 years) but feeling brave she got behind the wheel and drove us the whole way from Budva past Sveti Stefan down the coast road. All the way to the winding road up the mountain and back over to Lake Skadar. At this point she got out the car and became a passenger instead but we were both very impressed and she intends to do some more driving on our next trip.
Gotta go back to work
As we got on the plane, we could see the world was listening to us, and speaking how we felt! CBA indeed!
See you next time guys!
We need to dig through our transactions in entirety, but the best estimate is that the whole trip cost between 2,000 and 3,000 GBP. This was not a cheap trip in all. But we spent a lot of time drinking and eating. The major cost was the astronomical RyanAir flight. And the expensive Chalet Kolasin was worth every penny!
Montenegro is small, smaller (as they say) than Wales. Therefore the drive from Podgorica down to the coast in Budva was only about 65km and took about 1 hour. On single lane roads with a speed limit of 60 km/h you get the opportunity to take in the surroundings, and they are amazing. A great expanse of open lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. This is the biggest lake in the Balkans, Lake Skadar and stretches out of Montenegro into Albania.
As we came over the mountains which run along the coast of Montenegro there was some absolutely amazing scenery. The road winds up the mountain, with viaducts hanging out over the side of the cliff. Every bend warranted another stop for another photo or a view in amazement at the amazing scenery. After pushing up our jaws and pushing our eyes back into our head we made our way down to the coast and into the town of Budva.
Budva has a few distinct areas to it. First the new town with modern apartment blocks and hotels. This is the first area that you come across when entering the town. Then as you drive into the centre you notice that there is a set of older and more charming buildings which creep up the steep hill which the town nestles against. And finally once you are out of the car and on your feet you come across the real jewel. The Old Town (Stari Grad). This is the typically balkan mix of stone buildings with ochre clay tiles and narrow streets. Most people would know what Croatian coastal towns looks like, and I believe this is comparable, though on a smaller scale.
The small old town was only a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel room. Jutting out into the ocean, it is a very pleasant place to walk around to look at the houses and examine the history of the place. There is a photo below which was taken in the same location that sold us on our visit to Montenegro from this blog that we mentioned previously.
We checked into our accommodation (Apartments Teona) and were immediately met with a beautiful room. Everything was white and we were high up looking out across the city. Unfortunately we enjoyed our room so much that we only took a photo of the balcony and not of the room itself.
There was only one issue with the room, which they apologised profusely for; the sink drained really slowly. They promised an engineer would come the next day, but as we found out later, it was the weekend of Orthodox Christmas. The Engineer never came, but the owner’s Son came in person to apologise and they gave us a 30% discount on our agreed price. This very much softened the blow.
Feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy ourselves we set up the camera to look over the old town and film the darkening of the sky. Unfortunately, this is where you see the issue of the new part of Budva with the high rise buildings, it spoils the view for many of the older homes and apartments up on the hill side. In any case the view was excellent and it was great to see the lights come on in the town.
Food Options are improved
As mentioned before the food options in Montenegro weren’t the best, but over the 4 days we spent in Budva we ate in the local Chinese restaurant, which was very good. A local restaurant on the Marina, which seemed to be past its prime, but still very good food. A Cafe-Bar on the edge of a shopping mall (sounds bad, but was very enjoyable). And an Italian restaurant in the centre square of the old town. These were all quite good and there was a good range of options out there to choose from.
Every night with full belly’s we ended up back in our hotel room looking over Budva ready for another day. There was lots more to see in the other coastal towns to.
A short (30-45 min) drive around the coast ends up in the Kotor peninsula. We came across Tivat first and made our way down to the waterfront. It has clearly had a large amount of investment in the recent years as it is the only place that we saw no damaged or derelict buildings. The buildings are all made of white stone which shines and gleams in the light, this area is evidently full of wealth.
We walked down the waterfront, lined with an old sailing ship on one side and modern Cafe-Bars on the other. In addition to this there are a number of food and drink stalls along the waterfront and this is where we tucked into our lunch of burger and chips for only about 10 EUR including mulled wine. Walking up and down the waterfront and down through the Marina we found another bar to sit in and enjoy some juices. The prices here were not so reasonable and our 8 EUR pineapple juices were the most expensive drinks (alcoholic or not) that we drank on our whole trip.
This area of Montenegro is really beautiful and we saw some amazing sights along our way. There was even a cruise ship in the middle of the bay. This must be a touristy area! Wearing coats and scarfs walking along the coast and driving around the bay was fine. But we both noted that this area must be amazing in the Summer months. We are willing to bet that it is much quieter than the other Mediterranean coastal towns, even in that summer heat.
In the same area and only around the bay Kotor has more of a historical appearance than Tivat. The historical centre is enclosed by an impressive fortress wall which continues up the valley side. At the top there is a palace also part of the fortress which is quite impressive. We have to admit that we were feeling a little lazy and didn’t make the long climb up the mountain. Instead we wandered around the old town, looking in shops, stroking the odd cat we saw and looking for a souvenir or two to purchase. To be honest, we probably didn’t give Kotor the best chance. But after having been to Tivat in the morning we didn’t feel like wandering around for too long. In any case the town was starting to fill up with cruise ship passengers. In the end we only ended up spending about 90 minutes in Kotor. Though we did manage to get some nice pictures.
Kotor Fortress Wall
Leaving Kotor behind us, we decided that we would take the long scenic route back to Budva, adding around 30 minutes to our route. This road runs very close to the water and is very narrow. This adds to its charm greatly and with the sun setting it was an absolutely lovely scene. A few points along the way Jenny was worried the car would slide into the sea as another car tried to pass, but we made it around all in one piece and it was definitely worth the drive.
Next time we will go over our last few days in Montenegro. This includes almost falling off a mountain, getting caught in snow and dipping our feet in the Med.
At this point we had well and truly lost track of our expenses, but in the final blog post covering Montenegro I will outline the best estimate of our total spend on the trip.
Here’s some more photos from these days to have a look at what we did. (Click to enlarge)