September 2018: Travel Summary and Statistics


Ferrara from above

What an incredible month! September was one of the best I’ve had for a long time.

Over the past four weeks, I visited Athens for the first time, chartered a yacht in Greece with a group of friends, dog-sat in beautiful Bologna, and day-tripped my way all over Emilia Romagna, which fast became one of my new favourite regions in Europe.

And yes, with both Greece and Italy on the itinerary for this month, there was a hell of a lot of great food thrown into the mix, too.

Kioni from the water
Kioni, on the Greek island of Ithaca, where we stopped for lunch mid-way through our sailing adventure

After a fairly uneventful start to the month in Bristol, I kicked life into high gear and leapt on a plane to Athens.

I aim to visit Greece every second year for a sailing adventure in the Ionian, and every time this comes to fruition, I take advantage of my location by exploring a new part of the country. In 2016, I fell in love with Corfu and for this trip, I decided to hit up Athens for the first time. I’m already thinking 2020 is going to see me exploring Crete before getting on the water!

Athens has long been one of my European oversights, and it was an even bigger oversight for Dave, who studied Classics at college. We were therefore bouncing with excitement to finally be in this ancient city, and I’m pleased to announce it totally blew us away.

Athens Acropolis
A view of the Acropolis through Hadrian’s Arch

We chose to base ourselves in the Exarcheia neighbourhood in Athens for our four days in the city.

Its graffiti-blanketed buildings aren’t typically popular with tourists — The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory a few years ago that urged visitors to avoid the neighbourhood — and to locals it’s most well-known for being the home of protests and anarchy. Still, it’s become safe in recent years and with that so the vinyl record stores, vintage shops, and cafes have sprung up, and hipsters have begun to populate the streets. To quote an article on HuffPo:

Exarcheia’s inhabitants don’t just talk about socialism, they live it. A “reappropriated” parking lot serves as a communal vegetable patch. There are pay-what-you-can canteens, time banks where neighbors exchange French lessons for hair cuts and a free health clinic for those who have fallen through the cracks of the country’s broken welfare system. Squats and cooperatives thrive among the youth-filled bars.

While it was a little rough around the edges, we loved basing ourselves here, even though it meant being a half an hour walk from the main tourist attractions in the city. We got to spend our mornings focusing on the ruins and museums of the city, our afternoons getting some work done, and our evenings relaxing in some fantastic bars and cafes. I loved eating in Creten restaurants where we were clearly the only tourists to have stumbled inside!

When we weren’t gorging ourselves on unfamiliar Greek food, we were falling in love with Athens. We visited the Acropolis.

The Acropolis in Athens at sunrise
My tip: if you want to see it like this, be outside queuing before it opens. This is what it was like 20 minutes later
We ate many excellent meals.

Kebab in Athens

And explored more ruins than I could count.

Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus was seriously impressive!

Our short break in Athens had us declaring our love for this city, but I have to confess I was more focused on what was coming up next.

We hopped on a bus to Lefkas, on the west coast of Greece, and met up with our friends to start grocery shopping for a week on the Mediteranean.

We were going to be chartering a 47ft yacht through Sunsail for the week, and joining me and Dave were his friend Dean — our skipper — and Shannon and Alexis, two digital nomad doctors who convinced us to move to Lisbon back in 2015. Unlike us, they’re still living there today. Having such an enormous boat for five people was a little ridiculous, but it turns out we’ve become more than a little bougie when it comes to life on the water.

We felt as though we’d perfected our Ionian route on our 2016 trip, so we stuck to a similar itinerary on this adventure, hitting up Spartochori, Kalamos, Vathy, and Frikes, then squeezing in a night under the stars for a perfect end to the trip. Our sailing holidays are always far more about holiday than sailing, so while we managed to get in a couple of hours with the sails out over the week, we mostly focused on relaxation. We moored at empty bays to spend our days alternating between swimming and reading, spent our evenings eating delicious meals in tavernas, and generally marvelled at how well rested we all felt.

It was easily my best yacht trip yet!

Everyone got along swimmingly (lol sorry), we were equally laid back about expectations and plans, and we all focused heavily on making sure the experience was about eating amazing meals.

I’ll be writing about the trip in more depth once I’m caught up on blog posts (um, so that’ll be 2024?), so for now, enjoy some photos of my favourite places in the Ionian.

One House Bay in Greece
The aptly-named One House Bay was the busiest place we visited during the week, but it made for an epic lunch stop
George's restaurant in Kalamos
George’s restaurant in Kalamos is one of my favourite places to eat in the Ionian. In the evenings, the tables are heaving with sailors and adorable kittens are scurrying between everyone’s feet
Vathy on Ithaca from the water
The view of Vathy as we came in to moor. We usually spend a couple of nights here, mostly so we can eat at Niko’s Restaurant for two evenings in a row

Onwards!

Earlier this year, travel blogging friends Steph and Mike had asked if we’d be interested in taking care of their adorable dog, Leo, and we jumped at the chance. We last looked after the Best Dog in the World for a month in Seattle back in 2015, and have been talking about him ever since. In fact, Leo turned us both so dog crazy that you shouldn’t be surprised if I announce that Dave and I have become puppy parents within the next 12 months[!!!]

Steph and Mike have since packed up their family and moved to Bologna, so I was excited not only to eat in what is said to be the best place to do so in Italy, but to hang out with Leonardo and see if he’d picked up any Italian tendencies.

Turns out he’s just as adorable as ever, and I was so happy to get back my napping partner in crime.

Girl sleeping with a dog on the sofa

Despite wanting to spend every second of every day soaking up the dog cuddles, this was also my first visit to Emilia Romagna, so I also wanted to soak up the tortellini en brodo. Fortunately, Dave had a lot of work to catch up on, so was happy to stay behind with Leo while I set off for a series of solo adventures.

Ferrara was my first choice, and it made for an easy day trip from Bologna.

I spent most of my time there thinking about how it was so liveable. I walked along its city walls, listened to podcasts in parks, injured my feet on the cobblestone streets, and explored the impressive Castello Estense.

Ferrara from above
The view from the Lion’s Tower in Ferrara

I also spent a day in Ravenna, which is home to some of the most incredible mosaics I’ve ever seen. I think I walked around with my jaw continuously affixed to my boobs as I gaped up at the glistening tiles above me.

Mosaic in Ravenna Italy

When I wasn’t train-hopping across Italy, I was walking through Bologna with Leo at my feet, developing an obsession with all things ragu and wondering if it was too soon to be planning a return trip.

Colourful street in Bologna

And that was my month! 

Travel plans for September 2018

Countries Visited: 3

Greece, Italy, and the U.K.

Places Visited: 14

Atakos, Athens, Bologna, Bristol, Ferrara, Frikes, Kalamos, Kioni, Lefkas, London, Ravenna, Spartochori, Little Vathy, Vathy.

Distance travelled: 2,879 miles

Number of flights: 3
Number of trains: 6
Number of buses: 2
Number of boats: 1

Girl sailing in the Ionian
At the helm as we cruised from Kalamos to Atakos on the second day of the trip

Highlights of the Month

I think a Travelodge may have cured me of my cholera: Talking to one of my doctor friends on the sailing trip in Greece has both me and him convinced I actually did contract cholera while I was in Borneo earlier this year. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with my health for the past six months. After falling unwell in Borneo, my body hasn’t been able to recover and I’ve been dealing with painful stomach cramps every day since April.

I went to a doctor but every test returned clear. I focused on my diet, eliminating everything but rice to try to find out what was causing my pain. I took probiotics and peppermint oil. I worked on reducing stress, took a break from work, began working out regularly, meditated, made sure to get plenty of sunshine, and surrounded myself with nature and other people.

Nothing helped. I eventually fell into a deep depression, stopped going outside, withdrew from life, and spent all day in bed watching Youtube videos. When you take into account that I also deal with chronic pain from an auto-immune disease, I was feeling pretty damn disheartened. I almost cancelled my trip to Greece and Italy because it was all so bad.

On the night before we flew to Athens, we booked into a Travelodge beside Stansted Airport, and I’m sure you can imagine how grim it was.

In their restaurant, I ordered a plate of French fries, which was one of the few things that didn’t aggravate my stomach. They had been cooked from frozen, tasted like cardboard, and somehow managed to be the cure for my stomach issues.

What?!

I stood up from the table and for the first time since April, wasn’t in pain.

It happened instantly. I grabbed Dave, I grabbed my stomach, and then, with an immense amount of gratitude, grabbed life by the balls and celebrated.

Guys!!!!!!! The Travelodge Stansted!!!! The cure for cholera!!!!!

It’s been two weeks since that fateful meal and I haven’t had a bout of pain since. I have no idea what happened, and I can’t quite believe the cramps vanished instantly, but man. Who would have thought that meal would turn out to be one of the best choices I’ve ever made?

Reuniting with Leo: Obviously that was going to be a highlight.

The best yacht trip ever: And obviously this was going to be, too!

Changing of the guards in Athens
Guards in Athens, looking fly

Lowlights of the Month

An exhausting travel day: To get to Bologna, we had to take a 30-minute taxi from our yacht in Lefkas to Preveza Airport, jump on a 30-minute flight to Corfu followed by a two-hour flight to Venice, a 30 minute-bus to the train station, a two-hour train journey to Bologna, and then a 30-minute walk to our friends’ apartment.

Talk about back to reality. 

The worst aspect was queueing for our flight in Corfu. Despite Ryanair making the announcement that they were now boarding the plane, we ended up standing with our backpacks on for a full hour before we finally stepped on board.

I struggled with work. Again: I consciously took time off from writing here this month, both to focus on my health and because I was still feeling clogged with clunky word choices. <– Case in point.

As always, I feel grateful to have built a business that brings in passive income, as I know many of my location independent friends don’t have the luxury to take time off when they’re sick. It’s something that does help reduce stress when I find myself in pain, as I don’t have to also fret about how to make ends meet, but the guilt I experience through not updating regularly tends to bring stress into my life eventually. Trust me — if I don’t publish at least once a week, I’m beating myself up over it.

I’ve planned to take an extended break from travel when I return to Bristol in October, so that I can continue to focus on my health while prioritising running this site like a professional.

Vetro outdoor cafe in Bologna
Vetro cafe is my favourite place to work in Bologna. How great is this space?

Incidents of the Month

I convinced myself I had blood poisoning: I was bitten by something while I was on the yacht and it left a sperm-shaped bite on my arm as a gift.

At first it was funny. Look! I’ve got a sperm on my arm!

And then it started to grow.

Every day, I would wake to see the bite stretching across my skin until it was two inches in diameter. Each morning, the tail had grown further up my arm.

And while I’m far from a hypochondriac these days, a quick search online gave me nothing but an urge to head straight to the nearest hospital. Every source told me a growing bite is a bad sign. That a tail stretching up my arm was a sign of an infection or blood poisoning.

I was on a yacht, sleeping beneath the stars, with a hospital many hours away.

I spent far too much time preoccupied with how large it was growing while ignoring the advice of my two doctor friends who told me it was nothing to worry about.

When it faded a week later, I felt like I’d reverted to being a loon once more.

I spent way too much money on a new iPhone: 2010 finally called and it turned out it wanted its phone back.

As a tiny human with tiny hands, I’ve been rocking an outdated iPhone for years. I didn’t want to deal with a bigass screen that was unlikely to fit comfortably in my hands and especially in my pockets.

But the longer I’ve kept my old phone in my grasp, the more irritated I’ve become. The camera is atrocious, providing me with photos that are so blurry that I can’t share them here. I hated that I needed to lug around my enormous camera everywhere I went if I intended on later writing about what I was doing. And, well, I felt like a grandma to have such an outdated phone.

So, I waited for Apple to release the iPhone XS, pre-ordered it from the Bologna store, and then listened in dismay as Dave read out an article detailing the most expensive countries from which to buy one.

Of course Italy was top of the list, coming in at almost $400 more expensive than if I’d bought it in the U.S.

I love my phone, but I could have done without spending €1300 on it.

I showed a homeless man my train ticket: On the train to Ferrara, I pulled off my headphones when I noticed a man speaking to me in Italian.

“Hang on,” I said, reaching for my overly-expensive phone.

I scrolled through my emails to my booking confirmation, downloaded the ticket, and then handed it to the guy.

He cringed and handed it back to me, still speaking in Italian.

“Scusa,” I said apologetically, shrugging my shoulders. I had no idea what he was saying.

“50 cents?” he asked.

Oh. 

Yeah. He definitely wasn’t a ticket inspector.

October 2018 travel map

My Next Steps

I’ve got another two weeks in Italy, so I’m going to be making the most of it and aiming to see as much as possible.

As well as hunting out the best restaurants in Bologna, I’m going to be heading to Modena to bathe in balsamic vinegar, and Parma to eat all the prosciutto and parmesan. I’ll be going way out of my way on a day trip to San Marino to check out my last remaining microstate in Europe and attempting to squeeze in a trip to Florence for the first time, too.

As a random aside, I adore that all of the new countries I visited this year are so obscure and tiny. In 2018, the only new places I went to were Tonga, Brunei, Liechtenstein, and San Marino! This was a year for visiting teeny-tiny countries, which is funny as I definitely didn’t plan for it!

Anyway.

Back in Bristol, I’m going to relish living an ordinary life for a while. I have so much work I need to get done, I’m going to make more of an effort to meet new people, and I have a ton of restaurants and cafes I want to check out. Most of all, I’m so happy to finally be living life without pain, so I’m aiming to make the most of every wonderful minute.

 

What are your plans for October?

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20 Comments

  1. October 1, 2018
    Reply

    Sounds like a fabulous pet sit in Bologna Lauren. Awesome. What a month. We did a couple of local house sits but are jam-packed in October, with most of the month spent house sitting in Connecticut and NYC. Gotta love it.

  2. October 2, 2018
    Reply

    So jealous of where you traveled to this month!

  3. October 3, 2018
    Reply

    That neighborhood in Athens sounds so cool! I love staying in neighborhoods like that off the beaten path from all the tourist attractions. Sounds like an amazing month!

  4. October 3, 2018
    Reply

    A month in Greece and Italy sounds absolutely AMAZING! I would love to spend more time in that part of Europe. Also, so cool that you got to dog-sit in Bologna! I’ve been following Steph’s adventures in Mexico on Instagram, so great to know that you get to enjoy Leo time in Italy.

  5. October 3, 2018
    Reply

    From the pictures alone, I really want to visit Greece.

    Brilliant and wonderful post.

    Nice and extraordinary.

    love it !!

    • October 5, 2018
      Reply

      You should! It’s such a wonderful country and in my top five places to eat in the world!

  6. I really have not explored Greece or Italy enough! I need to hop out of my comfort zone and on to a plane asap. Also the thing about the fries killed me. I suffer from IBS so I know all too well those tummy aches every day sometimes! I’m so glad you’re feeling better.

    • October 5, 2018
      Reply

      I’m fairly certain I had some kind of post-infectious IBS going on in my body and I’m still so baffled by its sudden disappearance! You have my sympathies, as it was awful to deal with and super depressing to have to contemplate it potentially never going away.

  7. October 4, 2018
    Reply

    I’m glad to have gotten a fresh perspective on Athens. A lot of people who I’ve talked to that have passed trough area seemed fixated on the city’s bustle and lack of cleanliness which sort of burned my FOMO regarding a visit. Hoping to pop into Greece in the next 8 months!

    Thanks!

    • October 5, 2018
      Reply

      Yeah. Honestly, I really didn’t notice that side of Athens. I’d say it was as clean as most cities I’ve been to in Europe, and I felt totally safe there. It was nicer than I was expecting :-)

  8. October 6, 2018
    Reply

    Haha those guards are looking fly! were they just standing in that position or were they in the middle of doing a guard related sequence of movements? Looks like a great month!

  9. October 7, 2018
    Reply

    I love that you have decided to visit Greece every two years! I love that country and I definitely have not seen enough of it yet! Emilia Romagna is also high on my list, I haven’t been in Italy since 2009. How bizarre for someone who’s from the Netherlands? You seem to have had a nice month!

  10. Georgia
    October 9, 2018
    Reply

    I’m headed to Bologna, Modena and Ferrara this weekend. Do you have any quick recommendations on the restaurants you’d suggest visiting?

    • October 11, 2018
      Reply

      Highly recommend Trattoria Aldina for Modena! Everywhere’s been amazing in Bologna, so you can’t go wrong here :-)

  11. Markus
    October 10, 2018
    Reply

    I am just loving the way you’re sharing your month wise travel experiences. Keep exploring. Cheers!

  12. October 11, 2018
    Reply

    I am planning to visit Greece at the end of this year…amazed to see your post. Loved it!

  13. October 13, 2018
    Reply

    Highly informative article. This site has lots of information and it is useful for us. Thanks for sharing your views. – shirdi flight package from bangalore

  14. Natacha
    October 13, 2018
    Reply

    Congratulations on being healthy again! I have been reading your blog for a while and was surprised to learn that you have an auto-immune disease that cause you chronic pain.
    I have been diagnosed one recently and even if I am ages aways from being a traveller like you, I love visiting the world and DO things and I was afraid this would not be possible anymore. Knowing that you can and enjoy it makes me more confident. Thank you and eat plenty!

  15. October 31, 2018
    Reply

    Lovely month, I would have loved to be in your shoes. For the past 3 years I have been living in Cyprus and Athen is not that far away. Would love to visit.

    • November 5, 2018
      Reply

      You should! I was really surprised by Athens — it’s much nicer than its reputation would have you believe :-)

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