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Santorini δ: Skaros Rock at Sunset

Welcome to my fourth post on Santorini! Today I give you my favourite memory from the trip: a spontaneous evening walk to Skaros Rock, and the one activity I would immediately recommend to anyone planning a trip to the island. A sweaty, sun-bleached trek may not sound all that exciting, but it culminated in one of the most incredible sunsets of my life, and was undoubtedly one of the best things I did in 2015. This is a post I was pretty much dying to sit down and write the second I got back to the hotel room. Four months later, here we are. Or rather...here I am, forlornly scrolling through budget airline price listings for Santorini, my naïve strategy to bring a little sunshine and colour into the monochrome winter months having backfired horribly on me. I can only hope that these photographs might inspire the same level of wanderlust in you!

Caper berries growing wild on the side of the road. (Also wild and native to the island: an abundance of plump, sweet green figs, which we unashamedly snacked on throughout this walk). 

Imagine waking up to this view every morning. Having been in a pathetically stunned state since we crested the ridge of the island, I could only liken it to a National Geographic shot. 

A quick pitstop at a local cafe for water later, we climbed down the cliff from Imerovigli towards Skaros Rock, a medieval fortress abandoned by its inhabitants in the 18th century. It was only a few hours earlier that I'd noticed it on Tripadvisor and indeed, it doesn't seem to be hugely well-known - with only a few other tourists making the climb down to the promontory, it's a far cry from the sunset crowds at Oia and a far preferable spot to catch the famous Santorini sunset in peace.

It was by a fluke that we noticed these cave dwellings under the main path leading up to the rock. As I gingerly climbed down from the path and peered inside, I felt like an archaeologist happening across a buried settlement. 

The sun began to dip closer to the horizon, leaving Skaros Rock awash in golden light. We took our cue to find a place to sit and eat our dinner - sandwiches and fruit - an experience that far outstripped the 'sunset restaurants'. As I sat, perched on a dusty rock and wearing dusty shorts and trainers, my attention squarely focused on the beauty of my surroundings, I felt pure and humbled.

The sun having disappeared behind Thirasia, the boats clustered around the port at Oia for sunset came streaking back across the lagoon, creating sweeping brush-like strokes that my art historian's eye couldn't help but notice.

As dusk fell over Santorini, the lights in the towns along the ridge turned on gradually, glittering and scintillating in the distance. This, the most memorable night I spent on the island, was one marked not by excess of spending and food, but by the natural beauty of the caldera and the pure pleasure of exploring with my own two feet, with not a single Euro in my pocket. If you do one thing in Santorini, please - do this. You won't regret it.

If you've missed my earlier posts on Santorini, you can catch up here: 
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SiN x Sambal Shiok

I'm feeling a little blur today, as they say in Malaysia. Last night was a happy whirl: eyewatering spice at Sambal Shiok's residency at Salvation in Noodles' Finsbury Park branch and luminescent installations at the Lumiere festival of light in central London. Like all good experiences, both are fleeting and finish tonight! 

So let's start with the food, shall we? Longtime readers of this blog will know that as the child of a Petaling Jaya expat, I'm constantly craving authentic Malaysian food in London. Sambal Shiok absolutely delivers on that front - I've had her epic rendang sliders at Street Feast before. But my heart longs for laksa slurped out of bowls, huddled around a table with good friends and family. And that's exactly what I got on my visit. Sambal Shiok's Hainan chicken potsticker dumplings and ayam goreng (fried chicken) poppers are worth fighting over with your chopsticks.

Laksa ayam - a steaming bowl of chicken curry and vermicelli for Matt with very sensible shots of coconut milk (not pictured) to offset the spice.

Laksa udang, a prawn version of the above for Kana.

Miho, E and I were all won over by the sound of nasi lemak with rendang daging. Nasi lemak is often fêted as Malaysia's national dish, and for good reason - fragrant pandan-scented coconut rice, a smattering of ikan bilis (dried anchovies), peanuts, egg, cucumber and meat (slow-cooked beef here!) make for a wonderfully filling meal dancing with flavours and textures. I was taken aback by the beef rendang standing in for ayam goreng, but it worked so well and I was later told off by my Malaysian mother for not knowing that rendang is a common substitute for chicken. Apparently I'm a bit basic. #storyofmylife

Sambal Shiok's food packs a punch in the spice department - the eponymous sambal will literally leave you in tears, whether you're weeping for joy or because you're a wimp (like me). I would say that this isn't for the faint-hearted, but really, the faint-hearted should man up and work on that spice tolerance. This dish wasn't lacking in heat, but I did wish for more ikan bilis - in Malaysia I like to have a little mound of the salty fish to counter the spice. A few more anchovies and this dish will be a knockout - the beef rendang was tender and subtly flavoured, almost reminiscent of Moroccan tagine. 

If you're hoping to catch the last night of the Sambal Shiok residency, make sure to get down to SiN early to avoid the queues - service starts at 5pm and it's worth putting your name down to make sure you get a table. Miserable that you're missing out? Fear not - Mandy Yin of Sambal Shiok tells us she's on the hunt for a more permanent home, so watch this space!

Next on the Saturday night agenda: braving the crowds on Regent's Street to peer up at the Lumiere installations strung overhead, trying not to get snow in my eyes. Studio Echelman's 1.8 London was my favourite exhibit - a diaphanous, flame-like sail billowing over the Oxford Circus roundabout.

A short stroll down the street brought us into contact with Keyframes, a slightly brash nod to gaming culture, and these wispy Luminéoles - metamorphosing rapidly from flying fish to Portuguese man o' war, elephant head and...other things.

All good Saturday evenings finish with something sweet (gelato, waffles and crêpes at Scoop). Oh, and something alcoholic to fuel the outrage when you discover that two of your friends haven't seen Jurassic Park. Or Independence Day. Or Back To The Future. And that's what Sundays are for!

As I've said, the Sambal Shiok pop up and Lumiere finish tonight and both are definitely worth venturing into the cold for. So if you're a Londoner at a loose end tonight, you know what to do!

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Happy New Year from Athens!

Happy 2016! Or as they say in Greece: Xronia polla! We're well and truly into the new year, and it's already been incredibly busy: I returned to reality from a brief sojourn in Athens last week, rushing headlong into my second law exam on Friday. No wonder I'm already longing for another trip back to Homer's country (yes, Greece really was the word in 2015!) So here's what I got up to in Athens - a welcome city break in the midst of my terribly spun-out Santorini posts.

This wasn't my first time in this ancient city, but it might as well have been. The five days I spent in Athens were a world away from my last trip (a teacher-supervised Classics whistle-stop tour through Greece), as I was lucky enough to be staying with Athens natives Athina and Roxy. It makes such a difference to be able to see a city through the eyes of locals, don't you think? Anyway, Roxy, who'd arrived the day before me, had warned me that it was a 'bit nippy', and I'd better bundle up. Winter coat buttoned up and gloves pulled on, I stepped off the plane into bright yet practically Arctic conditions, with flurries of snow stubbornly eddying through sunbeams. Bit nippy indeed. Thanks Rox. Luckily, upon arriving in the old town of Monastiraki I soon warmed up over hot rakomelo (raki with honey and cloves, which I freely admit blows mulled wine out of the water. A must if you're ever visiting Greece in the cold months!) As we left, the moon was already up, the Parthenon illuminated on the hill and the swirling snow steadily growing bolder. 

Naps, showers and makeup complete, I was propelled into the world of Greek family life with a host of Hellenic New Year traditions: pastitsio (a hearty dish best described as the lovechild of moussaka and mac 'n' cheese) with a salmon salad, followed by vassilopita or St Basil's Cake. Similar to the galette du roi enjoyed on Epiphany, it involves hunting for a token - a Euro, in this case - with the recipient bound to be very fortunate in the coming year. Sadly, the six of us weren't so lucky and the luck went to 'the house' - though as a guest, I was gifted with a charm to remember the evening by.

No sooner had we settled down to watch the mayor's speech on TV than - without a countdown! - it was suddenly not 2015 any more. After kisses and squeals, we walked out of the door to welcome in 2016, making sure to step back over the threshold right foot first. Traditions ticked off, it was time to drive through what had developed into an intense snowstorm to make merry in Kefissia.

Photo by Giorgos Makris

Hours of drinking and dancing with Rox, Rallia and Athina later, the night was brought to a satisfying close with home-cooked fried eggs and toast. Yes, this was an incredibly happy new year.

The next day we got up just as Nyx took the reins from Hemera (the sun was going down, if my Ancient Greek enthusiasm needs translating). Crazily hungry, we had one craving and one craving only: burgers, of course! More specifically: Simply Burgers. I plumped for the Godfather: mushrooms, bacon and double cheddar! Hey, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I've had some truly jaw-dropping burgers in my time (Bleecker, Honest Burgers, I love you so) but I really couldn't complain here. The thickly-cut wedge chips in particular were right up my alley, with creamy gyros-style Creole dipping sauce making for three very happy customers.

New Year over, the rest of the trip flashed by. Highlights coming right up...

Late-night comedy at Theatre 104 delivered by the wonderful Katerina Vrana that made me laugh like a fool. Want to know something else that makes me cry with laughter? These girls. We had SATC-style chats over giant hot chocolates topped with frothy whipped cream and intense games of Connect 4 at Sensimilia. (Yes, Roxy beat us both resoundingly, and yes, this sore loser will be erasing that from the history books.)

Greece's take on Japanese cuisine at Koi: sushi topped with eel, sashimi, edamame beans and warm sake.

Mulled wine and a ridiculously fun mash-up of Charades and Articulate in an incredibly smoky bar. Smoke was the one and only source of my discontent in Athens: I noticed that in direct contrast to Santorini, most bars and were filled with smoke here, especially at the hotel, and it took some serious washing to get the smell out of my hair and clothes. In this bar they actually opened the roof to let the smoke out!

A day marathoning films (It Follows, Anastasia and Coraline) fuelled by ouzo and some crazy good gyros, spicy feta and smoked aubergine takeaway. Oh, and getting terrified in the vast Metro stations about the possibility of the It Follows ghoul coming after us.

A solo walk around the hills, picking my way over rocks and ruins to get a look at the Acropolis from the back.

The Sowl, Athina's very cool workplace and an arts space with a great bar where we spent the day working (me to salvage the upcoming exam, Roxy looking very professional on her netbook).

It also serves kick-ass food, as I found out firstly over lunch with their amazing tacos. So good that on our last night, after playing a ghoulish escape room game (a fun experience, but overshadowed by the HintHunt Japanese room I beat on work experience last summer!) we went back for dinner. And cocktails.

More last-night fun: zooming up to the Time Machine bar at the A for Athens hotel for more excellent drinks and an unbeatable view of the golden Acropolis. Honestly the perfect way to round off a magical trip. Thank you so much for showing me around your amazing city, Athina!

I hope you enjoyed this short peek into Athens from an insider's point of view! After all that festive eating, I admit I toyed with titling this post 'My Big Fat Greek New Year'. It really would have been appropriate - I frankly ate enough to bring Athens to its knees. Dare I say it: Acropolis Now. Okay, I'm done. I promise. Happy New Year, guys!

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