Greece Post 4: Arriving in Athens and the New Hotel.

Having spent a peaceful couple of nights in the mountains we decided to head back to the hustle and bustle of the city. So we meandered down out of the hills and took a long and winding route via the coast to Athens.

A friend had advised before we took this trip ‘Don’t drive in Athens’. I though ‘How bad can it be? I’m sure it I’ll be fine?’ We were soon to find out…..

We had arranged to drop our hire car off at a city centre office about half a mile from our hotel for the next two nights, The New Hotel. I’d naively assumed that as parking was available at the hotel we would be able to drop our cases there and check in before taking the car back. Ummm nope!

We found the hotel relatively easily, although the traffic got more and more manic as we headed further into Athens, but after darting into the side street next to the hotel and circumnavigating it through even more tightly packed streets we had no idea where the hotel car park was. Slightly stressed by this point we decided to head straight to the car hire place and figured we could get a cab back to the hotel with our cases. Again we found it relatively easily, but again there was no obvious place to park the car we were supposed to be returning. The office was basically like a shop front in the middle of a very busy street. With cars beeping behind us we panicked and darted up the next side street we could find. We were now stuck in a one-way system that took us right passed the Acropolis entrance, we ended driving round in a massive loop back to a road down the street from the hotel!

Even more stressed by now, we spotted a small multi storey car park and decided to ditch into there to at least give us 15 minutes to check into the hotel. So we did just that! After enjoying the air con, a glass of fresh ice cold water and a welcome chocolate we were checked in and contemplating how to return the hire car. We headed back to the multi-storey and handed in our parking slip to the bemused attendant who had literally parked the car for us 15 minutes earlier. I was seriously considering offering him €20 to drive the car the half mile for us, but we’d decided we would just have to drive round there and get the hazard lights on and ditch it. Which is exactly what we did. The extremely nonchalant guy at the rental office gave the car a very cursory glance over before letting us head off, hot and bothered and very relieved. So the moral of the story is…… DON’T DRIVE IN ATHENS.

Very much in need of a drink by now we returned to The New Hotel to explore a little. The hotel was designed by the Campana Brothers and the reception area and coffee room are decorated all over with pieces of broken furniture that remained from the old hotel.

 image image imageOur room was very sleek and glam with a huge bronze sink in the room, Greek ‘evil eye’s’ all over the wall, incredibly soft bed with thick cool cotton bedding and marble double shower.

 image imageAnd the best feature of the hotel? The rooftop bar and restaurant with views over the whole city and of course, The Acropolis. So we headed straight up there to chill and relax with a cocktail or two…

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Not wanting to waste the late afternoon getting tipsy (although that was pretty appealing), we decided to head across the road to explore the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple is right in the centre of the city and is larger than the Parthenon, but less complete. It was pretty quiet when we arrived so we were able to get some great pictures. And the best bit is that the ticket costs €12 but also gets you entry to several other sites including The Acropolis and Ancient Agora. Bargain!

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And our second wild tortoise of the trip…

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After a little bit of a stroll around and getting our bearings, we decided to head back to the hotel for a refreshing shower to get ready for dinner. I really wanted to check out the rooftop restaurant and watch the sun go down over the vast city. So we did! And I have to say the view was amazing and the food pretty spectacular too!

I opted for a traditional Souvlaki…

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Mr O went for a not so traditional burger!

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Both were delicious and perfectly cooked. My souvlaki had a perfect charred flavour and was fast becoming the best meal of the holiday so far.

As we planned our hectic day of sightseeing, we chilled on the rooftop with a glass of wine, loving the view of the Acropolis and watching the sun set over another fabulous day.

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Greece Post 3: Ancient Delphi and more Arachova.

After a lazy buffet breakfast at the Ellinon Thea, we headed off down the hill to the beautiful town of Delphi to explore the ruins of the ancient sanctuary. Weaving down the mountain for 10 km, we spotted the ruins we’d completely missed the night before, on the hillside adjacent to the road. I naively assumed that such an important historical site would have an ample sized car park for all those tourist buses it would surely attract. Um, no! So grab a spot on the side of the road as soon as you can!

According to legend, when Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the world, their paths crossed in the sky above Delphi, establishing the site as the centre of the earth. Renowned as a dwelling place of Apollo from the end of the 8th Century BC people from all over the ancient world visited Delphi to consult the God on what course to take in both public and private life.

After a quick stroll up the road in the already baking heat, we arrived at the entrance and purchased our tickets which gave us access to the site and the museum. Its worth taking a few hours to explore the site as it’s quite large, but be prepared for some climbs as it is set on a hillside.

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Although you may be rather warm and tired out by the time you reach the theatre, it’s well worth the extra 10 minutes to carry on to the Stadium. One of the best preserved stadia in Greece, it held 7,000 spectators who would gather to watch field and track events every four years during the Pythian Games.

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After a good look around, we wove our way back down to the sanctuary of the air conditioned museum which is well worth a visit. The museum houses a collection of sculptures and architectural remains of an importance second only to those of the Acropolis in Athens. One of the things I struggle with when walking around these ruins is envisaging how it would have looked in its day, so I love a good model to show me! We were also able to see how colourful it would have been as there would have been a lot of embellishments and paints on the pediments and reliefs that would have adorned every building.

Once we were all cultured out, and a tad hungry, we set off up the road into the town of Delphi. As the whole town is perched on the hillside, we knew if we picked a restaurant on the right side of the road we would get a stunning view. We were right …….

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Gazing all the way down to the sea, watching the swallows swooping and chattering we enjoyed a couple of ice cold Mythos and a mezze lunch.

Complimentary tomatoes on bread while we picked…

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Before we tucked into baked filo feta with honey and sesame (epic….I will be recreating this at home), a selection of dips (tzatziki, smoked aubergine and spicy feta and pepper), bread and Greek salad.

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It it doesn’t look much, but it was an amazing lunch, with an incredible view.

We strolled down the road in the now baking early afternoon sun and headed across the road from the main site to the Sanctuary of Athena, a 4th Century BC temple dedicated to Athena.

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As we were hiding under every tiny piece of shade we could find by this point we decided to head back to the car (and the aircon) to return to Arachova.

During the winter months, Arachova is a ski resort town, home to those planning to zip down the slopes of Mt. Parnassus. Consequently it’s a little quiet in the summer season, and strangely Christmas/Winter themed everywhere, which is very odd to get used to in 30c heat! We found a cool little bar on the square off the Main Street.

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After a cool down and refreshing drink, we headed out for another lovely dinner with a view.

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Special mention has to go to my cheese pie starter (yes starter!). Gooey, warm salty cheese in a crispy crunchy shell. Very rich, but awesome….

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So after a long hot sticky day and tummies full of food we headed back to the hotel to watch the night sky roll down from the balcony with a glass of local schnapps.

Greece Post 2: Palamidi Fortress and Ellinon Thea, Arachova

After another lovely restful night in Nafplio 1841, we awoke early to set off up the steps to Palamidi Fortress. There is a fair bit of speculation online about exactly how many steps there are, 857? 913? 961? 999? Who knows, and I certainly wasn’t planning on counting them when we had a gorgeous view to admire…..

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We must have been underestimating our fitness levels as we’d allowed a full hour to get up to the fortress before the opening time of 8 a.m. However after a fairly leisurely climb up, we arrived at the locked door at 7:35! We knew that there was also a road up to the fortress so we decided to head back down for an early breakfast and return in the car on our way out of town for a few more shots of the view.

With a bit of time to kill we decided to stroll down to the beach where I fell in love with these beautiful vintage feta cheese tins filled with geraniums….

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After watching the elderly and retired of Nafplio pad down to the sea for a restorative morning swim, we lamented our hectic work and rain filled lives at home and wondered who’d got it right.

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Refreshed and relaxed, we headed back through the old town streets for another epic breakfast, this time up on the cosy roof terrace looking out along the tiles and balconies.

We were very sad to check out of Nafplio 1841, as this teeny B&B had been so welcoming and homely. After a quick frappe on our way to the car we headed back up to the 18th century fortress to admire the view again, it was definitely worth it….

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After a warm walkabout we left Nafplio behind for the mountain town of Arachova, our base for exploring Delphi. The 3 hour trip turned into 5 after continual roadworks and a bad traffic accident. We’d decided to take the long way around the Corinth Gulf, heading towards Patras along the coastal road before crossing the Rio-Antirrio Bridge…

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Above photo courtesy of wiki, we could only shots from the car on the way over….

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It’s a pretty impressive structure! Once we crossed over to the north side of the gulf the roads got quieter, the towns more pretty and the coastline more beautiful.

After an hour or so with only 15 miles to go, we started to climb from sea level, swooping through hairpin after hairpin after hairpin until we reached the stunning little town of Delphi, 1,900 ft above sea level. Without realising (as we were focussed on the map) we drove straight passed the ancient site of Delphi, but never mind, more on that in the next post.

We soon reached the ski resort town of Arachova, and after getting a little lost, we found our hotel; Ellinon Thea.

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The view was already looking spectacular in every direction….

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But the view from the balcony was amazing!

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I could have gazed out over that view all night….and after a spot of dinner, that’s exactly what we did. Enjoying our complimentary local liqueur we watched the sky change from pale blue, to azure to midnight black, speckled with stars and the Venus and Jupiter conjunction. As the lights flickered on in distant towns and villages we sipped the warming spirit and planned the next day, before sinking into our soft king size bed.

Greece Post 1: Nafplio 1841, Mycenae and Epidaurus

Pretty much as soon as we returned from our two week holiday to Croatia last year, I started planning a Greek trip of a lifetime for this year’s vacation.  Mr O and I have visited a couple of Greek Islands in the past, but had never explored the Mainland before. Throw into the mix the fact I’ve always wanted to go to Santorini too and we had the starting of an itinerary.

So we flew off to Athens at the end of last month with a plan to spend 6 nights travelling around central Greece and Athens before jetting off to Imerovigli in Santorini for a chill-out 6 nights.

We arrived into a hectic Athens airport at midday and eventually found our hire car after much confusion and missed minibuses. After consulting with Sally (sat-nav), we started off across country to Nafplio, a beautiful town in the Peloponnese close to both the historical sites of Mycenae and Epidaurus. Our home for two nights was the beautiful little boutique hotel of Nafplio 1841 (http://www.nafplion1841.gr.)

The hotel building dates back to 1841, but has recently been renovated into a stunning boutique hotel. We stayed in the Swan room, a superior double with balcony overlooking the gorgeous narrow old town streets.

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The two nights complete with amazing breakfasts (more on that later….) came in at the amazing price of €130! Yup, less than £50 a night! The only small issue is that being in the middle of the old town, there is no parking right outside the hotel, but the owners are happy to send you a map with the nearest free parking spots marked on them.

After checking in and collecting our cases from the car we were a little warm, so we headed off to explore and find somewhere for a drink.

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Nafplio has a stunning old town of narrow marble cobbled streets, Venetian style buildings and perfect people watching squares.

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You are spoiled for choice when it comes to places to eat and drink, from the traditional Greek Tavernas and Harbourside seafood restaurants to the modern wine and cocktail bars. And retail therapy is pretty perfect too, lots of beautiful boutique stores selling local food, products and handmade clothes.

We settled for dinner in a little traditional taverna round the corner from the hotel. Spanakopita, Mousakka and Rabbit Stifado complete with jug of house red for €3.50…..

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After a day travelling, topped with a few afternoon drinks and a gorgeous meal, we were ready for bed. And with a fabulous coco-mat mattress and soft Egyptian cotton bedding, it was a pretty perfect nights sleep.

The next day we awoke to thunderstorms and showers so we were forced to have breakfast in bed rather than on the roof terrace……shame 😉! And what an epic breakfast it was……

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Yep, all of the above, plus freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee! There was so much we wrapped some up in napkins to take out with us, and after stopping at the fruit shop on the way to the car we were sorted for lunch.

Our first stop approximately 25km away,  was the ancient city of Mycenae, a major centre of Greek civilization and military stronghold from 1600 BC.

We entered the city through the lion gateway

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Before exploring the rest of the hilltop citadel, once home to a population of 30,000.

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We marvelled over how they built the City and many tombs over 3000 years ago. One tomb had a lintel stone over the doorway that was 9 metres long and is estimated to weigh 120 tonnes! After admiring the stunning views down the valley to the coast, we headed into the relief of the air conditioned museum where I fell in love with a simple small bronze bull and made it my mission to find a replica in a gift shop somewhere on the trip.

After sufficient exploring we headed off, stopping for a lay by lunch of Nutella croissants, Madeira cake, cherries and peaches. We somehow managed to circumnavigate the mother of all thunderstorms and watched as the clouds spilled over the valley as we headed up over the hills to Epidaurus.

With thunder rumbling menacingly close by, we headed straight for the showcase structure; the amphitheatre carved out of the hillside.

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We listened to the various tour guides demonstrating the fantastic accoustics of this 2400 year old theatre, that is still used to host operas and plays today.

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We climbed the 55 rows to the top where we had to take an obligatory selfie, and listened to fellow tourists dropping coins on the central marble circle that could be heard clear as a bell from the very back row.

With a storm still threatening we explored the remainder of the sanctuary before the rains came, taking in the stadium and gymnasium

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Having got our fill of ancient monuments for the day, we headed back to Nafplio for a drink on the square and some people watching while we planned our morning hike up the 857 steps to the Palamidi fortress…..

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You’ll have to check out post 2 to see if we made it!

Going to the chapel……

A few weeks ago myself and Mr O visited Chapel 1877 in Cardiff. You may recall, we visited for the Champagne Cocktail Masterclass a few months ago (https://megandmro.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/champers-darling-chapel-1877-cardiff/) and we were both keen to revisit to try a full meal after enjoying our nibbles and Champagne previously. Luckily  for us Travelzoo have been doing some great voucher deals on Cardiff restaurants recently, including Purple Poppadom and The Park House (both we have purchased and will be visiting soon). The Chapel 1877 voucher offered a two course meal for two, with glass of Prosecco each for £35.

Firstly it was a bit of a bind to book a table as the voucher instructed you had to call to reserve rather than using the online booking system. After calling a couple of evenings and getting no answer, I eventually got through to somebody who explained that someone from reservations would need to call me back in the morning at 9:30 a.m, not massively convenient for people who work 9 to 5! Having said that the reservation lady did call me back and was very pleasant. I was offered a sitting at 5:30pm or 8pm which seemed a little odd, especially as it seemed they weren’t fully booked when we got there. We opted for the 8pm slot and killed some time at the cinema post work.

We arrived at 7:45pm and waited behind another couple who were also booked in at 8pm and were shown straight to their table. We were then advised our table wasn’t ready yet and that we could sit and have a drink in the bar if we wanted and the greeter would come and find us when they were ready. This was despite being able to see several tables free! Perhaps a ploy to get you to spend a little non-voucher cash? Or maybe I’m just being cynical! I wasn’t asked what size glass of wine I wanted, and the barman automatically gave me a large one, so a glass of wine and a pint of ale came to £10.30!

The interior of the chapel is stunning and it has been beautifully restored. Photos courtesy of Chapel 1877 website:

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And we had some time to look it over……..

After 30 minutes of waiting for our table, and watching couple after couple being welcomed and shown upstairs, Mr O went to speak to the greeter who had no recollection of him, and then after consulting her list, admitted that she had completely forgotten about us! She was very apologetic and we were shown up to our table, strangely one of the ones that has been empty the whole time! Hmmmm.

The menu is fairly small, which I don’t think is a bad thing as it means the restaurant can focus on doing a few things well.

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However the voucher had some strange restrictions; Starters up to £8 and mains up to £22 were included. Which ruled out 2 of the starters and most of the grill section of the menu. You could however order more expensive items for a £2 supplement for the starters or a £5 supplement for mains. A little more money on the bill then…..

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We were offered our glasses of Prosecco at this point and also ordered a bottle of sparkling water. After being poured I spotted that Mr O’s water glass was really badly chipped, literally a chip on every side of the glass. You’d like to think that whoever set the table would have noticed but obviously not. We pointed it out to our waitress who took it away to replace and refresh the glass promptly, not before stopping to add the bottle of water to our bill on computer first (£3.50).

Anyway onto the food….

I ordered the Chicken Liver Parfait, served with Chapel Chutney and toasted brioche, and Mr O opted for the Carpaccio.

 image imageMy parfait was pleasant enough, but to be honest didn’t taste any better than maybe a luxury supermarket pâte and chutney. Mr O was a little dissapointed in the Carpaccio as it didn’t taste of much and was overpowered by the strong flavours of the anchovies, Parmesan mayo and capers. It would have been nice to have been served with a little toasted ciabatta or similar too.

After enjoying the pork belly bites when we came for the champagne cocktail class, I opted for this for my main. And as it’s one of the few things I won’t eat or cook, Mr O opted for the calves liver and bacon.

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My pork belly was very nice, and a reasonable size portion. But it was more like a shredded, pressed pork served with a shard of crackling than a piece of pork belly, which meant it was slightly dry at times. And more crackling is always better in my eyes! Still didn’t compare to the beautiful pork belly served at the Lion in Llandinam (https://megandmro.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/beautiful-meal-the-lion-hotel-llandinam/)

Mr O really enjoyed his liver and bacon, he even persuaded me to try a piece. But, nope, still can’t stand the stuff!

We decided to opt out of desert as we were pretty full, and still trying to be restrained before holiday. I popped to the ladies while Mr O asked for the bill. There is one washroom to cover the whole of the upstairs restaurant (more in the basement to serve the bar), and at 9:30pm on a Thursday evening it was completely out of toilet paper! Perfect!

Final gripe, and a huge pet hate of mine, they had added 10% service charge to the bill, and that 10% is calculated on the full price you would have paid, not the voucher price. Plus, they had added up the full price and the voucher supplements to calculate the SC. So despite our £35 voucher, we still had £23.01 to pay, being our drinks we ordered while being forgotten, the water, £2 supplement for the Carpaccio (despite it only being 25p more than the allowed £8) and £7.21 service charge for the pretty poor service and average food!

Unfortunately I think the Chapel are riding on the back of their beautiful restoration and are marketing themselves as a gourmet restaurant. The reality is more like good standard pub grub served in a fantastic building. I think with so many fabulous restaurants in Cardiff I wouldn’t waste an eating out opportunity here again.

Going to the Chapel………won’t be going back!

Gorgeous for Greece…..Final Post!

Ok, this last week has been a little haywire. I’ve tried to stick to my diet and fitness as much as possible, but sometimes life gets in the way unfortunately. Last Saturday we had friends round for a tapas evening. I tried my best to not ‘go crazy’ but ended up consuming about 2000 calories worth of food and drink……. In one meal!!! And in all honesty I didn’t stuff myself silly, just goes to show how much you can eat without realising. See…..

Spanish Serano ham, chorizo, salami and anchovies:

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Manchego drizzled with honey and thyme:image

Patatas Bravas, Meatballs in Tomato sauce, Chicken and Chorizo Paella, Garlic Mushrooms, Chorizo and tomatoes in Red wine, Artichokes with honey and pine nuts:

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And last but not least, Garlic butter prawns

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However to compensate, on both Saturday and Sunday I did 30DS level 3 followed by another Jillian Michaels 45 minute DVD too. So over an hour of JM both days! I did ‘No more trouble zones’ on Saturday which was really good, like an extended version of 30DS but with some new exercises chucked in. On Sunday I did Banish Fat Boost Metabolism, I didn’t enjoy this one as much, which is probably a sign it’s an awesome workout. It’s almost all cardio, and JM cardio is intense, so 45 minutes of that was hardcore!

Monday was was a perfect on plan day, but then Tuesday and Wednesday involved travelling to and From Scotland with work and an overnight stay in a hotel. I tried to eat as healthy as possible by taking slim fast shakes with me for the train, salads and fruit for lunch and salmon for dinner. But I’m still sure I went well over my calories those days, and I didn’t do any exercise (oops!).

Thursday was ‘Date night’ with Mr O (although he hates that phrase). We had a Travelzoo voucher for Chapel 1877 in Cardiff, that had to be used by the end of June, so we had to schedule that this week (more on that in another post). And to save hanging around for ages we went to see Mad Max in the cinema first. I’d sum it up by saying, short on script, high on action, and nothing like the originals! Consequently we didn’t get home til 10pm, so no exercise that day. And yesterday I had to be in work early, and when I got home I was still ironing and packing for Greece, so no JM then either. However I will 100% promise to get an hour in this morning!

Well the holiday has arrived! Still got a little packing to do before we head to the airport, but the excitement is setting in now!

But more importantly what are my final stats….

  • Weight: 153lb (5lb loss)
  • Waist 30.5 inches (1.5 inches lost)
  • Hips 41 inches (2.5 inches lost)
  • Bust 35 inches (2 inches lost)

It’s a bit of an alien concept celebrating inch loss rather than weight loss. I would normally be gutted to only lose 5lb in 4 weeks. But having said that it feels like I’ve lost loads more. There’s loads less wobble and I generally feel a lot slimmer than I have in a long time! I tried on loads of things for holiday last night that 30 days ago had been relegated to the ‘when I’m slimmer’ pile. And they all fitted perfectly. And you may recall I mentioned a new job at the start of this series of posts, well it’s in the Finance team of a leading fashion retailer. This week I experienced my first Sample Sale. The buyers tend to get samples in 10 or 18, when I heard this I thought my bargains in the sample sale would be pretty limited and I’d be grabbing things for friends and family instead. But I’m chuffed to say I picked up six size 10 tops that fitted perfectly yesterday……..if only I could find a way of shrinking my feet to a size 4.

I have really enjoyed doing 30DS, firstly because it works, and secondly it’s proved to me that I can be fit and strong if I put the work in. I’m determined to get straight back onto the plan when I get back, mixing it in with some of Jillian’s other workouts too.

Ok, if you don’t want to see loads of posts on beautiful Greece and Santorini, look away now, cause that’s what’s coming! Eeeek!

Gorgeous for Greece Days…….I’ve lost count!

Hey there! I know I haven’t posted much this week, but I just wanted you to know that I’m still on track! I won’t bore you with all the details, but I have kept under my net 1200 calorie goal all week and I’m chuffed to say I have now lost 5lb and a total of 5 inches! Next weigh day is tomorrow – fingers crossed for a little more weight loss!

More importantly I’m feeling better, more toned, healthier and fitter. I tried one (of many) of my bikinis for Greece this week, and I’m not sure if it was psychological, but I felt much more confident than I was a month ago. In fact I’m keen to try and keep up a bit of an exercise routine while I’m away and I’m already mentally devising a 20 minute routine I can try and do each morning.

I have moved up to level 3 of the 30 day shred, and although I don’t think it’s hugely more difficult than level 2 it’s much more focussed on core strength which I find quite hard. I have definitely noticed that I am more flexible than when I started and my stamina has improved a lot, don’t get me wrong I’m still a sweaty heap on the floor when I’m done, but when I started I thought I would faint after the warm up!

I took a couple of ‘before’ photos when I started this, and today Mr O took some more. There’s not a huge difference (it has only been 18 days) but it is noticeable. My stomach doesn’t stick out as much and my arms are definitely slimmer and thighs less wibbly looking! Although I still can’t see that six pack Jillian is promising 😉. Maybe it’s buried in there somewhere!

One of the most important things I have learnt in the last three weeks, is that I actually really enjoy healthy food. Yep, I will always be partial to the unhealthy options too, but it really hasn’t been that tough. It does require you to plan and be organised, but if you have plenty of choices in the fridge, and you make sure to pack a healthy lunch, it’s not too hard to stick to it.

Tomorrow we are hosting four of our friends for dinner. We are planning a Spanish Tapas theme and while I’m not going to count every calorie, at the same time I will try and eat more of the lower calorie dishes, and I’m still in two minds whether to drink or not! I want to chill and relax with my mates, but I also don’t want to fill up on empty calories! Plus it is a bit of a personal challenge to try and abstain for the full four weeks, although I may turn myself into a two glass lightweight by the time we arrive in Athens!

Anyways…. I thought I’d keep you in the loop. I will be posting about our Tapas evening too, so we’ll see how well I behave under peer pressure. Wish me luck!

Happy Friday xx