Monday, 29 May 2023

Halkidiki - Food, Fashion & Friendships

 Kalispera! I hope you're enjoying the same gloriously sunny weather as us. I spent all weekend in a bikini and my Greek tan has been topped up very nicely. As Jon's glued to a Bank Holiday war film I thought I'd crack on with the final instalment of the Halkidiki travel blog. 

Each morning, after Greek yogurt and salad, bought from the supermarket, prepared in the room and eaten on the balcony, we'd head out, either for one of our walks or straight down to the beach where - after a break for a late & lazy lunch - we'd stay until gone 6pm.

Despite finally joining the 21st Century with a mobile phone, there's been a distinct lack of food photos so here's just a few of our lunchtime salads eaten in the various seafront tavernas. Unlike many of the Islands, Halkidiki's prices are really reasonable, with the bill for salad, a basket of bread, water and two large beers costing under €20. Two homemade breakfasts with seeded grapes the size of gobstoppers, juicy strawberries, crisp green apples and a generous dollop of full fat Greek yogurt worked out at a total cost of €2.60 per day.

When we travel we want our evenings to be like our days, low-key, laid back and authentic, no nightclubs, no karaoke, no tribute bands, no quiz nights, sports bars or Irish pubs and definitely no curries (unless we're in India!), Chinese buffets or roast dinners. We don't leave the country to experience what we can get at home. We like nothing better than sitting outside a little taverna beneath the stars chatting until late into the night sharing a bottle of wine and some good, honest, home-cooked food. We make a beeline for places with checked tablecloths, painted chairs with rush seats, bouzouki music, menus without photographs of the food and we never eat anywhere where the waiters stand outside trying to entice passers-by in. 

Our evenings always started (and usually ended) with a rum & cola on the balcony. We'd head into town for a beer and eat around 9pm where our fellow diners would be predominately Greek. Dinner for two with a carafe of the local red wine in Polychrono costs between €22 - 30. Most of the time Lord Jon & I would share a selection of mezzes - dolmades, kolokithokefedes, gigantes, saganaki, grilled mushrooms, baked mouth is watering remembering it! Occasionally Jon fancied a meat dish so rather than plough through the menu I'd ask the waiter to bring me a meat and fish-free alternative (don't ask for vegetarian food as many Greeks consider fish a vegetarian option!)

This Greek version of ratatouille, served at George's Taverna, was absolutely delicious.

As was the gemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) at El Gato Negro.

You can always tell when someone's never been to Greece - they order puddings! Don't beware Greeks bearing gifts, as it's usually food and drink. If we didn't get homemade cakes, pancakes and ice creams we'd be given starters or jugs of ouzo and raki.

For the first couple of evenings the temperatures dropped to around 16°C so we were glad we'd travelled in jackets. 

Dusk in Halkidiki is magical, the sky turns the most delicate shades of pale blue and lilac and the setting sun sparkles on the water with a rosy-gold shimmer. It flatters even the most sun-starved skin tone.

Although I'd bought both these dresses months ago, it was the first time I'd worn them and goodness me, did they get a positive reaction! Apparently my wardrobe was the main topic of conversation when we walked through the Ammos bar to go out every evening. 

The closest taverna was the top rated El Gato Negro and, with a certain black cat having adopted us only a few weeks before, it was inevitable that we'd have to pop in. 

And it turned out that owners, Demetrius and Panagiotis, were Charlatans fans! 

The food was sensational, the resident cats were gorgeous and the brothers very generous with their drinks on the house. One of the Tripadvisor reviews simply said "You're mad if you don't go!"

On the way out every night we'd stop for an outfit photo...obviously it was really hard to try and stand somewhere that looked Greek...not!

As the week wore on, the evening temperatures got warmer and we threw caution to the wind leaving the jackets back in the room.

We met John & Cheryl one evening - other than the guests in Ammos, Brits are very much in the minority in Polychrono, the majority of tourists being from Eastern Europe and Greece (many Greeks own holiday homes in Halkidiki). John & Cheryl are Greek residents and have lived there for 16 years. Despite being almost sick with envy over their lifestyle, we got on like a house on fire, went back to their stunning apartment for G'n'Ts and met up for drinks, dinner .... and more drinks a couple of night later. They told us that they usually give the few British tourists they encounter a wide berth but made an exception for us!

This was at the popular seafront taverna, Flegra, look at that view! Its where all the hip young Greeks head to on a Saturday night.

And all too soon it was Monday morning and time to be picked up and taken to the airport. Where's your bag? I was asked by the other guests, astounded that Jon & I shared luggage. No-one could believe I travelled without a huge suitcase. I mean this as a compliment, said one of our fellow travellers, but I thought you'd be really high maintenance as you always look fantastic. A couple of women asked me for some tips for packing light - I suggested to them that, rather than stuff a case with a different outfit for every day, just pack a handful of garments you absolutely love, that way you'll wear them repeatedly and always feel fabulous. This bargain Pink City Prints Tango dress being a prime example! 

With the exception of the foldable straw hat that I squeezed in at the last minute and didn't wear, everything else I took had an outing but as I only wore the strappy suntop and the green bikini once I could have reduced my packing even further. 

Ammos' owner, Christina and her twin girls accompanied us to the coach, hugged us and shed a few tears at our departure, whispering in my ear I love, love, love your cowboy boots!  Once we'd checked into our flight at Thessaloniki airport we consoled ourselves with a bougatsa, the Greek version of a custard slice. 

Our flight left on time and our arrival at Birmingham International was quick and efficient, we were on the train back to Walsall within forty minutes of landing.

 Polychrono exceeded all expectations and we'll definitely return and explore more of Halkidiki. The package holiday was a means to an end and although we'd much rather travel independently if the price (and destination) is right we'd not rule it out as an option. With our partial refund from TUI, our week away cost us under £200 each, we couldn't have bought the flight for that.

Thanks for reading - and for all your comments. See you soon!