Two glorious weeks in Greece

It’s hard to pick a highlight from our two week trip to Greece. But the day we had the most fun was undoubtedly when our last full day in Santorini, where, after a week of strong winds, the wind finally died down and the clouds dissipated such that we were able to get out onto the water for a leisurely kayak exploration of the black and white beaches of Santorini.

Our guide for the the kayak trip, Kalliopi, runs the tour on her own as a small family operation, similar to Laura at Sydney by Kayak when she started. Like Laura, she places a lot of emphasis on the lux customer experience. We were served freshly made cups of espresso when we arrived, and kitted with cute backpacks loaded with a gourmet picnic set, including cute bottles of olive oil and oregano so we could season to taste our chilled cucumber, tomato and feta cheese salad. Post paddle, as we waited for our rides back to our accommodations, we relaxed with a glass of her family’s delicious Rose.

But more than the service, the kayaking was incredible. I’d asked, on the off chance that we had the option to when I booked, if we could use single kayaks instead of the standard doubles. Kalliopi acquiesced easily after ascertaining that we were regular paddlers, but it was only we arrived that she confessed that this was the first time she’d given guests the use of her single kayaks. Indeed, she only had two single kayaks, reserved for herself and an assistant guide, but I guess we’d also lucked out because there happened to be two young kids on the trip, so she made the executive decision to let Jeff and I paddle her singles while she and Nicolas, an assistant guide, each took a child. In a single, Jeff and I enjoyed the flexibility of exploring the little nooks and crannies while snapping lots of pictures of the other haha.

The scenery was gorgeous. As at Milos, where we spent another beautiful (if occasionally rainy) day paddling, the soaring cliffs we paddled past was ever changing, with striations of lava rock, pumice, sandstone, red rock lined with iron, and rock tinged green with copper. There were dozens of little sea caves that we paddled by and sometimes popped into as well, including a super fun L-shaped tunnel that we squeezed through. The water was a startling aquamarine and clear, where the bottom didn’t drop off, we could see the huge boulders and schools of tiny fish darting around.

When we stopped for lunch, Jeff and I pulled on our snorkels and plunged into the brisk waters for an invigorating swim. It was glorious how calm and clear the waters were, and I daydreamed about staying by the Agean seas for an extended period of time, so I could enjoy daily swims like these.

The Agean waters are famed for its clarity, thanks to the coarser sand which doesn’t cloud the water as much

But otherwise, the rest of our time in Greece was just as eventful.

Although the forecasted gale-force winds led us to cut our planned 3 days kayaking in Milos short, we were still able to enjoy a fun day on the water with Sea Kayak Milos. It was a little too cold for a cheeky little swim, but it was great exploring the sea caves in our cosy group of consisting of one other guest A (who lives in Switzerland and kayaks on her own in an Oru too) and our guide Dario, an Italian who has spent the past three summers guiding Milos.

Dinner at Nostos Restaurant in Milos – it was so good, we went two nights in a row

Since we’d shortened our stay on Milos, we rebooked to go to Santorini earlier by ferry, and this turned out to be an excellent decision firstly because we added a stay at Pyrgos, a quiet hilltop town set away from the more crowded (yes, even in October, which is supposedly the shoulder season) coastal towns from Fira to Oia. Secondly, it also gave us time to visit the ancient cities of Akrotiri and Thera. As a fun bonus, instead of a car, we rented an ATV to get around, and it was a blast revving up the many switchbacks that led up to Thera.

Exploring the much quieter streets of Pyrgos
The famed white buildings of Oia
We also drove our ATV to Oia to see the sunset. Not pictured – the crazy crowds. I can’t imagine what it’d be like in the summer! We left before the sun fully set, in part because the crowds was getting to me, and in part because I didn’t want to ride the ATV back to Pyrgos in the dark

On Santorini, we also did the stunning Fira to Oia walk, which we likened to the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney on steroids.

We also spent a day cruising and walking up to summit of the volcano, and lunched on the nearby island of Thirassia, where we had a cold but beautiful little swim by the beach.

Sunrise over our gorgeous hotel, Agali House, in Santorini, where we spent every sunrise and sunset on our spacious balcony, looking out upon the caldera and the volcano – lots of steps to navigate, but great morning workout!

And I’m glad we tacked on a few days at the start of our trip, driving inland to Delphi and Meteora. In Delphi, we visited the seat of the temple of Apollo, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, which we spent a morning hiking down to, past an ancient aqueduct and sprawling olive groves.

One of our most delicious and beautiful dinners – To Patriko Mas in Delphi, overlooking the valley abutting the Gulf of Corinth. Best moussaka of the trip!

In Meteora, it was as if we’d stepped into the set of Game of Thrones, where incredible monasteries perched on top of soaring boulders – but of course it’s art getting inspiration from real life. These Eastern Orthodox monasteries date back to the 14th century, and of the 24 that were originally built, only 6 remain today, overseen by an ever diminishing group of aging monks and nuns – only 50 left. It’s also a climbing mecca, and we gawped with envy at the tiny speck of climbers inching their way up the steep rock faces.

Of course, we kept a couple days to explore Athens, or more accurately, the area surrounding the Parthenon. Everyone else had told us not to spend too much time in the city as it is a dump, but honestly we had fun wandering around – visiting the Acropolis Museum which houses the statues and friezes from the Acropolis, to climbing the hill to visit the famous site just after sunrise, to the various ruins that lie in the shadow of the Acropolis. We had fantastic and cheap meals in Athens too, and pre-dinner drinks in cute little bars.

It was a great two weeks. We reckon, just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. And now that we’ve a taste of kayaking in the stunning Agean waters, we’re already plotting a return, eyeing this time the Northern Sporades island of Skopelos!

Cycling the eastern half of Singapore

We’re not massive fitness people, truth be told. We exercise more to explore, than to work out. Which is why I give massive kudos to folks who can, week after week, put in miles on their kayaks and bicycles. We lose motivation after a while if we don’t get a change in scenery. 😂

This past Sunday though, we decided to try a new cycle route: from Pasir Ris to Marina Barrage, through the Ponggol-Hougang-Kallang park connector.

We set off at 5am, in the hopes of making it to town to see the sunrise. It was lovely pedaling in the dark, through quiet streets. It was cool out too – as cool as it can get in Singapore anyway – and drizzly half the section. We rode past neighborhoods we’d never visited before, and bumped into my coworker who was also out getting his cycling fix in. We hit the northern end of the Singapore river – more canal, really – and followed its curves until the lit Singapore Flyer came into view.

The sky was getting light by then. But with the low clouds, we weren’t going to get any color. No matter. It was still a lovely ride past the Indoor Stadium and across the Marina Barrage to where the glass structures of the cloud forest and flower domes were. We rode past dozens of collegian dragon boaters warming up by the riverside before they hit the water, past joggers and other cyclists who were also getting early morning starts.

When we hit the front of Marina Bay Sands, it was decision time. Back the same route, or up through East Coast Park and through the Bedok Reservoir, or should we just hug the coast and take the long way home?

Our legs felt strong, and we didn’t particularly fancy riding back along busy sidewalks that doubled up as bike paths, so we opted for the scenic route, stopping first by the MacDonalds along the park to escape the rain and sate our rumbling stomachs.

Fun route back. Brought back memories of a couple decades ago, when as teenagers with tons more energy, we’d take the same coastal ride from Pasir Ris, starting at midnight, then returning only at sunrise, stopping at different 24-hour coffee shops to refuel and shoot the breeze. Haha.

Strolling through Gardens by the Bay

Still stuck on this tiny island of Singapore, and striving to enjoy the little things. We took last Monday afternoon off, to take a spin through Gardens by the Bay and the Chihully glass exhibit in the gardens.

The sun
Herons

Beautiful evening for a stroll.

Three days in Venice and the Carnivale

When we decided to go to the Dolomites to ski, we also decided to spend a few days in Venice. After all, the last time either of us had visited was more than a decade ago! My enduring memory of my trip there almost two decades ago was the floods – half a foot of water blanketed San Marco’s, shutting down the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica. I remember waiters alternately bailing water out of the ground level restaurants and serving meals to patrons.

Happily, we enjoyed beautiful weather the 3 days we were there. Our first afternoon, we did the touristy thing and braved the crowds in San Marco’s to visit the Campinale for the breathtaking views of the city. We also spent a fun 2 hours wandering the halls of the Doge’s Palace.

The Carnivale parade along the boulevard and San Marco’s had just ended when we finally exited the Doge’s Palace, and, as the crowds dispersed, we got to join in the throngs of photographers to take pictures of the dozens dressed up in elaborate costumes and masks. It was quite surreal – but festive and entertaining! The Carnivale runs for 2 weeks, and we went smack in the middle, which meant there were masqueraders wandering all over town in their getups the entire weekend – when we tried to catch the sunrise one foggy morning along the water’s edge, they were milling around and posing for photographers too!

We briefly toyed with the idea of getting some capes and masks ourselves, especially since we were going to the opera, but we got sticker shock when we saw some of the prices of the warm capes we saw on sale!

We also spent an afternoon at the historic Teatro La Fenice, the famed Opera house that hosted the premieres of Rigoletto etc. Caught the Elisir d’amore, a 2.5 hour Donizetti comedy in a gallery box, which was fun!

Mostly, we tried to stay away from the main touristy areas, and instead explored the different neighborhoods – the Jewish ghetto one night, and the Castello district another morning, where, upon the advice of our host at the hotel, we stopped by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, an old church that is now part of the city’s hospital. It boasts a quiet little garden where many fat cats lounged in the winter sun.

Venice is a charming city to explore, for its many waterways and winding tight alleys. It’s impossible to know, when you turn a corner, if you’d wind up in an open piazza with many alfresco bars, or run smack into a waterway. At dusk though, the city becomes truly magical. The warm orange street lamps light up the blue waterways, and with the absence of motor vehicles of any kind, we felt like we could have really stepped back into another era.

We ate really well this trip. After the heavy meat dishes in the alps, we sought out – and found – lots of fresh seafood in Venice. At least we made sure to walk upwards of 25,000 steps a day to account for our feasts and scoops of gelato daily!

We also managed to spend a day in the outer islands of Venice, first visiting Burano for its colorful rows of houses, then Murano where we gawked at the beautiful glass works on sale.

A day in Verona, Italy

Coming down from the mountains, we spent a day in Verona, a quiet (relative to Venice) town just an hour and a half from the coast.

View of the Adige River

We arrived on Valentine’s Day, and we were initially dismayed at the realisation, because we hadn’t thought to make restaurant reservations in advance. But the upside, we found out, was that all attractions were going for the price of 2-for-1! Which meant discounted entries to Castelvecchio and the Arena that we visited.

The Verona Arena, where operatic performances are still held

Otherwise, we were happy to roam about the city, losing ourselves in the warren maze of medieval streets.

The campanile shines red for Valentines day

Exploring Copenhagen on foot, on bike, and by kayak

The requisite and immediately recognizable view of Copenhagen

We flew to and from Greenland via Copenhagen, and so took advantage of the journey by spending a few days there to explore the city, and let’s be honest, check another new country off our list. Haha.

Crazy high standards of living aside, we love this city, and how green and ecological the Danes are. They rely extensively on wind and solar energy, and burn their trash to generate heat. The city has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025.

It’s also compact, and easy enough for us to explore over our 4.5 days there. We kept our schedules light, and luxuriated in long sleeps in cosy beds after camping for a week. Still, we managed to cover most of the city, on foot, on a bike tour with Mike, a gregarious old man with his personal bike tour and who came highly recommended by our Greenland mate Ally. We also wandered around it from the water, with Kirstin, with whom we spent many happy and boisterous hours playing kayak netball with back in Sydney a couple of years ago when she guided for Laura’s Sydney by Kayak.

We biked past the super tiny Little Mermaid sculpture, one of the must-see sights on many tourists’ itinerary in Copenhagen. It’s not that remarkable, really, but the walk to the fortress along the waterfront is a lovely one
Mike giving us a history lesson. We had signed up for his group tours, but because of the forecasted rains, we ended up getting a private tour. Score! Lol, a little thunderstorm can’t stop us from having fun.
Kirstin took us on a happy two hour paddle down the super clean canals of Copenhagen, so clean, we could see all the way to the bottom, and the locals pretty much jump in wherever for a dip in the summer.

Physical activities aside, our focus was to hit up the the famed food scene of Copenhagen. We didn’t manage to get reservations to Noma – not that we tried really hard, seeing that the cost for the degustation menu started at $700 a person! But we did eat at Palægade, Iluka, 108 (the sister restaurant to Noma) and Høst, the latter being our favorite and highlight. The food at these restaurants all featured fresh vegetables, and seafood, quite a change from our usual meat heavy fare. Really delicious, though hard on the wallet.

I bumped into Bel, an excoworker from Sydney who had moved to Copenhagen with her Danish partner three years ago. It’s a small world!!!

Our last day in the city, we wondered around the Christianhavn neighborhood before making our way to the Copenhagen Royal Opera House, where we were absolutely delighted to see the chorus master leading the public in a masterclass singalong of the Opera Carmen. We went in to take a look, and were thrust the scores so we could follow along and join in if we wanted. Well I can’t read scores, but we spent the next hour and a half listening in. So much fun, and it was a most lovely way to end our trip (that, and a delicious lunch of pork snitchzel washed down with homemade snaps at Restaurant Barr!

Happy coincidence – joining a Carmen singalong led by the Copenhagen Royal Opera chorus master Steven Moore. It was so fun!

Week back in Sydney

We’d the opportunity to spend a week in Sydney. Work during the day, catch ups with friends over meals in the evening. And on the weekends, we did what we loved best in Sydney – exploring the outdoors.

Our original plan to kayak the first Sunday we were back was scuttled due to gusty winds of up to 45km/h. And our attempt to go again the following Saturday was stymied by the strong winds again, as was the SUP ball game our friend had planned for us in Manly.

Oh well. But Lisa had another idea up her sleeve happily for Saturday – hiking in Lane Cove National Park. It’s a beautiful little area of land, so serene and quiet amongst the trees, and so close to downtown! We spent an enjoyable 4 hours just meandering around, stopping for a warm cuppa tea (ginseng gin tea anyone!?).

The winds finally did die down Sunday morning though, before our 3pm flight. Garry, Jeff, and I managed to squeeze in a two hour paddle from Spit Bridge to Bantry Bay and back, one of my favorite training routes back when I was training for the Massive Murray Paddle. Good times.

Spied a seal rubbing itself against a moored boat

Long weekend in Hoian

Over Easter, we visited Hoian. This was my first trip to Vietnam, and I’d only heard good things about Hoian. Everyone gushed about how beautiful it was, and I couldn’t wait.

It was indeed charming. Hoian used to be a trading port in the 15th – 19th centuries, and the buildings in the UNESCO-designated Ancient Town reflects the infusion of Chinese, Japanese and European designs.

The temperatures were already in the mid-thirties when we arrived early morning from Danang, and the humidity only climbed till we had to hide back in air conditioned hotel room after lunch until late afternoon for the soft golden light.

Hoian is also the town with the largest concentration of tailors, offering bespoke creations anywhere from wedding gowns to cocktail attire down to hiking pants. You can custom make your own shoes, which we did quite spontaneously – a pair of sandals each
I love how the locals just roll up to the vendors in their scooters, and select their veggies without ever getting off the bikes

And if the narrow streets were crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, trishaws, and scooters during the day, they were positively packed at night. Everyone came out at dusk to enjoy the colorful lanterns strung overhead, and the atmosphere was festive.

Lanterns, lanterns everywhere
Tourists enjoying a leisurely ride along the Thu Bồn River, or else purchased paper boats lit with candles to float on the water
Full moon rises over Hoian
Enjoying a cold one at Mango Mango, overlooking the busy street scene below

We tacked on a sunrise visit to My Son, a cluster of Hindu temples built by the Champa dynasties from the 7th – 13th century, about an hour’s drive from Hoian. Pro tip – sunrise is the best time to visit, because of the (1) beautiful golden light; (2) cool temperatures; and (3) light crowds. We were the first to reach the temples, and enjoyed serene minutes just quietly taking in the brick architecture harking back to the 7th century.

At one time, the site contained over 70 temples, but a lot were destroyed by US carpet bombing during the Vietnam War.
Fisherman trying to catch an fish by hand
Respite from the heat at Reaching Out Tea House, a cafe run by people with hearing disabilities.
Hoi An Roastery, for their famous egg coffee. I was a bit skeptical until I took my first sip. The almost custardy coffee was utterly delicious.
We crossed the Dragon Bridge at Danang, having visited the Champa museum, to Seven Bridges Brewery, for a couple cold ones before our evening flight back home

Sunrise at Marina Barrage

We took our e-scooters down to Gardens by the Bay early morning for a bit of exploration. There was a half marathon, which unfortunately blocked the main paths we wanted to take. Still, we had a pleasant time weaving our way through the lush walkways, enjoying the cool morning breeze on our skin, and the serenity and beauty of the gardens.

There were others about – early morning joggers and cyclists. I felt just a tinge of guilt that we were whizzing by on scooters rather than exercising, but it was a lovely way to take in the sights.

Sunrise at Gardens by the Bay

Sunday – I had nothing on the schedule, so I thought, why not hit up Gardens by the Bay at sunrise, and bring my new Fujifilm X100F out for a spin?

I was surprised by the number of people up and about. Before the sun rose, there were already groups of cyclists and runners out. Even more as the sun struggled to get above the clouds. Then again, it’s a beautiful, serene spot for an early morning workout.

I’ll have to go back – perhaps with my electric scooter, to better explore the entire area. I’m looking forward already.

Ending the series with a night shot of the helix bridge – this one taken with my Canon 6D, and on a different day.