September Trip – Fabric Shopping!!

We are back in London after 2 x 8-hour red eye flights. It’s lovely to be back, but sad to leave all the great food in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Ever since I’ve started sewing my own clothes, I rarely buy ready-to-wear (RTW) clothes. The only time I’ll buy clothes are when it’s more time-effective to do so. Like needing new tank tops that I can’t be bothered sewing and are fairly inexpensive at Uniqlo. Even before I started sewing I wasn’t a huge shopper, and that extended to shopping when on holiday. Now, it’s fun to explore the fabric options at places that I go to. We made 4 stops on this trip: Dubai, Taipei, Hualien and Hong Kong. I’ll break down the experience and some of the stuff I bought!

Fabric shopping in Dubai
From reading blogs, I saw that the places to go were Satwa and the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai. People had said that the Textile Souk was mainly for wholesalers and so I thought perhaps Satwa would be better. I asked the concierge at our hotel and he said that the Textile Souk wasn’t just wholesale, so since it was across the river from the Gold Souk, we decided to go there. Getting to the souks were a bit of a challenge. We opted for the metro way and the walk to and from was a bit confusing but also sweltering hot. If you plan to go, bear in mind that the fabric places don’t open until 1pm. We got there early and all the shops that had “textile” in their name were closed. I asked a wholesale shop owner who happened to be open, and he said they would open later. We wandered around the different stalls (they don’t just sell fabric) and it was tiring getting propositioned as we walked by every store. By the time the textile shops did open, I had lost the will to browse. I found a piece of fabric at 1 stall and was able to haggle for 10 dirhams per meter instead of 15 (which I was jazzed about) but after seeing that everywhere was basically wholesale, I called it a day. I was disappointed, but at the same time, knew I’d have the opportunity to shop in Asia.

This is the fabric I bought it Dubai. The colours made me happy 🙂
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Fabric Shopping in Taipei
The place to go is Yongle Fabric Market. It’s a building just chockablock full of fabric.

This is me in front of just 1 stand. 1 of…A LOT
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One of the big questions I had was how willing they would be to bargaining. Some websites said no, some said yes but only 10-15% less. I’m not as comfortable using mandarin so my husband helped test the waters. Turns out, they don’t bargain at Yongle anymore. Maybe if someone bought massive amounts of fabric, but from our experience and the fact that no other customers tried to bargain, we basically concluded that they didn’t. It was fine, since the prices were already amazing when converted to GBP. Bargaining also makes me nervous, and having to do it in mandarin was seriously stressing me out. It was much more enjoyable after that factor was taken away! I found some amazing stuff there: sweatery knits and jerseys for some long-sleeved projects. We’re approaching the colder months in the UK so I need to get cracking on some warmer clothing! I also found a lovely teal plaid that I want to make a pencil skirt out of, a lovely creme cotton that I’ll probably use for a long-sleeved button up shirt and a poly-cotton mix houndstooth fabric. The cost for all 7 fabrics (and I bought between 2-3 yards of each) was around £40. Pretty amazing, even without bargaining! Incredibly happy with my purchases here.

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Fabric Shopping in Hualien
Hualien is a small coastal town on the east coast of Taiwan. We’d chosen to go there because of Taroko Gorge – a beautiful park with lots of hiking trails. We figured it’d be our bit of nature for the trip, since the rest were all cities. Little did we know that a category 4 (and then upgraded to 5) typhoon would hit when we got there, so that basically washed out our chance of hiking since all the trails were closed both days we were there. I hadn’t intended on doing fabric shopping in Hualien because it’s a smaller town and any searches I did for fabric shops there came up empty. Our first night walking around, I saw a fabric store not far from our hotel. They were having a sale on pre-cut fabric. They were 6 chi (30 cms or 1 foot) or 1.8 metre long pieces of cotton fabric. I ended up finding some really pretty fabric and it was only £3.80 per piece. We ended up discovering 4 fabric stores, all on Zhonghua road, or not far off of it. It’s difficult to put in names of the shops because they’re in chinese.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with each of these pieces as some of them are fairly heavy cotton, but I know I’ll probably use a couple for projects that will be gifts. I am really happy with the selection they had, and I think these will make some lovely items!
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I took a photo of the shopping bag for one of the stores if someone wants to translate it into pinyin.
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Fabric Shopping in Hong Kong
Hong Kong…our final stop on the trip, and I was already really happy with what I found in Taiwan. I figured if we had time, we’d go to the fabric market, if not, no biggie. I’m really glad we ended up going because I found some really great stuff. The area is called Sham Shui Po and there is all types of shopping, not just fabric. The fabric stalls and stores that I went to are towards the south side of Ki Lung Street. I’m much more comfortable speaking in Cantonese (despite my nervousness for bargaining) so I thought I’d give it a go. Unlike Ladies Market, Sham Shui Po is not an aggressive bargaining market. You might be able to get 5-15% off, if you can really charm them, but they don’t hike up their prices to overcompensate for tourists. Because…let’s face it…how many tourists (other than fellow sewists) will fabric shop on their holiday.

I bought these two pieces at a brick and mortar store (not a stall along the street). I love stripes and dots and knew I had to get this black and white polka dot crepe. The second piece is silk and isn’t something I’m normally drawn to, but the pattern really intrigued me. Both are 3 yards long (the silk fabric is quite narrow). The silk cost 85 HKD or ~ £7 total and the crepe was 75 HKD or ~£6 total. Literally a STEAL. I did negotiate a little. I think the silk was supposed to be 95 HKD and the crepe was supposed to be 85 HKD. She called me pretty girl and kept telling me how cheap it was compared to other places and it wouldn’t even be as good quality as hers 🙂 It’s also the first time my cantonese has been complimented (it’s really not that great). But I think it’s because I told her I was visiting from the UK.
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These next two pieces of fabric I also bought from a brick and mortar store in the area. I had gone in at first and thought it was a bit pricey, but the quality was really good and I knew I couldn’t get the equivalent in the UK for as cheap as it was here. They weren’t bargaining friendly, but I didn’t mind. The first is a boucle-like fabric that will be great for something long-sleeved. I bought 2 yards for 90 HKD which is ~ £7.50.
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The second is a black and white paisley print medium weight cotton blend. It’s not slippery but it is drapey, which I really like. This was also 90 HKD for 2 yards.
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Last but not least…the fabric purchase I am happiest with. I bought this wool fabric from a stall on Ki Lung street. The reason I was drawn to it is the pattern but also the colour. When the weather gets cold, it’s so easy to pick and wear clothing that is black or grey. It’s a winter wool so it’s definitely warm, but it’s also a nice colour to offset the more drab pieces in my wardrobe. The original piece he held was 7 yards long (and 160cm wide, so it’s really a lot of fabric). It was 35 HKD per yard if he had to cut into it, or 200 HKD for all 7 yards (a discount from 245 HKD). I considered the full 7 yards but thought “Deb…realistically speaking, what will you do with 7 yards of this fabric?!” I made it clear I didn’t want the full 7 yards but wanted 4 instead (which would total 140 HKD). I said I’d pay 100 HKD. He kept saying how it’s real wool and how beautiful it is. I won’t find another like it. So, I was polite and said thank you for his time, and continued down the street to browse. I then came back up the street and lingered at stalls near him. Then I heard him say “Ok, I’ll give you 4 yards for 120 HKD”. 4 yards of wool for £10 is a no brainer and a 15% discount…not bad 🙂 I was pretty happy with the result, and super happy with this fabric! Chalk up 2 successes for bargaining in Cantonese!
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I’m grateful that I have a husband who is supportive of my fabric purchases and never rushed me once when I was looking in all the stores. I think he knows there are more expensive things I could be into and is probably glad that I’m not! The fabric ended up being extra useful as we bought one of those self balancing boards for his brother at Ladies Market (he’s a great bargainer and negotiated hard for this and a fake designer watch) and my fabric was used for padding the bag and board so that it wouldn’t get damaged on the flight back to London. The picture is really blurry, but the only one I could take during the repacking process.
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I think holiday fabric shopping is the best because it pretty much guarantees that I’ll have at least a few things to remember the places we visited by!

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Dubai Aquarium

I am literally never this fast at updating my blog. There are trips and sewing projects that I have yet to write, let alone publish. There are a couple contributing factors to why I’m a bit faster with my trip blogging. First, I discovered that I can use a link from my flickr site to insert photos into wordpress (old news for many I’m sure, but a revelation for me!) and secondly, we’d been in Hualien the last couple days and had a typhoon come through that basically kept us indoors for almost the entire time we’ve been here. May as well take hold of the opportunity to blog and keep up with photos!

So, as promised in my last post, I’ve dedicated an entire post to the Dubai Aquarium. As I mentioned before, I LOVE aquariums, so I thought it fitting to share them here. The aquarium itself isn’t huge, but we took our time and enjoyed it. It also wasn’t that busy, thankfully, so it made it that much more enjoyable. The highlight for me was the otter feeding. I’ve never seen them this interactive with a trainer before! It was really incredible to watch. They are such smart creatures and it’s neat to see how they’ve been trained.

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At this point, the trainer came out and proceeded to demonstrate things with them. He got them to wave to us, would also use his relationship with them to check their health and then reward them for good behaviour. It was really neat to see a couple of them paint as well.

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Checking their hearts
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They’re painting! The gift shop actually sold artwork that the otters had painted.
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A tank dedicated to all things Finding Nemo 🙂
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The resident salt water crocodile
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In the shark tunnel
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That’s it for now. Hopefully Taiwan and Hong Kong won’t take as long to follow 🙂

September Travels: Dubai

A while back I’d told my husband that I wanted to do a sunshine/beach trip. Most of our travels end up being city breaks and a lot of hiking/exploration. So, I started researching places to go for a week-long trip. At the top of the list was Sardinia. Gorgeous landscape, clear blue water…basically ideal. But as I looked into it more, I realised that we’re the type to get bored and not want to lay by the pool/beach day after day. We’re also massive foodies and I knew that we’d want great food, no matter where we went.

As we discussed Sardinia a bit more, it started feeling like it wasn’t the place for us. Then, out of the blue, I suggested Taiwan. He looked at me and said…”Ok”. Don’t ask me how this came about, because I have no earthly idea. I think I was thinking “food” and we love Chinese / Taiwanese food…so why not go to Taiwan. It then turned into Taiwan + Hong Kong (both countries that our parents grew up in) and instead of 1 week, we made it a 2 week trip. We then booked our flights and the cheapest flights ended up being on Emirates with a layover in Dubai. I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai, but mainly for the sake of curiosity whereas Joe has had no interest. With a layover in Dubai it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a couple days there (at no extra cost with the flight) to get it out of my system. I think the convincing factor for him was that we’d spend a day at the Atlantis Resort Water Park – Aquaventure. A bit of background…at the ripe age of 28, I introduced Joe to waterparks. He’d never been (despite living in California) and has loved them ever since. Living in the UK means not very hot summers, so we actually haven’t been since we moved to London.

So what started out as a week-long trip to Sardinia, turned into a Dubai / Taiwan / Hong Kong trip. The Dubai leg has been completed so I thought I’d share some photos from our time there. We are currently still in Taiwan having waited out the typhoon that headed this way.

We stayed in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, which thankfully was quite accessible by metro / tram. I can’t say the same for all of Dubai though because we tried to take the metro to as many places as possible but because of their locations and the lack of walkability of most areas of Dubai, getting around was a bit of a challenge. We’d been told that taking the taxi everywhere is normal, but we liked the flexibility of not having to queue. The times we used the metro was great. They’re spacious, air conditioned (VERY important) and clean.

The view from our hotel was of part of the Palm and the water.

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We also visited the Dubai Mall and grabbed a snack in their massive food court.

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They had a dunkin’ donuts and Texas Chicken which was pretty much Church’s Chicken (same logo and everything!)

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We then went to the Dubai Aquarium. I LOVE aquariums so this was kind of a no brainer. It’s not huge, but it is interesting. We took our time walking through it and the absolute highlight was getting there in time to see the otters being fed. I am fascinated by otters because they’re really smart (and cute!). At seaworld and the other aquariums I’d been to, I hadn’t ever seen them interact with a trainer as much as we did here. Because of how many pictures I took, it’ll need to be a separate post… 🙂

I think the thing we most looked forward to, was the food. We wondered how their restaurants and buffets compare to places like Vegas. We first went to Asado which is an Argentinian steak house. We ordered their variety meat grill which was huge. Their speciality is slow cooked baby goat. The meat was really good, but we found that some of the steaks were overcooked. The sirloin was perfectly cooked (by our medium-rare standards) but by the time we got to the tenderloin, it was almost at medium-well. We mentioned it to our waiter, and he promptly had another one brought out. Sidenote: the service we experienced in Dubai was AMAZING.

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On the way back to the metro, we walked past Burj Khalifa. It is really pretty at night!

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We also went to Aquaventure, which was really fun. Joe took video of the rides on his gopro here. We’d originally considered staying at the Atlantis hotel, but I’m really glad we didn’t because it would have made getting into different parts of Dubai a lot longer.

The next night we wanted to explore the Madinat Jumeirah area so we asked our hotel for a restaurant recommendation. They suggested and Italian place called Segreto which was a fabulous suggestion. My seafood soup and cannelloni was probably the best I’ve ever had.

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The next day we went to the Bur Dubai area to visit the Textile Souk. I actually didn’t have much luck with fabric here – I ended up only buying 1 piece of fabric. I don’t do well with extreme temperatures and it was really hot. Also, the men from the different souks would call out to us, follow us around trying to get us to come into their store etc. I know this is normal, but with the heat and not having much luck with fabric, it didn’t put me in a very good mood. I don’t know why, but when they bring my ethnicity into it, it really annoys me. Yelling “Ni Hao! Ni Hao!” at me is not going to make me want to talk to you. Or we would get “Konichiwa!” We took a water taxi over to the gold souk and then headed to dinner, which made the whole day much better.

My one fabric purchase.

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On the water taxi

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Dinner was at Yalumba‘s Tuesday night seafood buffet. Note, this is at the La Meridian near the airport, so quite far from where we were staying. We had such a hard time getting there from the airport metro stop, that we ended up taking a 5-minute taxi ride there. Joe found a way to walk back (thankfully) because the taxi driver wasn’t happy he had to get out of the queue to take us less than 1 km. If you’re in Dubai on a Tuesday night, and you love seafood, then you must go to Yalumba. The seafood was SO fresh, and there was a lot of it. They had the cold seafood, as well as hot cooked dishes with fish, crab etc. Joe’s favourite were the small dishes of whole scallops.

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Spain: Madrid

Sorry for the delay! I’ve been busy and it’s been hard to update the blog 🙂

The last stop on our Spain trip: MADRID! When we were planning this trip, for some reason, both Joe and I were more excited about Barcelona and Valencia than we were about Madrid. Not because of anything we’d heard, but because the sights and things to see in the other two cities seemed to outshine Madrid. It turns out, that we both enjoyed Madrid the most. There was an energy about Madrid that we liked, even though we didn’t really take in as many sights as we did in the previous two cities.

When we arrived, it was Thursday evening. We checked into our hotel, rested up and decided to go out and find a place for dinner. As we were navigating through the Sol area, we noticed it was absolutely rammed with people. We tried to cut through Plaza Major but it was exactly the same. I had no idea why it was so busy. Then we realised that everyone was waiting for a procession for Holy Week as it was the Thursday before Easter! It was all pretty neat.

While we were in Madrid, we encountered some fairly aggressive pickpocket schemes. I’d heard and read about how much worse pickpockets in Spain were, even more so than Paris and Rome. I have a messenger bag that fully zips and both Joe and I are fairly aware tourists so we don’t usually get targeted. Whilst in Madrid, we were around the royal palace area and these 2 girls came up to Joe and I with clipboards asking us to sign some petition. Most people who come up to you and try to sell you stuff or give you stuff to get money in return just move on when you say no. But these girls followed us as we tried to walk away, and one of them even grabbed Joe’s arm. This made me very suspicious. Joe signed the petition and they asked for ID which he refused. We figured if he took out his wallet, they’d grab it. We started following them and saw the harassing other tourists. I was covertly taking photos of them but Joe went off piste and was super obvious. They noticed us and started following us trying to take our cameras, which we of course refused. They realised we wouldn’t give in so they walked away. We saw a police car as we were leaving the area and showed them the photographs of the kids. Realistically unless the police actually catch them doing anything, they can’t do much. We noticed later though that the “petition” method is a common pickpocketing method. Usually while the person is busy signing the clipboard, someone else is trying to take their wallet or something. Something to watch out for if you’re visiting Spain.

The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
The bear and the strawberry tree
The bear and the strawberry tree
In front of the palace
In front of the palace
In front of Parque del Retiro
In front of Parque del Retiro
The weather was perfect for our outing
The weather was perfect for our outing

Spain: Barcelona

I love that Easter weekend is a 4-day weekend here. Last year we were took advantage of the extra days and went to Italy. This year, we went to Spain. We decided to do 3 stops this trip: Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. Our first stop was Barcelona. Barcelona is a vibrant city, with a lot to see and do. The main touristy/sightseeing places are Gaudi, which I will blog about in a separate post.

Travelling in Europe can be a bit risky. There are horror stories about people being detained or arrested for not showing proper ID in Greece, and all types of mugging / pickpocketing stories. In our time in London and travelling in Paris and Rome, we’d been warned about pickpockets and heard stories, but thankfully had never been targeted. We had an interesting encounter in Madrid, but I’ll get to that in a separate post 🙂 I don’t think I have heard or read of as many warnings about pickpockets as I had for Barcelona and Spain in general. Apparently, Barcelona and Madrid have some of the higher rates of pickpocketing in Europe. If you’re considering travelling to Barcelona/Madrid, a messenger type bag that you can wear to your side or in front of you is important. A bag that fully zips shut is a must, and keep your valuables (like money and what not) in an inside pocket, so even if someone gets into your main compartment, they can’t easily access your money. Don’t wear fancy jewelry, in fact I left my engagement ring in the safe at the hotel. I probably should have just left it at home before we left. If you’re carrying a camera, and wearing comfortable walking shoes, you’re going to look like a tourist. Even though people say not to look too much like a tourist, sometimes it’s inevitable. Just be aware of your surroundings and your valuables! There’s my 2 cents. Now onto Barcelona!

We arrived in Barcelona and were able to check into our hotel a bit early. There is a main area called Las Ramblas where a lot of vendors, bars and restaurants are. Our hotel was really close to a metro station (Paral.lel) which made it very easy to get around the city. The city itself has a lot to do, but it’s worth going to the beach area as the feel and atmosphere is very different. It was really nice to get some warm sunshine and take in the beach area since London has been so cold these days.

The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there's a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don't usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there’s a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don’t usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps

Later that evening, we walked around the Gothic Quarter, or Barrio Gotic. It was actually one of my favourite places to walk around and explore. There are placas (like the one below), restaurants, dessert places…just lots to see and explore.

Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic
Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic

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Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner :)
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner 🙂
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point

On our last day in Barcelona we went down to the beach area for an amazing seafood lunch and explored the area. The weather was perfect and warm.

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Structure by the beachfront
Structure by the beachfront
I miss palm trees
I miss palm trees
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It's by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It’s by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.

Edinburgh Panoramas

When it comes to photography, I’m still very much an amateur. Having learned photography in high school using a 35mm film camera and developing them in a darkroom, I was reluctant to take up using Photoshop. I have started using it a little now but it definitely doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others (and I’m considered part of the digital generation). One of the things I’ve discovered that I enjoy a lot is taking panoramic photographs. For those of you who follow my blog, you may have seen the photographs I took in Santorini. These days, point and shoot cameras and smart phones have software built in where users can create panoramic photographs. It’s such a great way to capture the beauty of a landscape or vista. The photographs below are individual photos stitched together using a software called Hugin. Here are 2 panoramas taken from Edinburgh castle. The first is from the walkway up to the castle and the second is taken from a higher point in the castle area. Enjoy!

Castle walkway panorama
Castle walkway panorama
The view of Edinburgh from the top of the castle
The view of Edinburgh from the top of the castle

Santorini Panoramas

We were in Greece last week and the weather could not have been more perfect. Late October with warm summer weather and gorgeous views. Taking panoramas is one of my favourite things to do. I take individual photos and use a program called Hugin to stitch them together. What I’m going for is the hope that a photograph can capture the view and splendor seen by the human eyes (as much as possible anyway). I would suggest clicking on the picture to view it fully.

The view of the caldera and volcano islands from a walkway between Imerovigli and Fira.
The view from the tip of Santorini of Oia and the Aegean Sea