Travel Diaries: Cruising the Greek Islands

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If you only have a short amount of travel time but want to explore some of the amazing Greek islands, then I highly recommend going on a cruise ship.  Cruising makes it easier to access different islands without the hassle of flying and having to organise multiple connections and transfers.

Along with my partner and family, we went on a seven day voyage with Celestyal Cruises.  We wanted an authentic experience, so we chose Celestyal as it is the only cruise company to be based in Greece.

We cruised on ‘Crystal’, a comparatively small cruise ship holding over 1000 passengers and crew.  There are some gargantuan cruise ships out there (some hold over 3000 people!) so it was great to be on a ship that didn’t feel overrun with people.  Each day we were able to go onto land, so this negated the need to spend lots of time on the ship (although it was handy to pop back in for the buffet lunch!).

Here are the highlights…

Mykynos

  • As one of the more popular islands, Mykonos is cute as a button with lots of white-washed buildings with bright coloured doors.
  • Mykonos is known for its nightlife and support for the LGBT community and this was evident in the number of rainbow flags flying throughout the township.
  • I totally recommend getting lost as you walk through and up the white pathways.  The colour schemes of the buildings are totally Dulux worthy.  At the top you will find a windmill (there are also several at the bottom too). These were built in the 16th century and were used until the early 20th century.
  • Mykonos was probably the best island for taking photos.  There’s just something so special about the colours and the way the light and sun reflects off the buildings and the surrounding water.  We ventured out for sunset and the lighting took on a lovely golden tinge.  Island life has never been so magical.

Mykynos in 5 words…

Sparkling, bold, charming, windy, sassy.

Syros

  • We only came to Syros, as it was too windy to go to the scheduled port of Milos.  This was serendipitous as Syros came as a surprise and I completely loved i!
  • Known as a significant port town, Syros is filled with neo-classical buildings, old mansions, and white houses cascading down to the harbour.
  • The colours of the buildings are unforgettable.  As you look out from the wharf, you see a colour palette of pink, light brown, white and yellow.
  • Make a beeline for the Catholic Cathedral of Saint George at the top of the hill (you can’t miss it).  As you make your way up, there are many opportunities to take photos of the alluring buildings.  Best yet, it feels peaceful and less overrun with tourists.  Whilst it is hot work to walk up the marble stairs, the view that awaits you is breathtaking with various other islands in clear view.  You can also marvel at the ornate church while you are up there too.
  • The township has some gorgeous alleyways, leading to shops and eateries.  We had coffee at a chic, French inspired café (with divine vintage furniture and a colourful chandelier), but I forget its name!

Syros in 5 words…

Relaxed, captivating, peaceful, quiet, sweet.

Santorini

  • Arguably the most recognised of all the Greek Islands, Santorini is dramatic with sharp, steep cliffs with buildings dangling on the top.  It truly is a sight to behold.  It’s so astonishing to think that a vicious volcanic eruption birthed something so beautiful!
  • Do not use a Donkey to get to the top.  The poor animals looked sad and constrained by their environment.  Thankfully Celystyal was quick to dissuade people to go on Donkeys.
  • Walk, explore, walk, explore.  The pathways reveal fantastic views of surrounding islands, but also of the many buildings (including many chic resorts) looking surreal as they cling to the cliff. We saw several couples have their wedding photos taken (apparently you can’t get married in Santorini, but many come here to have their photos).
  • You can tell the rich and famous come to Santorini.  The boutique accommodation and resorts are exquisite with many small pools and spas in view.  I also spotted the outdoor cinema too – on the schedule were ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and ‘Mamma Mia’.

Santorini in 5 words…

Dramatic, showstopper, exclusive, tall, busy.

Heraklion

  • Heraklion is a port city and the capital of the vibrant island of Crete.
  • It is known for the Palace of Knossos, located outside the city.  The huge archaeological site dates back thousands of years to the Minoan civilisation.  Perfect for ancient history buffs.
  • With a strong Venetian influence (a fortress sits at the front of the harbour) and dotted with pretty little boats, Heraklion feels fresh and welcoming.
  • My sister and I strolled through the harbour and made our way up to the main street of Heraklion.  We were pleasantly surprised by how energising and modern it felt, in amongst some old fountains and buildings too.  ‘Mini Athens’ springs to mind.
  • We had coffee at the very funky Central Park Cafe.  With a lush interior (the bar area is particularly prominent) and plenty of seating, this is the perfect place to people-watch and to check out the well-dressed and the well-groomed.

Heraklion in 5 words…

Buzzing, modern, growing, regenerating, confident.

Kusadasi / Ephesus

  • Our final port stop was at Kusadasi in Turkey.  Much like the Hollywood Hills, a big sign proudly declared KUSADASI, surrounded by line of brightly coloured houses.  Yup, our attention was grabbed!
  • Our guided bus tour took us on a journey to the historic site of Ephesus, an ancient city built in the 10th century BC.  With sprawling hills and trees, you definitely felt like you stepped back into biblical times.
  • Excavations have revealed grand monuments including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre.  It is awe-inspiring to walk around these ruins and it made me recall my reaction when I saw ancient sites in Rome.
  • Outside the entrance to Ephesus, I had a freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice.  So sweet, but oh so rich in flavour.
  • On our way back to port, we stopped at a rug factory and were given an introduction to different types and qualities of rugs.  All colours of the rainbow were represented and many of the patterns were intricate.  If only I had a spare thousand dollars to buy even a cheap rug!
  • Kudos to our tour guide, ‘George’ (not his real name, but his stage name!), who charmed all of us with his beguiling Turkish accent, charisma, humour and ability to anticipate our questions.

Kusadasi in 5 words…

Proud, bold, prosperous, historic, sparkly.

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Travel Diaries: Athens

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Athens as seen from the Acropolis

Kalimera!  

Oh how I loved hearing this vivacious greeting each morning in beautiful Greece, where the food is divine, the weather wonderfully Mediterranean, and the people relaxed and laid-back.

As we drove from the airport into the city of Athens, I couldn’t help but notice and the hills and abundance of olive and fruit trees.  Bright and breezy and oh so warm.  It was like watching the scenery from the movie adaptation of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ but without the crappy acting.

Athens

  • Around a third of all Greek people live in Athens, and it certainly feels busy and congested like most major global cities.  Not surprising, given all the significant historical sites spread around the city.
  • There are literally hundreds of historical sites to visit and not enough time to see them all in a quick visit!  I ventured up the hill to view the Acropolis and all its ancient monuments. The walk is easier than it looks and the view from the top is breath-taking, with views of wider Athens, and out into the sea. It cost me €20 to enter the site and it was worth every cent. You can also buy a multi-pass which also allows you to visit multiple ancient sites across the city too.
  • My partner and friend visited the mighty Acropolis Museum, featuring many of the precious artefacts housed in the surrounding area.  Tickets must be reserved online due to the high number of visitors.
  • Go back in time in the Plaka.  Located close to the Acropolis, The Plaka is the oldest section of Athens and many streets are pedestrianised.  The streets are teeming with shops, stalls and eateries and the streets are mostly cobbled and covered in stone and marble.  I also spied a few rooftop cinemas that look out towards the Acropolis too. Best ventured at night, the Plaka feels like an old quaint village and even more so when musicians are serenading on the streets.  There is also a bustling fleamarket, so it’s great if you want to get souvenirs, scarves, cotton and linen shirts or anything else that tickles your holiday fancy.
  • Food glorious food!  There are very few Greek options in New Zealand, so it was so liberating to see a plethora of authentic Greek eateries.  I ate moussaka, gyros kebabs, souvlaki, tzatziki, spanakopita, keftedkia, saganaki… all priced reasonably too.
  • The effects of the GFC are still apparent in Athens.  Old Historic sites, sit alongside dilapidated buildings covered in graffiti and dust.  With so much charm, you can’t help but root for Athens to assert its former glory again.

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Athens in 5 words…

Surreal, grungy, historic, delicious, sunny. 

 

 

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Travel Diaries: London

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“Oh the places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss

I recently came back from a holiday with lots of content and ideas in my head.  I hope you don’t mind (bugger it, I’m going to do it anyway) but over the coming week you will see lots of travel writing in ‘Coffee and Career Chat’.  Enjoy as you sip on your flat white or other beverage of choice.  You’re welcome.  

Yesterday I arrived back in Aotearoa after three jam-packed weeks overseas with my partner and family.  In that time I went to London, Denmark, Greece and Hong Kong and each place was amazing, and wildly different from each other.  I chuckle as I sit here sipping coffee at Robert Harris Cafe in Westgate, where they are is little traffic and few people around me. We are truly blessed with space and beautiful fresh air in New Zealand!

What made this trip so special was that it was my mum and dad’s very first time to Europe and Hong Kong.  They did so well to keep up and sprint from between airport gates, train stations and ship terminals despite  (damn, I knew I should’ve brought my Fitbit on the trip).  Also on the trip were my wanderlusting sister and her hubby who completed a two-week European tour with mum and dad before meeting us in London.

Travelling is such a privilege and I am aware that not everyone has the ability to go on holiday.  It makes me appreciate every waking moment, realising that we have much to learn from being in environments different to our own.  It also reaffirms the conscious decision to make travel a goal for the foreseeable future and I will continue to work hard to fund this passion!

Over the course of my next few blogs I will share insights and observations from the key places we went to.  There is simply too much to share in just one post.

Places visited

London (4 days) – Copenhagen, Denmark with side visit to Mälmo, Sweden (3 days) – Athens, Greece with cruise around the Greek Islands of Mykynos, Syros, Santorini, Heraklion, Kusadasi in Turkey (9 days) –  Hong Kong (3 days)

London, UK

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  • Technically my 5th visit to London (first time was during my school band trip in 1995) and I am still in love with the culture, fashion and arts-scene in funk London. Bought my obligatory colourful socks from Topman (3 pairs for only £8.00).
  • Awkward start at our hotel… Opened the door of our room to find a half-naked man sitting in bed (this was at 3pm and I could also hear a female voice from the room too).  I quickly said ‘sorry’, and shut the door. Yup, we were given the wrong room key…
  • Visited the impressive Buckingham Palace, which is the Queen’s official London residence and a working royal palace. I wasn’t interested in going at first, but I’m so glad I did!  The rooms are beautifully decorated and I especially liked the international art collection selected by Prince Charles.  Public visits are run between the months of July to December, plus selected dates from December to May.  The £24.00 entry fee is worth every penny.
  • High tea at the classy Fortnum and Mason (an upmarket department store established in 1707).  As you would expect, the food was exquisite and the teas perfectly matched.  We even had a tea tasting session with our own Tea Sommelier.
  • Quick visit to Harrods.  Yes, the shopping is very high end and expensive, but the building is worth exploring, even if just for their amazing food hall.  Bought mum a t-shirt as she was overheating in her long-sleeve top.  Um, she chose a Stella McCartney Adidas T-shirt (yup, that will count as her Christmas present!).
  • Had a quiet drink at the gorgeous Pilgrm Hotel in Paddington.  The first floor lounge is so classic and chic and is totally my idea of cool!  With sumptuous jazz and ambient electronic music playing in the background, how can you go wrong?
  • Sauntered around Borough Market and happily got lost around the different stalls.  The food and drink options are varied and cater to every taste.  I had a goat kofta bowl with bulgar wheat, washed down with a fresh apple and ginger juice.  Great value for less than $15NZD!
  • Strolled through Hyde Park.  The park itself is a huge oasis in the centre of London, but a particular highlight was visiting the understated and peaceful Diana Memorial Fountain.   According to the Royal Parks website: the design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. 
  • Had delicious pan-Asian cuisine at cheap and cheerful East Street, just off Oxford Circus.  I swear I ate the best Nasi Goreng I’ve ever tasted… I attribute this to the fresh herbs and kaffir lime leaves.  A big shout out to our sassy waitress Imogen for creating such a lively and welcoming atmosphere!
  • Got intimate with the Tube (London Underground).  We took mum and dad on the Tube train during the morning rush hour and they quickly saw why my sister (she lived in London for over 4 years) said… When you enter the the station, keep your shoulders strong and just walk straight even if you nudge into people.  Mum and dad survived to tell the tale!

London in 5 words…

Diverse, busy, stylish, business, pleasure.

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Pleased to meet you

The idea of speed networking is not new, but can be very overwhelming and scary for many.  Imagine trying to make a great first impression in the space of a few minutes?

On Monday I took group of year 13 students to the Got a Trade! SpeedMeet event at Glenfield College, where students got to meet industry employers from the trades and services sector.  The whole idea was that these students got to find out first-hand about career options, but also available opportunities for when they finish their school year.

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Waiting to chat with eagerly awaiting employers

The students I took all have an interest in practical work and love the idea of having physical movement in a role, and also being able to use tools, equipment and machinery. They also have a preference for working outdoors as well as indoors.

I recently ran a series of career workshops with year 12 students, asking them to identify their preferences/interests by way of tool based on John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC).  Essentially the students reflected on different traits (using a form with descriptions) and selected those that best matched their interests.

Of the students who completed the tool, 59% had selected the REALISTIC type as one of their preferred traits.  Realistic refers to being hands-on and practical, much like the boys I took to the event.  Whilst there may be social conditioning for males to prefer practical tasks, the Realistic profile had the greatest percentage across the 6 different types.   

There are many young people I work with present themselves in that way (or have interests that naturally are practical in nature) but are generally unaware of what trades are and the industries they come from.

Experiences are important and crucial to giving young people a sense of their interests and better understanding their potential strengths.  For example, I am absolutely dreadful at completing practical, tactile tasks (the spice rack I made at school is unintentionally diagonal in shape), but relished volunteering my time to host a Christmas party for disabled children (I loved the people contact).

Parents and guardians of young people can assist with this understanding by encouraging their child to engage in work experience, voluntary work, group activities and projects.  Young people often don’t know where to start, so be the connector and help them find that first job or group.  Ask them what they liked, or didn’t like about it.  Affirm what they did well or learnt about themselves.

So back to the students at the SpeedMeet event.  We arrive and the boys all go quiet.  I’m sure they were all feeling nervous on the inside.  As soon as the event started they talked non-stop for an hour and half, meeting and greeting employers ranging from auto-mechanics, engineering, health, hospitality, construction, landscaping…

They were so energised by the end and had a noticeable lift in their confidence and energy levels.  Young people can do incredibly well once given the opportunity and right forums and situations to engage.  It is my hope that the experience will give them further confidence to confidently talk to employers.  Career development and employability skills in action!

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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is about remembering those who have passed away.

Today is about acknowledging the importance of connection.

Today I remember my friend Heather.

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Me, Heather and John at a work party in 2004.  

Heather was the type of person you couldn’t help but like.  She was effervescent, engaging, kind, and pretty cool.  The year was 2004 and we were both 23 years of age; I had started my first ‘proper’ job post-university study.  Heather was on a working holiday from the United States.  We would go to Les Mills classes together and I loved how she would totally cut loose at Body Jam.   Our workplace was very social (I lost count of the shared morning teas and dinner outings) and many of us developed a fondness for this bubbly American.  I remember dictating a sentence to her to type out “blah blah blah full stop…” and she literally typed out the words ‘full stop.’  We laughed about that for such a long time afterwards!

Heather broke up with her boyfriend whilst in NZ, but she seemed resolute and was supported by the many friends she made at work.  My colleague Adele became quite motherly towards her, and I’m sure she was always so appreciative of this despite being so far away from her family.

When she was ready to go back to the United States, she seemed so excited about pursuing a cool new job.  Her interest had been in marketing and she had landed herself a great new role in Phoenix, Arizona.  Before she left, she gave us a letter/poem that talked fondly of her time in New Zealand.  Yup, I will never forget the peanut butter with jelly and pineapple toasted sandwiches!

A few months later we received an email from her mum to say she had committed suicide.   She had turned 24 a few weeks earlier.  I remember bursting into tears, the shock of it all was too great.  In was so unfathomable to think that someone so bubbly would take her own life.

Heather’s passing was a shock to the system.  It made me reflect on the ‘down days’ I experienced throughout my early twenties, the days when I thought would be easier to disappear from everyone.  Even though the circumstances are tragic, I draw strength from Heather’s memory and this encourages me to lead a productive and happy life.  I know that’s what she would want for everyone, but it saddens me how that hope wasn’t there for her on the fateful day.

I don’t think there is a magic answer to fixing this apparent crisis, but all I know is that fostering positive mental health is extremely important to getting through the good and bad times in life.  Accept that life isn’t perfect.  Accept that there are many things beyond our control.  Accept the idea that you are loved.  Accept that there IS someone thinking about you.  Accept help.  You can’t always do this alone and nor should you every have to.

Rest in peace and love my friend.  You are not forgotten.

 

Useful websites about World Suicide Prevention Day: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12120610

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/lifestyle/2018/09/world-suicide-prevention-day-call-for-regular-mental-health-check-ups.html

 

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The Apprentice… You’re hired!

As a careers advisor in a high school, I am privileged to have conversations with students about their future goals and aspirations.  What became clear to me is that many students are still unfamiliar with trades and the concept of an apprenticeship.

According to Fiona Kingsford, CEO of industry training organisation Competenz, whilst around 60,000 teenagers leave school each year, just four percent of them go straight into trades training.  This figure is all the more alarming, when key industries are citing a lack of trained people to carry out this work.

Students can easily cite the main trade pathways of builder, carpenter, plumber and electrician, but the list fizzles after that.  There are lots of opportunities to better connect students to these other pathways with Gateway and Star programmes, work experience, job-shadowing, guest speakers, competitions and school projects helping to bridge this gap.

I attended the Unitec Open Day on Saturday and took a took a tour of their impressive Mataaho building, New Zealand’s largest open plan trades training facility.  I am not a practical hands-on person at all (hence why I talk and write for a living!) but I marvelled at all the different equipment and tools in this gargantuan space.  It made me appreciate how vast, interesting and dynamic a trade career can be.

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As a careers professional, I understand the importance of readily sharing information to help students make aware and to help them make sense of these options.  One website I strongly recommend is the Got a Trade! website which wonderfully showcases the vast array of trade pathways.  The website is a collaborative initiative involving the main industry training organisations (ITOs) in New Zealand, so the information is comprehensive and relevant.

In addition to featuring information and videos on specific trades, it also features the ‘Get a Trade’ tool to help people reflect on their interests and skills and how this relates to a certain trade.

For the recent Got a Trade! week, a recent video by The Hype Men (featuring Neil Finn’s son Elroy) featured band members contorting themselves to fit through nine different walls, each representing different trades and services.  Every wall was constructed with the help of apprentices and trainees.  Check it out!

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Happy Left-handers Day!

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Happy Left-handers Day to all the lefties out there!  

Yes, it may seem like an unusual thing to celebrate, but when left-handers make up only 10 percent of the population, it seems right (pun intended) to recognise this unique characteristic.

So who are some of the famous lefties in the world?

Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Napoleon Bonaparte, Oprah Winfrey, Ned Flanders, Bart Simpson*…

*Fun fact: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is left-handed, so he decided to make many of the characters left-handed too (remember Ned Flander’s ‘Leftorium’ store?). 

There are several left-handers in my family including my sister and grandfather.  Lefties tend to curve their hand when they write, but some prefer to keep their hand straight and shift their paper to an extreme angle (honestly, my sister turns the page 90 degrees!).

So what are some of the challenges of being left-handed in the workplace?

  • Using a guillotine.  I find this so difficult and end up cutting the paper into the shape of a fan. The risk of the guillotine jumping or moving is high too (OSH hazard much?).
  • Writing on a whiteboard.  As writing forms from the left to right side of the board, it is hard to see what you’ve composed.  My writing ends up ascending like a mountain climber.
  • Smudging.  The bane of every left-handers existence.  Inky pens are messy at the best of times and having blotchy marks is not pretty.  I forget how many cards and documents I’ve ruined from smudging.
  • Scissors.  I’m so conditioned to using right handed scissors, that I simply can’t use left handed scissors now!
  • Sitting next to a right-hander at a meeting.  Chances of being accidentally bumped or nudged are high.
  • Ticking the ‘other way’.  When I tick, I start from the right, then flick out to the left.  This may confuse administrators when the instruction is to tick in the opposite direction.
  • Workstations designed for righthanders.  I once had a desk where all the space for writing and placing documents was on the the right hand side.
  • Writing in journals.  Imagine being left handed and trying to write on the right hand page. If the book is thick, it is nigh impossible to write neatly and tidily (the left hand simply is too big and awkward to rest on the page).

Spot-The-Difference-Scissors1So there you go.  Despite these everyday occurences I am proud to be a lefty and I like the fact I write on an awkward angle and frequently curve my hand (for right-handers,  think of your hand as Kermit the Frog, then you’ll get my drift).

#lefthandersday

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