Decoration – The Christmas Tree is the most well known festive decoration. People use colourful lights, homemade decorations, a bit of tinsel and on top of the tree a big shiny star, symbolising the Star of Bethlehem that revealed the birth of Jesus. But, as always, the Greeks have their own particular traditions! Mainly, in the Greek Islands, the locals decorate a wooden model ship to show their love and appreciation to all the seafarers on duty during these special days.
Christmas delicacies – Apart from the sweet savoury pastries, such as melomakarona (honey cookies with walnuts) and kourabiedes (shortbread-type biscuit usually made with ground almonds – recipe), there’s another special treat made only on the first day of the year. It’s a cake or bread called Vasilopita, and on New Year’s Day families cut the pastry for a blessed and luck year. This is usually done at midnight on New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking.
Discover a traditional Greek Island where life is simpler, discover Alonnisos with bloggerRebecca Hall.
Located in the North Sporades, Alonnisos takes eight hours from Athens: three hours by coach to the port at Agios Konstantinos, then five hours by ferry via Skiathos and Skopelos. But as soon as I stepped off the ferry and took in my surroundings, I knew it was worth it.
“Ela!” an elderly lady waved to me from the portside. She was here to collect and drive me up the mountain to her accommodation. “Me lene Artemis.” Artemis ran a small guesthouse, just outside of the main harbour town of Patitiri. After unpacking my things I flopped onto the bed, rolled onto my side, noting I had a gorgeous view of the harbour and sea right from my window.
I must have dozed off. A high pitch screeching (several, actually) greeted my ears. They were the cicadas, complaining in the afternoon heat—by rubbing their legs together, it creates that noise you often hear in the summer in Greece…it cools them down.
A wander back down to the town led me past island jewellery shops; old ladies in black chatting on the steps, stopping to smile as I passed. The bougainvillea wended its way around a white archway…the blues of the door, white and purples looked striking against the equally blue sky. I’m in Greece I remember thinking. Eating fresh octopus in the taverna, I looked down at the beach—people still swimming at 7:30pm. I made plans for the rest of my stay.
During my say, I went on a boat trip around the Marine Park that surrounds Alonisos—home to the quiet and seldom seen Monk Seals. No, I didn’t spot any, but was lucky enough to spot dolphins, go to various hidden coves, the Blue Cave—swim from the boat and eat in the gorgeous harbour town of Steni Vala.
The Chora (pronounced ‘hora’) is the old village of Alonissos, located in the hills. Much of the village was destroyed in the 1965 earthquake, prompting the locals to abandon their houses and move to Patitiri. What’s left is an architectural mix of old properties and beautifully restored holiday homes. Sitting in the Square sipping coffee, views out to the coast on both sides of me, I kicked back and listened to live Greek music, watched the kids running around at 10pm (no need for bedtime rules here) and allowed the atmosphere to embrace me.
Bio: Bex is an unconventional British lass with a degree in International Relations. She’s the wrong side of 35 and only just the right side of 40 and when she’s not off gallivanting around the high seas and writing about it, she’s based in the unconventional country of Greece ( a country that suits her nature very well! ). She’s travelled to, lived and taught English in various places around the globe. She describes herself as a jack of all trades: she’s worked at LHR airport—dealing with high profile passengers, organised people’s lives through her role as P.A. to various individuals and returned to full time education in her early 30’s. All experiences have helped to shape who she is today. Follow Bex on her site, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Extend your summer or get in early for half term. The kids are back to school and a new (school) year is starting. Why not have something to look forward to, like an autumn tan, a spring in your step and a good injection of vitamin D in some of our favourite half term holiday picks. We take a look at where is hot during half term and what makes a great choice for children of all ages. If you fancy water slide parks, history lessons or just plain, old sandcastles and paddling in the sea, find out where to go with our best value destinations for half term holidays.
Where to spend your half term holidays
1. The Canaries – With an abundance of beaches, scuba diving, family bike rides and fantastic weather, cheap half term holidays in the Canaries are an obvious choice. Why not spend long, lazy days working on a winter tan on a black sandy beach in Tenerife, hike up the side of a volcano in Gran Canaria, or take a glass bottomed boat tour in Playa del Ingles? There is something to suit every type of family in the Canaries. Stay at Barcelo Lanzarote in Costa Teguise which offers adult and children’s swimming pools, playgrounds, kids club, giant monopoly and water slides as well as a spa for mum and dad.
2. Algarve – The Southern area of Portugal is still warm in October and there is plenty for children of all ages to keep busy with. Albufeira is a good family friendly hub, with plenty of child friendly restaurants, a sandy golden beach and nearby water parks. Stay at the Monica Isabel Beach Club in Albufeira, where you’ll find a great welcome, great rooms and great value.
3. Crete – The southern Aegean is ideal in October. Prices have dropped, but temperatures are still high and Crete is a perennial choice for family friendly holidays. Stay at the Knossos Beach Bungalows and Suites, right on a sandy beach, with lots of loungers, umbrellas and children’s activities available.
4. Marrakech – is an exciting, exotic holiday choice all year, but especially good around October. It’s still warm and at only three hours flying time, it’s not too far to get somewhere very exotic. Children and adults can enjoy hiking in the Atlas Mountains, visiting the colourful souks or exploring the Kasbahs. Stay at the Aqua Fun Club – All Inclusive. This 5* accommodation has extensive spa facilities as well as water slides, adult and children only pools, a rafting river and children’s aqua tower.
5. Rome – If you want to get some learning in during the half term break, why not choose a city break in Rome. The weather should still be ok, in the early 20s and you and your children can enjoy seeing the Colosseum and some gladiators up close, head for the Time Elevator Roma (a high tech history lesson made with some very special effects) spark imaginations at the Explora children’s museum and munch on pasta and pizza. Stay at the RSH Spanish Steps Apartments, centrally located near the Trevi Fountain and with plenty of space for all the family after long days exploring the city.
6. Florida – has over 1,000 miles of sandy beaches, is the home of theme parks and has some of the best shopping in the world. Then of course there is Disney World to think of. Meet Mickey Mouse, see the fireworks and parades and generally have the time of your life and a half term holiday you’ll never forget. Stay at the Disney Area Superior Homes for a home away from home experience in Orlando and all the amenities you want within easy reach of the World Disney World Resort.
Tell us your choices for the best half term holidays and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Kate Power is community manager for Purple Travel.
The kids are back to school, full season is nearly over, now is the time to get some of the best possible deals for cheap September holidays. Enjoy our Purple Travel guide to cheap September holidays and save money on your next break.
1. Paphos, Cyprus: Average temperature in September 31 0C. Cyprus in September is still hot enough to enjoy dreamy days on the beach or swim a lap around the infamous Aphrodite’s Rock.
2. Antalya, Turkey Average temperature in September 32 0C. The ‘gateway to the Turkish Riviera’ offers a wonderful clutch of beaches along the coast and loads of bars, clubs and restaurants as well as the famous Efes beer. Image via @ Burntime
3. Tunis, Tunisia Average temperature in September 32 0C. Enjoy a taste of North Africa, with the souks, medinas, salt lakes and beaches that make Tunis holidays in September unforgettable. Image via @ WomEOS
4. Valletta, Malta Average temperature in September 28 0C. The island’s capital is tiny – only 1km – but there’s plenty to see and do. Stroll down baroque-influenced streets, and wander narrow cobble-lined lanes or hop on the Sliema Ferry and work on your tan on the rocks. Remember, Valletta itself isn’t filled with sandy beaches, but makes a good base for discovering more. Image via @ Britrob
Tradition is an integral part of life for the Cretans in particular – even their dialect is considered the oldest in Greece, frequently becoming a study for university research. Most Greek dances and music first appeared in Crete, the island where it is said that the mother of the Gods, Rhea, taught them to the Curetes (Cretan tribe). The most famous Cretan dance was the pyrrhic,while the violi, the lyra and the laouto remain the characteristic musical instruments. Customs of Crete are a serious business and you better get to know a few before you travel. Here’s our handy cut-out-and-keep customs of Crete guide. Just go easy on the raki on a fab Crete holiday from Purple Travel.
Here are some of our favourite Cretan traditions and customs:
This alcoholic beverage is a real part of Cretan culture. And take it from us, after a few shots of this fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy, you won’t be standing upright. Tsikoudia is sometimes served cold from a bottle kept in a freezer. Tsikoudia is commonly offered as an after dinner digestif, and in most taverns in Crete it is offered complimentary after the meal. It’s flavored using lemon rind, rosemary or honey.
Mantinades (derived from the Venetian mantinada, meaning ‘morning song’) are Cretan rhyming couplets, typically used in music to accompany dance. They usually have either love or satire as their topics. The production of mantinades in today’s Crete continues at much the same pace as it did in the 15th century, especially in the villages. Cretans combine tradition with modern technological developments in the mantinades, often with a great deal of humour, as you can see from the following mantinada:
“In the sheepcote I set up a modem to use, For to sell on the Net the milk from my ewes.”
Most Greeks take their names from a religious saint (Nikolaos, Ioannis, Dimitrios etc). They then celebrate their name on that saint’s given day of the year, much as you may do a birthday. On the “name day” of someone, his friends and family visit him without invitation and offer their wishes and presents. In Greece, name days are more important than birthdays.
The Cretan Dagger
The Cretan dagger’s symbolic value survived even until recently. Its great metaphysical value in protecting humans against the fiendish powers of the invisible world and “ill-fated moments” was deeply rooted in Cretan culture. One example of this was in marriage. When a man and woman were married, it was custom in Crete that the groom offer his new wife a small silver dagger – the argyrobounialaki (yeah, try and pronounce that one). This small dagger was then worn by the Cretan girl on her waist, tucked inside a silk sash; the dagger indicated to other men that the girl was married and that she belonged to one man. It also served as a reminder to the girl that she was devoted to her husband and that the price she would pay for any infidelity would be her own life. Sounds pretty misogynistic, right? Yes, however, in addition to its symbolic significance, the dagger also had practical value, because the young Cretan woman would be able to defend herself and her dignity when in danger.
Daggers, always black-hilted, (as black-hilted daggers were thought to be feared by demons) played a leading part in the practice of magic. Tiny black-hilted daggers were used in making talismans for young children and for protecting epileptics from the bad influence of the moon and the possessed from the pernicious influence of demons. When a child died, the mother would hang small black-hilted daggers around her other children’s necks as talismans, so that the Grim Reaper would not take them too.
The Evil Eye
Many Cretans, especially in villages, believe that someone can catch the ‘evil eye’, or “matiasma”, from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. This person would feel bad physically and psychologically.To avoid the matiasma, a little blue marble glass with an eye painted on it must be worn. Blue is believed to be the colour that wards off the evil eye but it is also believed that people with blue eyes are givers of the matiasma.
Holidays in Greece are often about the sunsets over the caldera of Santorini, although it doesn’t really get a look in, we’re rooting for the underdog and think that sunrise is just as good a time to be out in the world as sunset, in fact it’s even more magical. And there is no better place to escape the crowds, soak up the dusky glow of the sun as it faces the day and take an early morning dip than in one of the beautiful Greek islands. Discover the majesty of sunrise in Greece this year.
Islands in Croatia. Why? Hvar, Brac or Rab (nudist beach paradise) are just a couple of the island gems off Croatia’s magnificent coastline. The pine tree studded islands are just a short ferry hop from Dubrovnik or Split and offer jaw-dropping beaches, cute little restaurants, a wealth of accommodation options and some brilliant beach bars. No need for a super yacht here, you can simply sit back, relax and enjoy great value holidays in July in stunningly beautiful Croatia on the Dalmatian Coast. Stay at the 3* Bluesun Hotel Borak, Brac Island.
Riviera Maya, Mexico. Why? Heading towards the end of the season, holidays in the Caribbean are at really good prices, so you should be able to bag a bargain. Riviera Maya has those tropical white sandy beaches, sparkling jewel coloured waters, coral reefs, underwater caves, Mayan temples and the most delicious enchiladas. That’s why we love Riviera Maya and why you should too. Stay at the 5* Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa.
Crete, Greece. Why? The biggest of all the Greek Islands is the obvious choice for families, and there’s a reason for that, or should we say many. Elafonisi and Marathi beaches are well protected from the wind, are shallow and have great facilities, so you and the kids can spend all day on the sand. There are lots of historic sites to discover, while water parks and a reptile centre will impress even the most fussy child. Stay at the 4* Star Beach Village Hotel and Waterpark. The weather in Greece makes it an unforgettable addition to our list of July holiday ideas.
California, USA. Why? It’ll be the 4th of July, what better time to visit the states? We reckon taking to the highways of California for a road trip is just the ticket. Rent yourself a convertible, stock up on Beach Boys records and hit the road for guaranteed sunshine along Pacific Coast Highway. Stop at Solvang, a slice of Holland in California, take some pics by Big Sur and finish in Morro Bay by a 23 year old volcano. All that will make for a classic road trip holiday. Stay at the 5* Solage Calistoga (renowned for its spa.)
Kenya. Why? July (and August) is migration season for many animals including the majestic wildebeest. A safari holiday is a natural paradise where you can get up close and personal with wild animals through the sweeping plains, have breakfast with some giraffes, watch out for lions and get a photo taken with an elephant! Stay at the 4* Southern Palms Hotel in Diani Beach.
Dubai, Emirates. Why? If you want guaranteed sunshine, and we mean seriously guaranteed, Dubai is the obvious choice. Temperatures hit an average of 40 degrees in July but if there was ever a place that catered for sun worshippers, this is it. Dubai has masses of great value luxury hotels, incredible views, spas offering the best in beauty and relaxation treatments, sky diving above the Palm Jumeirah, scuba diving inside the mall, dune buggying through the desert or formula one racing at Ferrari World. What more could you ask for? Stay at the 4* Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel and Towers.
Paphos, Cyprus. Why? The beautiful beaches and pretty harbour offer the perfect location for sunbathing, swimming and people watching. The resort in July is absolutely bustling, with lots going on from bars and restaurants, classical music festivals, hiking through the countryside, visiting Aphrodite’s Rock, horse riding on the beach or simply lounging all day. Stay at 3* Mayfair Hotel Apartments in Paphos.
Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Why? If you want a completely boozey, dancey, party all night kind of holiday, then the obvious choice is the opposite side of Cyprus, where Ayia Napa still dominates the late night, early morning scene. Stay at the 5* Adamas Beach Hotel or the 3* Anesis Hotel.
For more information on holidays in July or to book a sunshine break, give Purple Travel a call on 0207 993 9228.
A spy museum, all you’ve ever wanted to know about toilets and real life samples from Big Foot, we’ve got 10 really weird museums from around the world for your pleasure.
Want to become a spy? Actually, can we just ask, who doesn’t? Well, now you can, for a day anyway, at the International Spy Museumin Washington DC, USA. We’re talking gadgets, code breaking and generally being a bit James Bond as you learn about the history of secret agents and get to grips with a life of espionage.
Iceland’s Phallological Museum in Reykjavik, is as the name suggests all about biology and takes it very seriously too. It is home to a collection of more than 215 penis specimens from various mammals found in the wild all over the island including a walrus, a rogue polar bear, a whale. There are also four examples from humans, but we didn’t ask where they came from.
We always hear of the priceless art found in countless cities throughout the world, but what about the bad stuff? The Museum of Bad Art in Boston claims to be the only one of its kind in the world. Featuring art that’s ‘too bad to be ignored’ it features plenty of paintings of dodgy blue people, symbols that don’t mean much and some weird uses of nudity.
For all you’ve ever wanted to know about the humble toilet, you could do worse than the International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi. The curators tell us: ‘the toilet is a part of the history of human hygiene which is a critical chapter in the growth of civilisation.’
Athens is well known for its museums filled with thousands of years of artefacts that document the birthplace of science and democracy. We like the Tactual Museum, where you’re actively encouraged to touch everything. There are all kinds of replicas, statues and frescoes that you can get up close and personal with.
The Hair Museum of Avanos in Cappadocia, Turkey is a fairly simple idea, but definitely one of the most bizarre things you’ll see. In a room under an unassuming pottery shop, you’ll find caves covered with a collection of over 16,000 locks of hair from women from all over the world. It’s free to enter, and women can leave a lock of their own if they want.
For the latest information and conjecture on the likes of Big Foot, the Montauk Monster, or the Abominable Snowman, then the Cryptozoology Museum, in Portland, USA is a good place to start. It claims to have ‘actual samples’ of hair and unique pieces of evidence from mythical creatures from all over the world.
Your green fingers will start tingling when you hear about the British Lawnmower Museum. As you would expect, it’s dedicated to all things grass cutting and is home to specialised gardening machines, vintage lawnmowers and all manner of parts and conservation materials from all over the world. A truly British experience.
If you’ve got a weak stomach, it might be best to skip the Paris Sewer Museum. You’re guided through the tunnels and pummelled by historical and factual information about the famous underground areas that have featured in French literature including Les Miserables and Phantom Of The Opera.
Love chips? So do we and so do the Belgians apparently, if the Friet Museum is anything to go by. The ground floor offers a 10,000 year potted history of the humble spud and it’s development into the tasty chip we know and love today.
For years now, Greece has been considered as one of the the hottest party locations in Europe and it’s easy to see why. Every summer the Greek islands are practically shaking from the wild crowds of party animals. So we’ve compiled our top 10 Greek Party Islands. Practice some moves, ’cause you’ll need ’em around these beach bars and clubs.
Maybe the most infamous of all the Greek Islands, although we’re open to correction on that, NOT. Mykonos guarantees endless fun, all night parties and brilliant club nights. Head for Super Paradise: nude friendly, fresh cocktails, a gorgeous beach and music all night. Couldn’t really ask for more could you?
Attracting young crowds from all over Europe, the island of Ios is home to excellent bars, cheap drinks and all night parties. It’s also got really good and really cheap accommodation, so is a good choice for a party holiday. Head for Kandi or Far Out on the beach as well as Orange Bar and Baru for shots and beers.
Perfect for sun worshipping party peeps, Kavos is the all nighter capital of Corfu. You’ll get to know the staff in every bar, the reps who pull you out for shots, and maybe Tinchy Stryder and Professor Green who are both scheduled to play this summer. Basically you’ll probably have the time of your life.
Faliraki is legendary in terms of partying. Drenched in sunshine, Rhodes is filled with wild dancing, brilliant cocktails, cheap drinks and loads of fun. Head for the unmissable King Arthur’s Bar, where all the kings and queens assemble to kick off their night with a royal round of shots!
Thousands of party animals enjoy Malia clubbing holidays every year. Literally. Even the Inbetweeners got a look in! It’s got an excellent setup, great beach and lots of accommodation just a few minutes walk from the strip. There are epic bars and clubs there, we like buzzing nights out at Banana or Malibu, or the silent disco at Candy Club.
Load up on shots in Kardamena for an explosive start to your night out. Kos is a sleepy, beachy place by day, but comes to life with a bang after dark. We’re talking fishbowls and Jager Bombs on the cheap in every bar on the Strip. Head for the oldest club in Kos, Heaven before you leave – it’s been packing them in for 25 years.
A more laidback island than Mykonos, Paros is more chilled if you’re into lazy evenings by the beach, downing cocktails or beers. After a long day sunning yourself, head for Punda Beach Club in the southeast of the island for late night action.
Laganas has long been considered the hardcore clubbing capital of the Greek Islands, so if it’s not broke, why fix it? The (in)famous Zeros Club is famous for its hot bar staff, crazy bar games, dance routines and fire breathers. If you’re a serious party animal, definitely consider it.
Kefalonia isn’t that most well known for partying, but there are some brilliant clubs if you know where to look. Stavento in Argostoli is synonymous with fun. Loads of tunes, all day boozing and dancing and special one off guests, it’s a good choice if you want to go wild and chill out a bit too.
Go to Skiathos in August, when the clubs will be full of half dressed visitors from all over the world who want to bump ‘n grind all night. Feeling it already? Add some of the best beaches in all of Greece and that’s pretty much the recipe for a perfect holiday.