Sunday, 25 June 2017

Moving out

The time has come and this blog has moved to another address. Please find me at: Looking forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

My personal top 7 in West Crete OR "Good road, asphalt"

First, let me explain the title of this story. On our first day in Viglia we asked our hostess Irini about different places to go. The two I wanted to see for sure were Balos and Elafonisi. Irini said that although Balos is actually very close to the hotel itself, the road there is not too good – it is unpaved, so the driving will be quite slow. After hearing this, we decided to leave Balos for later, when we have gotten used to local driving realities. 

“And what about Elafonisi?” – I asked Irini.

“Oh, it’s a good road, asphalt” – she replied.

And so we decided to go to Elafonisi on our first day in Crete. Now, please keep in mind that my driving license was only half a year old during that time. I bravely started driving, got green the face after reaching the first mountain, then almost fainted when some goats jumped out on the road, and at last got out of the car sweaty and trembling after some 30 minutes (which felt like 30 hours to me) and let Zsolt drive the rest of the way. Since then “good road, asphalt” is a saying in our family, describing the road, which is really far from being easy.

So, enough of the introductions. Let’s see where we actually went.

1. Falassarna

Falassarna is a beach on the Western side of Crete, and is famous for “amazing sunsets”. It was also a short drive from us, so we went there on the evening of our arrival to be amazed by the sunset. It was nice, but we were not amazed.

In fact it was there we realised that Lithuanian sea coast actually does have pretty good sunset. It doesn’t excel in many things, like sea temperature, water transparency, aquatic life or others. But it does have great sunsets: Lithuania is facing directly West and is placed high up North enough to have nice slow sun-setting speed, which allow you enough time to sit in the cozy dunes, open a bottle of wine and actually finish it with a serving of smoked fish.

Here we had in fact have just enough time to jump out of the car, unbuckle Mark from his seat, appreciate the view, realise that the batteries of both our phones are dead and no pictures of this historical moment will be taken. And that was it. Good we didn’t bring our fish dinner with us.

2. Elafonisi

elafonisi beach
Crystal clear water

As you know, reaching it was not easy, but after I took the passenger seat, I really enjoyed. We were staying in Crete in April, so it did have advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantage – really cold sea. Advantage – not too many tourists. 

Pink sand of Elafonisi

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Western Crete, Time-machine trip back to April 2016

The summer is the only decent season in Lithuania, so we don’t plan any big travels for June, July and August. This is the time when the garden grows, the sandbox and the swing can be used and friends come from abroad to stay with us. Summer is a great time, but if you have self-proclaimed yourself a travel blogger, what can you then blog about? Do I take a break? Do I blog about the sandbox? This would be too macro even for me.

I have two strategies: 1. Hop on a time machine – I’ll tell about the travels of the past, for now undocumented and almost forgotten. Before they get forgotten completely, let’s try to remember them and describe them. 2. Many small travels and discoveries are still happening – new running routes, new picnic locations, new favourite coffee places in Vilnius. Also, we are planning a couple of small road trips around Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia. It won’t be boring, and I can keep my fingers trained and the keyboard in use.

So the journey today goes back to April 2016, Crete, a little hotel by the sea in the middle of nowhere called Viglia Beach Apartments.

I found the hotel on, and then double-checked it for reviews from young Brits and Scandinavian, to make sure this is not a party-disco-drink-all-you-can destination, as many other locations in Crete. Not that it was likely to be such anyway in the middle of April, but for our first trip with our first baby we didn’t want to take second chances. 

I found a car online as well. We decided to go for a slightly risky, but much cheaper option of renting a car from a local company, rather than established international one. The price difference for an automatic car was almost double for a week, and luckily we didn’t have any trouble in the end of it.

The car rental company representative met us in the airport with my name on a sheet of paper and took Zsolt to get the car just outside the terminal building, while me and Mark stayed outside the airport and absorbed the sun and the sight of palm trees after all the never-ending winter we had for the past half a year.

We passed the town of Kissamos, took the road further along the coast, and after one more turn, when the landscape around us became quiet deserted, we saw our little hotel – just by the sea, on a little slope of the hill, white terrace and the owner Irini standing up to meet us and give us a hug, as if we just came home after a long trip away. And we actually felt just like that - homely.

This was my first experience, when the hotel actually looked and felt even better in real life than in photos. Every day we were greeted by a cheerful Kalimera, orange juice and strong Greek coffee, followed by a bread-based Cretan breakfast with a view to the sea. And we consulted with Irini on what is the best to see, where would be a good place to go, and then every evening she was there waiting for us and asking about our day trips.

We had no fixed plan, just some ideas about what we want to see, and we were also planning to give ourselves a chance to be lazy and stay by the pool the whole day. Staying by the pool and swimming in a rather cold even for my Baltic taste April sea we did sometimes in the morning or in the evening. And when we planned to spend a whole day being lazy, the maximum we could do was 3 hours. After that we were ready to jump in the car and go exploring again. 

During this week we went to the following places: Falassarna, Balos, Elafonissi, Milia traditional village, small villages of Platanos and others on our way, some very well-hidden Aspri Limni beach and lagoon near Chrisoskalitissas Monastery, Topolia Gorge, wine + olive oil production factory for a tasting and Lake Kournas. I will write a more detailed post about those places in a couple of days, and for now will stick to a general impression of the trip as a whole.

As Mark was very little, he slept quite a lot during the day in the car, and we could do the driving in his nap times. The carrier helped a lot and we ended up using it more than a stroller. And the biggest help was that Mark at that time was breastfed exclusively, so I didn’t need to bring any bottles, sterilisers and heaters on the trip. This saved the time and hassle, and I could chose some scenic places for his feeds, where I would also enjoy this time.

During this week, we actually eaten more oranges that throughout the rest of the year, as well as more bread, yogurt and olive oil. And we packed our suitcase with some 5-6 litres of the dark and heavy olive oil in very homely plastic bottles wrapped in tape for the way back as well. That lasted until winter and when we ran out of it, the store-bought didn’t taste the same.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Flying with babies

Our first trip with Mark happened when he just turned 3 months. We had enough of the miserable dark winter and my pregnancy and all the tiredness of first nights with disrupted sleep with a small baby. Zsolt and I definitely needed this vitamin sea.

My philosophy is that baby is happy when his mom is happy (of course, using the voice of reason) and in our case, as Mark was breastfed exclusively until 6 months, a healthy growing baby is when his mom is healthy. So following this logic the sun, sea, good food and beauty would not have hurt the baby either.

My family tried to talk us out of the idea of going on holiday, saying that Mark will not enjoy it, he might get sick and the key argument: “His ears will hurt so much when on the plane.”

The first thing – enjoyment. Hmmm, it’s hard to say when the baby is only three months old whether he enjoyed the trip. He did enjoy some things: being fed, being carried and taking a shower. He did not enjoy some others: sitting in the carrier too long, not being allowed to lick the floor or pull out my hair. When he learns to speak, I’ll definitely ask him, how he liked the holiday in general.

The second – getting sick. That I was fully prepared for. I mean, of course I don’t want my son to be ill, but babies do catch colds, get bad stomach or other sicknesses all the time, so there was a big chance he would get sick anyway, with or without us going to some warm place beforehand. So I judged that better we have a holiday. When we came back home, it was so cold and rainy that if he wouldn’t get sick we should have baptised him baby Arnold. But he did catch a cold, sneezed for a whole week and proved that he is a normal human baby. 

The third and the most important – do baby’s ears hurt on the plane? So far Mark was on the plane 10 times exactly and I never noted a slight discomfort, which might have been coming from the pain in the ears. Some other discomfort yes, but generally no bigger than if the plane would be just standing on the ground.

Ok, but seriously, what might be useful to keep in mind when travelling with babies?

Now, I have to note that I’m speaking just from my experience, and as it is usual with the babies – they are so different – and so might be your experience from mine. If you need a more detailed list of what you actually need to prepare for a relaxed flight, here is a rather comprehensive one. Here I am just sharing some things which worked for me in a way I would like to have read them before travelling with a baby myself. Because somehow anything concerning the baby and travel gets so stressful – but it doesn’t need to be.

The younger they are, the easier it is to travel

Simple maths: a three-month old baby sleeps much more than a six month old, who in turn sleeps more than a one year old. Young babies are easier to please in a small space of a plane seat (especially if it is a Ryanair seat).

Our three month old was happy with a breast or a bottle, a parent making funny faces for some odd one to one and a half hour, then a nappy change, a dummy, little carrying around, and the baby drifts to sleep. If you are lucky and/or your flight is short, he will sleep for the rest of the trip and you can now start reading your Lonely Planet guide (in a rather uncomfortable position, but hey!). If not, just repeat the routine one, two, three times.

Our nine month old needed some action: crawling on his parents, being carried around the plane to look at other passenger, eating proper food (thank the inventor of the food pouches). Otherwise the routine is similar, though longer and more demanding, leaving you less room for your Lonely Planet guide. 

With the one year old or older, prepare to spend the most of your flight walking up and down the aisle after the toddler, apologizing to the passengers, whom he managed to “engage” on his way. You will have no time for your Lonely Planet guide, so either read it at home or prepare to explore the destination yourself. But! If you have your phone in your pocket or your Fitbit on, you’ll see that by the time of arrival you actually had a decent workout – all that without even landing yet! So now smile back at the passengers, who look at you with some compassion and go eat that local pastry!

They don’t know that you actually can eat three pieces of cake a day AND come back home even fitter and leaner than before the holiday. Thank your toddler for that.

Don’t try to be a perfect mom/dad

I would even go further and say “generally don’t”, but let’s stick to the travelling. The harder or longer or more demanding the trip is, the fewer parenting principles from home I usually stick to. Some things which are normally not allowed now can make your life much easier while travelling.  I am speaking about cartoons or other “forbidden” playing with the phone, eating cookies, getting the clothes dirty.

And remember what I said before? Happy mother = happy baby. Or is it vice-versa?

When I was flying for the first time alone with Mark (1 year 2 months at that time) from London to Vilnius, the boarding was 2 hours delayed. Then the matters got even worse and we were stuck for one more hour in a little transit area between the gate and the exit to the plane. It was hot and crowded, Mark was tired and got very impatient sitting in the carrier. Throughout that trip we were saved by baby cookies (I had an emergency bag of them and it was an emergency indeed), Teletubbies in the airport corner and the fact that I allowed him to crawl on the floor getting completely and utterly dirty.

I believe though that I felt much less stressed than the mom of a child of similar age next to us, even though she had her husband and mother together), who was constantly shouting to her son to “watch his trousers.” The morale here is the following: when the times are tough, just let go of some perfectionism for a little while, just to keep you sane and relaxed to be able to actually enjoy the time on the arrival.

Cold jarred baby food is allowed

Before travelling with an over six months old baby I was also a “cook your baby fresh home-made food” adept. But when you are travelling, chances are that you leave the hotel in the morning and not come back til the evening. And chances are that there are not so many restaurants on your way, serving six month to one year old baby friendly food. 

Of course, this period (of suffering) in your life is not so long, and soon you will find yourself able to feed your baby from the grown up table. But there is still a time in your child’s life, when he/she will eat quite a lot, but it still needs to be mashed, baby friendly and all that. And if you happen to travel in this period of time to a warm country, you will not be able to cook and bring the fresh home-made food for your baby with you. So in almost all countries you can just get jars with baby food, which do not even need to be refrigerated.

When Mark was ten months old we went to Northern Italy and ended up hiking for a week around the lake Iseo. Mark didn’t have any teeth then, and even if he had and could chew restaurant food, there were no restaurants in the woods on Via Valeriana. And even if there were any, as any Italian restaurants, they would be closed/not serving lunch by the time we would come there (we have this kind of bad luck with Italian restaurants). So we had our jars with us, and no possibility to even heat them up, but we found out our son enjoyed them cold even more.

Carrier is a multitasker

If your child sits in the carrier, don’t forget to take it with you on your trip. If your child doesn’t sit in it, do try different carriers before you give up completely.

The carrier has multiple functions for me during the travels:

1. It allows you to go to places, where you could never get with the stroller. We went through the woods and up and down the hills surrounding Lake Iseo in Italy

And in Crete you can’t really reach Balos so easily from the land

2. You can put your child to sleep on the plane easier (and your hands are free to browse your phone) while you are walking up and down the aisle. I think if I didn’t have this option, I’d be very frustrated each time it takes Mark long time to fall asleep. But this way I just read all my emails and Facebook updates or read an e-book in offline mode.

This is it for now. Of course, this will be followed by “Travelling with toddler”, “Travelling with two children” etc. And each time revisiting this section I will probably think: Oh, such naïve thoughts! But if at least any of them was slightly useful to anyone of you and made you breath out, relax and decide to go on another trip, then it was good I wrote it. 

As a kind of post-scriptum: this was our breakfast view during our first trip to Crete with 3 month old son. And every morning while having our Cretan breakfast, coffee and orange juice, I was watching our baby watch the sea and thinking, whether seeing such breath-taking beauty from such early age actually leaves any mark on you. I will never know for sure, but if it does, then it’s worth all the stress of travelling with a baby.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Macro-exploring Malia, Crete

So, if you have read the previous post and didn’t get scared (or just skipped it), let’s now focus on my favourite part of this place.

I read Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals” just a couple of years ago and longed for everything in it (except for the scorpions): the big family and the love for each other, the starry sky and warm nights, solo boat trips along the coast of Corfu and the smell of herbs in the hot sun. And although Malia in 2017 is probably rather far from rural Corfu in 1930s, I feel that I found so many elements here.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Usual Malia, Crete

The thing about Malia is that it’s totally two-faced, so I decided to write two entries about it. Let’s begin with the conventional one. 

The spring was really delayed in Lithuania this year. We had a white Christmas, white New Year, white Easter in the end of April, and I had enough. After waking up one more day and seeing it was frosty during the night in the end of April, I checked our low-cost travel website, found an charter suitable for Mark (not too hot, EU = good health insurance, preferably sandy beach) and suitable for my budget (340 euro all in, with breakfast and dinners) and off we go to Malia, Crete.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories

The journey today is very short one - it takes around 6 km from my house to get to the Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories coffee place in Vilnius. But all the other "ingredients" of this perfect day travel much longer.

First of all, there is my friend, who travels all the way from Jerusalem to spend this (and a couple of others) day with us in Vilnius. And second is of course the coffee, five different types of beans travelling from all the parts of the world as far away from Lithuania as possible.