Grecian Times

I count myself incredibly blessed because as at the time I visited Greece, I had slashed the top two countries off my long list of places to go. Italy was the first.

I was becoming a year older and I was sure Greece was the best location to enter a new year in my life and it was!

Athens, Nafplio and the Island of Zakynthos were the stops in Greece and it turned out be a perfect mix between urban, idyllic and touristic.

Athens is a lot to take in and a shock to the system – a clash of times. In the space of hours we were in ancient Greek ruins and then under subways inspecting the graffiti. From Monasteraki market, with its cool market vibes to Acropolis and its ancient ruins and history, Athens was a surprising city and not at all what I expected. Asides the ancient ruins there were also more modern ruins, deserted buildings, graffiti, boarded up windows. Greece was going through an economic downturn and Athens showed it clearly.

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View of Athens from Acropolis

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Athens

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Acropolis

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Ancient ruins in Acropolis

We swiftly moved from hectic Athens to Nafplio which I was really looking forward to. Nafplio is a small sea side town in the Peloponnese. It was a much needed relief from the bustle of Athens, it was also mostly devoid of tourists when we went in mid May.

It’s a little town which still offers all you would hope to experience in Greece – ancient hilltop castles like the Palamidi which is 999 steps up on a hill(we took a bus up instead), deserted beaches with clear waters and also many chic restaurants and shops! It is also a good base from which to explore Epidaurus on a day trip.

Now Epidaurus is probably the best preserved Greek theatre in the world with a phenomenal view of the landscape of the Peloponnese. It has more or less perfect acoustics as any of the 14,000 people seated in the theatre could hear the actors regardless of their distance from the centre! It is truly amazing!

I cannot talk about my time in Nafplio without mentioning Nafsimedon hotel where my friends and I stayed. It is a gorgeous tiny boutique hotel in the centre of Nafplio. The building is just stunning and we stayed in a room with a mezzanine. I liked how cosy and luxurious it felt but it was still very affordable. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone going to Nafplio.

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Epidaurus

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Greek Theatre at Epidaurus

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Palamidi Castle, Nafplio

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Palamidi Castle, Nafplio

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Modern ruins, Nafplio

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Nafplio

 

From Nafplio we headed to our last stop in Greece, Zakynthos. Zakynthos is an island tourist town in the Ionian Sea. The fact that it has its own international airport shows that it is a real tourist hive. It swarmed of English tourists and felt less like Greece and more like little England. It had all the shops geared towards tourists all selling more or less the same kind of mass produced merchandise. You will see menus here serving English breakfasts. Having just left idyllic and authentic Nafplio we had a jolt on coming to Zakynthos. It is a beautiful island and we got to go on a boat trip around the Island and swim in caves, lounge on a little island beach and just enjoy the sea. Our hotel was right in front of the ocean.

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Zakynthos – Boat trip

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Zakynthos – blue waters

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Zakynthos – the waters were so clear we could see the bottom of the sea, which is farther down than it looks here.

Greece, like Italy, is bigger than I imagined when fantasizing about my first trip and I really feel like I have only grazed the surface. There is so much more of Greece I would love to explore. However, the few days I spent in Greece were amazing, I was especially pleased that the whole trip was planned by my friends and I. We planned all the transportation from Athens to Nafplio to Zakynthos which was an adventure in itself as we hopped from bus to ferry to train. It gave our trip a more authentic feel to it. The whole trip was very authentic and true in the sense that we experienced various parts and sides of Greece!

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Nafplio

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The London Series – Part 1, Columbia Road Flower Market

London is a beautiful city, full of beautiful things, often cramped into one another.

Among all the cramped beauty is Columbia Road Flower Market which is located in East London. It is cramped full of myriad of colorful flowers with streams of people flowing through the sea of horticultural bliss. It is a photographers dream! But a claustrophobic person’s nightmare! But then again, most of London is a claustrophobic persons hell I would think.

If you are ever in London, whether or not you like flowers, pop by Columbia Road Flower Market, it’s open only on Sundays though.

Check out some of the pictures taken using my humble iPhone camera…

I also took a photograph of this beautiful wall art..cos I love random street/wall art.

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Vienna, Austria – The Enchanting City

Now Austria is my first venture to a non Mediterranean European country, asides the UK of course. Vienna has absolutely exquisite architecture dating from ages past. I was only in the city for a couple of days but I was in awe of the sculptures and grand opulent buildings from time gone by. It felt like I was in another era, another time, a time were the rich were extremely, grand , luxurious and ostentatious – at least I assume this from the effort, time and expertise that obviously went into these structures. In that sense, Vienna felt truly European. I remember going into a fashion retail store which looked more like a 15th Century Nobles closet than a regular clothes store in the 21st century. The elevator in the store was the most elaborate elevator I have ever been in, it looked so beautiful and intricate I could hardly believe it actually worked. 

I remember seeing a particular dark, imposing cathedral, with an eerie dome on my way back to the airport after my visit. The memory of this particular building has stayed with me.I regrettably, do not know what it is called or where it is located but the way I felt as I stared at it from my cab truly encapsulates how powerful the emotions these beautiful static buildings from another time can evoke.

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Exquisite elevator


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Hofburg Palace

My favorite sculptural piece was the Pestsaule, which is a bit morbid as it is a memorial of the plague epidemic of 1679 that ravaged the city. As I wondered round inner city Vienna, the structure grabbed my attention quite a ways away and of course I floated right towards it. The most enchanting thing about the sculpture were the clouds, I have never seen sculptural clouds. I mean making clouds, something so airy, puffy and weightless look so real using such concrete material is truly genius.

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Pestsaule

So, I was at Vienna at Christmas time and of course I went to the Christmas market located at the Rathaus (town hall) . It was buzzing with life and Christmas cheer. There was loads of food and I ate this delicious bratwurst hot dog. It was pretty cold but the joy and Christmas spirit concentrated at this market made the cold bearable! I love Christmas and visiting the Christmas market really made Christmas that year extra special.

I discovered I lived only a few minutes walk from the Sigmund Freud museum so I visited. It was really informative and engaging. The museum used to be Freuds offices and home in Vienna so I got to see his space and some of his personal effects.

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Sigmund Freud Museum, staring into Freud’s mirror

Interestingly, I also visited this Nigerian restaurant called Wazobia in Webergasse, Vienna. The food was delicious and authentic, although the restaurant itself is not stunning and is located in a basement with bad lighting. If you don’t mind a below average ambiance, you will enjoy good Nigerian food. The owner is also really pleasant.

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Wazobia restaurant, Webergasse

I should add Vienna is super easy to navigate, I was able to get around easily without my friend solely using a combination of google maps and an app called qando Vienna, which is also a GPS navigation platform.

Vienna was quite diverse in a European sense, I met people from Turkey, France, Poland, the UK, Ukraine and USA. It did feel very vibrant and also seemed to have an interesting arts scene. However, it is not diverse in a more international, global sense. I saw very few Black people (not that I expected Black people to be in abundance or Black people need to be in abundance EVERYWHERE) but I did not get many stares like I have in some other places. On one random occasion, a semi-drunk guy shouted “black girls” at my friend and I and kept staggering away. As a Black tourist, Vienna was definitely welcoming. 

Vienna is a charming city. I would love to visit more places in the city and also go to more rural parts of the country, as I know Austria also offers beautiful natural environments.

 

 

 

Must-D0s when at a Travel Destination

There a few things I always try to do when I travel to a new place, I think they really help me connect and not be an insensitive aloof tourist mowing over culture and locals.

1.Befriend a local – where possible, I really like making friends with some of the local people. It’s a great way to really get to know a place and to get recommendations  of things off the tourist trail. They are always happy to spill all the secrets that will help you have a really wholesome trip. I have thankfully been able to either make new friends at places I have been or to already have friends who live there. It is really great when you get invited to people’s homes, eat with their family and hear stories that bring life to your journey and make you appreciate being where you are. In smaller communities, befriending a local also opens the gate for you to be accepted by the wider, perhaps more cautious community.

 

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Trying to befriend a local – Matana, Burundi

2. Run – If you are a runner, it goes without saying that you will be packing your running gear with you on travels. If you are not a runner, well you should be, running and runners are great! Running abroad is a great way  to stumble upon some spectacular places, some out of the way of the tourist bus. Running on location really amps your motivation as you might get to run on white sandy beaches, through mountains, muddy terrains or through a lush forest. Most people run on concrete weaving through buildings, pedestrians, prams and vehicles trying not let the exhaust pipe fumes strangle their lungs. So, getting a chance to change scenery and air quality is always welcome. Again, running has a way of really plugging you into the location and forging a connection. Do check out if you can sign up for any local or national races before you travel.

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Running route – Nafplio, Greece

3.Buy local –  Try to avoid the massive international chains and invest in local businesses when at a new travel destination. It is a great way to get some authentic cultural stuff and  to talk to some interesting people. Open markets are amazing spaces, usually full of life and interesting vendors. Also, buying local (made) means you are less likely to buy stuff made in a sweat shop in some dark alley.Do remember to negotiate prices where possible though! I often try to find cool home decor that are well made , FOOD, jewelry and local fashion designers and artists. It is essential you buy stuff you really like and that is well made with real craftsmanship, it may cost a bit more but you don’t want to accumulate badly made junk.   You may have to buy less but few quality pieces are much better than loads of junk…I would think.

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Eating local – Bath, England

Taormina – Sicily’s Gem

Whilst I was in Italy, Reggio Calabria, I took a ferry over to Sicily, of course. You can see Sicily from the shores of Reggio Calabria, it beckons you and you have little or no choice but to ferry yourself over.

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Outside Taormina Giardini Station

Sicily is a large island and I only got to truly visit Taormina. I asked my friends back in mainland Italy – “Where would you suggest someone who is short on time go in Sicily?” – and every single person said Taormina.

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The journey from Reggio Calabria to Taormina is fairly straightforward and very scenic. I took the train from Messina to Taormina Giardini Train station. The train journey was mostly by  the beautiful Mediterranean, which had islands, great and small, jutting from its depths. It was breathtaking. The train ride in and of itself was a great experience. I hear the bus from Messina to Taormina offers even more of a scenic route!

Once at Taormina Giardini Train station, which is the most majestic train station I have ever alighted at as its background is the sea, the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab or a bus.

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Taormina Giardini Station

When I say the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab, I do mean it when I say “up”. You are literally spiraling up to the hill top town, farther and farther above the sea. There are unconvincing safety nets separating the cars climbing up to the little town from the seas below. This is both frightening and beautiful, beautiful because this results in clear, unobstructed panoramic views of the sea and even the famous ice-capped Mount Etna.

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Up and up into Taormina

Taormina may be small but its packed full of treasures. It felt like nothing I have experienced, it was so perfect that it felt I was in some fantasy film or book. It really is the stuff of dreams and hopes. You do feel that you are hundreds of feet high up as you can see the world far down below. Up in Taormina, you get a clear view of the intimidatingly massive active volcano, Mount Etna.

I found Taormina to be quite contradictory in the sense that it is a very stylish obviously tourist town full of all kinds of luxury and independent chic shops but also built atop centuries of architectural masterpieces and intimidating natural wonders. It’s alot of everything in high concentration.It didn’t take me long to see why it was so vehemently suggested as a must-see by my Italian friends. It is small enough to do in a day but full of excitement that you will leave feeling both fulfilled and curious as to what details you might have skimmed over or what beauty you might have overlooked. That is how packed full it is. And I definitely have to return as there where key things I didn’t experience such as the ancient Greek theater, called the “most dramatically situated Greek theater in the world” and the beach by the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful Island).

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Piazza IX Aprile and the singing men

My two definite favorite experiences were the Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto and the Garden of Villa Communale. Both have absolutely stunning views (no surprise). The Piazza is at the end of Corso Umberto and is a pleasant surprise as you come from the narrow street full of shops and restaurants unto this wide square with its checkered shiny floor, an old small chapel on your right and the sea to your left, hundreds of feet below. You can contentedly sit in the Piazza for hours, armed with gelato, without a care! When I went, there were a couple of men singing in the Piazza and these two adorable little girls where dancing round the square happily, the breeze from the sea in their hair. Perfection.

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Walking into Piazza IX Aprile

Taormina is quite expensive, so do be prepared to splash out a bit on restaurants and hotels. However, there are a few hostels which are really cheap accommodation if you are on a budget. Though you can do much in a day, I would suggest around 3 days for a thorough in-depth but relaxed experience.

Taormina for me was the most surreal place I have ever tread my feet. The combination of the town’s altitude; the consequent views, the people and  the food makes it a gem.

 

Few things to expect when travelling as a Black Woman

Now these points are going to touch on travelling to places where Black people are extremely in the minority based on my experience.

  1. You will be stared at and possibly pointed at; it’s completely unavoidable. You will get lots of stares from lots of people. This could be off-putting especially if you weren’t expecting it. However, after a while you do get used to it and choose to focus more on enjoying yourself . The amount of attention you get also greatly depends on which part of the country you are in and if they are used to getting tourists. As a note, I have found most stares to be harmless in the sense that it’s pure curiosity and perhaps shock, and though it might seem antagonistic I haven’t found it to be so. I say this because when I do have to communicate with the locals, which in my case is often, they are usually friendly. Of course, I try to be sensible when picking who to talk to. I have heard of people touching people’s faces in awe of all the melanin, but that has never happened to me before (thank God!)
  2. Sadly, again depending on the country and region of country, you may get creepy men paying you attention – more than usual at least. This is the worst part for me as I suspect this is often based on prejudices and sick stereotypes they might have about Black women. This could also be scary if you are on your own. Solo female travelers in general need to be careful. The best tip I can give is to just ignore, as you normally would at home, and keep it moving. Also, its always great to have someone you can contact in the country if in trouble. I also try to make sure I know the numbers to dial for emergency services in the country I’m in.
  3. You will not find your foundation/powder shade so make sure you don’t run out! It’s hard enough finding a shade that matches you exactly in diverse places like London so don’t dream of finding a variety of dark shades in places where there aren’t many black people. The reason is obvious, the market is little, the demand is not significant enough for wide ranges to be stocked.
  4. People might think you are a celebrity, even though you look nothing like said celebrity (sadly lol). You might get called Naomi Campbell or Beyoncé, do enjoy the moment of fame.

All in all, travelling for me has been great and I haven’t experienced any racism or damaging reactions from people. People have been super kind and hospitable.  I do think this is the case for most Black female travelers. People will be curious but its usually harmless.

The color of your skin should not affect places you can travel to, yes you have to be wise and having a local or a group of friends is always helpful. Having said that, if locals advise you to steer clear of some areas, it’s often smart to do so. I know for the super adventurous that could be annoying though, but its important to consider local advise.

p.s. – Some might consider this bad advise or contradictory to last paragraph above but I think its worth saying.  Never let people’s opinions of a particular culture and place completely put you off going to a place. Sometimes its scaremongering, sometimes its legit, its up to you to research and know for yourself if the trip is worth it and how you can make it as safe as possible. The News makes some countries sound like a cesspit of violence but sometimes it’s just regions of said places. Do your research and make your decision.

After all “you’ll never know until you go”

 

Italy – Calabria

There have been two places on the top of my must-visit list for some years now and Italy was one of them. I think Italy is a must-see for many people. It’s a well publicized destination and has the element of romance and pizzas working for it. I saw no Gondolas or Colosseum but what I did see was equally beautiful!

I was in Italy for three months in a small seas-side town called Locri in the region of Calabria. Italy did not disappoint, if anything it further captured me and drew me in deeper, I want to see more of Italy than I have.

 The people here, in the south of Italy,  have a strong sense of identity and often see themselves as very different from their northern counterparts. Most people did not speak any English as expected,so I had to pick up Italian pretty quickly and was able to have light conversations in Italian by the time I left.

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Promenade, Locri

Now Locri is surrounded with lush rolling hills (perfect for hiking) with the sparkling Mediterranean at its doorstep (perfect for swimming). Surrounding villages are houses built on and into rocks across the hills and getting through involves rides through winding, tiny streets leading higher and higher above the Med. I lived about 5 minutes from the beach, which was mostly deserted as it was a bit chilly when I went. The chill didn’t stop me from throwing myself into the sea several times though. This part of Italy truly takes your breath away, exquisite raw beauty is the norm here. To top it off, there is gorgeous food everywhere, from mouth-watering pastries and pretty little treats to legendary pizzas and delicious appetizers. I believe the single thing I ate the most during my three months in the South of Italy were these mind-blowingly delicious ice-cream sandwiches –  gelato spooned into brioche rolls. I couldn’t stop devouring them in large quantities.

I really liked the feel and “vibe” in Locri, the people were very friendly despite my horrible Italian and the fact I was probably the only non-white person for miles and miles. Surprisingly, in Reggio Calabria or simply Reggio, the major city in Calabria, the people though friendly on communicating with them, stared A LOT. When walking down the busy high street during passegiatta (Italian informal custom of strolling up and down main streets and socializing, usually Sunday evenings), I literally stopped traffic. It was a strange experience for me as this was the first time I was in a place where people weren’t used to seeing Black tourists. Sadly, a lot of the Black people in Reggio where refugees or people seeking asylum;  they were poor and did menial odd jobs, I was obviously a tourist and as such a rarity.

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Locri – my morning jog route

There are quite a few ruins and archaeological sites to visit in the area, many dating years before Christ. My favorite little town in the area was Gerace, which is absolutely stunning, and is, unsurprisingly, perched on a hill. The windy streets, the little cafes, the old castles and the panoramic views of the sea made it feel heavenly.

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Castle ruins, Gerace

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View from the top, Gerace

Calabria was good to me. There were moments when I felt it was all too good to be true. But it was true, I had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of this place for three months and it was a lot of beauty to behold.

 

 

 

Why I love travel..

It’s the movement.

The progress, the soaking up of everything that’s so new and different.

An invasion of the senses – the smells, sounds, tastes, the feel, the colors…

Travel takes you back to your early years – you’re a sponge and you just soak it all up cos it’s all new, like all things are new when you are child just starting life.Everything is a surprise.

It’s a regression and a progression all at once.

The perfect composite

Burundi – Bujumbura and Matana

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Sunset – if you look to the horizon you can just see the silhouette of hills in the DR Congo

 

Burundi is a piece of heaven. So strikingly beautiful and raw and perfect. You never hear of Burundi as a tourist destination nor do you see it in National Geographic, but it’s beauty is on par with many more famous beautiful destinations. My whole time there (3 months) was very authentic and non-touristy in many ways. I went there to volunteer with a local church in the hills of Burundi in a village called Matana.

We flew into Bujumbura, the capital city. It is very mellow, in my opinion, for a capital city. Of course it was more hectic than the villages, but in comparison to say…Lagos, another African capital city..it was really mellow. But then again most cities are incomparable to Lagos, even the staunchest Londoner/New Yorker would find Lagos overwhelming at the very least. I would recommend visiting the tourist market which have loads of handcrafted things you can buy for people back home. Cafe Gourmand was also a nice treat, its a patisserie where you get all the usual sweet stuff and ice cream, unsurprisingly loads of westerners congregate there.

Now, Matana, was where I spent most of my time in Burundi. It is a village in the hills, Burundi is mostly hills covered in lush green and tea farms (tea is really good here). I love rural living, I live quite rural in the UK and just love the peace and slower pace of life. Matana is very beautiful and most people live off the land and rare cattle. People are proud of their cows and I saw one of the biggest cows I have ever seen in my life whilst up there, granted it was also pregnant. When it rains up here it pours, its loud and very heavy, nothing like you would ever see in England. It’s a deluge. Then the after-rain smell is just gorgeous due to all the green and red earth..urgh..perfection!

Of course, I  visited Lake Tanganyika a couple of times. It’s the biggest freshwater lake in Africa and second biggest in the world by volume. In some parts, the beach is white and the lake very clean and you feel you are in the Caribbean and not beside a humongous lake. At some point we were driving to Blue Bay resort and on one side of the road were huge hills dotted with palm trees and on the other side was the beautiful lake, needless to say I was awestruck the entire time.

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Lake Tanganyika

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Blue Bay

For the first time in my life, I finally got to see a water fall  after climbing through the hills in Rutana. The Karera Falls were amazing and I truly felt blessed to have the opportunity to be in this beautiful country filled with such natural beauty.

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Karera Falls, Rutana, Burundi

To add more to the wonders of Burundi, one of the sources of the Nile can be found here, it’s only a trickle now but nevertheless a must-see. Of all the places I have traveled to, I felt my most content and complete in Burundi; the rolling hills, the Lake, the people, the red earth. The beauty that surprised me at every turn and the the generally slow pace of life really does give this little gem heavenly traits!