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Friday, 27 December 2013

The Gay Crete Blog Takes A Look At......2013 A Retrospective Look At LGBT Tourism on Crete, Greece

It is not unusual around this time of year for people do to a retrospect on the past year, and so we have decided to take a look back at the 2013 gay and lesbian tourist scene on Crete.

It seems throughout the world that economic uncertainty has to some extent affected tourism, and indeed in Greece, which is a favourite tourist destination, reporting, and mis-reporting, of the 'economic crisis' has perhaps given prospective visitors the wrong impression to such an extent that many believe that Greece is 'shut'!

Here we take at look at what has been an excellent year for gay travellers to Crete with many more LGBT visitors discovering that Crete has much to offer.
Crete has long been a destination for LGBT travellers even though it often overshadowed by the (nearly) neighbouring island of Mykonos. Independent and package tour gay travellers visit Crete for the opportunities it offers not just for some excellent beaches, but sightseeing, archaeology, and other activities not available on a small island like Mykonos. 

It is always difficult to quantify LGBT tourism because as we all know we don't walk around with labels on our foreheads, and at the Gay Crete Blog we have always assumed the normal 6% (or 10% if you prefer) of the LGBT population visit Crete. This of course, gives easily twice the amount of LGBT tourists as the 'gay' island of Mykonos.

Naturally with an island the size of Crete (about the same size as the state of Delaware), our gay and lesbian travelers are very spread out. This year however, we have been out and about visiting beaches and various other attractions and are pleased to say that we have met even more LGBT visitors than we expected.

The north coast of Crete is one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan areas of Crete, which doesn't suit those in search of a quiet holiday, but has given us a good guide to the number of LGBT visitors this year, and also this area has the greatest number of facilities for gay tourism which probably explains the attraction for them.

Roze Maandag Hersonissos
For nightlife, Roze Maandag, the gay bar which opened very late in the season in 2011, and moved to new premises for 2013, has proved very popular. A small bar with a dancing area it is cozy, almost twee, and this year has been busier than ever. We have heard a couple of visitors have complained about cigarette smoke (smoking is actually banned in Greece inside bars but it still goes on), and at times the selection of music has been described as an 'iTunes Back Catalog', nonetheless the bar has been very popular with both gay and lesbian tourists. Nearly everyone that is visiting seems to be going here for at least a couple of nights during their stay. Couples wanting a slightly quieter evening out are still heading up the hill to the village of Koutouloufari to the famous Vinnie's Garden and Dionysos which historically have been very gay friendly.

Sadly Eros Bar in Malia was not open this year as they had problems with the building. One might be forgiven for thinking this is why Roze Maandag has been so busy but as not all visitors were prepared to make the quite short journey to Malia for a night out it probably has nothing to do with Roze Maandag being busier, more to do with the higher numbers of gay visitors to Crete!

In addition, there have been several independent LGBT travelers staying in the capital of the island, Heraklion, and here too is a new development as La Brasserie has finally come out as a gay bar!

This year has been a good year for visitors from Australia and New Zealand, and on more than one occasion Villa Ralfa, the gay b and b near Anisarras, has been full of visitors from Down Under. 

As an indication of how popular Crete actually is, a gay couple from New Zealand who came to Crete to visit the War Cemetery at Souda, and then travel northwards through the Aegean, visiting Mykonos on the way, cancelled the rest of their island hopping and spent their entire 25 day holiday on Crete.

We also had more LGBT visitors from the UK (one of our traditional markets), than previous years especially during early and late season, some of these booked 'packages' and were staying in AI hotels in Port Hersonisso, which shows a slight lack of imagination as guests in these are hotels are rather tied as to their movements and get to see less of the island than independent travelers. 

Italians were also back in force this year after a dip in their numbers last year, 2012, and conspicuous by their absence were visitors from the US. The number of gay visitors from France also seemed to be fewer than previous years. Germany and Holland gave a good showing though, particularly in the 'independent traveller' group.

Home Hotel, which last year was based in Port Hersonissos, but this year moved to Anisarras,  also proved popular with many visitors, and although it is mixed clientele did have a strong gay following and held a couple of party nights including a karaoke night where the DJ managed to get a completely wrong version of 'Spanish Eyes'! Either way Home Hotel is popular with the local gay community.

Onr of the double rooms at Home Hotel
Of course Home Hotel also has a pool bar, there just isn't space! But Villa Ralfa does have 'clothing optional' areas which the owner will let you use if you want to get a bit of 'all over' colour before you hit the nudist beach at Sarandari near Port Hersonissos.

Talking about beaches, both Kommos on the south of the island, and Sarandari were both very busy. Sarandari is only a small beach and got quite crowded at times but it is a friendly beach because of its size and is a good place to get to chat to other visitors. Kommos is larger and more spread out but even so there was quite a crowd there particularly after about 2pm.

Around Crete there is a wide choice of accommodation at varying prices and there is really no need to pay a fortune for comfortable accommodation in the smaller hotels and apartment blocks and much of it is gay friendly because they are used to people of the same sex sharing accommodation. Historically the package tour industry has to cope with groups and couples of the same sex.

One thing that many visitors comment on is how affordable Crete (and Greece) actually is. With accommodation starting from about €25 per night in smaller Greek run establishment ranging up to several hundred euros a night for a 5* resort style hotel there is something to suit most pockets.

And a good night out can be had for a lot less than many countries in northern Europe, Australasia, or the US, and let's face it we, the LGBT community, are fond of a good night out! Food is relatively cheap and of high quality mainly using fresh local produce, and prices for a beer start at around €2.50!

Looking to the future we have been told that Eros Bar in Malia will indeed be open again next year, and locally there are rumours that there will be a new bar, gay owned and run, opening early in 2014, giving the GLBT visitor even more choice.

And after all that is said, it just remains for us to wish everybody a wonderful festive season and a Happy New Year for 2014 and we look forward to seeing you on Crete next year!

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Gay Crete Blog Takes a Look At........Beaches!

Balos Lagoon

Here at the Gay Crete Blog I have never specifically looked at beaches so I decided it was time I did. No holiday in the sun is complete without a couple of days spent on the beach, and Crete, Greece, offers the beach bum, (or babe), many opportunities for visiting some world class beaches including some where clothing is optional!  So here I take at look at some of the best known including Vai, Balos Lagoon, Matala, Kommos, and probably the best known nudist beach on Crete, at Hersonissos

As you would be expect from Greece’s largest island (and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean), Crete has a long coastline and in many places the mountains plunge dramatically down into the sea but in between there are some remarkable beaches raging from large stones to fine sand of varying colours. Perhaps the actual size of the island sometimes acts as a barrier to visiting some of the best beaches, but the savvy independent LGBT traveller will soon realise that Crete is an ideal island for a ‘multi – centre’ holiday and will spend a few days at each end of the island which can save some hours of driving either by car or on the bus!

Many of our older readers may perhaps remember the adverts for Bounty Bars many years ago, and some may recall that these were filmed on Crete, at Vai on the eastern end of the island. Vai not only has a fine beach but is also home to a forest of native palm trees (an endangered species by the way), behind the beach. As you would expect some of the beach is given over to sunbeds and umbrellas that you can rent for the day, and part of it you can sit on as you please. As is common with the more popular beaches there are good facilities available at resaonable prices including quite a good restaurant where you can look down on to the beach and palm trees.

Vai Beach

There is also a watersports area with the normal jet skis and ‘octopus’ if that is what you want!
Next door to Vai, for those that don’t mind a bit of walking, there is an undeveloped beach frequently used as a ‘clothing optional’ beach.

As with some other beaches on Crete, Vai’s remoteness from the main tourism centres means that it does not get unduly crowded, from Heraklion you can look forward to a three to four hour drive to get there!

A little closer to the centre of the island, and on the south coast, is Matala Beach, probably best known as ‘home’ to the hippy population when we still had hippies, and where Joni Mitchell wrote a song.

Matala still lives on this reputation and some of the hippies seem to still be there. The actual beach at Matala is not much to write home about being dark coarse sand, but nearby is Kommos Beach which is a fine long stretch of finer sand starting at one end with a taverna on the beach and heading into the distance for some kilometres.

Kommos also boasts an archaeological site which was the port to the Minoan palace at Festos (well worth a visit on the way down as it has stunning views of the Messara Plain, one of the big agricultural regions on Crete, and also Mt. Psiloritis). Kommos also has a clothing optional area which is some distance along from the main car park and kantina. On windy days, when the sand tends to blows around a bit, many sunbathers retreat into the ‘dunes’ behind the beach where there is more shelter and also more shade if you want to get out of the sun for a while .

On the other side of Matala is Red Beach which is well known as a nudist beach but you need either a 4WD or a good set of walking legs to get there, although you can get there by boat too.


Along the north coast there are also a number of smaller beaches often not visible from the roads above and the only indication you will have of these are cars parked apparently in the middle of nowhere. These are often worth a visit as they remain uncrowded because you have to clamber down to them.

Those who decide to stay in the west of Crete will find two beaches that have at various times been voted amongst the top 10 beaches in Europe/The World, and quite deservedly so.

On the north west tip of the island is Balos, publicity material for Crete nearly always feature a picture of Balos which is surrounded by mountains and features shallow waters of varying colours ranging from deepest blue through turquoise and green to white in the shallow parts. Sheltered from the wind and tides, Balos offers safe swimming for those less able in the water too.

Access to Balos is not easy as the nearest car park is some way from the beach, and while the walk down is not bad, it is a bit of a climb back up the hill, although part way up you will usually find a man with a donkey. Having said that one of the best ways to get there is by cruising on the ferry from Kissamos/Kastelli which also gives you a couple of hours stopover at Gramvoussa Island where the main attraction is the fortress on the top rather than the beach. The ferry delivers you the water’s edge at Balos and you then walk through shallow water to the main part of the beach. Facilities here are good too as there are two tavernas that do not take advantage of you with ridiculous prices as happens in some parts of the world.

If you are not staying at the western end of Crete then you can look forward to a four hour drive from Heraklion to get to Balos which is why I recommend you do this trip on an organised coach tour. It does mean you have to get up early as the coach leaves Malia/Hersonissos at around 5.30am and gets back about 9pm. But of course you can always sleep on the coach, or you can take in the scenery as you drive along the north coast. At least you will be getting to see some other parts of the island!

Further south from Balos is Elafonisi which in many ways is similar. One day I hope to find time to get there too!

As an aside, most people seem to agree that the best way to see these beaches is by staying at the western end of the island, it not only saves a lot of travelling but you can get to the beach early when it is not so crowded by the day trippers (such as me), arriving by coach and ferry.

Also on the north coast between Rethymno and Xania are the beaches of Kalives and Georgiopoulis both of these having clothing optional area and both are ‘do-able’ from Herakliion/Hersonissos on a day trip.

Sarandari (Hersonissos)
 Of course if you are only on Crete for a week (shame on you!), then you will be a little limited in how many of these beaches you can visit, but for many their holiday will be centred on the north coast, and here you will find the, almost world famous, nudist beach at Sarandari, just to the west of Port Hersonissos.

Exactly why Sarandari beach should be so well known is something of a mystery really, it is only a small beach, although it is mainly coarse sand with a few rocks here and there (if you want to show off you go out to the big rock and lay there naked where everyone can see you, even the people walking along the top of the cliff!), but the water is clear as it is in so many other places around Crete. 

Perhaps its main attraction is that it is not quite that easy to get to, involving either a climb down the cliff face or a walk across the rocks from the beach next door. Others will tell you that because of its size it is a very friendly beach where you can get to meet new (and old) friends.

Or you can get there by boat and if you are cruising on one of the day trip boats that leave from Port Hersonissos during the day or evening, then you can swim here as, more often than not, they stop just off shore for a while.

Certainly part of its popularity is due to ease of access from Heraklion , and the fact that Port Hersonissos is one of the most cosmopolitan tourist resorts on the Crete, and also has a gay bar and two gay hotels!

Whatever its main attractions are, so popular has this beach become that you will hear some people call it the ‘gay beach’. It isn’t of course, well not totally, but on any given day you will more almost certainly find more gay men here, both visitors and locals, than anyone else. And it is one of the few beaches on Crete where going naked is more often the norm.

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So there you have it, just a brief look at some of the beaches on Crete. Yes, there are some that haven’t even got a mention, but I can leave those to another day, and there are still more that are being ‘discovered’ every year, while others are no longer as popular as they used to be.

Just a final word, isn’t there always one? There are few ‘official’ nudist beaches neither on Crete, nor Greece generally (and the same goes for a lot of other countries too!), although ‘topless’ for the girls seems generally accepted and so does clothing optional for everyone. You will find that sometimes families will appear on the beach and ask you to ‘cover up’. Be polite and do so, you are a visitor to Greece so you are governed by the laws of Greece!

Enjoy our beautiful Cretan beaches, and our clear turquoise waters, but don’t forget your sunscreen!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Gay Crete Blog Visits.........Mykonos! (And Inevitably Makes Some Comparisons WIth Crete)

"You are so lucky you live in Greece, you must go to Mykonos all the time"

Well, of course, I don't. 

Like most Greek islands, including Crete, Mykonos is basically 'closed' during the winter which is the only time that I have when I can go anywhere. which rather shoots down one gay travel web site that announces it as 'an all year round' destination. Yes there are people living on Mykonos, about 10,000 of them. Although on Crete we have a permanent population of well over 500,000 so it is a bit more lively.

Anyway when the chance arose to spend four days on Mykonos in July, and all I had to do was pay for a ferry ticket, then of course I took it. Who wouldn't? 

And after all it is well over 30 years since I was last there, although I have to admit that I don't remember a lot of about the trip and any photographs I had long since disappeared, and my travelling companion at the time has since passed away.

Arriving by ferry (cruising is such a civilised way of getting around the Greek islands), I was struck by how brown and barren the island seems to be, Crete is lush tropical paradise by comparison. And although the whole island is not 'built up' there certainly are a lot more buildings than there were way back in the 70's. The windmills are still there as you come into the port. Well nearly all of them are as one of them is in the process of being rebuilt. I seem to remember that there were more windmills, but maybe not. Even from the quayside you can see that Mykonos Town has grown but they have managed to preserve the character to some extent by using the traditional architectural style. Square and blocky with rounded corners, presumably this is to offer less resistance to the incessant wind that blew the whole time I was there. A common feature of the climate in July and August I was told.

Mykonos is a small island, about 30 square miles (imagine a rectangle 5 miles by 6 miles, and a walking pace of 4 miles per hour....), and with a landscape dotted with buildings this doesn't leave a lot of space for visitors who really want to 'get away from it all'. So you can compare this to Crete which has an area of around 3000 square miles......

So Mykonos is a gay island....

Hmmmmm, well you can ignore the couple of gay travel web sites that tell you that Mykonos welcomes millions of gay tourists each year. Actual tourist figures for Mykonos seem a bit sketchy, but the generally accepted figure is around a million in total. I did wonder about the logistics of this, as getting about 40,000 people on and off the island every week does seem a bit of a challenge, although there are figures on Wikipedia that say there are 40,000 available beds on the island. I didn't check the airport schedules at the time (will do that next year!), but I am inclined to think that included in that figure are all the passengers on cruise ships that stopover, many of these do not actually get off the ship of course, and from watching the tenders on the Sunday morning before my departure most of the people that did get off, got straight on to the ferries going to Delos.

I think you can ignore the web sites that tell you that it is normal to see gay men walking hand in hand too. Being something of a people watcher, I can spend two hours with one cup of coffee, (it's normal in Greece), and I didn't see any. 

So how many gay visitors are going to Mykonos?

Well as we don't have bar codes or chips implanted behind our ears that get scanned as we enter or leave a place, that is an impossible question to answer.

But we can use a little modern technology to roughly gauge the percentage out of the total gay visitors to Greece and to Mykonos. Two of the most popular 'social networking' sites, Gaydar, and Gayromeo, have sections where you can post your travel plans. Yes I know not everyone uses these so we can only use them as a guide.

For the week that I was on Mykonos, (the last week in July 2012), on Gaydar there were more guys visiting Crete than Mykonos, and on Gayromeo there were only two more visiting Mykonos than Crete. Overall more guys were visiting the rest of Greece (on both web sites) than there were visiting Mykonos.

What was also very clear that while many were staying on Crete (or indeed other islands), most travellers to Mykonos were only staying 2 or 3 days, a fact that borne out by our island hopping guests at Villa Ralfa, many of whom were spending 7 or 10 days on Crete, followed by a couple of days on Santorini, and then 2 or 3 nights on Mykonos.

Several times I logged on to Grindr while I was on Mykonos too, that gave the interesting result that there were fewer guys on the 'front page' on Mykonos than there normally are on Crete. The only difference there is that on Crete they are in a 20km radius and on Mykonos they were in a 5km radius.

So there are a load of gay bars on Mykonos...

Actually apparently not. During my three night stay, at the risk of developing chronic alcoholic poisoning, I tried to visit as many as possible at different times, and all of them were mixed, but don't let that put you off. The guys were mainly in the majority!

(Checking web sites, if you can find them, I don't think that any of them actually say they are 'gay bars'. Obviously in Mykonos they are even more conservative than we are on Crete, at least our two gay bars say they are exactly that)

And here I can best quote a straight American couple who I met at Babylon, who told me that they frequent gay bars because they are usually the liveliest and best places to go and they were surprised by "how restrained the gay scene is on Mykonos". And they had been there a week.

And the bars themselves?

Top bar has to be The Piano Bar, cosy, friendly, and with excellent music. So nice to get a decent cabaret with a REAL singer and pianist these days instead of blaring pop music. Both of the guys behind the bar were from Crete, which must tell you something!

Next has to be Babylon, which is actually the first bar I went to on arrival night. Jackie O's is right next door so when you are outside in the throng, you are really in both of them at the same time! The great thing about both of these is the big outside space on the quayside.

Preference is for Babylon because the guys made me really welcome and found the time to talk to me which is always nice when you are a lone traveller. They seated me next to the door on the fence with Jackie O's which is a great place to sit as you can look down on everyone else. The next night I went there they came and got me from the crowd and planted me in the same place, even though the beer I had came from Jackie O's. The music is loud in both places but as they seem to share the same play list you never get the cacophony that is common if you have two lots of music at once.

Porta Bar is fascinating when you eventually find it. Not many people there when I tried it, but with two levels and two entrances it could make life interesting if not a little confusing, while I was there a man came in from the town hall collecting money, first in the bottom entrance and then at the top. I think he was just a bit disturbed that he wasn't going to collect two lots of money! Excellent barman too, insisted that for a slightly upset stomach the cure was obviously 7 * Metaxa, taken neat and sipped slowly.

Kastro Bar was one of my early evening visits so there were only a couple of people in there, but nice surroundings and, of course, the nice little alleyway at the side leading down to the sea........

Some of the bars have drag shows. If you are really unfortunate you will get to see one. I say unfortunate because if they are all like the one I saw then you are in for the worst drag show ever.

Sunset seems to be a popular time for bars too. I couldn't really see why because to be honest the sunset was the same three nights in a row, and not very interesting at that. I suspect that this is just a ruse to part you from your hard earned cash early in the evening. Or maybe I have just seen too many sunsets?

A word of warning/advice here too. Taxis are about as common as hens' teeth on Mykonos. If you are out for a good night in the bars of Mykonos Town and you are staying further than walking distance be prepared for a loooong wait for a cab. Up to two hours is nothing. Part of this is due to the taxi drivers 'selecting' people from the queue, that are all going in the same direction and that he can conveniently drop off in turn. Having said that they don't cheat you and fares are reasonable, but looking at it another way he has just put four people that don't know each other in a cab and charged them €10 each, which would get you from Heraklion Airport to Hersonissos which is about 25km, and you cannot actually go that far on Mykonos!

Of course you can always use the solution tried and tested by two guys from Manchester......Catch the last bus into the Town, go for something to eat, spend all night drinking and dancing and catch the first bus back to your hotel in the morning!

Mykonos is expensive....

Yes. But not always.

You will read on some web sites that it is expensive because it has to import everything from the mainland.

This is nonsense.

You can expect to pay €6 or more for a small bottle of beer in a bar, €8 or more for a long drink (spirit and mixer), and cocktails START at €10....My personal favourite at a sunset bar was €12 for a Campari and soda.

Crete is further from the mainland than Mykonos and yet a small beer is €2.50, maybe €3, a long drink is usually €6 and cocktails about the same.

Something similar applies to food. A gyros, our indigenous fast food, is about the same price on Mykonos as on Crete, but then you can find places on Mykonos where a Greek salad will cost you €10.50, whereas on Crete a Greek salad will set you back €4.50/5.00. 

But you can find places on Mykonos where a Greek salad and a beer can be had for the same price as Crete, and right on the waterfront in Mykonos Town too!

Hotels too can be expensive, although they are rarely full it seems. I tried making last minute bookings while I was there at several and all had rooms available, provided you could spare €150 per night or more. On the other hand there is 'hostel' accommodation at €18 a night (share a room with five other people you have never met, sounds like fun), and this was all fully booked. Crete on the other hand has a wide selection of accommodation from around €25 a night.

Some of this price difference can be put down to the cost of real estate of course. Mykonos is, after all, only a small island so rents and real estate generally will tend to be of higher value, but when you can find such price differences within 100 metres of each other you do tend to wonder!

And so to the beach!

Or not in this case.......Saturday was to have been my 'beach day'...Just to have a look as it were because I don't really do the beach. I have enough lines and wrinkles already, but when in Rome etc.

Unfortunately something I had eaten, and I know what it was, had made going too far from a lavatory a bit of a no-no. I did get as far as Paradise beach, (which is not known as a gay beach), because I could do it easily on the bus, and was quite frankly not impressed. Row upon row of sunbeds (with a large sign saying 'Don't blame us for the price of the sunbed, the money is for the Government'), and umbrellas. And at the back of the beach a row of bars with nearly identical menus and all charging the same prices. At 10.30am on a Saturday, there were not a lot of people there. I would hate to think what it was like if it was crowded.

But this gave me time to have a good wander around the maze that is Mykonos Town, there are loads of cafes where I can make a dash to if I needed the lavatory!

Photogenic is the best word here, indeed I have seen photgraphs of Mykonos posted on web sites belonging to other islands, and if you want to shop then you have plenty of opportunity.

Having worked in a gift shop on Crete I have a bit of experience of some of the things you are likely to come across so I was not particularly impressed when one shop owner told me that a piece of ceramic work was 'local' when it fact it is made by an artist on Crete, or the shop that was selling work by an artist from Naxos who actually works in Athens but saying that was local too.

There are the usual number of shops selling jewellery too, and while you are not getting ripped off as far as the standard of the metal goes, it does get a bit wearing being told that it is made in Greece when you can buy exactly the same designs in Peru and Chile. The prices are fair enough and you can usually get some discount!

So what else is there to do on Mykonos?

Apart from the three B's, not a lot else. There are a couple of museums and some interesting churches and one of the sole saving graces of Mykonos for those who are interested is the birthpace of Apollo on a completely different island, Delos.

This archaeological site is huge, it rivals the Acropolis in interest, and the Palace of Knossos on Crete for size. The true archaeological buff would need to catch the first ferry in the morning and the last one back to even begin to get a good look at it, and although parts of it are slightly 'unkempt' it has not suffered from too much reconstruction, the museum is nicely laid out and the cafe next door, even though it has a captive audience, does not overcharge.

Sadly I suspect that many would rather spend their money on three rather overpriced beers than pay the ferry fare and entrance fee to go to Delos.

So the magic question...Should you go to Mykonos?

It's a small island with a big personality, (a bit like Santorini), and its reputation as a gay destination has been around for 40 years or so. 

A lot of things have changed in that time.

Other destinations are available especially as most gay travellers are a bit more discerning these days and are not always just going for a week long orgy (if that is what you want then go to Santiago de Chile, and the drag shows are better than Mykonos. Well slightly). 

In general it does not appear to me to be quite as gay as the publicity, much of it derived from outside Greece and some of it hopelessly out of date by the way, would have us believe. But big business is in play here and many of those web sites you see promoting it are getting a commission on the hotel rooms they sell.

If you are gay and are cruising the Greek islands, and it is on your 'Bucket List', then splurge for a few nights and do it!

Would I go again?

Are you paying?

Not unless I had a good reason, such as an old and dear friend holding his 60th birthday party there, or maybe a wedding, or christening, or funeral.

Living on Crete I have got used to the wide open spaces, and let's face it, on Crete I can go away for a weekend without leaving the island........

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Going Greek - A Look At LGBT Life In Greece

As St. Petersburg effectively puts a ban on LGBT tourists, I decided to take a closer look at the scene in Greece to see how it compares with other countries in Europe particularly now that Spartacus has published its gay travel index for countries around the world! So just for this once the Gay Crete Blog becomes the Gay Greece Blog!

I don't know about you, but I always love the charts and statistics that get produced showing how gay friendly or un-friendly places are and the current Spartacus chart shows some quite amusing results this year, you can find it here at Spartacus World.

Now I was quite pleased to see that Greece scores a resounding zero on the chart although I was a bit mystified by the fact that Greece got a minus 1 for 'locals hostile' when in fact Greeks are some of the friendliest people you can come across and will welcome virtually everyone, the fact that they are not really interested in your sexuality shouldn't really come into the statistics at all! Strangely the UK also got a minus 1 for the same reason, and Peru got a minus 2 for the same reason, and yet I found during a recent trip to Peru that they were some of the friendliest people in South America, particularly when you compare them to the reception you get from people in Rio de Janeiro.

As you would expect Turkey gets a minus 4 overall (the same as Peru but for different reasons), which makes a bit of a nonsense with Out Traveler listing Turkey as an 'Up and Coming Destination', while at the same time getting humpy about the situation in St. Petersburg!

But I digress as we are supposed to be talking about Greece.......

To say that Greek people are conservative, religiously and socially, would be an understatement, and to many of them the concept of 'gay' is almost impossible to grasp, for this reason many Greeks are not, and never will be, 'out', having said that there are many younger people who are, and will even admit to it on their Facebook profile, presumably they work on the basis that none of their family or friends are on Facebook. Of course many visitors to Greece 'worry' about this and the fact that there do not appear to be any anti-discrimination laws when in fact existing Greeks laws already outlaw discrimination.

Naturally enough a result of this conservatism means that Greeks rarely upset other countries so acts of terrorism against Greece are very rare making it one of the safest countries in the world to visit!

Of course there is the occasional skirmish with Turkey, but then the Greeks have long memories and I always put this down to the debacle over Helen of Troy.

So while the Greeks are mainly totally disinterested in your sexuality, this does not extend into other areas of your personal life, and you can impress a Greek by being au fait with your family history for the last 300 years (at least), and they will have no qualms about asking what you do for a living, whether you own your own home, how much you paid for it, or how much rent you pay etc. etc. etc.

As with any other country you are expected to obey the accepted moral and social behaviour and while, undoubtedly, the sight of two men walking down the street hand in hand would raise eyebrows (but possibly be excused on the grounds that you are 'foreign'), it is perfectly acceptable for a man to greet a close friend or relative of the same sex, that he has not seen for a while, or on a special occasion, with a warm embrace and kiss on each cheek. It is amazing at the way some tourists seem to think that they can do anything they like as a tourist, and seem to regard visiting a foreign country as a right when of course it is actually a privilege to be allowed to do so!

Enough of my moralising and tut-tutting.......As you would expect the most amount of LGBT nightlife exists in the largest cities in Greece, i.e. Athens the capital, and Thessaloniki, and since the Greeks discovered the Internet a couple of years ago there has been a burgeoning of web sites, some of them very nice and some of them exceedingly awful. As with most things Greek they are all in competition with each other and I suspect that most of their owners expect to make a fortune by putting up a web site which they will sell at a vast profit at a later date without ever promoting it or updating it. Nonetheless for the LGBT traveller they can be useful, of course many LGBT travellers head straight for Mykonos or Lesvos and would never dream of going to Athens which is a shame, as there is a lot of incorrect information about Mykonos for instance, when statistically there are likely to be more LGBT tourists visiting, say, Crete, than there are to Mykonos. (Ignore one web site that says Mykonos welcomes millions of gay travellers each year as Mykonos only gets about a million visitors a year in total!)

So let's look at some of these web sites.....One of the oldest is Gay Greece and one of the few that has a reasonable translated English version, it even has a section on Crete although I am not in it because I decline to pay for an entry, apparently it is OK for me to promote the Gay Greece web site for free, but not the other way round.....

Then there is Gay Radio and its sister dating site Gay Book Star and then there is the gay chat and guide site Gay Hellas and these are just a few of the general sites. Many of the various bars in Athens and Thessaloniki also have their own site.

For such a conservative country we also have a number of magazines and blogs such as Fagazine, City Uncovered which has a good English version too, and my favourite just for the name and slogan alone Screw - Because Fags Can Read not to mention AntiVirus and 10Percent and our local blog for Crete Lesbian and Gay in Crete

How are we doing so far for a country that is so 'in the closet'??

Naturally most of these sites are in Greek so you will need to have an auto translate installed on your browser, most of these do a reasonable job but sometimes translate peoples' names with hilarious results.

You can also find many of these sites have 'Pages' on Facebook which has the Bing translate on it automatically although it falls flat on its face when it comes across Greek that has been transliterated into Roman characters.

There is a plethora of web sites about Greece generally too, many of these repeat the same things over and over, but one called Travelscope, has taken a slightly different approach, you can read here what they have to say about Crete and prospective visitors to Mykonos might like to take a note of what they have to say about Mykonos here.

Meanwhile here on Crete which statistically almost certainly welcomes more LGBT visitors than Mykonos in an area 100 times greater and therefore, with a lot more to see and do, (unless you really want to spend 10 days in an expensive alcoholic haze fighting for a space on the beach) we will battle on regardless and drop a gentle reminder that we now have two gay bars!

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Gay Baby Boomers – Are We The Forgotten Generation?

I make no apologies for this post as it goes worldwidebut sometimes things just have to be said. I was reading through postings in a group on GTN and it got me thinking about times past...Never a good thing to do when you get older, but at the time I was having a trawl through gay web sites generally and noticed that wherever you go, most of the bars, clubs, and other venues for gay men, seem to revolve around younger people.

I should point out at this stage that I am actually a bit too young to be a ‘baby boomer’, well almost anyway.

Now this could just be me of course, but although us older lot still like to go out and have a good time, do we, when we are on holiday, want to spend our nights clubbing and our days sitting on the beach or by a pool with a hangover, getting fried to a crisp, and then repeating the whole process over again the next night?

Yes, we do like the occasional visit to a nightclub to watch the crass, callow eye candy dance the night away aided by two bottles of beer and a pocketful of illegal substances, but in spite of what they think, we are not dead from neck up, or from the waist down, (as more than one young gentleman discovered when I was visiting Peru and Chile last month).

And while they drink their two beers, us mature ones sit there and consume an entire bottle of gin with not too much tonic as we don’t have malaria as the barman seems to think.

OK, we are on holiday so we can sleep the following day but for most of us sleeping in the sun for hours on end is out of the question. We are more likely to want to spend the day submerged in a tank of moisturiser to try and reverse the ravages that time, (and too much alcohol), has wrought upon us.

And yet many gay ‘destinations’ offer little else to do.

Let’s take the Greek island of Mykonos, probably one of the most famous gay destinations in the world. And don’t get me wrong here, Mykonos is a pretty island, but it is not the almost exclusively gay Greek island that it was back in the 1970’s when I first went there. There is gay nightlife and some gay beaches, and in August it is inundated with Greeks and Italians of both sexes out for a good time. But the admirable burghers of Mykonos, and indeed the businesses themselves, more than certainly discovered that you cannot run an entire Greek island just on gay clientele.

So what do you do on an island the size of Mykonos, once you have visited the museums, a couple of churches, and been to the island of Delos?

Apart from spending evenings drinking, and days sunbathing, the answer is not a lot, and for many of us older gay men this is sometimes not quite enough. We are not so far past it that we just want to sit about and play bingo. We still want to go and see things.

New things.

Different things.

So what do we do?

We invent our own destination. A new destination more suited to our needs. And some of us have already done this in a small way. And because we are not dead from the neck up many of us know how to use the internet so we can travel independently not just follow the crowd and go where a travel agent sends us on a package tour.

The Greek island of Crete, for instance, welcomes many gay visitors each year, although we do not shout about it too much because that is the Cretan (or Greek), way. But for the older gay man, and woman, Crete offers much more than just beaches and clubs.

For a start Crete is a large island with some spectacular mountain scenery dotted with small hill villages just asking to be explored, and although I don’t suggest you take up mountain climbing, there is some great walking, (mainly downhill), that can be done such as the Samaria Gorge, the longest in Europe (yes, Crete is part of Europe), and a wealth of historical sites such as Knossos.

And if it is mythology you are after than what better than Psychro’s Cave where Zeus was born, (and no, I never met him personally, although on a bad day you can be forgiven for asking), followed by a drive around the Lassithi Plateau with chance to see the lammergeyer s that live there (and they are not so difficult to find as some people make out!), so there is something for the keen birder to look out for as well! Around the Plateau are a number of small villages and a couple of larger towns including Tzermiado, where, according to visitors from France, ‘you can get the best goat in Europe’.

Sadly most of the windmills that you see in photographs of Lassithi, are now gone, the water being pumped by electricity generated by wind turbines (!), but around the island you can see the remains of the many stone built windmills from a bygone age, along with some fine examples of Byzantine and Venetian architecture.

But after all this history and physical activity, you need to relax sometimes and Crete has a wide range of beaches including nudist beaches.

And bars.

In fact Crete has two ‘dedicated’ gay bars, Eros Bar in Malia, which has been running for some years, and the newer Roze Maandag (Pink Monday) Bar in Port Hersonissos which opened in summer 2011.

Different in style, they both play similar music but at different volumes! Eros is more of a night/dance club often frequented by Greeks and tends to start late and finish very early the following day so be prepared for a long night out. Roze Maandag bills itself as European, and has a much ‘loungier’ feel to it. You are likely to hear the same ‘gay anthems’ from the same ‘gay icons’ in both bars, but in Roze Maandag you can hear yourself think.

And for a place to stay (and here comes a bit of absolutely shameless self-promotion), there is Villa Ralfa, conveniently located just outside Port Hersonissos, and thirty minutes walk from the village of Pano Hersonissos. Villa Ralfa was Crete’s first LGBT guesthouse and gay homestay, which opened in 200,4 and since then has welcomed independent LGBT travellers from around the world. Of course you may find other hotels on Crete listed as being ‘gay friendly’ but in general these are large ‘all inclusive resorts’ which are really just ‘gay anonymous’ as you are just one or two guests in amongst several hundred. These sort of hotels are naturally the ones favoured by the so called gay travel agencies who really are not interested in true gay owned and run hotels for the simple reason that they cannot make any money by sending you to these, instead they seem to think that everyone will be happy to pay several hundred euros a night for a room without breakfast just because they have booked through a ‘gay travel agency’.

Which lead us on to a final point. The price.

Looking again at various articles it seems that some of the ageing LGBT population are having problems with ‘affordable housing’. Which seems to blow the argument that gay and lesbian people have more money, right out of the water. Sure we may own our own homes but we have been working for 35 years to pay for them. And as we grow older our incomes become fixed either because we are on a pension, or the companies we used to work for have ‘disposed’ of us, or as naturally happens our opportunities for advancement and salary rises no longer exist.

So what is the cost of a holiday on Crete?

The answer is surprisingly little.

Crete (and indeed Greece), has some of the cheapest accommodation in the world and you can get very good accommodation in a family run apartment block from as little as 20 euros per night even in high season. But bear in mind you will often have to book direct with the apartments as the travel agents will mark that up to 40 or so euros per night. Villa Ralfa charges a little more but you do get the pleasure of knowing that almost certainly your fellow guests will be LGBT, (you don’t get money back if they aren’t because they are probably friends of mine and I have them well trained), and we do look after you well, and we know our way around the gay scene, and which are the best places to go for that essential mojito before dinner.

And for food and drink, pricewise probably the best comparison that there is, is South America. A good main course and a glass of wine or bottle of beer will cost you about the same as in Lima or Cusco, or indeed in Santiago de Chile. If you want to ‘splurge’ then there are expensive places, the same as there are everywhere.

So if thinking about a Mediterranean holiday and travelling independently, and want a place to go where there are things to do then Crete, Greece is a very good option for the mature LGBT traveller.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Gay Crete Blog Visits.....New Zealand!

The last part of this series looks at LGBT accommodations in New Zealand with my experiences during my holidays last November/December 2010, just in time for your holidays this year!!

Although I am spending most of my time staying with relatives and friends for some nights I needed to have hotels and wherever possible I headed to those listed as gay owned or run, rather than just gay friendly, now surprisingly enough New Zealand comes out tops with more gay owned accommodation than anywhere else so far, but then this is hardly surprising as tourist accommodation in NZ is characterised by small family/owner run guesthouses or as they like to call it there, homestays, very much like Crete, Greece used to be before they started building all those awful impersonal 'all inclusive' resorts.

New Zealand is a very pretty country, there are mountains, lakes, volcanos, glaciers, and beaches but few would consider it a 'gay' destination because they haven't been there! In spite of the fact that at times it seems to be a few years behind the times, New Zealand is ahead of its time as well, it was the first country to allow woman to vote for instance, and certainly in terms of LGBT accommodation it has many more than you would expect, including some gems where I was fortunate enough to be able to stay.

Unless you are staying in Auckland forget about noisy gay clubs and bars, although you will find some LGBT nightlife in other places, New Zealand is for those with a taste for good wine, good food, some stunning scenery, (and a little bit of architecture), and a lot of very good 'arty' gift shops. In fact coming to NZ is a bit like visiting Scotland..The idea is to tour around see the sights and in the evening return to your lodgings whether you are staying there for one night or several doesn't really matter as travelling distances around NZ are not too demanding and the roads are good.

So to some nitty gritty reviews.....I had originally booked with a couple of guys in Auckland for one night on my arrival, three flight time changes later and the fact that I had to be up early to catch the 'Transcenic' train from Auckland to Wellington meant that I ended up staying at Rydges, not a mistake but very well placed for some of the sights especially Sky City. It took forever to get from the airport on the transfer bus (NZ$30), because some women seemed to think it was her own personal taxi and we had a scenic tour of the Auckland suburbs so that she could be dropped outside her house, nice for here I am sure, but not for the rest of us as it took hours to get into the City itself. Rydges I will not talk about, you can read my review on TripAdvisor, suffice it to say that the bathroom taps were considerably shinier when I left than when I arrived......

Sky City is an experience but whether it is worth NZ$28 is up to you....There is an Irish pub round the corner where you will pay NZ$8 for a pleasingly large brandy and coke, the gay area is a bit of a walk from this area and I had neither the time nor inclination to visit it as I had laundry to do and had to be up early for the train.....

Please take the Transcenic from Auckland to Wellington, it will give you some idea of what delights are in store for you in the way of scenery as it rattles and sways it merry little way southwards, just hope that you don't have any Russians sleeping off too much vodka in the observation car at the back as they seem to take up a lot of space.....And you can get hedgehog pies from the buffet and a really good cup of coffee too! (NZ$7.50). The views of the moody mountains on the way goes to explain why they used NZ for filming 'The Lord Of The Rings'.

Sometimes it takes Google a while to work out that are really serious with your searches so it was only after I had booked places that I found this web site Gay Stay NZ, nonetheless I found Wellington City Gay Stay through Facebook, where the guys were so upset because they were already full, but undaunted I had already found The Korimoko Homestay on the Rainbow Tourism web site....

Now the boys, (all three of them), at Korimoko bill the place as an 'architectural curiosity', and don't let that put you off, nor the mention of steps as they are not as bad as they make out out (I had left bags at the YMCA in Wellington City because I was only staying one night and was off on the bus the following day), what you will have problem with is a taxi driver who can actually find the place.

I flatly refused to pay the fare on the meter, because we had been going round in circles for thirty minutes until he managed to home in on the place, and that was using GPS!

Once there they welcome was sufficient to make me feel at ease, and this is a house where people live, you become part of the family (I couldn't help once again making a comparison with the b and b's you get in Scotland where you are staying in a place where people spend their lives).

Cosy, comfortable, the everyday accoutrements of daily life, books, a kitchen with 'things' in it, messages on the front of the fridge, and a bottomless teapot with a decent cup of tea in it. I got the room in a goldfish bowl, which was slightly disconcerting until I woke in the morning and realised I wasn't at all overlooked and had a view across to Wellington city, albeit through a very rainy morning.

Gardens around Wellington, and in New Zealand generally, are an experience not to be missed and Korimoko located on a steep slope is no exception. The temperate climate (compared to Australia or Singapore) combined with (more than adequate) rainfall, and soil, results in the 'jungle' effect of which I personally am so fond and the garden here is enhanced by the natural slopes ot the ground. My favourite area is in front of the garden shed and if you fancy a bath then there are two outdoors in the garden!

If we are going to give points then 10/10 and that is from someone who runs a gay homestay themselves.

Regretfully I am leaving the following day and the
guys are kind enough to give me a lift to the bus station which is really platform 12 and three quarters at the railway station as I am heading north to the Hawkes Bay area, to Havelock North and Ngatahi Lodge. The bus trip takes some hours and like most of NZ the buses are regular and cheap and this is good way of seeing the countryside without the stress of driving, but really to get the best out of New Zealand you really need to hire a car for that extra bit of flexibility.

Whenever you book accommodation like this on the web you need to have a certain amount of trust and be prepared for the unexpected and like Korimoko in Wellington, what you get at Ngatahi is unexpected to! Having had a an exchange of emails you start to get to know people, rather like I do at Villa Ralfa, but I was surprised when John offered to pick me up in Hastings where the bus dropped me off, even better, as it was a bit late in the day, he waited while I did some grocery shopping for a basic evening meal as I didn't feel like exploring too much that night.

The accommodation at Ngatahi is mainly a 'motel style' block, but what is inside is anything but motel style. About the first thing that hits you in the eye, in the Queen room, is the bed, we have all seen metal framed beds, but never like this!
Not only is the bed impressive it's comfortable too and there are other nice touches in the room, like a good, solid, old fashioned chest of drawers, and the shower cubicle in the bathroom is plenty big enough for two (!), and I just love the tap on the washbasin.....

Of course by the time I get there it is just about dark so the real treats have to wait until the morning.

Apart from the great location, for visiting the art deco towns of Hastings and Napier both of which have some beautiful gift shops selling a lot of art deco sculpture and ceramics, and also for visiting the number of wineries in the area one of the most outstanding features of Ngatahi is the garden, or rather gardens, as it is divided into various areas surrounding the accommodation and the common room blocks. Without giving too much away there are meandering paths through trees and shrubs (and let's face it, us boys, we love a meandering path through trees and shrubs), there's a lake, there's rose garden with an outdoor bath (I told you NZ was a bit old fashioned!), and even a couple of chairs hidden in a corner covered with almost as much moss as I am.

While I was there I was also able to see the cottage that John and Henk also have to rent, separated as it is from the rest of the buildings, the cottage is ideal for those wanting a little more privacy!

Roughly in the middle of the grounds is a modern communal block containing a kitchen and a comfortable lounge area overlooking the lake, and with a barbecue area this provides a focal point for social activities.

Regretfully the demands of family and flights meant that I had to cut short my stay, otherwise I could have spent another week just exploring the garden!

The town of Havelock North is within walking distance, (John and Henk lent me a bicycle), so although you could self cater on site there is really no need to do so. I must make a comment here though, and although I cannot speak for the other rooms, mine did not have its own fridge, it would only take a couple of cases of wine or champers to fill the fridge in the common room and at busy times it would be difficult to keep your wine and food chilled, but apart from that I cannot fault this haven of tranquility which makes it ideal for those wanting a get away from it all place with mod cons! Well done guys!

The Gay Crete Blog Visits.....Australia!

Everyone visits Sydney, Australia, but other cities are available depending on what you want to do while you are visiting the sun burnt country....

Catching up a bit on last year's holiday can sometimes be a bit difficult but so far I have managed to cover Singapore! Hopefully this will catch prospective LGBT visitors to Australia before they have finalised their travel plans for this (northern) winter!

My journey began in Perth, Western Australia which is where I lived for a number of years back in the early 80's, and I am staying with friends and 'family' so I have no need for hotel accommodation although there are a couple of listings for accommodation on some web sites, Gay Traveller, for instance. Sadly the gay scene in Perth seems to have 'shrunk' since I lived there when everyone used to go to The Lion (and before that The Clarendon, commonly known as The Pink Palace, where Danny the ex-bus driver from Sydney was to be found behind the bar), and the main venue seems to be The Court.

The Court is located to the north of Perth city centre and is close to the main railway station and I must admit that I was a bit put off by their web site which said that everyone needed proof of age and would be photographed on the way in, nonetheless I headed there on a Friday night, only to find a long queue of teenagers waiting to get in, and I am sorry but nowhere is worth queuing for so I headed off to that most famous of haunts, Connies' in James Street.

It is nice to know that some things do not change, well not too much, and Connies is still there up that lethal staircase although when you get inside things are a little different with the bar now in a different place, and more glitter balls than you can poke a stick at. But where is everyone? It's Friday night it should be packed.

The bar staff are pleasant, the beer reasonably priced at A$9 for a small bottle, and only when I said I was going for a cigarette did I discover that they have a roof terrace for the smokers, complete with an outside bar and this is where everyone seems to be!

Although I do not really like to say it, if you are looking for a hectic gay nightlife then forget about Perth, I have no doubt it has its moments but really with only one or two bars to choose from, and a couple more 'up and coming' so I was told, there is not a lot going on. There is a Perth Bears page on FB for those interested though!

However Perth and the area still has attractions for some sectors of the population, notably some fine beaches including the more secluded beach at Swanbourne. Take the West Coast Highway north from Perth city and turn into Challenger Parade where you will find small car parks on the right, a short walk through the sand dunes will bring you to the beach close to the military base, and then use your eyes!

For those more sophisticated, Perth has some excellent restaurants and one big bonus is the number of wineries within easy reach both in The Swan River area and also further south at Margaret River.

Within Western Australia there is also some stunning scenery but your biggest problem is getting to see it all because of the vast distances involved (most of Europe would actually fit in the south western corner of the state), you really need a camper van and six months to get around it all! To the east the Goldfields and Kalgoorlie are also worth visiting.

I am leaving by train on the Indian Pacific to Adelaide, and this trip is a must for those who want relaxation while they watch the landscape roll by, the journey to Adelaide takes one and a half days, leaving Perth at lunchtime and arriving in Adelaide early in the morning two days later.

I was once told that Adelaide was a fine old city.....And I guess this is still true with some remarkably well preserved colonial buildings, most of which seem to be pubs! Like Perth, Adelaide seems to be stuck in a minor time warp and trying to find truly gay accommodation is like looking for a virgin in Sydney.....At the time I was trying to book a place I found only one listing for a b and b who informed me that they didn't have accommodation although they didn't make it clear whether they were full or perhaps they just didn't do accommodation...If you get my meaning.

I ended up booking through Rainbow Tourism and got a room at the Adelaide Paringa which is centrally placed for sight seeing and transportation, it is also a shortish walk to the Hampshire Hotel (near The Markets) which is one of the nicest gay/LGBT pubs I have been in for a long time, lively, noisy, but not too much so, and with bar staff who actually want to serve you. I went there for two nights in a row and saw all the same people both times so I guess the gay scene there is only limited which is surprising at South Australia was the first state to legalise homosexuality!

The second night of my visit it was so cold and wet that I ended up going to the sauna at Pulteney 431 to get warm.

So like Perth, Adelaide is not the place for the LGBT tourist looking for all night raging, but none the less a place where you can get elegantly pissed.....Like Western Australia, South Australia is renowned for its wineries and if you had the time you could spend weeks just wine tasting (and months drying out when you got home), I recommend that short afternoon wine tour that you can book at the tourist office.

Central Adelaide has its fair share of shops including one at the end of Rundle Street Mall that only sells chocolate, and a shop opposite that also only sells chocolate!

For the more cultured, Adelaide could be called the 'Festival City' as they seem to have festivals for just about everything during the course of the year...They also have cricket, while I was there there was a test match on but I managed to avoid it!

Having arrived in Adelaide by train. I left the same way, but this time on the Ghan to Alice Springs.....

Contrary to popular belief there are gay and lesbian people in Alice....I met up with one of them through GTN, who was kind enough to meet me off the train even though it was 9 hours late and show me the sights including the famous Bojangles Bar which is renowned for its steaks and also the vast amount of crap hanging from the walls and ceilings and the old Rover car in the backyard. In Alice there are one or two nice buildings including the one where Chas and Di got food poisoning, a botanic gardens named after a famous local lesbian, some extremely expesive souvenir shops selling some very nice glass, ceramics, and other 'art' and a variety of places to eat. There is a wonderful cafe near one end of Todd Mall that does an amazing chocolate gateau which the waitress assured me was chocolate/sugar/fat/carbohydrate free.

Of course the main reason for being in Alice is as a starting point for trips to Ayers Rock and King's Canyon (unless you are there to lose the family fortune in one of the casinos) and unless you want to do a lot of driving I recommend you take an organised tour which also includes one night accommodation in the middle of nowhere.

I took the Emu Run Tour the guys running it where hilarious and all the time kept telling us that in a minute we would see camels, wedge tailed eagles, and kangaroos. When we did finally see a kangaroo it was actually dead on the side of the road with a wedge tailed eagle busy feeding off it, but having said that their commentaries were knowledgeable and succinct and if you wanted to ask more then they had all the answers. They also provided an excellent BBQ at Uluru to watch the sunset with bubbly and wine whereas other tour outfits were only providing juice and water! Other tour companies are available and TailorMade Tours is another who provide private charters if you are feeling really flush!

Leaving Alice by Tiger Airways proved to be as dodgy as I was led to believe, as the flight was cancelled due to a bird strike so I spent an extra day/night in Alice, which made me a day late getting to Melbourne, I am still waiting for the compensation payment from Tiger Airways......But they are soooo CHEAP!

Arriving in Melbourne is like finding an oasis in the desert, and as you would expect from Australia's second city it does have night life for the LGBT traveller....Lots of it, but I suspect considerably more sedate than Sydney.

There is not a lot of truly 'gay' accommodation in Melbourne, much of what you will find listed is really only the normal 'chain' hotels and some expensive boutique accommodation, but you will find The Laird where, arriving a day late, I found Mark and Brett getting ready for the evening, not at all perturbed by my late arrival (they could have charged me for the night I was not there), or by the fact that my credit card did not work in their machine.....They have a cash machine in the front bar and it doesn't even charge you for withdrawals from a foreign bank account...They welcomed me to The Laird and gave me the key to my room which was easy enough to find on the first floor overlooking the beer garden at the back.

The only was to describe The Laird is as a Bear's Den...Decorated in wood and dark colours the room I had was big with lots of proper furniture and a big metal bed which only rattled a little bit, and a nice bathroom with a decent sized shower and lots of towels along with a request that please do not ask for towels to be changed unless you really need it, pretty normal these days, even I do it! Across the hall is a lounge for guests (there is a security door between the public areas of the pub and the accommodation), and next to it a kitchen, well stocked with food for making your own breakfast, including a machine that makes decent coffee!

At the top of the stairs is an internet point which turns out to be something of a meeting point as sooner or later you get to meet all the other residents as they sit checking their emails, the clientele down in the bar are pleasantly mixed in age group and style and the beer garden is where everyone seems to gather (beware of the possum which likes to sleep up in the pergola, like all possums it has a weak bladder and will piss on you if it gets half a chance, I was keeping an eye on it and moved as soon as it came my way). As this is specifically a gay male establishment there is a relaxed atmosphere everywhere something that you do not find in 'gay friendly' places no matter how many training courses they have been on, or how many certificates they have to say just that.

I was a bit worried about the fact that my room overlooked the garden as I thought it might be a bit noisy but I needn't have worried, the music is not that loud and the gentle buzz of conversation seemed to aid my sleep especially after I had relieved the bar staff of several measures of brandy.

Location-wise The Laird is close to some other gay/lesbian venues and they have a small map which shows them, you also get a free pass to Club 80 for the duration of your stay.

One other such venue is Sircuit which is within walking distance and I visited there on the Saturday night with one of my previous paying guests at Villa Ralfa. As a complete opposite to The Laird you could not get much further away. Sircuit is a big ground floor room, one end of which is taken up by pool tables (plural), the other end is standing room mainly centred around the bar. At one side is scaffolding so you can sit at an oil drum and watch the entertaining crowd below., the decorations are minimal (non-existent) with exposed pipes and conduit on the ceiling and not a lot of money spent on paint either.

At the front within the building, but outside on the street is a smoking area which is well attended, like you do I walked out there and bumped straight into a Greek guy from Heraklion, the world is a very small place sometimes.

At the back of the main room is a staircase which goes up to another smoking area on the roof and a cruising room...On the night I was there they had a free boot shine on the way up the stairs so I got my silver Reeboks dusted off, and on the next floor they were giving buzz cuts which probably gives you some idea of what Sircuit is all about. The toilets on the ground floor are stunning.

The Melbourne transport system is excellent and involves buses and trains networked together with a common ticket, take the Sunday special which you have to buy at Flinders Street station before the day and you can go just about everywhere for a few dollars, I went all the way to Knoxfield via Waverly for next to nothing to see my 'mother in law' and it all worked fine. The Laird is opposite Collingwood station so don't bother with taxis to get from the centre/airport as there is virtually no walking to do even with a heavy suitcase. Having said that do take the walk into Melbourne central, it is not a difficult walk and you pass through some of the old residential district with incredibly twee houses beautifully preserved, there is also a delightful park with some excellent plantings. You enter the city just about in the Greek quarter although it is not quite as Greek as you might expect. I stopped for a coffee at one of the Greek cafes only to find the guy behind the counter didn't speak any Greek!

My verdict on The Laird? Probably the best hotel I have stayed in for years, clean, comfortable, and friendly but if your style is Travelodge, Radisson, or Holiday Inn, then give it a miss as you will probably not enjoy living over the top of a gay bar. On the other hand give it a try, you might find that staying in a proper gay owned and run place is infinitely better than a place where you could be anywhere in the world!

By the way Melbourne in case you didn't know, is a cultural city with theatre, art gallery, and a lot of other things to see both in the city and around it. I was only at The Laird for three nights but could have happily spent a week or 10 days there, but this bunny is off to New Zealand early on the Monday morning!