“They Do Like Their Turtles Don’t They?” Zante (Zakynthos), Greece, 2017

“Ah.”
“What?”
“I don’t think I’ve packed the extra pair of long trousers.”
“I left everyone in charge of their own packing, if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll have to buy it out there.”
“Can I pull over and check?”
“We can’t turn back now.”
“Please, it’s starting to play on my mind. I’m not sure if I packed them or not.”
“No.”
“Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.”
“I’m pulling over.”
“Fine.”

The Bennett holiday had begun.

 

This time the choice location was the Greek Island of Zante, located in the Ionian Sea (fun fact – in Greek the island is actually called Zakynthos. Who’d have thought, another culture manipulating foreign words just to suit themselves?)

Ah Greece, the land of fine olives, ancient culture, traditional music and, most importantly, free alcohol:

(Greece were robbed of their victory in the 2013 Eurovision, robbed.)

Because we were staying at an all inclusive the alcohol actually was free, free by the bottles of gallons (I wasn’t in the slightest bit smug about this). I was literally drinking wine by the pint.

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In fact I wondered if Greece had the whole drinking culture nailed more than us Brits. I mean, why have one glass bottle of 750ml when you could have plastic bottles of 1.5 litres for half the price?

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It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.

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Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!

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And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.

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Don’t ask me to explain the yellow dot on the left. Just tell yourself it’s God. And yeah, that silhouette is mainland Greece.

The hotel’s entertainment was funny but not in the intended way. The Bennett clan being very British and dry in humourous outlook, we found the various failed attempts of the hotel’s animation team hilarious. One example was ‘botched Bingo’. Having done it outside for an entire season, two members of the team struggled to set up the Bingo projector inside, constantly trying and failing to prop up the canvas on a table, followed by difficulties putting a projector into focus. It was the apparent simplicity of the task which made it comic gold. Having sat down after a 18 hour day travelling and fuelled by a couple of cocktails we were howling at the two men. Later in the week the Greek Gods would reap their revenge on us via the kids club.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”

“Jesus Christ.”

But, saying that, the place wasn’t too shabby as a whole. I had muchos Greek yoghurt and hummus every day. Even the ants wanted in on the local cuisine.

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The resort’s local town was a short walk away (but then holiday reps call anything under an hour ‘short’). It contained a suitable amount of tourist tat shops, bars, restaurants and had a lovely coastal strip. It passed the ‘makes Alice look sophisticated’ qualification so all was good there.

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Look at me, I look like ruddy Audrey Hepburn

Particular highlights of the holiday included a visit to the island’s capital town which funnily enough was called Zakynthos. There we learnt you could purchase a range of goods including turd toys and spend money in a store called Euro Shop where nothing is a Euro.

(Brexit strikes again if you ask me.)

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Zakynthos is NOT the place to go if you have a phobia of Turtles. It’s basically the island’s spirit animal. There are frequent excursion trips to a see them swimming about so the only logical argument we could devise is that the turtle toy reps invaded sometime around five years ago.

No turtle is too weird or creepy looking to be on a shop rack somewhere.

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If you don’t buy a piece of turtle merchandise you’re basically damaging the local economy and may be arrested on the plane. I luckily purchased a pair of tasteful turtle earrings thereby avoiding a fate of becoming turtle food.

Jokes aside (and I won’t dwell on it too much), but outside of the shiny streets and away from the club strips and bars that get featured on all those awful 18-30 Channel Four documentaries, behind all that is actually a tourist island that is barely surviving on their limited tourist season. For every one nicely done-up street there are at least ten falling apart in the local resident districts. It makes you wonder, if this island can only just hold it together then how is the mainland coping? These people were hardly living a life of luxury. But, like I said, that is a debate for politicians and scholars to have. When they pay me to impart my pearls of wisdom I’ll spend more time writing, less time taking random photos.

The island as a whole still remembers and suffers from the massive damage caused by an earthquake that hit the island in 1953. As well as the loss of most of the island’s historic buildings, the long term damage included mass emigration, with a high proportion of residents emigrating to the USA, UK and Canada following on from the natural disaster. This royally buggered up the economies of Zakynthos and neighbouring island Kefalonia.

In an attempt to remind people of what existed in the past and preserve it for the future, Zakynthos’ art gallery holds a collection of religious art and frescos taken from ruined churches and monasteries across the island.

That said, Mary doesn’t half look scary when she covers for God on his holidays:

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And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?

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Another highlight of the holiday was a general trip around the island which took in all the cultural highlights Zakynthos had to offer. This included visiting the monastery of the island’s Saint, taking in some breath taking views out to sea (i.e. of a tourist-ified ship wreck) and a tour around the famous blue caves

We choose to not dwell on the boat only having a couple of foam noodles in case of a emergency and the bus parking strategy.

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India and I may have also had a few too many of the free sweets and samples of the commonplace unbranded liqueur…

Which, combined with a hot bus, resulted in this:

You may well laugh, but we’re presently being considered to represent Greece at the 2018 Eurovision.

I used this holiday and trip out as a chance to get a selfie of the whole family – something which had only been done in the past with limited success. The difficulty was convincing Mumma Bennett round to the idea. To her the selfie stick resembled the work of dark magic.

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Voldemort lives!

Other than that, not a lot to report. A week of predictable sun (there’s something to be said about walking along the beach in a thin dress on October 1st), bottomless food/cocktails and the odd random conversation along the way (“do they prevent all male and female parties at Centre Parcs because they’re worried they’ll get murdered in the woods?” “…What?”)

I suppose a good gage of how well a holiday went is linked to how Papa Bennett adapts to the environment. As a comparison, he looks at lot better in Zakynthos than he did waiting for a plane at Birmingham International Airport.

And if that’s not the sign of a good holiday I don’t know what is. Well it helps if you don’t contract Swine Flu…

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…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.

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Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company

In the RSC’s recent production of Titus Andronicus all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roast. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.

Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns to Rome to much praise from his family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.

This recent adaptation of the Roman-based play is set in the 21st Century. In the opening scene, actors in hoodies climb the fences and cry out of injustice as Rome continues to crumble, only to be swiftly beaten down by highly-clad police officers. In my comfy seat with cool air conditioning, I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before and that sadness that what you’re seeing on stage is happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.

This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with David Troughton, Hannah Morris, Patrick Dury and Nia Gwynne. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. For once in my life my very British emotions and civil nature were reduced to their base, primitive, level. I was hooked from the very start until the very end.

Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, in the space of three hours there you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult of moral and emotional scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. You’ll witness the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

For more information, including showing times and tickets, visit the RSC’s website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/

Girl About Swindon Town: The Greek Olive

When the tall one suggested trying out The Greek Olive on Faringdon Road I must admit I was a little thrown. In British culture you get so used to going out for either an Italian or Indian that the notion of Greek caught me off guard. However, keen to try something different I gave the suggestion my full backing.

I had high expectations of the eatery, in the weeks preceding my visit I’d heard nothing but positive feedback from my friends. As the tall one and I sat down at the table our thoughts turned to drink. We spared little time in opting for a one litre jug of Greek house wine which came in at £12. Given a lot of restaurants charge an arm and a leg for a very average bottle, we found the quality, quantity and price of the red wine to be very fair.

On this particular night we opted out of having a starter (it was a tough call, the selection to choose from was very tempting), however upon ordering our mains the waiter presented us with complimentary bread and freshly made hummus. “This is much better than the stuff in the shops!” the tall one remarked. Between us it didn’t take long to demolish the portion.

Onwards to the main course, for me a Kleftiko (slow cooked lamb) and for the tall one Beef Stifado (meat cooked in a rich red wine sauce). Despite making a classic Alice faux pas of accidentally eating some of the paper wrapping covering the lamb (I thought it was filo pastry, alright?) the food was superb. The lamb fell off the bone with ease and tasted amazing with the feta cheese and Greek seasoned vegetables. Positive feedback also shared by the consumer of the Stifado and, although the portions were enormous, we refused to let any food go to waste. Clean plates all round.

With stomachs full of rich food and wine our plan was to also skip dessert and ask for the bill. That was until the waiter gave us two pieces of Baklava, a Mediterranean sweet dish (which actually does contain filo pastry) and said my three favourite words, “on the house”. I mean the dish was pleasant enough, but even tastier given it was free. This was swiftly followed up by a complimentary shot of liqueur (“how much free stuff are they giving us?!”) which by choice had to be Greek ouzo. The reactionary head shakes of strong alcohol marked the end of a very enjoyable meal at the little restaurant.

Unsurprisingly I’d very much recommend The Greek Olive for anyone wanting a change from the standard Italian but not keen on a hot spicy Thai. The staff were unaware that I was a writer yet they went out of their way to make sure our dining experience that little bit more special versus a predictable meal out at Nandos. I’m just gutted that I’ve written an entire review on Greek food and haven’t been able to make a single reference to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (I really tried to think of one but alas I have failed).

Three word summary: So much food!

A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

A Quick-ish Review: Brixham (Devon)

Speedy Summary

Wikipedia says:

Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. At the time of the 2011 census it had a population of 16,693.

I say:

A lovely working harbour located on the English Riviera, Brixham serves both the historic local fishing trade and the busy tourist season. This creates a unique Devonshire window into the lives of those working a thriving traditional trade, without overkilling it on tourist shops and greasy spoon joints. If you have time try out some of the freshly caught fish, if not grab or a coffee from one of the numerous independent shops. Just be aware of the sea gulls.

Top Sights

Top of the agenda when visiting Brixham has to be a stroll around the harbour. One of the older parts of the town, the historic working marina has remained largely unchanged.

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If you want to be suitably impressed by more modern-day aquatics, the boating club marina is located a via a 10 minute walk around the promenade. The spectacle of hundreds of boats lined up neatly along numerous jetties will keep even the most obsessive of boat fans happy.

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And if you’re looking for the authentic Brixham experience, then a sampling of the local cuisine is a must. Freshly caught fish pass through the market sellers of Brixham in their millions every day, with buyers coming from across the country to source the best produce for their eateries. However local restaurants will often pass good deals secured by fewer road miles and differing clientele to their customers, which means you can secure fresh, high quality, fish at a vastly cheaper price. The most popular dish for passing tourists is the classic fish and chips combination, a meal that can be obtained from any number of dining or take away establishments.

If fish isn’t you bag there are also several bakeries in the town selling traditional pasties and rolls, alongside a couple of small supermarkets. Want the marine experience without the price tag? Grab a pasty and sit on one of the many promenade benches for an alfresco lunch with a view.

With all things food and coastal related just be sure to watch out for pesky gulls. While they are not as troublesome as in other destinations, locals and other tourists will not thank you for encouraging them. If finishing an outdoor meal do the right thing and remain seated until the waiter clears the table or take your rubbish with you. Seagulls will not think twice about swooping in on your leftovers (trust me, I’ve seen it).

 

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You don’t necessarily need a formal backdrop to have a pleasant dining experience. Close up shot from a public bench.

 

Recent regeneration in the town centre has seen a vastly increased improvement in the number and quality of coffee shops, including the prominent Old Market House. Located next to the old covered fish market, the coffee shop-come bar-come classy eatery is now the site for a many a people watcher.

The harbour and town is also home to many shops from stylish interiors, to typical tourist souvenirs to high street favourites including Boots, Costa and Tesco. Something for everyone.

 

What Else is There?

Check out the well kept little volunteer-created gardens along the promenade which cleverly make use of the rock face and what was a redundant open space.

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You can also board the Golden Hind Museum Ship, a full size replica of the famous galleon sailed by Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake. More information on the attraction can be found here.

Head up the road a little further (towards the Berry Head Hotel) and you’ll stumble upon the self proclaimed ‘hidden gem’ of this South Devon town, the Shoalstone Pool. A free-to-use outdoor salt water swimming pool, it stands as a Victorian creation and one of only a few remaining UK examples. A must for anyone wanting to prove their ability to brave the elements and thus their Britishness. More information can be found here.

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Three Word Conclusion

Lots to see.

Five Minute Review: The Classic Cocktail Bible

How do I sum up this book? Alcohol, that’s how. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Amusingly you open the cover and see not a Drink Aware message, but instead a warning against consuming raw eggs (a foodstuff that features in some of the recipes.) Sandwiched between the hard covers of this recipe book are some very attractive looking images and nice little introductions to each drink (where their name comes from, the type of ingredients in the drink etc.). You’ve got the classics, your Mojitos, Bloody Marys Martinis, but you’re also got the different, for example Kinky Witch, Rusty Nail and Bobby Burns. In many ways there is something for everyone here* (unless you’re teetotal or under eighteen, in which case no, there isn’t).

All this however doesn’t detract from the simple truth that, as with all cocktails, you need about 100 different spirits and mixers tucked away in the cupboard to make them. The Classic Cocktail Bible is a classic by name and a classic of its genre; it is a book which sits on one’s shelf for many months/years until one day you think “oh, I really fancy a Cosmopolitan right now, I’m sure I can make that”. You open this book to mild disappointment when realise you can’t so instead you reach for a can of cider and consume that instead.

The Classic Cocktail Bible is a must have for the coffee table of the young professional or the kitchen cupboard for the impulsive buyer but be warned, it takes more than vodka and coke to make a good cocktail.