A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lizanddave

Istanbul to Home via Dubai

sunny 28 °C
View Liz and Dave's European Experience on lizanddave's travel map.

Our last evening in Istanbul was very pleasant as we visited a place called The Han Restaurant where we sat on the floor among a pile of pillows and ate our traditional meal from a low table while drinking local beer. After this wonderful experience we made our way back to the hotel to start packing for the first leg of the trip home.

We awoke Sunday to a freezing and overcast day (predicted top of 11oC with blustery wind) which was OK as we’d had such good weather for most of our trip. It was time to leave the European continent for the final time so Liz was not happy and used every excuse possible to avoid discussion or activity that would mean she had to go home (for some reason she doesn’t want to go back to work). Eventually, with much prodding, she was packed and ready to go and we took our transfer to the airport – supplied by our hotel. The AND Hotel was excellent with a well appointed rooms, great location and very friendly and helpful staff.

At the airport we had to go through security as soon as we entered the terminal; I was questioned about a small fruit knife in the baggage I was going to check in and Liz kept setting off the metal detector (we think it was the underwire in her bra!) but eventually got through. On check-in Liz joked with the staff, kindly volunteering for an upgrade to help them out - a guy from Emirates was staying at our hotel and said that our flight was full. Passport control was crowded but straightforward, although Liz was trying lots of ploys to avoid leaving (“I’ve lost my passport, I didn’t get my passport back when we gave it over at the border on the way in”, and so on…) and I was thinking about getting security to assist in removing her from the country but a quick body search soon revealed her passport. We grabbed a light lunch and used the last of our Turkish Lira in the Duty Free shop before making our way to the check-in gate where we needed to go through another security check – this time I was fine but Liz set off the detector again.

We arrived at the gate and were very surprised and pleased when the staff gave us our new boarding passes, yes they upgraded us to Business Class!! They called the First and Business Class passengers to board straight away so off we went leaving the “peasants”, aka economy passengers, behind to queue. Arriving at our seats (you know the one’s we usually salivate over as we go past on our way to cattle class), where we had heaps of overhead baggage space and massive seats that reclined all the way with motorised footrests, lumber support etc. As soon as we sat we were offered some champagne and checking out all the controls while we waited for the rest of the plane to load. As soon as we lifted off we were given hot towels and then they started feeding us a continuous stream of snacks, food and wine for the next four hours. I had decided I was going to accept everything they offered (except the Turkish and Arabic newspapers) and Liz tried to keep up but in the end when they offered her a hand dipped chocolate she was so full she refused!

Our flight from Istanbul to Dubai was only four hours but we milked it for all it was worth. Just prior to touch down we were given our fast track passport/customs pass and once on the ground we disembarked first – luxury. The fast track line at passport control was quick and then reality struck as we waited at the baggage carrousel – our bags were the last to be unloaded (no Business Class tags for priority) and then when we went through the “Nothing to declare exit” at customs but then we were randomly selected and screened anyway (luckily no problems).

We had organised a transfer to our hotel a few weeks previously when we booked the hotel, however there wasn’t anyone to meet us at the airport so Liz called and was told they had no record of the request. They suggested we take a cab as it would only cost about 40 dirham (UAE Dollars). We got to the taxi OK but the driver wasn’t sure of the location of the hotel so asked another driver and still managed to take us on an 80 dirham ride to the other side of the city and the wrong hotel (same hotel group), which we didn’t know until we tried to check-in. Liz was getting worked up by now and after an intense discussion with the hotel they managed to find a driver to come and collect us. So after getting off the plane at 9.30pm we actually arrived at the hotel at about 12.20am. Oh well.

You’d think that would be enough for one night but no, upon settling in our room Liz tried to turn a light and blew the entire light circuit. So she called reception and they sent up a man who fiddled for a while and reset the breakers so we had some lights. It was after that we decided that we should go to bed; I went to have my shower but guess what? Only lukewarm water but I let it go as by now it was after 1.00am.

Monday morning we started very slowly because of our late night, Liz thought that perhaps the hot water issue would have rectified itself by now so she tried the shower but still no hot water. This is when she snapped and called reception and asked for the duty manager to come to our room. A few minutes later he arrived with the concierge, bell boy, head of housekeeping and another guy. Liz set about letting them know how unimpressed she was with the lack of hotel organisation and poor maintenance, (also lack of towels I forgot to mention previously), and now there was no hot water! The duty manager was extremely apologetic and proceeded to check a switch near the bathroom door clearly labeled “water heater” asking if we’d turn the hot water heater on? Very red faced we said no! Apologies flew in both directions and everything seemed to be settled as they left. Only half an hour later an impressive fruit basket was delivered courtesy of the management and the water was hot so Liz was a happy camper.

It was almost midday before we left the hotel; we’d spent some time booking a few tours at the tour desk in the lobby. We walked to the “creek” which runs through centre of the city and happened upon a guy touting for a creek tour (Liz thought he may have been an illegal operator) but we took him up on the offer. It was a great way to view the city as we slowly motored along the creek checking out the boats along the banks, from ancient dhows to state of the art motor cruisers, and viewing the new buildings – even the old buildings are only about thirty years old. After the cruise we checked out the textile souks (markets) near the creek and like markets everywhere they tried very hard to get you into their store and sell you everything they could.
Dubai_Liz_..ek_Tour.jpg Dubai_Creek_Tour.jpg Dubai_Davi..le_Souk.jpg

We needed to rush back to the hotel to be in time to be collected for our tour. This was difficult because it was hot, 28oC – so it took it out of us. Finally we made it back to the hotel but upon arrival we were told that there was a change to the original plans and we’d be doing the City Tour now and the Desert Tour tomorrow evening. So a very quick drink and we were piled into a mini bus and off to visit the city.

Over a four hour period we visited a number of places including:
• Jumeirah Mosque – the most photograph building in the city, also one of the oldest (31 years – in Turkey we saw Mosques that were build in the 1500’s, this city is very new!)
• The sandy beaches of Jumeirah.
• Burj Al Arab, one of the few seven star hotels that exist in the world. It was designed to resemble a billowing sail. It soars to 321m and really dominates the beach front.
• We had a quick trip across palm island (first man-made island in the UAE and in the shape of a palm tree) and a visit to the Atlantis Hotel (massive 1500 room hotel with water park – Aquaventure), Dolphin Bay, and The Lost Chamber (65,000 specimen aquarium with Atlantean relics and ruins).
• The Dubai Marina
• Drive by of the Skeikh’s Palace
• Visit to the world’s largest mall (The Dubai Mall) and the world’s tallest building (Burj Dubai – 800m high), where we watched a fountain light and music show)
Dubai_Davi..sque_CT.jpg Dubai_CT_B..t_night.jpg Dubai_City..nset_CT.jpg 6Dubai_Atla..otel_CT.jpg

Tuesday was a busy day as we’d organized a couple of tours and wanted to do some last minute duty free Dubai shopping before our flight home the next day. Firstly we were booked for a tour and breakfast at the most iconic hotels in Dubai; the Burj Al Arab. This internationally renowned hotel sits right on the coast at Jumeirah and looks like a sail – complete with helipad off the side. While not a hugely tall hotel, especially by Dubai standards, it is one of the few seven star hotels in the world.

We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the Burj Al Arab which was a good start but we hit a snag as the drive had copied the reservation number down incorrectly and the security at the gate wouldn’t let us through. Eventually it was solved with some common sense put into practice. Once at the hotel we had been told to go to reception and they would organise the guided tour. Snag number two - the hotel doesn’t organize tours (tour companies should supply their own guides to take visitors around the public areas) but Tanya at reception took us up to the next level and explained about where we could go within the hotel, how to get there (some elevators only went to restaurants or accommodation area and some were express to the top) and most importantly how to get to the breakfast restaurant.

So we made our way through the public areas visiting firstly the lobby which is very elaborate and has a number of fountains as well as a massive atrium (hidden behind the massive white ‘sail’ seen in all the photos. Secondly we visited the Al Muntaha Restaurant which is located 200m above the Persian Gulf, offering a panoramic view of Dubai. It is supported by a full cantilever that extends 27m from either side of the mast, and is accessed to a panoramic elevator. The other main restaurant, the Al Mahara ("Oyster"), is located on the bottom floor and is accessed via a simulated submarine voyage, it features a large seawater aquarium, holding almost one million litres of water, but we could only view this one from the door as they were setting up for lunch service.

We had a 9.30am breakfast booking which turned out to be the most amazing breakfast of the trip – it was a buffet with first class service throw in. The buffet had 5 areas and included absolutely something for the visitor from every culture – I won’t go into it in detail, it would take too long – let’s just say the chef did a good job with my eggs and Liz’s omelet even delivering it to our table and so did the guy who made me fresh waffles and ice cream (handmade vanilla). Every time you got up to get something from the buffet our waitress would clear the dishes, replace some cutlery and neatly fold out linen napkins before asking us if we’d like some more juice. We did get a funny look when we said we didn’t want tea or coffee (but that happens everywhere) but Liz did make the waitress happy by asking for a hot chocolate instead which was delivered in a small pot with enough for 2 cups. We really took our time over a delicious and truly unique breakfast.

So we’d had our self guided tour and breakfast and now it was time to leave. Our driver had given us a card with a phone number for our pickup and told us that reception would call for us but by now we were a little skeptical. Luckily Tanya was still on the desk and she was more than keen to make the call for us. She rang the tour company and proceeded to firmly discuss their interesting tour offerings to her hotel (boy was she good!) and organised our pickup. She then walked us to the car chatting with Liz (who had told her that she taught hospitality and how good Tanya was at her job).

Once back at the hotel we quickly got organized and grabbed a taxi to go to the gold and spice souk (markets) where we looked about and were amazed at the amount of gold and silver that existed in such a small area – we even saw guys weighting small gold bars (about 15cm long, 5 cm wide and 2cm thick) in his small shop. Having wandered around for a while and soaked up the sights and sound it was another taxi ride back to the hotel to get ready for our desert safari tour.

The desert safari is, according to everyone and everything you read, is a must do when you travel to Dubai. It involves driving about an hour south of Dubai in a Landcruiser and then going off road through the dunes. Our driver envisioned himself as the next world rally champion as he flew along the road on the way out of the city (if we’d had wings we would have achieved liftoff) and then really flew when driving on the sand, up and over large dunes, across the side of them and smashing down drop-offs (I wouldn’t want to buy these cars second-hand). When I think back about it I should have known it would be rough because the car had a specially fitted roll cage and the brochures all talked about dune bashing – I think the dunes have been bashed into submission!

After dune bashing for about 40 minutes I felt like a James Bond martini (for the uninitiated shaken not stirred), and we made our way to the camp (supposedly one of about 70 that exist in that area of the desert which are use by tourist groups) where we spent the rest of the daylight riding a camel, Liz getting a henna tattoo, and relaxing whilst soaking up the atmosphere waiting for dinner and the entertainment. The dinner and entertainment where OK but nothing to get overly excited about and by 7.30pm we were in the car and heading back (about 20 minutes stop at souvenir shop/garage to get the tyres re-inflated for highway travel) and we arrived back at our hotel about 9.00pm.
Dubai_Came.._Safari.jpg Dubai_Liz_.._Safari.jpg

That evening Ashlee arrived in Dubai to accompany us home to Australia (she realized that the UK is a cold and miserable place in the winter – and the Brits thought they were sending the convicts away to a bad place!) which was wonderful and a great surprise for her brothers and grandparents.

Early Thursday morning we rose and made our way to the airport for our flight home but here we hit another snag as we were seated all over the plane. We’d gone online previously and made our seat allocations and when Ashlee had checked in at London the previous day, the attendant confirmed that we were all seated together for the Dubai to Sydney part of the trip. On checkin at Dubai we found that mysteriously we had all be placed in three different economy sections on the plane. Liz did her best to try and get us all seated together again, she was even willing for all of us to be moved up the business class in order to get those three seats, but to no avail. Eventually she managed to get 2 seats across the aisle from one another in row 31 with Ashlee stuck way up the back in row 49 – both Liz and I made visits to her during the flight.

So after five and bit months we returned to Australia feeling happy but wishing the journey hadn’t ended as it had been so much fun. Hamish met us at the gate and was surprised to see Ashlee with us and we bundled onto the train for the 2 ½ hour journey back to Newcastle where Lachlan was ready to collect us and drive us home to Salamander Bay.

Home at last but there will be a next time!

Posted by lizanddave 14:06 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Rhodes to Istanbul

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Liz and Dave's European Experience on lizanddave's travel map.

Thursday was a weird day, it started at daylight with thunder, lightning and torrential rain and ended with a crazy rush to find a way to get off the island. In between, we had a day of sunshine with occasional cloud, a nice visit to the local produce markets with a walk through the old town.

The day was supposed to be a moving day with the ferry departing Rhodes at 5.00pm. So we planned to stay at the hotel until checkout time (12 midday), store our luggage at the hotel, walk to the markets and visit the old town before having a late lunch then return to the hotel to collect the bags and get a taxi to the port at around 4.00pm. This was a great plan and was progressing fine until we arrived at the port to find that the ferry staff/port staff were on strike – oh crap! We got the taxi driver to return us to the hotel, which he thought was great because of the higher fare, where we booked back into the hotel but our old room was unavailable and they couldn’t guarantee the same rate.

Our plans were in disarray as we tried to cancel our Athens accommodation booking for the next night, no good - we lost a night’s cost for a late cancellation. Liz got on the phone to our travel insurance company to find out what we needed for a claim. We then walked around to find the Blue Star Ferry office to see what we could do about getting another ferry, we found the office and it was open but the bad news was that it didn’t look like the ferries would be running again until Sunday (we needed to catch the train from Athens to Istanbul on Sunday lunchtime). The ladies at the ferry office were apologetic and helpful as they found us a flight to Athens the next day (only cost a few euro more – things are looking up – our only concern was the cost of excess baggage as our limit was 20kg) BUT WAIT we had cancelled hotel bookings in Athens for the next night. Liz tried to contact the internet booking agent and the hotel to cancel the cancellation but had no luck.

We started Friday early to get to the airport and sort out the baggage problem which in the end was a storm in a teacup, my backpack was 17kg and Liz’s bag only 23kg not the 30 she thought – we didn’t even get charged as our total was right on the 40kg limit. We then sat around the airport waiting for our flight which actually left a little early (well on time but for Greece that’s early!), the flight only took at 50 minutes, as opposed to the ferry which would have taken 13 hours but probably have been more interesting (except for drugged David!!!). Once in Athens we caught the metro to the city centre, Liz actually mentioned going straight to the main station to catch the train to Istanbul as she hadn’t been able to book a day tour to Delphi for Saturday and was paranoid about having a day off. We agreed to go to the hotel and see if our booking cancellation had been cancelled (complicated I know), when we arrived at the hotel the receptionist recognised us for the previous visit and had everything organised.

As we checked in we booked a tour for the next day, not Delphi (only available Mon, Wed, Fri and Sun in off season) but to Epidaurus and Mycenae. Once settled into the hotel we ventured out to visit Public, a large department store that sells English books and walk the streets of Plaka with its many shops and interesting people. We came across a food market (meat, fruit and veg really) and Liz was totally unimpressed with the meat market as it had full carcasses of sheep, chicken and rabbits which were skinned but still had heads and in the bunnies case fluffy tails, I think she’s becoming a vegetarian!!!!! I just didn’t like the smell. At the fruit market she tried to buy a few mandarins but they only sold the stuff by the kilo so she went without.

Saturday was early as our tour pick up was 7.30am (at least they collected us from the hotel), we were the first pickup of the 12 people on the tour for the day. We then went to the tour office for those who still needed to pay and then drove back past our hotel (now 8.30am – could have had another hours sleep!) on our way out of town. Our first stop was at the Corinth Canal which is a manmade canal that runs for 6km joining the Aegean and Ionian Seas saving ships time and money when sailing between Athens and Italy etc to the west. As you can see from the photo it’s very steep sided and narrow – amazing that large ships can make it through.

Another hour’s drive and we arrived at Epidarus with its amazing theatre. With a capacity of 14000 and the best acoustics in all Greece perhaps the world (now this sounds grandiose but our guide was very clear – she reminded me a lot of the dad from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as she explained about how just about every English word had a Greek origin but she didn’t have a passion for windex like he did!). The theatre was in pretty good shape but the ruins nearby were almost leveled and in parts looked like piles of rocks. In the museum they had some statues but, as usual, they had no heads – if you conquered a place the first thing you did apparently was smash the heads of the statues of their gods/important people, hence plenty of headless statues and occasionally heads and no bodies!!
Epidaurus_..n_stage.jpg Epidaurus_..t_ruins.jpg

Back on the bus we travelled another 20 minutes to the port of Nauplia (first capital of modern Greece) with its Venetian fortress of Palamidi and the fortified islet of Bourtzi, this was a quick photo stop before driving on to the Mycenaen centre.

At the Mycenaen archeological site we found an acropolis (fortified city on a hill top with a royal palace) which was interesting as many large stones (up to 120 tonnes) were move and placed as lintels for entrances with only imagination and muscle power to move them! The site was also contained the tomb of Agamemnon (a famous Greek dude = can’t remember what the guide said) as well as a weird bee-hive tomb which the modern Greeks had converted to a sheep and goat shed before it was taken over by the government as an archeological site – you could still smell the goats!
Mycenaen_A..and_Liz.jpg Mycenaen_A..s_Ruins.jpg Mycenaen_Beehive_Tomb.jpg

After lunch, provided as part of the cost (but not the wine – I do miss Spain where the wine is included in the cost) we visited a tourist shop where Liz added to her collection of china and I watched a potter throw a small jug. This type of stop is typical on tours as the company must get a kickback for the sale of souvenirs to the tourists who only have this stop to purchase anything before the trip back to their hotel.

It was a long and sunny day starting at 7.30am and arriving back at the hotel at 6.00pm, at least we were the second drop off on the way back. During the day another couple had mentioned that there may be train strike the next day so when we arrived back at the hotel I asked reception to ring the station but, of course, it was closed at 6.30pm on Sunday evening, so we still didn’t know if we would be going to Istanbul the next day – just adds to the experience of travelling besides it’s the off season and there are plenty of cheap hotels available and if necessary flights.

Sunday morning we asked the new guy at reception if he’d heard anything about a strike and he said no – things are looking up but let’s not get too cocky. We ventured out to drop our laundry off and head to the Plaka area again as the Sunday flea markets were on (Lonely Planet suggestion) and Liz was keen for a last look around before heading to the station for our 1.20pm train (hopefully). The markets were interesting with some stalls having large piles of stuff that was not sorted in anyway but just a large mixed up pile of brick-a-brack. Liz was keen to move on as she was over markets!!! So we walked back to the hotel via the laundry (washed, dried, folded and back in the bag – very nice) where we packed up and departed to the station.

At the main station we almost died when we saw the main departure board as it had a large cross over it, here we go again, but no, the lady at the information desk pointed to the platform when asked about the train to Istanbul. After a short wait the train arrived Liz rolled her eyes at it as it looked like a local rattler with only 4 carriages and it was supposed to take us to Thessaloniki in northern Greece about a 6 hour trip where we were to change to the Istanbul connection – that’s the Greek railway for you!

This first section of the trip was interesting as we could watch the scenery as it passed but once it got dark (about 5.30pm) it became a little boring. Luckily the train terminated at Thessaloniki because we couldn’t read the signs at the stations and the further north we got the less English people seemed to understand. Once at Thessaloniki we were impressed by the station (Athens main station is a bit like Broadmeadow station in Newcastle, Australia) as it had shops and a variety of food outlets – you could easily wait for hours at the station but luckily we only had to wait an hour.

Once we were fed and watered we embarked the train – a Turkish train at that – and found our sleeping compartment; we hoped it would only be a double compartment not the 4 berth family compartment it seemed to show on our ticket! Luckily we had the dual berth sleeper which was old but seemed OK, it later became apparent that the air conditioning didn’t function as it was like an oven all night.

The night train was good in that we could lie down and get comfortable but we also knew that during the night we would need to disembark to do passport control and customs for our entry into Turkey. What I’d forgotten was that we needed to go through Greece passport control for our exit from the EU. So we stopped at about 2.30am and over the next 2 hours we stopped woke up and gave our passports to the officials for our exit stamp, then moved on for about 10 minutes where we stopped again for the Turkish official to take our passports and send us into the station office to pay for the visa 30 Turkish Lira each and then we waited until they returned our passports before starting our journey to Istanbul at 4.40am. We eventually arrived at Istanbul main station at 10.30am feeling very sleep deprived, thirsty and plain worn out.

We had no idea where our hotel was in relation to the station so took a taxi (it turned out the driver didn’t have a clue where the hotel was either), so we did get to have a good look around the old city and realised that the Turkish drivers are a lot like the Indians – totally crazy! Our hotel was one of the more expensive of our trip and turned out to be about a block from the Blue Mosque and most of the other historic buildings of the old city, so it was well worth the money.

Once we’d showered and had a short midday nap we hit the streets for some lunch (also plenty of cafes and restaurants around the hotel) and reconnoiter, mostly to find a Tourist Information Centre. Found the important stuff, supermarket, Vodafone and Tourist Centre so we could manage our time in the city. Liz finalised our tour booking to Gallipoli and Troy for later in the week and also a tour of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul for Saturday morning. Hard to come to grip with the fact that that next Sunday morning we catch the plane to Dubai for our first flight towards Australia – where has all the time gone?!!

Tuesday was a great day with the sun shining and we’d had a fantastic night’s sleep. As we walked into the breakfast room of the hotel we found Trev and Chente (Canadian friends from Patras and Santorini) who had been in Istanbul for the past few days – we’d told them where we were staying – and we chatted for an hour about our travels over the past week and organized to meet for dinner that night.

Liz and I set out for the day to explore Istanbul and visit a couple of important sites, so firstly we crossed the road from our hotel and visited the Yerebatan Cistern which is a massive under city water storage 140m long and 70m wide, it contains contains 336 massive stone columns and had a capacity of 100,000 tons of water and was used in a James Bond movie – but I can’t remember which one. Liz kept getting dripped on as we walked around the boardwalks but I don’t know what her problem was as I was only hit once!

We then walked around the old city until we found the Grand Bazaar which is an incredible maze of shops in a large covered building(s). We tried to be very methodical in our exploration but after a few hours we gave up and wandered around checking out the great variety wares available. I was amazed in a carpet store to find a framed photograph of Harry Kewell (Australian soccer player who players for a local Turkish team) in the prominent place while the photo of Bill Clinton was pushed to the side and half hidden – nice to see and Aussie footballer getting recognition!
Istanbul_Grand_Bazaar.jpg Istanbul_D.._Bazaar.jpg

After the Bazaar we made a beeline for the hotel to get off out feet for a while before going out again for a visit to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was incredible in its size (the inside seems immense) and the colour that emanates from the walls inside gives an understanding of why it is called the Blue Mosque. We then did a bit more wandering about the street visiting another much smaller bazaar before going back to the hotel feeling pretty tired. We also took the time to take a bit of video of the worshipers being called to the mosque for prayer time at dusk (watch it below).
Istanbul_D.._Mosque.jpg Istanbul_B.._Window.jpg

An early start on Wednesday, so early that breakfast wasn’t even available at the hotel, as we were being picked up at 6.30am by the tour company that was taking us to Gallipoli and Troy. They were a little late arriving at 7.00pm and we joined the other 5 people on our tour, of course 3 were from Australia; law graduates from Brisbane, and the other 2 were an elderly couple for Pakistan. It took 5 hours to reach Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula where we had a nice lunch before meeting our guide for the tour of the battle sites and cemeteries associated with the ANZAC campaign of 1915.

This tour started at Brighton Beach which our jaded but extremely knowledgeable guide told us (he’d being doing the same tours – Troy in the morning and Gallipoli in the afternoon for a number of years) was the gently sloping beach to was supposed to be the actual landing point at dawn on April 25th 1915. Our next stop was the actual beach that the diggers hit on the fateful morning and now called Anzac Cove. The small size and steep slope of this beach made it a really difficult place to land (even to us with no military knowledge could tell it was the worst place on that section of coast to land soldiers).
Gallipoli_..to_1915.jpg Gallipoli_..ove_Now.jpg Gallipoli_..ac_Cove.jpg

We then visited North Beach which is the site of the current ANZAC Day service, it’s only a couple of hundred metres north of Anzac Cove and is a relatively long gently sloping beach. The space that the service is held within is fairly small and must be absolutely packed when 10,000 people pack into it on that morning. We also visited the beach side cemetery which was the first of many cemeteries that we visited. It was very humbling and began to have a profoundly emotional effect on both of us – so many young people who’d died before they had really lived, a whole generation of young men lost!

After a short drive we arrived at Lone Pine (Australian Cemetery) which contained, like all Gallipoli cemeteries, a large number of bodies but many that where unidentified. Liz successfully searched for the name of her Great Grand Father listed on the memorial, as he was buried at sea, which was a nice moment for her but still it was a very somber experience.
Gallipoli_..ription.jpg Gallipoli_..emetery.jpg

Further up the hill we visited Johnsons Jolly, The Nek, The Turkish Cemetery and Chunuk Bair (New Zealand Cemetery) all of which were explained along with small individual stories of individual courage, bravery and even stupidity (especially by some British Commanders – but that’s another story). In was a very solemn experience and in many ways I now understand the significance of ANZAC Day more acutely. I also understand the importance of the pilgrimage of Australians to this site and how they must be affected by their visit. As I stood in an Australian trench, now mostly filled in and covered by fully grown trees, it was not hard to visualize the 3m deep trenches and a battlefield unobstructed by trees, an environment of dirt and mud with a constantly blowing wind but what I don’t believe anyone can imagine is the actual sights, sounds, smells, and feelings associated with being there during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.

I could continue with my discussion of my experience on this tour but I will leave it by saying that it was the most emotional experience of our touring over the past 5 months – it stirs emotions about what the core principles of being Australian is all about. However, Liz disagrees and feels that the Australians should have told the British Army where to shove their orders and then gone home.

With the tour complete we were dropped to the ferry for a ride to the Asian continent (amazing that one country exists on both the European and Asian continents) only 15 minutes across the Dardanelles to Canakkale where we stayed at Anzac House Hostel for the night (it was basic but comfortable).

Thursday was yet another fine day, windy (supposedly 280 per year it’s windy!!) but nice and warm, better than Ashlee who’s currently stuck in Scotland due to a blizzard. This was the day Liz went looking for Brad Pitt; OK we were actually visiting legendary Troy but she still checked out every Trojan horse she could just in case he was hiding!

As neither one of us had actually studied ancient history we only had common knowledge and the Hollywood version to base our understanding of this city, so it was educational to learn about the 9 cities that existed on this one site. So the idea I had of Troy and its history which was based on Troy the 2004 movie (starring Brad Pitt and Eric Banna) turned out to be fiction – I was appalled – so our guide gave us the more official version of its history from 2500 BC until now. Neither Liz nor I knew that there were actually 9 cities on the one site but we do understand why as it sits on a strategically important piece of land and that this hasn’t change even through to today.
Troy_Liz_i..n_Horse.jpg Troy_Liz_i..closeup.jpg Canakkale_..ie_troy.jpg

It was interesting to hear that Troy city number 6 is assumed to be the city where Homer’s story could have been based and that just about every culture has had a piece of this city over its history, including the Greeks and Romans. The excavation is continuing and will probably continue for 100’s of years as; so far, only 10% of the area has been explored.
Troy_6_Ruins.jpg Troy_9_Ruins.jpg

Once the tour was over we were returned to Canakkale where we were free to fill in the afternoon until we could take the ferry to rejoin the bus (a 16 seater which was small and comfortable) for the return to Istanbul. Liz and I walked the town checking out the stores, testing the baklava and having a little lunch before returning to the hotel where we played cards and chatted with the Pakistani couple. The ferry ride back to Europe was quick and relatively flat and our bus ride to Istanbul was boring as it was mostly dark and, let’s face it, travelling in the dark you could be anywhere. As we arrived back in Istanbul we got a good indication of the size of the city, let’s be blunt, it’s bloody huge with almost 15 million people – it took 45minutes and 30km to drive from the outskirts to the old city centre.

Friday saw us start a little slow as we were weary from our previous two day tours but the sun was shining so we were in for another good day. Our plan was to visit the Spice Bazaar, visit the Topkapi Palace and attend a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony and Sufi Music Concert in the evening.

Our visit to the Spice Bazaar was interesting and I spent the first few minutes sneezing from the pungent odours emanating from the building but after the initial assault I was fine. Those pungent odours were from a combination of the massive variety of spices, cheeses and processed meats available. The bazaar also had plenty of jewellery stores (gold, silver and precious gems galore), linens, confectionary (particularly Turkish delight) and glassware with some stores selling all of them. All the sales people tried to get our attention but by now we knew the routine and politely refused and kept walking, only stopping at those places we wanted. It was a good walk and as usual very interesting. We even found the pet bazaar where you could buy everything from chickens and dogs to fish and leeches.
7Istanbul_D.._Bazaar.jpg Istanbul_S..r_Crowd.jpg

Having made a few purchases we returned to the hotel for a short break, I wanted to download the photos from the past days from the camera to the laptop, charge the batteries and basically take a break. We spend hours and hours every day on our feet walking around.

We also came across an interesting way of keeping you shop safe – checkout the size of the guard dog in the window!

Once we’d had the break we made our way to the Topkapi Palace (home to the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years) which was about 2 blocks from the hotel. We walked through the Palace gardens to the main entry and entered the Palace where we got an audio guide so we’d have a clue about what we were looking at and more importantly we got a map so that we knew were to go and what to visit. Even at this time of year it was still fairly busy and there were a number of school groups literally running around. The best exhibition was the State Treasury were they had some incredible large gems set in a variety of items from writing sets to sword hilts and jewellery. Liz was most impressed by the 86 carat Kasikci diamond, the fifth largest in the world and it was surrounded by a pile of small (still very large) diamonds. On our visit we also saw a variety of Islamic relics which were held in the Chamber of Sacred Relics.
2Istanbul_D.._Palace.jpg Istanbul_D.._Palace.jpg

In the evening we attended a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony and Sufi Music Concert at the Hocapasa Cultural Centre which started well with complimentary drinks and Turkish delight before we entered the auditorium where we were required to stay silent and watch. We firstly listened to the music which almost put me to sleep and I was wondering if I had blown my money but then the dervishes arrived on stage and began their ceremony with them moving in a very stylized way and involved them turning continuously in an anti-clockwise direction with eyes closed and only stopping every 5 minutes to regroup and complete some more moves before starting again – I don’t know how they didn’t fall down with dizziness or in the end throwing up. It was an amazing spectacle and well worth the time and cost.

Saturday we did the Grand Bazaar Tour which involved a couple of workshop visits including one to a silversmith and another to a goldsmith (it was interesting but nobody was actually doing much except polishing). Our guide was very good and knowledgeable and told us about the origin and development of Istanbul and particularly the Grand Bazaar he also took us through the old city on a walk through the open air bazaar that connects the Grand and Spice Bazaars. This open bazaar was very obviously for the locals as we saw many women in traditional Muslim dress and this bazaar sold bridal gear, kitchen items, haberdashery and just about everything but tourist souvenirs. It was very crowded and quite difficult to make our way through.
Istanbul_G..ar_Tour.jpg Istanbul_G..p_Visit.jpg

On our walk we visited a very old hun which consisted of original shops with living areas up above – now workspaces. It looked derelict but still had a couple of workshops. Our visit was actually so that we could walk across the roof and checkout the view – truly unique part of the tour. This entire building looked and smelled like it should have been demolished and we literally worried for our safety as we traversed the cracked rooftop.
Istanbul_D.._Inside.jpg Istanbul_D..ar_Roof.jpg

Near the end of the tour we visited the Yeni or New Mosque (built in the 1500’s – but still called “new”!) and learned about the rituals and history of the Muslim religion. This was really good as it helped us gain a better understanding of the religion and its supporters – knowledge gives understanding and results in tolerance.

After the tour I dropped Liz off at a Turkish Bath House as she was keen for the experience. When I arrived back she was smiling and looked relaxed and glossy and she explained that they had given her a good body scrub, bubble wash, washed her hair, had good rinse followed by a Jacuzzi and finishing with a 30 minute full body oil massage. Yeh, life is tough for the girl!

Posted by lizanddave 07:08 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Naxos to Rhodes via Santorini

semi-overcast 18 °C
View Liz and Dave's European Experience on lizanddave's travel map.

The ferry from Naxos to Santorini was the same one that brought us from Athens to Naxos. The sea was smooth as glass and that incredible blue colour so the 2 ½ hour trip just “flew”, we even had a stop in Ios which was interesting – it’s supposed to be a real party island.

On arriving in Santorini its impossible not to notice the cliffs that run from the water’s edge up to the town – the road up has many switch backs that Hamish and Lachlan would love to drive. On stepping onto the island we started looking for our lift to the hotel, located in Thira (Fira) called the Aroma Suites, we found the man holding a sign for the Hotel (not our names) and he happily drove us to the top of the cliffs and along to the parking for the hotel, we then needed to walk through the narrow streets towards the cliff edge and down a few steps to our amazing hotel (more like apartments with balcony areas overlooking the water to the west). The room was a little cave but had all the mod cons and the view was sensational; we actually spent the rest of the afternoon sitting, drinking wine (supplied by the hotel), chatting to a couple of other Australians and watching the sun sink slowly in the Aegean.

In the early evening we went for a walk through the town, finding that most stores, hotels and restaurants had closed for the off season but there was still plenty for us to see on this brief scouting trip.

Thursday was a slow start as we were a little tired from doing nothing! (I know this is unbelievable but it is true!!). We thought we would catch the bus to some of the small towns on the other side of the island – in Santorini you must decide if you want to stay on the cliff side with the views or flat side with the beaches – so we paid our €1.80 each and travelled the 20 minutes to Kamari. Kamari is a real beach place with hotels and restaurants along the beachfront (only a few open now), the sand on the beach is black pebbles and hard on the feet and it is the gateway to ancient Thira. There was however one problem - ancient Thira is at the top of this huge mountain with a road of switchbacks to navigate on the way up and we were walking!! Standing at the bottom we decided that we’d hire a car/ATV/moped/something so that we could visit the ancient site as there was no way I was walking up that hill/mountain. We decided to retreat back to the bus stop, but along the way Liz decided to try the water (as usual). She reporterd back that the temperature was quite acceptable and the water was the clearest she had ever seen, “crystal clear”.
Santorini_..i_Beach.jpg Santorini_..t_Thira.jpg

Once back in Thira we visited a local ferry agent to book passage to Rhodes and then Athens; we needed to finalise the transport so we could book accommodation. With this done we enterred into a walk of epic proportions from Thira to Oia (small town on the northern tip of the island – also known as the honeymooners village), the walk along the top of the caldera has amazing views but is very arduous at times. The walk took us almost 3 hours and involved some steep climbs and slippery down slopes covered in loose pumice and small pebbles. We followed the cliff edge most of the way only moving away as we needed to circle up and around hilltops. The walk into Oia was a relief as I was very tired and my old knees were aching, Liz was just annoying as she had a big grin on her face – she loved every minute on it, photographing everything she could! We decided that we’d take the bus back to Thira which was cheap and quick.

Once back at the hotel we showered and sat on the balcony watching the stunning sunset again while having a glass of wine. We decided that we deserved a nice dinner out so we visited a restaurant for dinner, the food was great and the service was excellent (only 2 couples in the restaurant at the time!), they even gave us a dessert to share at the end. So after a long hard day, a good meal and a bottle of wine it was no problem sleeping.

Friday we awoke to find two huge cruise ships moored off the island, OK it was 9.00am so I don’t know if they arrived at sun rise or just 5 minutes earlier, what I did know was that almost every shop in the town would be open. After our heavy walking day the day before it was going to be an easy day so we took our time relaxing on the balcony over breakfast.

Mid morning we went for a walk through the town which was a full of tourists from the cruise ships (easy to tell them they all have little numbered stickers on their chests – denotes which group they are in on the launches that bring them into the harbour). We managed to make a few purchases but were sick of the spiel of the merchants “…… last day of the season, we give you special discount … 50% off!” The problem was we had heard them tell the tourists from the ships the same thing the day before – you have got to love their passion for the sale. Once they realized we were staying on the island they changed the spiel a little, so we did purchase some linen, wine, clothes and jewellery.

Once we’d spent enough money, although nothing compared to the cruise ship tourists who all appeared rich and rolling in money; we walked back to the hotel for some lunch. I actually stopped at Lucky’s for a gyros (roast pork or chicken, tzatziki sauce, salad and chips wrapped in a pita) which was tasty, filling and cheap at €2.50. We had managed to buy a couple of English newspapers so after lunch we lazed on the balcony reading the paper in the sun.

We also ran into a Canadian couple that were travelling the world by motor bike, we had first met them on the ferry from Bari to Patras, and unbelievably they were staying in an apartment owned by the same man that owned ours. As we talked we found out that they were catching the same ferry as us to Rhodes which is a remarkable coincidence; so we invited them for drinks on our balcony in the evening – if they are going to ‘stalk’ us why not enjoy the experience!

During the afternoon we finalised our accommodation booking for the rest of the trip, it’s scary how few days we have left, Liz keeps saying she doesn’t want to go home as she’s having too much fun. We also booked our boat trip/tour of the volcano and hot springs for the next day and our car for the day after (we can drop it at the ferry terminal at midnight so it suits us better than the ATV or moped).

Dare I say it? “Another day in paradise” beckoned on the Saturday; it was however a little cooler courtesy of a breeze but the sun was shining. We were going on the boat trip to the volcano (Nea Kameni) which is situated in the centre of the 400m deep lagoon directly across from our hotel. The volcano last erupted in 1950 but the active crater (there are several other old craters) only gives off sulphur dioxide and stream.

Our trip to the volcano first involved walking down the 588 steps to the old port (better to walk down than up – we took the cable car to the top after the day trip) to find our boat and colleagues for the day. Yet again the Canadian couple joined us and about 18 people all told.

This was not really a guided tour which became obvious when we arrived at the pier on the volcanic island. We were told to be back at 12.30pm and you follow the path!! We followed the path chatting to the Canadians and an American guy as we ‘followed the path’ up the side of the volcano, at times a little confused by the old craters, until we came across a crater issuing stream from this side – must be the active crater! At first we checked out a spot were vapour was escaping and worked out it was steam before moving a little further along to find the smell of sulphur dioxide emanating from a number of spots as well as yellow/white powder coating the rocks. We looked around the islands from the view points of the volcano before returning to the boat by our 12.30pm deadline.
Santorini_..Volcano.jpg 0Santorini_..volcano.jpg 7Santorini_..volcano.jpg

Our next stop was a small island next to the Mea Kameni Island where there were some hot springs (actually luke warm) where we stopped for those that were game to dive off the boat and swim to the area of the springs. Of course Liz was one of the five who dared to hit the water and enjoy a dip in the Aegean over a ‘hot’ spring – just one of those things she felt she could not miss out on doing!

After the boat trip back to the old port and the cable car ride up to Thira we walked back to the hotel for Liz to have a warm shower before heading out again for another walk around town. We finished the afternoon sitting on the balcony drinking a little vino and watching the sun disappear in the sea. What a life!!

The last day on Santorini saw us take the greatest risk so far of our trip – hiring a car and driving on the right hand side of the road which seems really wrong. It was another beautiful day with the sun shining and the temperature in the early twenties, we had a long day as we were moving on to Rhodes (Greek Island near southern Turkey) but our ferry didn’t depart until midnight and we needed to check out of our hotel by midday. We had decided to hire a car so that we could explore the other areas of the island, store our luggage, and transport us to the harbour.

We started the car hire day with Liz driving to Oia (we’d walked there earlier in our visit) which only took about 15 minutes and luckily was uneventful. Oia had some amazing views from its cliff top position and the buildings are classic Santorini – we got some really cool photos.
Santorini_.._at_Oia.jpg 9Santorini_.._at_Oia.jpg

I then took control of the car (with a little apprehension) and drove around the low side of the island checking out the area and taking the odd wrong turn – but as Liz said we were still exploring the island! We ended up back in Thira instead of Kamari so Liz resumed the driving while I navigated us to Kamari where we drove the switchbacks to the hill top, site of Ancient Thira. However when we arrived at the top we found entry to the site closed (it closed at 2.30pm and we arrived at 2.30pm) so we would not be visiting the ancient site on this trip but we got some excellent photos from the hill top.

We then drove to the southern part of the island to checkout Red Beach, the light house at Akrotiri, the town of Perissa and the views from everywhere we stopped. It was a pleasant drive and we enjoyed the freedom of travel permitted by the hire car. Red Beach was not in fact red sand but the area had a number of red rocks around the beach area. The driving was good except when we lost focus and ended up on the left side of the road, at one stage I was telling Liz “right, right, right, RIGHT!” but she misunderstood what I was trying to tell her and was looking for a right hand turn while driving up the road on the left side!! She eventually got the message and swung back to the right side of the road.
Santorini_Red_Beach.jpg Santorini_..Perissa.jpg Santorini_..krotiri.jpg

The sun was setting as we drove back to Kamari where we were meeting Trevor and Chenty (our Canadian friends) for dinner and a visit to the movies. We couldn’t find the restaurant so ended up having pizza in a café near the cinema and waited until Trev and Chenty arrived. We, and many children, paid our money to watch the new Harry Potter movie (good way to use up some time while we waited for the ferry at midnight). The movie was good but we didn’t expect the movie to stop and an intermission to happen (they had to change the reel on the projector – no digital here!), which reminded us of going to the movies in the 70’s and 80’s – we did feel old!! Liz made some friends with some local kids (10-11 years old), who wanted to practice their English on her, before the movie even started – she’ll start a conversation with any of the locals or tourists everywhere she goes.

Once the movie had finished we drove to the port (a 20 minute drive up over the hills near Pyrgos before going down through the switchbacks to the port – all in the dark with crazy locals zooming past us), Trev and Chenty, who were catching the same ferry, rode their motorbike and were much quicker than us. At the port we sat in a café and had a beer and chatted for a while, making friends with the bartender which was good as he brought us a complimentary drink each. The only problem was the clear fluid in the glass smelt like methylated spirits and tasted like straight aviation gas, it was really potent and the girls didn’t take more than a sip while Trev and I not wanting to be rude took few gulps to get it down.

Oh, by the way, Liz is exercising her editorial control and insisting that I include one of the many photos she has taken of the feline inhabitants of the Santorini streets. This was her favorite cat/kitten he was friendly and very vocal – Liz and he had many conversations!

Once the ferry arrived Liz and I made our way to our cabin for the overnight ride to Rhodes. The Aegean was agreeably smooth but I still took motion sickness medication (4th ferry ride and haven’t been ill yet) and got some sleep before we woke at 7.00pm and packed – again – ready for disembarking at Rhodes at 8.00am. We had our hotel booked and it appeared a long walk so we grabbed a taxi (only €5). At the hotel we again got luckily with a room being available when we arrived at 8.30am.

After settling in we decided to check out the old town of Rhodes (the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe) which is enclosed by 12m thick walls. It was an interesting 2 hour meander though the old streets, yes there were more cats for Liz to photograph as well as the historic buildings.
Rhodes_Dav..ld_Town.jpg Rhodes_Old_Town_1.jpg Rhodes_Old_Town_2.jpg

Tuesday was an overcast day but thankfully we achieved much before it rained in the afternoon. We had decided that we needed to get out of Rhodes Town and visit a small coastal town about 50km south called Lindos. To get to Lindos we needed to catch a local bus which was a cheap (€5 per person each way) and interesting way to travel and meet the locals. The town was very much a holiday resort with a couple of beautiful beaches, one in particular was very sheltered and would have been amazing in the summer – probably very popular with the locals and visitors alike.

With most of the shops and cafes closed we made our way to the Acropolis on the headland, this fortification had been sacked by just about everyone throughout its existence – dates back to between 2nd and 4th century BC. The place was in remarkable shape with restoration and repair work happening even as we visited. The views from the top were terrific it was just a shame that the sky was overcast and gray otherwise the colour of the water and sky would have been a magnificent backdrop for the many photos we took. Liz thought it was very funny when one of the local cats tried to make friends with me so she took photographic evidence to prove my “animal magnetism”.
Lindos_Liz..ropolis.jpg Lindos_Dav..the_cat.jpg

We also walked down to the beach near the small harbour were Liz, as usual, tested the water – it’s become something of a ritual for her to get her feet wet in every body of water we visit.

As a football fan and general sports tragic you always want to check out the local facilities, Lindos is amazing because it still managed to get a great football field, all be it a synthetic surface, on a rocky hillside in the middle of nowhere – absolutely brilliant the passion these people have for the game. Through Italy and Greece I have seen many football pitches with very few being real grass most a lovely green synthetic (they do look great) but as a player I would hate to think of how much skin I’d lose playing during each game. I’ve also seen literally thousands of smaller Futsal pitches everywhere from school yards to sports clubs with multiple pitches (mesh around and above with floodlights) this is a heavenly place for the football fan – there are games on TV absolutely every night (the commentary is usually in the local language but the game is the game!).

After our trip to Lindos we arrived back in Rhodes and had quiet afternoon at the hotel doing some small research jobs on the computer, updating the blog and uploading photos to the blog site while we have free wifi at superfast speeds (9 minutes to download a 380mb iPhone update – Australia please catch up to the rest of the world).

Wednesday looked like a bleak day with an overcast sky and drizzle overnight, but by the time we’d had a late breakfast the rain had disappeared and slivers of blue sky were appearing. So we decided to take a walk around the waterfront and checkout the beaches and port areas. It is easy to see how busy it would be around the beaches during the summer with all the beach chairs and umbrellas stacked on the beach and the number of hotels along the beach (huge ones with 100’s of rooms) that are closed down for the off season.

We had a really quiet day which was very Greek for at this time of year heaps of people (well then men) spend the day sitting in cafes playing backgammon or cards, drinking coffee, talking with friends or just sitting. We are getting into the very relaxed pace of life and are hopefully that we can maintain it when we get home. We spent the day with a relaxing walk in and around Rhode Town including the port and beach areas.

Posted by lizanddave 07:41 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

Patros to Naxos via Athens

sunny 21 °C
View Liz and Dave's European Experience on lizanddave's travel map.

After only one night in Patras it was time to move, an early train trip to the home of the Olympics was in order. The worst part was the 5.30am wakeup as our train departed at 6.35am for Pyrgos, about 2 hours south of Patras, where we waited for an hour for our connection to Olympia. I must add that the Greek rail system reminds of their economy – very rocky!! The first train was very old and rattled and shook as well as giving you whiplash as it moved across tracks and around corners but the train to Olympia (30 minute trip) was on a new train which was clean and comfortable but still a bit bumpy, probably the track bed more than anything.

When we arrived in Olympia we realized that we were staying in a very quaint village and the weather was clearing with the sun having quite a bit of sting. We found a map of the city near the station and made our way to the hotel we had booked online and this was when things got interesting and Liz started to boil. Liz had spent a great deal of time researching for hotels that were close to the station and ancient ruins so when we arrived at reception and were told that we were being transferred to a partner hotel she wasn’t happy. The lady at the hotel was very nice and explained that the hotel we had booked had decided to close due to it being the ‘end of the season” and that we would be taken by taxi to the partner hotel up on the hill – she was at pains to explain that it was 4 Star! The problem was that we now had to walk 10 minutes to get to the centre of the village and about 20 minutes to ruins instead of having the restaurant strip next door and a 5 minute walk to the ruins. Liz was narky but showed grace by smiling and accepting that this is Greece in the off season. It appeared that we might be the only booking in this large hotel.

Once we had deposited our bags in the room we decided to walk to the ruins. We brought tickets to the ruins and the associated museum and took a couple of hours to walk through the ruins which were very interesting (they had a real thing about swimming pool and baths). Liz and I were both awed by the site, I was particularly taken by the stadium which was large and barren but the history of the place was obvious and to just walk upon the ground that ancient athlete’s had toiled over was moving.
7Olympica_L..m_entry.jpg 8Olympia_An..Stadium.jpg

The other area that was particularly moving was the place where every 4 years they light the Olympic torch and commence the relay to the hosting city. Even the local are affected by the Olympic touch with one shop owner, upon finding out we were Australian, showing us a photo of her son carrying the touch at the start of the touch relay for the Sydney Olympics.

A visit to the ancient ruins of Olympia and the museum are essential for any sport lover. While you need to use your imagination to visualize some of the structures the very essence of the place is consuming and at times you can almost hear the exertion of the athletes. The museum interesting but didn’t have the atmosphere of the ruins, it was like most museums containing random pieces that are ‘probably’ from a particular period – I will admit that the statue of Nike was very cool.

After the visit to museum we walked back to the village centre to have a late lunch /early dinner, as it was off season many places were closed but there was still a good choice. We decided on a small café that had a number of patrons eating at the sidewalk tables, the food was very good and cheap. My downfall was to consume some red wine with lunch when I should have had plenty of water in the warm conditions, woops!

We walked through the village and visited most tourist shops, making a few small purchases before walking back up the hill to the hotel. As the walk was uphill and the day was warm Liz decided to have a shower but alas no hot water. The resulting phone call I made to reception resulted in nothing (or so I thought because I got no response except “I’ll check into it!”) so Liz ran again 30 minutes later to be told that we should have hot water just keep the tap turned on. At long last hot water but very little pressure – you can’t have everything.

Thursday was moving day and it would be a long trip from Olympia to Athens which took most of the day. It was an early morning as the train left at 7.20am and we had to leave the hotel up the hill by 6.30am to walk with our entire luggage down the hill to the station – the lady at reception thought we should leave earlier because we were walking and she actually rang us at 6.00am to make sure we were up ready to go!! It actually only took us 12 minutes to walk to the station and when we arrived it was still dark and cold, and the station had no lights on the platform so it was not very pleasant.

The train arrived on time and we were pleased to be in the warm carriage for the 30 minutes ride to Pyrgos. Here we had to wait an hour before the train to Athens which involved a change in Patras after a 2 hour train trip. What we didn’t know was that no train was running between Patras and Kiatos so when we arrived at Patras we were told to reserve a seat on the bus and it was leaving in 5 minutes! So Liz reserved the seats while I put our luggage under the bus – we didn’t know how far the bus was taking us whether it was Athens or the next station. The day had turned out to be hot, the bus was stuffy and we hadn’t had a chance to buy any water so we were feeling a bit dehydrated.

The bus trip lasted and hour and a half when we arrived in Kiatos to rejoin the train, it was a new station with an electrified line (all the other trains had been diesel) with newer carriages and we needed to travel another couple of hours to reach Athens. Along the way our carriage was inundated by a pile of recent army recruits (they kept playing with their dog tags – Liz told me that in Greece everyone had to do time in the armed forces) who were loud and at times funny, slowly they left the train as we travelled closer to Athens. We almost missed the station at Athens as it looked like a small suburban platform and it wasn’t until we saw the sign that we quickly grabbed our stuff and jumped off.

The Athens metro was a revelation, it was clean, modern and efficient. We mastered the ticket machine (after changing the language to English) and caught the metro to Omonia Station where we managed find the right exit from underground to the street our hotel was on. The hotel was only a short walk downhill which was good, it was a Best Western but Liz managed to find a good deal online.

Once we had checked in it was time to go and explore the area around the hotel and in particular find a Vodafone (Liz’s phone wasn’t getting the internet, so no maps, weather, email or translator). We found the Vodafone about a 10 minute walk away and they supposedly fixed the issue but said it wouldn’t be activated until 4.00pm the next day. On the walk back to the hotel we grabbed an early dinner and, most importantly I found a shop that made fantastic chocolate frostycinos (iced chocolates).

Friday arrived with a solid overcast but the weather (Liz connected her iPhone to the hotel WiFi) was predicting 23oC so we dressed in shorts and left the hotel with no umbrella or wet weather jackets. We were going to DHL to send a box of stuff home and made it to their office with no problems. The girl at DHL was great and helped wrap the breakable stuff with bubble wrap and put other stuff into tuff bags so in case they did break the glass/ceramics would end up through everything. It took about an hour to itemise, check and pack the box and by the time we finished the weather had turned nasty – thunder, lightning and heavy rain! The girl at DHL managed to find an old umbrella which she gave to us but we still stayed put until the heavy rain became much lighter. We’d brought a day ticket for the metro (€3 per person for 24 hours) as we were going quite a bit of housekeeping stuff that day.

Back at the hotel, we changed into warmer clothes and grabbed our wet weather gear before heading our again. This time we travelled to a large book store to buy some English novels for the next few weeks (especially our time in the Greek Islands – lazing in the sun on the balcony overlooking the azure waters of the Aegean, that’s the plan anyway), the Public Store was huge and had a complete floor for books and the English section was excellent with most new releases available as well as books from most popular authors.

Next was a visit to the station to reserve our seats for the trip to Istanbul later in the month, this is a long trip with a change of train in northern Greece and an overnight trip involving booking sleeper berths. The lady at the station was helpful (we did manage to get the booking done) but, like many Greeks we have been in contact with, didn’t project a positive outlook but more an ambivalence towards to us, the job and everything. We were just leaving the station for the metro when a bus load of officer cadets from the air force arrived at the station and dispersed on the train and metro – I was wondering if they had to fly commercially would they need to check the small (ceremonial??) daggers that were connected to their belts?

Our next job was to check out the timing of the metro trip to the port (our next moving day involved a ferry to Naxos – one of the Islands – departing at 7.20am) and this would involve 2 changes of line. The trip would take 45 minutes but as it’s early in the morning the trains will probably not come as regularly so we’ll allow an hour plus we need to be checked in at least 30 minutes prior to departure which all equals an early start. At the port we came across a group of naval cadets (in full ceremonial uniforms – even the white gloves) who were obviously heading off for the weekend. By the time we had been to the port and back it was getting close to 4.00pm so we went back to the hotel for a breather before going out for dinner.

The past few days had been busy but we had not taken one photograph, as we kept forgetting it every time we left the hotel.

Saturday was a fine day (the weather reports varied raining to fine – anyone’s guess) so we decide to be the consummate tourists and visit the biggest and most obvious attraction – the Acropolis. We rode the metro to the station closest to the ancient site and then walked around the base until we reached the entry, the queue was a mere 4 people long (visiting in the off season certainly saves time in queues!). With ticket in hand we walked straight through and up the steps into the site and wandered around in amazement at the grandeur of the Parthenon, admiring the efforts at restoration, and soaking up the ambience – the crowd was small so we had plenty of opportunity to spend time taking photos and looking at things without the pressure to move.
8Athens_Dav..ropolis.jpg 8Athena_Liz..ropolis.jpg

Liz was very moved by this site as it was the very first place she wanted to visit when planning her dream trip many years ago – she had spent many years worried that it would collapse and/or close before she got the opportunity to visit. We were both happy to have finally made it to this place and the experience and memories will stay with us forever.

We wandered around the Acropolis ancient site for about 2 hours before moving on to The Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch and the Panathinalkon Stadium. These sites were good but couldn’t live up to the atmosphere of the Acropolis. With great weather and small crowds we enjoyed our time at all the sites.
Athens_Tem..an_Zeus.jpg Athens_Dav..Stadium.jpg 2Athena_Hadrians_Arch.jpg

After a late lunch in one of the many cafes near the Acropolis metro station we did a little souvenir browsing and then made our way back one metro station to the Plaka area. We had been told this was a good shopping area, this proved to be the case as when we arrived there were people everywhere with many illegal stalls along the street selling poor quality handbags and so on, and plenty of expensive speciality shops. We wandered around these shops to the point that we actually ended up back near our hotel – we had purchased a daily metro pass and only used it twice which was unfortunate but OK as we enjoyed the experience of walking through the streets and observing the people.

Sunday turned out to be Election Day in Athens and with it most attractions were shut. We had a quiet day getting everything cleaned and packed for the ferry ride to Naxos the next day. However we had a great time meeting with an ex-colleague, Alex Douglas, who had moved to live in Greece in 2001. We had a nice couple of hours catching up with her and finding out what it was like to live in Athens.

Monday was a 5.00am start as we needed to be at Pireus (Athens Port) to catch the ferry to the Greek Island of Naxos. Up at 5.00am, onto the Metro at 5.30am and at the port by 6.45am ready for departure at 7.20am, this trip would only take about 5 hours so we chose to have deck seating only. The Aegean Sea was smooth and the ferry made good progress stopping at Paros Island first and then onto Naxos before continuing south to Santorini. The ferry ride was fun and the views wonderful. Liz as usual was highly excited.

Once we arrived in Naxos we made our way around the waterfront to our hotel, which we could see from the ferry when we docked. We checked in and had a bit of a nap (5am was an early start!). During our club sandwich lunch, at one of the many sideway cafes, the rain began to fall and looked settled in for a while so we took our time over lunch. We eventually had to return to our hotel to wait for the rain to clear, about mid afternoon the rain had stopped but it still looked threatening however we decided to take the rain gear and go exploring.
Naxos_Harbour.jpg Naxos_Harb..tel_day.jpg

Our hotel is right on the port so we walked along the waterfront and then back along the tiny streets parallel to the main street, the walls and buildings were paint white with the azure blue trim typical of the paintings and photos of the Greek Isles – it was very attractive even in the gloomy overcast of the afternoon. We walked past many of the small streets near the waterfront ending up further up the beach than expected but it was interesting and fun until the rain started again. We made our way back to the hotel only getting a little wet and decided to call it a day as the sun was already starting to disappear – it’s dark by 5.30pm. Back on our hotel room balcony overlooking the port we can’t help but smile and feel highly satisfied about finally being in the Greek Islands. Tomorrow the weather forecast is for a fine day and we plan on hiking around as much of the island as we can manage.

Tuesday looked good from the hotel window when we woke, sunny and blue sky, however over breakfast we got a look back over the island and it didn’t look promising low black cloud. So after breakfast we ventured out (occasional drops of rain soon as we left the hotel) and firstly tried to find the tourist information centre but it, like most things had closed for the off season, so we visited the ancient site on the headland overlooking the harbour. We then decided to check the backstreets around the old part of the port area.
Naxos_Davi..nt_site.jpg Naxos_Back_streets.jpg

The sun had arrived but the cloud still hung about further inland so we walked south along the beach with Liz as usual testing the water. It was a pleasant walk although we were both amazed and concerned at the quantity of rubbish both on the beach and in the water. We watched a local fisherman calmly reel in a fish (don’t know what type) about 50cm long. We walked southward for about 1 ½ hours before returning to the hotel along the road, we may have taken the odd wrong turn but we did get a good idea of the Naxos Township as we wandered through the streets. It’s really impossible to get lost as you only have to turn left as you head north and sooner or later you come to the port.

Once we arrived back at the hotel we decided to be very Greece and visit a café for lunch and then sit around in the café talking or, in our case, reading a British newspaper or two. Once we tired of this we moved to our hotel balcony and sat in the sun reading – life is tough! The rest of the day was sent lazing around, watching the ferries come and go and basically watching life on Naxos walk past.

Posted by lizanddave 10:39 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Bari, Italy to Patras, Greece

sunny 21 °C
View Liz and Dave's European Experience on lizanddave's travel map.

When we arrived in Bari we were both very tired and decided to take a taxi to our hotel where we were going to leave our bags and explore the town before it was time to check in, but when we arrived the hotel gave us a room straight away. We had a bit of rest and a shower before we visited a local laundry to catch up on housekeeping, after this we went for a walk to old part of the town and checked out the fishing harbour. We found a nice restaurant for a bite of lunch; I had ravioli with seafood sauces but was shocked when it arrived as the pasta was black (how do they make pasta black???) while Liz had a steak and salad.
Bari_Waterfront.jpg Bari_David_Lunch.jpg

Once lunch was finished we continued our walk around the town and tried to visit the Tourist Information Centre which, like most places, was closed for lunch (closed from 1.00pm –until 4.30pm). We returned to the hotel for some more rest before heading back out at 6.00pm for another walk when we came across a travel agent and decided to ask about the Grottoes of Castellana which were south of Bari. The agent was very helpful and printed out a train timetable (private rail company runs that line so not free train travel on our Eurail pass), with this information we decided to get going early and catch the train to the Grottoes at 8.15am, from the main Bari station, a 50 minute journey.

Saturday was an early start so we could have breakfast and walk to the station for the 8.15am train departure to the Grottoes of Castellana. This sounds very easy but the timetable showed two stations that could access the grottoes, Castellana Grottoes and Grottoes of Castellana – which was the station we needed? We decided on the later which was furthest from Bari. It was not a station at all but just a platform, this had us looking at one another with concern but four young guys got off as well and they indicated, while laughing at us, that the Grottes was down to the left – we weren’t sure if they were setting us up for a mugging or just being young guys having a laugh! Once we had walked thought the park and out to the road we found a road sign indicating ‘Ingresso Grottoes’ so we followed the signs about 200m around a corner and we landed on the doorstep of the grottes – our luck must have been good today as it was also fine and sunny and not raining as predicted.

We looked through some the souvenir shops near the entrance before paying entry fee and joining our guide for the 2 hour tour, you can’t visit the grottoes unless accompanied by a guide; the only problem was that the only guide available was doing an Italian tour.

The tour through the grottoes was interesting even though we could only pickup very small parts of the explanation. The stalagmites, stalactites and crystal structures varied from huge to tiny, from white, to green to black… and our walk through 1500m of caverns and back gave us plenty of opportunity to observe them. Some of the caverns were huge with the Cave of the Monuments measuring 40m high, the Graves chasm (the entry chamber) is 60m in depth, 50m in width, 100m in length and in the middle stand a colossal stalagmite group called the Cyclopes. Unfortunately taking photographs after the first chamber was not allowed so we won’t be able to show you the amazing structures.

It was interesting to note the change of colour of the structures became whiter the further into the grottes we got until we arrived at White Grotto whose concretions are referred to as the whitest in the world. Walking through this environment has its pitfalls – you are constantly dripped on by water seeping from the surface. The part of the trip I was dreading was the walk up the steps to the surface but this was anticlimactic as we were taken to the surface by elevator at the end of our tour.

We returned to the ‘station’ and waited, wondering if a train was going to arrive (no timetable on the platform at all!) and if it did arrive would it stop! When I had checked the timetables in Bari I was ‘almost’ certain a train arrived every half hour but as the time kept marching on I started to get a little worried. Liz however was not perturbed and was totally engrossed trying to take the “perfect picture” of the olive trees and skittish lizards that were sunning themselves on the wall near the train track - sometimes I think she has lost the plot!!!. Almost exactly an hour after we arrived at the station a train arrived so all was good and we arrived back in Bari about an hour later.
Bari_Liz_Olive_Tree.jpg Bari_Liz_Lizards.jpg

Once again we attempted to visit the Tourist Information Centre, as it was just outside the station, but again we had managed to visit at lunchtime. We walked back to the hotel via the main shopping street but very few shops were open (lunchtime!!), and once back in our room Liz started research on what to do over the next few days while I had a nap. At around 5.00pm we returned to the Tourist Information Centre and found it open and manned by a nice lady who was very helpful (she was actually keen and interested instead of most other Tourist Information Centre staff that didn’t seem to want to help beyond the superficial). She gave us information about things to do and places to visit around the town and the Puglia region, of interest to us were Polignano a Mare (30min) and Lecce (2 hours) to the south of Bari along the railway line (one the Eurail pass would allow us to travel for free).

On our walk back we came across and interesting parking effort by a Smart car, instead of parking parallel to the gutter like other cars this guy reverse parked between two other cars and because the Smart car is so short it didn’t reach out onto the road – you have to love the Smart cars ability to fit into small spaces and there are thousands and thousands of these cars running around Italy.

Sunday is always an interesting day when travelling as you never know what will be open or operating, the train simply won’t run at some schedule times even though it indicates it will on the timetable. With this in mind we still decided to take the train the Lecce, 2 hours south, to check out the town and on the return drop in to Polignano a Mare.

Lecce was an interesting town and appeared deserted as we walked from the station towards the centre of town. The old part of the city was typical with narrow streets and a worn look to the buildings but unlike many other towns the streets were very clean and free of litter. Eventually we found the Roman Amphitheatre and the main square which had many people strolling along the main thoroughfares – Liz thinks Australia could learn a lot from the casual way the people use their free time. We walked along one of the streets following the flow of people until we came across some markets, now these markets were not representative of the usual tourist markets they were more like markets for the locals.

After wandering about for a few hours we caught the train back towards Bari but stopping at Polignano a Mare a small community that was renowned for its gelato and a small beach enclosed by cliffs with building built on top. The gelato was OK but most of the shops were shut and I don’t think the gelato I got was from the top shop in town – I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. The small beach was quaint and I could see the appeal it holds to tourists.

After only a brief visit we return to the station for the 4.00pm train, however it did not arrive so we waited and hour for the next train. The temperature was dropping as the sun disappeared and the wind was adding to the chill. When the train did arrive it was packed and we were lucky to find seats for the 30 minute trip back to Bari. On arriving in Bari we were amazed at the number of people out and about walking or sitting in the parks and streets talking and generally socializing – it was obviously common as there was a fair Police presence all the way along the main street.
Monday was moving day with a long wait for the fast ferry that will take us from Italy to Patras Greece. The ferry didn’t depart until 8.00pm and we had to vacate our hotel by 12.00pm – Liz sweet talked the guy at the desk and got us an extra hour which was handy.

After breakfast we ventured out under the overcast sky for a wander around the town. Liz was particularly interested in the clothing markets that the Hotel had told us about. We walked for about 20 minutes until we came across a very large market which was selling everything from furniture, light fittings and cleaning supplies to underwear, shoes and clothing. We walked up and down the rows for stalls for almost 2 hours but didn’t buy a thing as the markets were for the locals and the prices were still relatively high, besides we had no real need for anything. On our walk back we can across a typical wine shop which has large stainless steel tanks where you can buy your wine by the 10 litre or buy some different types and blend your own – cost is very reasonable at €1.10 (AUD1.50).

Before returning to collect our baggage from the hotel we had a nice lunch in a little café and walked around the old town once more as it had stopped raining. I did stop for a gelato along the way rationalizing that it was my last few hours in Italy so why not have some of the best ice cream in the world. Once we returned to the hotel we collected our entire luggage and the hotel organized a taxi to take us to the ferry terminal.
We were at the ferry 5 hours before departure (we weren’t the first or the only one’s early) which allowed us to use the last of Liz’s iPhone credit to do some hotel bookings for our stay in Greece and to research about the Greek Islands – it’s low season so many places aren’t open. At 5.30pm they allowed us to board, the weather prediction was for gale force winds and heavy rain so Liz changed our booking to a cabin with ensuite (the cabin was very small but well equipped and even had a porthole), so we could have some privacy if I was sea sick and perhaps the opportunity for some restful sleep. Liz had been insistent about me taking some seasickness tablets before I even boarded, just in case.

While waiting to depart at 8.00pm we sat around the lounge area talking to some fellow travelers this is one of the best things about travelling you don’t only meet people from the countries you visit but also others from all over the world. At 8.30am, after my second round of seasickness tablets, we decided to crash early and make good use of our cabin as I was starting to feel the sleepiness brought about by the drugs. So showered and drugged I crawled into bed (Liz watched a movie as she wasn’t tired) and drifted off to sleep.

During the night the winds and sea became fast and heavy and the huge ferry was being knocked around considerably. At times I was sliding around the bed as the ferry pushed through the seas; they did stop once during the night at Corfu and I think that was my best sleep as the boat was very calm. In the morning Liz went down to the reception/lounge area and found out that we’d be 2 hours late into Patra due to the rough conditions. As Liz was having breakfast on the back area of the ferry she watched the spectacle of a hail storm, lightning as well as the heavy seas.

Eventually at 3.00pm we arrived in Patras, I was feeling decidedly fuzzy from the seasickness drugs and was very happy to find our hotel. The Hotel Atlanta was nothing special but it was clean and tidy with friendly staff. After a brief rest we went in search of a mobile SIM card for Liz’s phone but most shops were closed until 5.30pm. We also visited the Blue Star Ferry office to book our tickets to the Greek islands (we go from Athens to Naxos then to Santorini before returning to Athens). The young girl at the Ferry office was great and helpful.

After the Ferry office our visit to the Railway Station indicated the great difference in customer service within Greece. At the station the two women wouldn’t stop their mobile phone calls to assist us and they really were of no help when we asked about trains to Olympia – we were eventually told that we needed to take the train to Pyrgos and catch a connection to Olympia with the only train departing at 6.30am. OK that’s an early start but doable! They didn’t even want to know about any other of the trains we would need and we told to check at the next station.

With some information in hand we decided to have an early dinner before heading back to the Vodaphone store for the SIM card. As I hadn’t eaten much for the previous 24 hours and Liz had only snacked we picked a small café that looked to have some good food and it had a few customers. The food was great especially the dip accompanying the meals. So sated on good food we walked back to vodaphone and purchased a SIM card only to find out that we had to wait 4 hours for activation – each country has its own little quirks but what can you do.
With all the stuff done we returned to the hotel for an early night in a bed that will, hopefully, remain stationary!

Posted by lizanddave 08:16 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 32) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 »