The travel curse strikes again (and a relaxing Easter break)

It’s been a while since my last post! It’s been a busy month as I had to come back to the UK before the end of the tax year and, as you can imagine, travelling during a pandemic is not the easiest task. I can understand why it has to be so complicated to put people off unnecessary travel and to keep us all safe but when you’re the one who has to travel it is frustrating and stressful to say the least. So I’ve been I’ve not had the motivation to write until now and today’s post is another fun story about the events of my life. I’ll be back to sharing health and wellness tips very soon but for now, enjoy the saga!

If you read my post about our journey from the UK to Greece with my pet cat Teddy, you’ll know I haven’t had the best luck with travel recently and the curse doesn’t seem to have lifted yet. This trip started out innocently enough with a cancelled flight that I was able to get a refund for and push my trip back another week. Even all of the extra paperwork and the cost of four COVID tests was just about bearable. When I finally arrived at Athens airport, I felt tired and anxious but also relieved that I was finally on my way. And then I found out that there was extreme bad weather in Munich where I was supposed to be taking a connecting flight on to Manchester.

Luckily the flight did go ahead and all seemed to be fine, until we tried to land at Munich airport. We felt the pilot dive down towards the runway and next thing it felt like we were going up again. The cloud was so thick we couldn’t see a thing and didn’t know which way was up. Next there was a huge CRASH and FLASH and the plane shook as if we had landed heavily, except we were still on the move. I looked over at the German businessman who was sat next to me and he laughed and shook his head: we just got hit by lightening! The pilot announced that we would be delayed because of the storm and that the airport staff needed to clear the runway of snow. Great.

We cruised around for 40 excruciating minutes before it was safe to land and the whole time my stomach was churning as I anxiously hoped my connecting flight would also be delayed due to the bad weather. I had visions of being stuck in Germany for months like the poor souls I’d seen on TV. Unfortunately luck was not on my side, I ended up missing the flight along with a Greek man who was on his way to visit his family in the UK. After nearly an hour of traipsing around the nearly empty airport with our luggage in tow, we were able to find Lufthansa service desk and were told we had been booked on to the first flight in the morning and we’d be spending the night in quarantine hotel. At least it was the Hilton so I couldn’t complain about that. I also can’t complain about the service of Lufthansa, they organised and paid for everything (even the extortionate prices of the hotel menu – 19 euro for a basic salad!) and the flight the next day went without a hiccup.

One thing I want to say is that even though we were forced to sit apart, wear de-humanizing masks and sanitise the life out of ourselves at every turn, I could still feel the humanity between all of the passengers and staff through the journey. People did still greet each other and not just in that awkward, fearful way I’ve experienced in the supermarket over the last 12 months. There was still a spirit of us all being in this together and respecting each others boundaries whilst still being warm and friendly. I think it’s important that we don’t start to see our fellow humans as the enemy throughout all of this but keep some perspective.

I already knew I had to self-isolate at home for ten days on arrival and I had booked my home test kits for day 2 and day 8 in advance. The ten days ended up being two weeks as my second test result was delayed and I couldn’t even go out for a walk until I had the result. Luckily I did receive it in time for Easter and I was even able to visit family and enjoy sitting out in the garden in the spring sunshine now that we’re allow to meet up outdoors. I realised just how much I missed them after all of these months apart. I went for a walk on the beach at Crosby with my brother and his dog and spent an afternoon strolling along the promenade at Southport with my Nan. Even though everything is still closed in the UK, it’s so good to have some signs of normality again and to be able to see loved ones face to face. And I was definitely happy to have a proper chocolate Easter egg this year!

I’m due to head back to Greece in two weeks time but so far I’ve had 4 cancelled flights and I’m still not sure whether my return flight will go ahead. This situation is the perfect opportunity to practice surrendering control as there’s just no way to predict what will happen next. Not accepting what is is a recipe for anxiety and frustration and in these circumstances there is nothing you can do except wait and see what life throws at you. I hope I’ll be back in Athens to celebrate Easter on 2nd May as it is the biggest holiday of the year but who knows. I’m missing my boyfriend and my cat and our garden in Athens. But for now I’m just happy that I am alive and well along with all of my family and loved ones.

I hope you enjoyed my bad luck story with a happy ending. Fingers crossed that I’m not posting a third installment in the travel curse series next month! I’m looking forward to sharing some healthy spring recipes once I am back in Greece and some outdoor yoga sessions now the weather is getting warmer. I hope you’re all keeping well and looking after yourselves as best as you can in this situation. If you’re feeling stuck, my top 3 tips for clearing the slate and boosting your energy are:

  1. Take a quick walk outside (even better if it’s in nature)
  2. Spend 10 minutes sitting in silence focusing on your breath
  3. Eat a juicy, colourful refreshing fruit bowl or salad

It’s the simple things that can make all the difference in the way we feel and how we show up in our lives 🙂

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Celebrating “Clean Monday” in Greece

Yesterday was a religious holiday here in Greece, the Eastern Christian festival of Καθαρά Δευτέρα (Kathara Deftera) aka “Clean Monday” or “Pure Monday”. Similar to the celebration of Ash Wednesday in the West, it’s the seventh Monday before Easter and the start of lent, a period of cleansing for the mind body and spirit. The 40+ days of lent includes religious fasting where it’s traditional to consume mainly plant-based foods, with no meat, eggs or dairy. Typically eating shellfish is still allowed during lent in most European countries, as well as fish on feasting days, hence the celebration of the first day with a big feast of seafood and vegetables. Here is our feast, curtesy of Yannis’ mum who is an amazing cook!

We had octopus, prawns, cuttlefish, scallops, fava beans, taramasalata and homemade lagana flat bread made with sesame seeds, another traditional food to eat on this day. In the past, women would make a huge loaf of lagana on Clean Monday, the only day of the year when this type of bread is baked, and eat a small piece each day of lent. My small contribution to the feast was the radish salad and fruit pie for dessert (it’s the thought that counts right?). After lunch we went for a walk to the local park to see another Clean Monday tradition: kite flying. The kites are a spiritual symbol of our soul ascending, trying to reach the divine during this religious period. It’s also really beautiful to see all the different colours and shapes. It was really nice to see all of the kids flying kites with their families. I’m glad to see that people still kept the tradition, despite the lockdown rules. We have to continue life somehow!

The day of Clean Monday also symbolises the start of “Clean Week” where it’s custom to clean house, literally and mentally. Traditionally, people would go to confession during this week to begin lent with a clean conscience and then throughout lent they would continue to focus on reflection and prayer. I did my own version of this at home through my journaling practice. It’s always good to offload some of those nagging worries, painful memories and hidden feelings either by speaking to a trusted person or writing it out onto the page. It leaves you feeling much lighter and clearer headed for sure. I think it’s a shame we have lost some of the benefits these religious habits bring to us. Instead of freeing ourselves from our past mistakes, we often hide them away to rot inside of us leading to low self-worth and annoying emotional triggers. Mental and emotional cleansing is an equally if not more important part of a healthy lifestyle as physical cleansing through eating well and moving your body.

Today, I’m getting started on the house cleaning part. Clean Monday is also sometimes seen as the first day of spring so it’s time for some spring cleaning! First, it’s time to organise my wardrobe and set aside anything that doesn’t fit either for charity or to sell on Ebay or Depop. I started buying and selling more clothes second hand over the last few years and it’s great. I used to struggle trying to find things in charity shops in the and while I did find a few bargains (like a ski coat for a fiver), I usually couldn’t find anything that I liked or that suited me. However, then I discovered the world of buying and selling second hand online and I have bought shoes, dresses, coats, you name it. All things that were in good condition but that the person didn’t want anymore. It’s a win win situation for everyone, you save money buying clothes, get money for things you no longer wear and contribute to reducing waste via the circular economy.

Next it’s time for a deep clean of our space, open all of the windows to let in some fresh air and sort out my book collection. Luckily we moved here in October and only brought the things we needed so I don’t have much clearing out to do but I’m sure I can find something! It’s been fun to learn about the different celebrations of the Greek culture these last few months, it’s just a shame that we have had to celebrate them all at home instead of having the full experience. Greece is such a festive and social country, it’s really bizarre to be locked up at home for so long. Normally for Clean Monday, the taverns and local parks would be packed out and there would be parades and parties in the streets the entire weekend before. I’m hoping that next year we will be able to experience all of the festivities for real but for now we are trying to make the most of things and keep our spirits up as best as we can.

Now I am trying to decide whether to keep the tradition of lent this year. I love plant-based food and I was previously vegan for nearly 3 years so I think it would be pretty easy for me, even though I don’t follow a vegan diet these days. Not only is plant-based eating a good way to cleanse your body and support your natural detoxification process, it’s also good for the planet as meat and dairy have a much larger environmental footprint compared to plant-based protein sources. I do feel like I need a bit of a reset after this winter season so maybe it could be a good idea even if it’s not for the full 40 days! Let me know if you’d be interested if I share my experience and some plant-based recipe ideas.

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Travelling with a pet during COVID19

Wow what an intense month! We have finally arrived in Athens, Greece after an extremely stressful and emotional journey. We decided to move here from the UK back in September so it’s been a mad few weeks preparing for the move, packing up the house and organising our travel. I brought my cat Teddy too as there was no way I could leave him behind so I had to make sure he had all the right vaccinations and paperwork to travel too. I knew it would be a challenge but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

Our saga began on Thursday morning… the courier was coming any time between 7 and 10am so transport our stuff to Greece and I was up before 6am because I had too many things on my mind. I let Teddy outside and he came in about 15 minutes later crying and scratching at the door. I let him in and he ran straight under the bed to hide. I didn’t think anything of it because he was a bit anxious with all the activity in the house so I just put some food out for him and shut him in the bedroom whilst we loaded the van. After the courier had left, I managed to coax Teddy out from under the bed and realised he was limping and had a swollen jaw. I couldn’t believe he had got hurt the day before we we due to travel after 6 months of no issues at all!

He seemed pretty stressed and not himself so I called the vet who said to bring him in. I had already handed back my company car so I had to take him in a taxi. Thankfully everything was ok the vet told me had been in a cat fight and been bitten on the leg but he gave him some painkillers and antibiotics and said he was fine to travel. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed until 7pm when I was checking whether I should feed Teddy before the flight in the morning when I realised I had packed his pet passport and vaccine certificates in the boxes to Greece which he needed to fly. Only one word – NOOOOO. I was in such a panic as the vets was already closed and I didn’t think I would have time to organise it in the morning. Luckily, I called the vet just in case and he was still there and told me to come at 9am to pick up a new one. Although I would have to pay full price (even more than a human passport!) I didn’t care at that point.

So on Friday it was another early start and taxi to the vet but we managed to get it sorted and then our journey began. We set off at 10am and travelled to London St Pancras by train from Nottingham which was fine although a bit uncomfortable with the masks and everything. Teddy didn’t like the noise too much or being stuck in his carrier but he was ok and settled down. I used a Pet Remedy, a calming essential oil spray for animals, on his carrier and blankets and it seemed to help. Things were going well, until Yannis realised we hadn’t completed the Passenger Locator Form for COVID19 travel and that it had to be filled in the day before travel . He was stressed I was pretty calm because I was sure they would help us at the airport and it would be fine.

We changed to the underground to travel from St Pancras to Heathrow Airport. That was pretty nasty, it was more full than the train and some people weren’t even wearing masks. Teddy hated it and started shaking but I covered his carrier with a blanket and he calmed down. We made it to the airport around 1pm and grabbed some lunch before heading to the bag drop. Straight away we saw the sign “No QR code – No travel” and my heart sank. We couldn’t get the QR code without completing the Passenger Locator Form and the system wouldn’t let us do it because it was too late. We asked the attendant from Swissport if there was any way around it and she said no exceptions, you have to change your flight.

At that point I just collapsed and started crying, somehow having Teddy with us made it feel like even more of a big deal but also I was just emotional after all the stresses of the previous weeks. Luckily Yannis was there to support me and after a lot of argument with Swissport he managed to book onto 4.30pm flights the next day which cost us £500 as the flight was full. There was a 12pm flight too which would have cost £700! We were so frustrated at the system, especially because it was only Greece that had the day before rule and Aegean Air had only mentioned it in tiny small print at the bottom of the check in reminder email. There were two other groups in the queue behind us who had the same issue and the cashier told us at least 20 people per day were making the same mistake. This just made us even more angry!

We found a cheap pet-friendly hotel nearby with rooms available. It was a 5 minute journey and the taxi driver said it would cost £25 – insanity! We were in serious money saving mode now so we went there on the free airport bus instead. We spent the night in the hotel room, I went out and bought a chippy tea and some beers for us and some cat litter and used a cardboard box with a bin liner as a make shift litter tray for Teddy. He seemed ok just a bit confused but we were totally exhausted. Yannis checked our tickets and realised that Swissport hadn’t booked the luggage or Teddy onto the flight even though we asked three times and they assured they had. We called Aegean to fix it and they told us there was no space on the flight now but Yannis persuaded them to let us onto the earlier flight which had space at no extra cost.

So the next morning we arrived back at Heathrow for round two. When we went to the bag drop off and asked where the pet area was the attendants looked at each other confused and said they hadn’t been expecting an animal and that there was no space in the hold – WHAAAAT?! They said we could change our flights again or he could come in the cabin with us but they said his carrier was too big as I had bought him a bigger dog one so he would be more comfortable. That was the last straw, we were so annoyed and after more arguments we were adamant that we were taking Teddy on the plane and I would put his carrier on my lap. After all of that stress and money spent there was no way we weren’t flying to Greece that day.

The next challenge was getting through security. I have never travelled with a pet so I had no idea what to expect. We had to pass security ourselves then take Teddy to a search room and take him out of the carrier so it could be passed through the scanner. Yannis had to hold him for 5 minutes as the security officer said “whatever you do do not let him onto the floor”. Anyone who has met our cat will know he does not like being picked up and he will fight to the death so Yannis had to hold him Simba style while he was kicking and scratching and then had to get him back into the carrier after. Not an easy feat. After that he seemed really stressed and I felt so awful. We found a spot to sit in the waiting room and I sprayed more of the calming spray and played classical music on my phone next to his carrier. It might sound crazy but it did help!

Now for the final stressful part of the journey, actually getting on the plane. We had to take Teddy to the back of the plane during take off for safety reasons but then I could have him on my lap for the rest of the flight. He absolutely hated it. He was crying so loudly and trying to escape the carrier during take off and then he was shaking uncontrollably and panting for the rest of the 4 hour flight. I was so upset and scared he would have a heart attack or something, even though I know shaking is a natural reaction for animals who get scared. I was seriously doubting whether this was a good idea at this point, I had genuinely been optimistic that he might be a bit nervous but then would fall asleep once we were in the air. At least it was better than him being in the hold because I could talk to him and put my hand inside the carrier.

I will fast forward the flight as it was just me holding my breath hoping that Teddy would be ok. I couldn’t focus on my book or podcast I just sat there wishing for it to be over. Once we were on the other side, the wait for the luggage seemed to last forever but finally we were in a taxi on our way to Filothei. We got to the house and I let Teddy out of his carrier in the bedroom. He hid under the bed for 5 minutes but after that he recovered and was exploring the room as if nothing happened. He calmed down and ate some food and I could finally relax. We were both so knackered after the journey, we ate and went to bed around 10pm. I feel like I am still recovering but feeling much better now and Teddy is settling too although he is still not fully himself. I read that it can take up to a week and he has had quite the ordeal.

So now it’s time to relax and explore Athens. I can laugh now and the whole journey can become a distant bad memory. It was definitely worth it but I doubt I will ever travel with an animal again in my life – definitely do not recommend!