Eating my way around Athens

Having spent far too much of my life studying Ancient Greece and the eponymous capital Athens I can say I was just a bit excited about my recent long weekend to the Greek capital. Arriving in the dark, we took in the bright lights and buzzing streets on the drive from the airport to the city centre and then as tiredness was starting to take over we got to the centre and there she was, lite up and glowing, the star of the show, the Acropolis. I couldn’t believe it I was finally here. I was going to wander the streets of the Agora, climb the up to the top of the Acropolis and see the stage that hosted so many amazing plays! Excited may not be the word!

However, I will not bore you with an onslaught of pictures of marble and ruins but I want to tell you about the other star of the city – its food! Greeks are known as a people who love food and love hospitality. There is such a melange of foods and tastes that fill their cuisine due to their interaction with so many different people and cultures over the millennia that its hard to escape.

In order to really get under the skin of Athenian food we booked onto a food tour with Athens Walking Tours. Led by the fabulous owner Despina we were about to be introduced to the crazy world of Athenian and Greek food. Throughout the tour Despina unloaded her food knowledge onto us, giving us little insights in to Greek behaviour and life. Having spent a good 24 hours in to the city prior to the walk tour I kept noticing how much coffee the Greeks drink, its crazy, any time of the day siting in a cafe drinking their coffee be it hot or iced! Despina confirmed that the Greeks are coffee addicts, many skipping breakfast and just having coffee! No wonder they eat so late at night, they are buzzed with caffeine. Throughout the tour we saw insights into Athenian cuisine and the day to day rituals of food, from the meat and fish marking buzzing with activity, to the calls of the fruit and vegetable sellers ( good to know this isn’t just a British thing). We navigated ourselves through the winding streets of the ancient city stopping and tasting as we went at local sellers, filling our bags with herbs and spices, olives and oils – basically my weekly shop! This was such a great way to explore Athens and escape the crowns of the tourist centre. We got to see how life is for the normal Athenian going about their daily chores, some fabulous architecture and some even more fabulous characters.

Even if food isn’t a massive part of your life, doing a food tour gives you a great insight into the city, you see things you wouldn’t normally see from the sightseeing coach. If you are every in Athens I highly recommend giving Despina a call or email and see what exciting walking tours she has in woodwork.


The Price of Fashion

There was a story this week that again highlighted the wages of those who make our clothes and the shocking comparison compared to the price that they are sold at. It’s a story that keeps being told but from what I can tell nothing is being done. The recent revelations that Beyonce’s Ivy Park range for Topshop are only paying the Sri Lankan seamstress £4.30 a day is just one of many that have come out in recent years. Every few months a new revelation comes out about the price of fast fashion and everyone says how shocking it is, but does it actually make anyone stop going into H&M or Topshop to buy the latest item that they must have?

Now do not get me wrong, I love shopping, I love clothes, I love that something as simple as t-shirt or a dress can completely change your mood or identity for the day. Clothes have an incredible ability of telling a story or creating a character. I do however like to think that I am someone who thinks before I buy. I dislike the whole fast fashion thing, buying clothes wearing them for a month or so and then they never see the light of day again! I am a hoarder of old clothes, I get attached to things, they have a story –  like the scarf that I have had for 10 years, it has been travelling with me for all that time, its been around my neck, over my head while riding a camel, used as a makeshift pillow on an overnight train in Uzbekistan, even a picnic blanket on a beach – I love it. Yes its got some loose threads, a little hole in it but it’s still doing its job and looks great. I moved house 6 months a go and my sister was aghast at some of the items I was packing, one of which, a summer top I got in Topshop 12 years ago – yes 12 years ago! Ok, its pretty threadbare and its one of those things I only whip out when in very hot countries but it’s still wearable, I like it, so why not! It’s what I do, I get attached. I take my time when buying things, I have to give myself a reason to buy it otherwise I would be living with a very large credit card bill.

Yes, on occasion I do impulse buy usually for something shiny and completely in appropriate like my gorgeous gold pumps that destroy my feet every time I wear them. I still have them, they sit in my wardrobe unused but so pretty. However, it is the fast fashion, the people leaving Primark with huge bags crammed with items that will only get worn once or twice before they hit the bottom of the wardrobe, the bin or the local charity shop. It’s this mentality of buying cheap clothes because they are cheap so you can just wear it once and not think about it.

Something needs to change. But what? and How?

There is all this talk of buying fair trade brands, buying from up and coming fashion designers selling their wares like on website Birdsong, but how practical is this? I would love to be able to say I only buy fair trade clothes, that they are made by fairly paid workers, or from local designers but in reality this just isn’t an affordable plan. If you look at a brand like People Tree, they offer Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. Their clothes are lovely, I only wish I could afford to shop with them all the time, however I just cannot justify £40 for a grey t-shirt when I could get the same item from H&M for £10-12. Yes it’s not fair trade and the person who made it was paid very badly but living in London, paying the extortionate rent I do, I have limited free money. This is the story for many people. I am sure like me, many people would like to go into a shop buy a t-shirt or dress knowing that what they were buying wasn’t made in a sweatshop where people are loosing fingers, and other ailments from the job they are doing.

I am sure many people would say, stop moaning, buy less clothing,  and save up for those fair trade items. Yes I could, but I do not actually shop that often. I save up for a couple of months so that I can go and buy a couple of nice items but even then always buying fair trade isn’t an affordable or accessible option. If it’s not an option for me then it’s certainly not going to be an option for those on lower wages or living on the poverty line, those people who have to shop in Primark because they have no other option.

I cannot offer a solution here, but do feel it should be something we talk about more rather than just when a story breaks about the latest celebrity clothing line. This is a much bigger discussion as well – the governments of those countries that are running the factories – China, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, to name a few, need to lead this discussion. They need to be championing their people. It’s obviously a pie in the sky dream, hoping these developing countries could step forward together and say no! We want fair wages, set those wages and make the fashion industry pay attention.  Also fashion here in the western world needs to face up to this, cut a few pounds off the profit, set an example. If you end up charging another £1 or two for something at the end of the day people are still going to buy it especially if they can say ‘ yes its fair trade’ it makes people feel good. Hell, we live in a world where people will pay £5 for an artisan loaf of bread, they can spend a couple more pounds on a t-shirt!

I do not want to be a preacher, I am as bad as the next person. Like I said I cannot offer a solution, I certainly do not know what it is, but I would like the world to talk about it more.  I am certainly going to try harder and think about what I am buying and where it has come from, I hope you will as well dear reader.


North Street Pottery

I love pretty things. Yes I know, what a girl I am, but I do. I like pretty things that are hand-made, and care taken in their crafting, its someones creation! I think it has something to do with me being the least creative person in my family. I cannot draw or paint but man can I appreciate it. One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to pick up pieces of art or craft that you cannot find anywhere else, its individual, one of a kind. One of my favourite pictures is this little pastel drawing I got in Khiva of the city by a guy drawing on the street. He had just got back from doing a small exhibition in Germany, its simple but beautiful. It’s in this picture that I am reminded of great memories of that trip and also its pretty.

When I moved house a few months ago I was determined to use it as a space to show off all my bits that I had collected over the years. Finally get some of this art work in frames and out rather than being stored away ( the joys of the shared house). What I also wanted was a fantastic new dining set, something that was mine, not a mishmash of random plates that had been collected over years of house shares and trips to Ikea. So after much deliberation, trips to Zara, John Lewis and Marks I was left facing white plates, or overly extravagant gold things –  I am not having Russian Tsar themed dinner parties here people!- so we continued on with the Ikea plates and Christmas came and went. Then like lightning while wandering down a street in Clapham Old Town in search of a bus to take me back to the office I saw the North Street Pottery shop… what was this gem… alas I was in a rush and couldn’t stop but vowed to return and look beyond the window.

Return I did one saturday and was delighted with tiny little co-operative shop. Out the back is the potters studio where artists come to make the their creations and run classes while out front they sell their wares. There were some great sets but also one off pieces. I took lots of pictures of the sets and returned home to the boy to announce I had found our new dining set. So the following weekend he was dragged shopping, there was the promise of cake as a bribe, and there we picked out our hand-made, hand painted fabulous new dining set.  Now I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it.

It is shops like this that I love and admire, co-operatives. People working together in their craft to keep it alive. There is so much mass production these days, which has meant attainability for everyone which is great, but sometimes its wonderful to be able to say you are the only person with that item. We should be encouraging more co-operatives and supporting them. There is a resurgence of the Farmers Market and locally grown produce, why shouldnt this flow over into hand-made and hand crafted products. Bring back British made products. Yes I know they are always going to be more expensive than buying something ‘Made in China’ but there is something unique and special about small scale production and hand crafted. Lets encourage those small producers like we are doing with small food producers. I am not saying spend a fortune on a hand crafted dining table when you cannot afford it, but just think outside the box occasionally before that trip to Ikea, spending a little bit more occassionally can make a big difference, and what is better than buying something from the person who actually made it!

There are so many places popping up now in and out of London that are supporting local designers and creatives. There is a great list of places on Blog and Buy Sale to visit ( London places I am afraid), but with local markets taking a strong hold in most cities now, pop along and see what is on sale.