Salem, Massachusetts

Today I had the opportunity to join my youngest 2 on their school field trip to Salem, Massachusetts.

I have wanted to visit for years.  I have visited once in my past.  Seventeen years ago and I made the mistake of visiting this town on Halloween.   With it’s mystical past and history of witches, you can imagine how busy and insane it was!  I vowed to go back one day and explore the history and museums properly.   Well, 17 years, almost to the day, I made it!

It was a 7th grade field trip (12-13 year olds) and they are studying the history in social studies.   As the twins were due to visit, I jumped at the chance to chaperone with the group.

Its about a 2 hour drive to Salem from our town in Maine and on a Wednesday morning, traffic is pretty clear.   Salem is on the north shore of Boston so you can avoid city traffic pretty easily if heading southbound!

The field trip didn’t really allow for a lot of exploring on foot but we did hit 3 museums so enough to get a taste of the history that fills the town.

First stop was the House of Seven Gables.   Admittedly, I didn’t really know anything about this history so it was all new to me.

The House of Seven Gables is the house that is featured in the said book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s one of the historic properties in the city and as it seems, features 7 gables 🙂

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The house was constructed in 1668, so before the time of the Salem Witch trials, and over a number of years, the house was built onto as the families wealth grew…..resulting in the 7 gables!

Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the home but as an adult, her heard stories about the house from his cousin.  The house was lovingly restored from the 1900’s and detail in the book was actually added in to reflect some of the storytelling.  The kids got a real kick out of being able to take the secret staircases to alternate floors/ rooms.    The tour guide was quite informative around some of the artifacts that were displayed but the tour was pretty quick at around 30 minutes.

Next door to the House of Seven Gables is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.   To be clear, his home was not always on this site but was moved to its new location in 1958.   It originally was about 5 blocks away.   A number of historic homes in Salem were moved to one site to support the ease of preservation of historic properties.

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It was a another nice historic home to tour but not as long as the gabled house.

Not to be overlooked are the grounds these homes are on.   Water front and beautiful to look out from.   While the sun was shining, it was chilly so we didn’t hang around for long.  I can imagine in the summer time, much more time could be spent enjoying the view and gardens to these homes.

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Stop number 2 for the day was the Salem Witch Museum.   This was a 10 minute walk from the Seven Gabled House and as I found, Salem is small enough to navigate around on foot quite easily.

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I was really looking forward to the Witch Museum as this was the history that was fascinating to me!  I was surprised that the Witch history just marked a brief history n time for Sale.  1692 was the year the witch trials took place and didn’t go beyond this year.   A good thing as you learn more about what happened, but I had thought it was a longer chunk of time!  All in all, 20 people lost their lives during this period.   Many more spent time in prison, awaiting trial before they could be freed when an end was called to the hysteria.    The museum tells the story of how the witch focus began, to the people involved, the trials that ensued and those that lost their lives.    The story telling is done through life size stage sets with narration as the story is told around the room.  It’s an old exhibit but it’s unique and definitely more engaging than a typical museum type exhibit.  The museum then moves onto information around witches, myths and witchcraft today.

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To wrap up our day, we took a short walk to the Salem Dungeons.   This is located in an old church and the museum tour actually consists of a short play – beginning with narration around the with trials again and then a brief demonstration/play of actual courtroom dialog from the trials.   Very interesting and great to highlight to the kids how admission of guilt came about during this period.

For me, the most interesting part of the museum were the dungeons.   Not the actual site of the dungeons that were used to hold ‘witches’ before trial.  These were sadly destroyed some time ago.  This replica though is to size and reflects the conditions of how the ‘witches’ were kept for months on end.   Its just a quick walk thorough the dungeons but interesting nonetheless.

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We managed just the 3 museums but it was a great taster to the city.  There is more to explore, including the Peabody Essex Museum with a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house!   Maybe next time!

First Night, Boston

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To ring in 2017, we opted to do something a little more special.   Coupled with the fact eldest daughter was at ski camp and we had gifted the kids a trip to NYC for Jan 1st, we built-in a stop in Boston to experience their First Night celebrations.   We’ve heard a lot in the past about First Night in Boston and over the years, many cities have adopted similar types of events.

We headed to Boston from the NH White Mountains.  We needed to pick up the big girl from camp.  She was exhausted so we knew we would be taking the afternoon and evening pretty easy.

Arriving in Boston was straight forward and we had taken the advice from the First Night website to book ahead for parking.   We used Spothero.  What a fantastic service.  Typically in Boston, parking is ridiculously expensive (well to us, the out-of-towners that don’t know the hidden parking havens).   We pre-booked a space with Spothero…..ridiculously cheap, next to the event we were attending and a guaranteed space.  Valet parking to boot. With the app now loaded onto my phone, I’ll definitely be using them again!

We parked up and headed straight into Copley Square/ Boston Public Library.   First Night Boston is now 100% funded so there is no need to purchase ‘buttons’ any more.  Despite this, and the absolute bitter cold, navigating the area and really understanding what to do and where to go was a bit of a headache and a tad confusing for first timers like us.

The Public Library is a great building dating back to 1828  and as we hadn’t been inside before we headed there.  Sadly, many events were full or closing so after a quick rest room break we ventured back outside.

Copley Square offered stages and singing events together with street food and similar things.   I found this area less appealing and it may have been due to the fact that it was well below freezing with a howling wind!

Other events were happening around the city but due to the time we arrived, they were winding down.

To pass time until the parade, we headed to Newbury Street.   We strolled the street and went into a few stores.  It’s a pricey street but we enjoyed looking 🙂

We hadn’t booked a restaurant for dinner and with the crowds, getting a table was impossible so we made the decision to eat after parade and fireworks!

The advertised parade ran the route of Boylston – Copley Square to Boston Common.  We managed to get a fairly decent vantage point and waited for the parade to start.  Boston is a highly Patriotic city and we enjoyed the likes of colonial marching bands and drummers. There was also the usual nod to Firefighters and the Chinese population of the city.   The parade was smaller and not quite as grand as we anticipated so it was over pretty quickly.  We joined onto the back of the parade and headed towards to Common for the fireworks.

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Redcoats marching and playing

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Chinese dragons

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Flag bearers

First Night offers 2 sets of fireworks.  Early show at 7pm for families and a later 12 midnight show for all the party goers.  With 3 kids in tow, we opted for the 7pm show.  7pm just so happens to be midnight in England so it seemed appropriate for us to celebrate New Year along with London and the rest of the UK. The fireworks are by far the highlight of First Night.   At Boston Common, there really isn’t a bad vantage point and the fireworks were excellent….worth the wait (my photos wont do them justice)!

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Fireworks at Boston Common

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Fireworks at Boston Common

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Fireworks at Boston Common

After fireworks were done, we headed back to the Prudential Center for dinner.  Earlier we has spied a Wagamamas in there that we decided would be good for dinner…and also close to the car/ parking.

With full bellies we headed back on the road onto Connecticut.  We were staying overnight in CT to then take the train into NYC on New Years Day.  A big surprise was in store for the kids!   As midnight rolled in on NYE, we were in an elevator of a Hyatt in CT….so glad we got to celebrate a few hours earlier in Boston!

 

 

 

‘Home’ again

To follow up on my post on Leaving ‘Home‘, we are Home again!

We did it!  We did something different and had an adventure.  Many memories made and treasured and very lucky to have 2 homes…

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We cant really complain about being home, we do live in a beautiful part of the world – Maine.  Freeport to be exact.

Re-entry has been pretty smooth.  The actual day of travel ran like clockwork (I’d like to think that was due to my amazing organizational kills :-P)….travel to airports, pet check-in, people check in arrival in US and so on.   As we had rented our home in the US for the last year, friends had kindly been in to manage any needs at the house before we arrived….also, some friends were under instruction to make beds, stock fridge and get pet food in for our return late that evening.  Thankful for this as we rolled in late and could tumble straight into bed.   Also thankful for the numerous friends willing to stay up late to collect us with our baggage.  As mentioned previously, Icelandair has a generous baggage allowance.  2 x 23kg bags per person….so in all, we had 460KG of luggage (excluding ‘packed to the gills’ hand luggage x5!).

Despite my sadness of leaving England, its always good to be home.  Nice to have your things around you and that settled feeling.  The kids were excited to begin pulling their things out of storage.  It wasn’t long before toys and books were unpacked.

I was anxious to get the kitchen unpacked.  I had missed these items the most.  Managing with just essential kitchen items in the UK had become frustrating at times.  In addition to these, having appliances back!  Dishwasher!!  We’d been without one for 14 months. Obviously, a material luxury but the kids were thrilled to throw away that washing up roster 🙂   Fridge!!  We struggled with a miniscule British fridge for about the first 5 months.  I ended up buying another fridge in the UK as for a family of 5, the coolbox we had just wasn’t cutting it.  Also having to get onto my knees to peek inside was getting old (just like my knees!)   The UK is awash with charity shops so picking up a used fridge (Bosch no less) was easy and resale was even easier!  Last, but not least, a tumble dryer!  We didn’t invest in one on the UK (mostly as there was no place to put one in the house) and with it being one of the wettest years on record (2015), we missed the ease of drying the laundry.  The days became a battle with the weather.  Getting any laundry outside in the dry moments and dragging it all back inside for the wet moments.   I could never get anything completely dry and I couldn’t stand laundry on all the radiators!

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Ahhh….how I missed you 🙂

A non kitchen item I was pleased to see was my closet (wardrobe!).  In fact, all our closets.  The UK house had NO storage space whatsoever.   What pieces of furniture we had, we packed full. In fact, we little storage in our bedroom, opting for some plastic totes to hold our items.   Not ideal, but again, wasn’t worth investing a lot of money.  Coming back to a huge walk-in closet was bliss.  But now, we debated do we even need it?  As you see in the photos below, the clothes shown is all we took to the UK.  And then, we only wore half of them.  So do we really need any more clothes? Or storage for any more?.  As I write this piece, clothes we left in storage have been unpacked….and most have gone to charity.   We have learned to live with so much less and its refreshing and liberating.  Which makes us wonder…do we need all this stuff – clothes, things, anything?   Life takes over and you accumulate and settle.  We were happy and enriched with less and on the move.   Time will tell if we ever fill these closets again!

Our home withstood renters well.  We were lucky…..but the garden not so much.   I didn’t take any ‘before’ photos but here’s a shot of one of the twins holding a weed she pulled up.   Thankfully now we have it restored back to its former glory allowing us to enjoy the final days of summer and into the Fall.

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For everyone in the household, they’ve slipped back to their old lives easily.  Kids back in schools with all their old friends.  Husband back in the office, pets back to their favorite resting spots in the sunny garden.   What we do know is that despite being away, nothing really changed….except for us.   Everything and everyone around us has remained constant.   Reassuring and easy in some respects but I wonder if we will long for more change in our own lives.   In this journey, we taught the kids that change is good and not to be feared.  I hope they hold onto that as they grow into adulthood.   For now, I need to live by my own words and be comfortable with the fact that  I have not returned to the life I had prior. For me, the adjustment back home is greater.  I no longer have an office to go to, colleagues to socialise with.  Nor do we have the big trip to plan for.   So what next?  I’m not sure but happy to be home and so is Chester…

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Studland Beach – Dorset

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View of Old Harrys Rocks from Middle Beach, Studland

Its been a busy week with family visiting…a lot to write about and STILL behind on prior travel I’ve wanted to write about!

So here’s a quick one as I wanted to share a new place we visited this weekend.

Taking advantage of the lovely weather we’ve had in England this week, we’ve done a number of beach days.  One was spent at Studland Beach on the South Dorset coast.

Studland is a National Trust Property and they maintain the coastline nicely.  As it is a NT site, having a membership is helpful as the car park is then free (usually £6).  There is no additional charge for the beach.

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We visited Middle beach.  There is also a South Beach (with a great coastal walk to Old Harry’s Rocks) and a Knoll Beach….one section of the beach is also for naturists (further on the north side).

Middle Beach offers a nice sandy beach, toilets, cafe and ice creams!

Of course, with the weather being perfect, it was very busy.  Space on the beach was at a premium but we managed to find a spot and settle in.  In fact, we stayed all afternoon and opted not to make the walk to Old Harrys rocks this time.

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As you can see, dogs are allowed on the beach.  They need to stay on leash but we swam our guy far out and took him off leash so he could swim.   The water is shallow for a log way out so its perfect for kids and dogs alike!

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Family Frisbee

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Family swim

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Great game of frisbee with the dog

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One year on…

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We embarked on this move with a one year time frame in mind.    To take a break, connect with family and do something different.

The kids signed up for ‘just a year’ and have seized every moment based on just that.

So now what?  We have had an amazing 12 months.  We’ve done a lot and the kids have grown in so many ways.   Daily we point out their achievements, big or small, and even tomorrow we will attend an awards ceremony where our oldest will be honored by her school…bearing in mind she has only been there for a year she has so much to be proud of.

Its been a gut wrenching decision but we will be leaving the UK and moving back to the USA.  Its complicated so its the easiest path at this time….but every single one of us has a heavy heart….:-(

Seven one way flights are booked (5 people, 2 furbabies), we are beginning to pack up the cottage and have begun to say our goodbyes.

We have a few more weeks left on the island so we will surely be making the most of it.   Look out for final UK posts and then more about our life back in the USA!

What we do know – we are ‘Always Home’ on either continent.

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Maine Botanical Gardens 2014

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Corfu June 2016

Corfu – Afionas

Another follow up post about our Corfu holiday.

As mention before we were staying in Agios Georgios in the North West of the island.  We were keen to explore neighboring towns and one that became a fast favorite was Afionas.   A short drive from our villa and judging by the guest book, some folks would walk over for dinner.

The village/ town is small but so pretty.  The main road in leads to what seems to be a dead end.  We tried to navigate a car one day but found it too tricky!  However, this road will lead to a path/ beach.

There ate alley ways and paths through the buildings laden with brightly colored flowers that led to some lovely restaurants.

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Afionas

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Afionas

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Afionas

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At the restaurant Anemoes

Our favorite was Anemoes Taverna.   Set on the side of a hill with  spectacular Sunset views.  The restaurant offers 2 outdoor terraces and we easily got a table.  I do think in peak season, booking would be recommended.

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Sunset

Food was great too.   Probably the best meal we had during our stay in Corfu.

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Pizza at Anemoes

Another restaurant we tried in Afionas was 3 Brothers.  We had read good things about this restaurant but were disappointed with it.  It lacked the charm of Anemoes and food was just standard for tourists.

Another bonus to Afionas was the beautiful beach.  Be warned, this is a serious hike to get to.  Sturdy footwear is better than flip flops (!) and take water.  Pick your timing wisely as in the heat of the day walking down to the beach s tough enough but back up to the town can be a killer!

The rewards are the views and quiet beaches.

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On the trail

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View of Agios Georgios from the trail in Afionas

Part way along the path is access to a restaurant Dionysis.  We stopped here one day for drinks.  Again, terrace seating and lovely views.

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View from Dionysis Terrace

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Afionas beaches

 

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Afionas Beach

As mentioned in my previous post, beaches aren’t great in Corfu and the quality of the beaches in Afionas could be better.  However, the setting is gorgeous and we enjoyed the quiet snorkeling opportunities.

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Snorkeling at Afionas beach

London – Sky Garden

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So we’ve spent the last few weekends in London so I have a few more posts to write.  In particular order, I will just cover a little of what we have done as we’ve had some enjoyable experiences.

Yesterday, we went to 20 Fenchurch Street, the official name of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building.

We’ve admired this building all year and I think I can say its my favorite modern building in the city.  Growing in popularity is the 3 story Sky garden at the top of the building – floor 35.   I have tried to get tickets in the past but they go quickly.  This time, luck was on my side.  With friends visiting from America, I checked in at Sky Garden website (here) 3 weeks prior to their trip to see tickets available.   The website has a 3 week leadtime for booking so sometimes can be tricky to plan.   I managed to snag the tickets we needed so I was thrilled.  It has been on my London ‘must do’ list for some time.

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View up 20 Fenchurch Street

It’s easy to find and easy to access.  Security was swift and efficient and in no time, we were on the 35th floor looking out over London.  Note – the views are great!  And when you compare to the London Eye (£25) and the Shard (££), considering this is FREE, its probably all you need.  In fact, I would even argue it was better than the Eye.

I loved the view of the Tower of London….a favorite place of mine and new vantage point.

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Tower of London

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St Pauls, BT Tower, City of London

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West London

The gardens are mostly green but lush and nice to wander around.

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View from Garden overlooking main cafe/ vista

 

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The Tower boasts a couple of cafes and a restaurant.  We sat in the window with afternoon tea jut taking in the view.  It was perfect.  And because they limit the numbers up there, its not crowded and has a lovely spacious feel.

If you’ve not done it already, plan ahead and visit the Walkie Talkie!

Take That!

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Horribly behind on posting but this is a quick one I wanted to share!

This last weekend, we went to see Take That at Hyde Park, London.  It was part of the British Summertime Festival presented by Barclaycard.

It was the kids first real concert and TT didn’t disappoint!  Wow!

We snagged a fairly decent spot early on and didn’t move all day.  The festival offered 2 other stages and some activities and lots of food stands.  But TT fans are die hard..they are there to see TT and really no-one else.  Strategically, we managed our space all day (alternating folks on food and toilet breaks) and the wait was worth it!

I’ve been to a good number of TT concerts and this is the first time LuLu was present for Relight my Fire – needless to say, crowd pleaser.  Also fun to have Sigma on stage for their current single Cry.

Supporting bands included Ella Eyre and Olly Murs who was surprisingly good.

Not sure where we will be living next year but hope to catch the boys on their 25th anniversary tour.

 

Sports Day!

This last week, the twins experienced their first sports day.  I find it a very British affair.  The Americans don’t do sports day like the Brits do.  In fact, the Americans don’t consistently do sports day so the whole thing was pretty new.

Sports day is serious business here.  Highly competitive, organised with military precision and House trophies up for grabs!

Already at a disadvantage with no egg and spoon experience, they went for victory in every race!  As expected, we came dead last in the egg and spoon 🙂

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Dropped egg!

A surprise win was the sack race for one of the twins.  Technique was stellar and she romped home to victory!

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Victory!

Race of the day was Obstacle course….twins in heat together (possible recipe for disaster) and neck and neck the whole race for a joint first…made for a much better conversation over dinner!

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Twins – neck and neck – same pace and technique 🙂

So a great day for the memory books and another unique experience of living in England!

 

Corfu – Agios Georgios

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Agios Georgios, Corfu

 

Its been quite a while since I last posted.  Not due to nothing to write about but mostly due to being very busy and on the move.  I have a lot to catch up on so starting with a post about our recent trip to Corfu.  I’ll write a couple of posts about the trip but not in any particular order of how we spent our time, more to share a few of our experiences.

We headed out to Corfu for half term holidays.   We booked a last minute deal (2 weeks prior), really only using the long term weather forecast as our guide on where to go. Seems odd but we were desperate for guaranteed sun and hot enough to use a swimming pool.  i.e we wanted a proper ‘holiday’.

You don’t really get the typical last minute discounts anymore but we still felt like we got a good deal.

We flew from Gatwick to Corfu direct with Germania.  We had never heard of the airline but were pleasantly surprised with the service.  They are a German owned airline and my guess is do mostly charter holiday flights.  They were on-time, clean and efficient.  The flight is short (under 3 hours) yet they still served drinks and food at no extra charge.  While it wont win any awards on Masterchef, its a welcome break from paying for drinks and snacks on flights now.

Arriving in Corfu, we headed straight to our car rental pick up (included in the package deal).  Car rental for us and location of the villa was a must.  Plenty of folks seem to be piling onto buses to get to more populated resorts but we were a little off the beaten track.

I apologise but i just don’t recall the name of the car rental place….just a short distance form the airport.  They had lots of nice looking cars in the lot…..except for one absolute junker….yep – that was ours.   It was shocking – a clapped out Megane.   Scraped up, dinged, rattly, A/C barely working, fuel gauge faulty…and final days, the boot wouldn’t close…  We asked for a replacement but they stressed they had no other so we were stuck with it.   Not ideal but we were to make do!

We were quick to learn that perhaps it was for the best (to have a junk car).  The roads in Corfu are one of the 3 statues:

  1. Crap
  2. Really Crap
  3. Need to have the passenger get out of the car to guide around potholes crap

By day 3, the car rental company had called us and said they had a brand new car for us.  They were happy to make the hour long journey to deliver it to us.   We declined.  We opted to stick with the junker and boy were we glad we did.  We drove on some pretty bad roads for the rest of our time there and there is no way a new car would have come out clean!

So our resort area was Agios St Georgios (north).  There is a place of the same name further down the South West coast.  We were North west.

Its a small resort and being early June, not 100% open for the season yet.  However, when fully open, its not a place with lots of bars and nightclubs so it would suit us just fine regardless.   Corfu doesn’t have great beaches either.  Either rocky/ shales, small etc.  Water is clear and ‘pretty’ as the kids say but beaches on the whole are not great.  Agios Georgios though has the best beaches in Corfu.  A very long stretch of nice sandy beach.   Despite this being on our doorstep, we only visited the beach once.  Mostly because the water here was cooler than others….

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Beach at Agios Georgios

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Beach at Agios Georgios

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First steps on the beach!

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Playing on Agios Georgios beach

Our villa was the biggest hit of our deal.  Not sure how we were lucky enough to land it but we did.  Villa name was Hellyhunter.  An unusual name but it was named after someones father (British family).  The villa was large and immaculate.  Almost a shame we weren’t sharing it with others as it begged to have more people and a party!   The villa sleeps 7/8, 3.5 bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher and washing machine, 2 large BBQ’s, large pool, amazing views and the owners made sure that no detail was left unnoticed.

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Hellyhunter Villa

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Hellyhunter Villa

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View from one of the terraces at the villa

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View from Bedroom window

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enjoying the pool

The house had a decent proximity to the town/ ocean but we opted to walk only once.  We also debated whether the villa was the best on the island…possibly!  With that said, the restaurants in town all offered the same type of fare and for us, not always enticing so not actually leaving the villa some days was easy and welcome.

A quick note on the weather – early June proved to be perfect for us.  The weather was sunny most day, a comfortable temperature but also enjoyable to swim in the pool.  Mosquitos can be bad there but this early in the season, there are very few so we had no need for repellent or plug in repellents (plenty at the villa).  If you’re looking for a time to visit the island, then June it should be!

Next post – some more about surrounding areas and our exploring!