A Travellerspoint blog

Italy Part Two

Or don't ask a question in a foreign language if you are not going to understand the answer...

Venice

We rounded our one night in Venice off the following day by catching the Vaporetto No.1 from the train station to the Piazza di San Marco and walking back...

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We had a coffee at a cafe that had its own string quartet, although we baulked at the idea of sitting down due to the 5 euro per person cover charge! We have since discovered that nobody really lingers over coffee here. Italians drink their coffee hot, fast and standing. Like a shot of tequila, but without the lemon (and don't you dare ask for milk!)

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Little girl about to be mauled by a pigeon

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Apparently not...

After the San Marco, we wandered back to the Academia Art Gallery stopping at some of the peculiar modern art studios scattered along the way. One of the best (certainly the weirdest) we found was Giuseppe Veneziano, who could probably best be described as a sort of pop culture critic in acrylic.

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Mc Mao - Giuseppe Veneziano (borrowed from his website www.giuseppeveneziano.it)

The walk back through the canals was incredibly atmospheric, not in the least because of the thunder storm heading our way. Luckily we found a little bar where we could have some lunch before the heavens opened up and flooded Venice by another couple of mls.

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Cinque Terre

That afternoon we picked up our bags and grabbed a train to Milan. It was only a stopover (this time) because we had booked three nights on the Cinque Terre for Rob's 30th birthday, so there's not much to report. We stayed close to the train station and only ventured out as far as a little restaurant recommended by one of the staff at our hotel.

Early the next morning we caught a train to Genoa and a connection to Monterosso al Mare, which was to be our base for our three days walking the CT. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Monterosso we were told that about 80% of the main walkway had been closed due to landslides. After we finished sulking, we worked out that it was still possible to walk between the towns, just on the higher, more difficult paths.

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The vineyards above Monterosso

Immediately after dropping our bags at our hotel, we set off on the section of the main path that was open between Monterosso and Vernazza. The path was quite narrow in a lot of places so the legions of tourists coming the other way (or going the same way reeeeaaaally slowly) made things interesting when our paths crossed...

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The view approaching Vernazza

When we arrived in Vernazza we grabbed a gelati and wandered around admiring the patchwork-quilt colour of the buildings and the castle on the rocks, before having a drink and sampling some local anchovies on bruschetta – Liguria being famous for its anchovies, we ate more than our fair share...

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Manarola anchovies

We waited for the train back to Monterosso with several hundred other people heading in the same direction. When the train arrived the crush of people clamouring for a spot on the train was absolutely shameful! A heaving mass of tourists rushed the doors of the carriages before they had even opened. The people behind pushing the ones in front so that the passengers on the train wanting to get off had little to no chance without resorting to physical violence.

As we had arrived early when the platform was relatively empty, we had a position quite close to the carriages when the train arrived. At the door of the carriage we were hoping to get onto, a woman with a pram tried in vain to get off past a seething wall of “humanity” hell-bent on getting onto the train. Obviously it was no use pleading with us at the front as we were being pushed forward unrelentingly by the sheer mass of ignorance behind us. It took several of us to plant our feet and shove, elbow, and push people out of the way to allow her enough room to get herself and her pram off the train. As soon as the impediment was removed there was no stopping the stampede...

On Rob's birthday we walked from Corniglia to Manarola and the high path took us far above the usual tourist trail and through the incredible terraced vineyards and on to Riomaggiore where we had dinner at a fantastic little restaurant called La Lanterna.

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View looking back to Corniglia

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On the way to Manarola

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On the popular Via Dell'Amore (Lover's Path) between Manarola and Riomaggiore

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Riomaggiore

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At La Lanterna

We almost fell off our chairs when a woman (who had been sitting near us) told us as she was leaving that she'd overheard our conversation, and had paid our bill on account of having a son about Rob's age. She wished Rob happy birthday and promptly disappeared out the door leaving us with dumbstruck looks on our faces and without an opportunity to properly thank her.

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The birthday boy

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The beach at Monterosso at night

The next day we caught a train to Vernazza and, despite the ignorance of the “Information Office”, we managed to find the start of the high path to Corniglia and made our way up to the ridge-line.

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Looking back from the start of the walk (Vernazza)

It did get a bit hairy on the way down because the path had not been maintained in the off season and was really overgrown. Being snake season, we thought every rustle in the bushes was a large venomous reptile with a taste for blood... Once we made it safely down, we caught the train back to base to freshen up, and after grabbing a pizza and cheap bottle of red we headed back to Manarola to catch the sunset.

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Sunset at Manarola

We spent a great three days on the CT and enjoyed being based in Monterosso, which is certainly the largest of the five towns (and has the best foccacia!) Despite the initial setback we managed to walk between all five towns and got about enough exercise to work off all the anchovies...

Pisa

After the CT we stopped off at Pisa for a couple of hours on our way to Lucca. Other than the Leaning Tower and the spectacular buildings in its immediate vicinity (which incidentally also have a slight lean) we didn't find much more to see in Pisa and the 2 hours was more than enough.

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The tower sneaking a quick peek around the Cathedral

Despite the obvious flaws, the architecture is incredible and there are a lots of very finely detailed carvings throughout the Cathedral and the Baptistry. Apparently the small (about one foot tall) sculpture of Daniel (of Lion's Den fame) on the Baptistry pulpit by Nicola Pisano marked the the beginning of the sculptural movement that culminated in Michelangelo’s collossal David – more on that later...

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You may recognise the pose...

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The impressive detail on the old pulpit in the Cathedral (by Giovanni Pisano)

We had intended to take the obligatory 'propping up the tower' photo, but after witnessing what we have (un)affectionately dubbed “Pisa-chi” being performed en mass we settled for taking pictures of everyone else looking ridiculous instead.

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“Pisa-chi" first position

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Advanced practitioners

Lucca

Later that day we carried on to Lucca where we had booked a room in a shared apartment for a couple of days. After six weeks of eating on the road, we enjoyed the novelty of cooking for ourselves and using the local produce.

Lucca is a gorgeous Tuscan town and one of the few towns to have its old city walls intact. We can understand why - they are about 20 metres thick!

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The beautiful walkway around the city walls

The walk around the old city and the walls would have been a highlight, except Rob picked up a calf strain on the last day of the CT (from dodging ferocious reptiles) and spent the entire time hobbling around complaining... On our strolls/hobbles around the inner city we got stuck into some wonderful gelati (and learned that a grubby, unappestising pale olive colour means the pistachio is good!?)

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The bell? tower

Lucca was a good change of pace and a welcome respite after several weeks of constant travelling. After blowing the budget on Nurofen, Rob was (thankfully) complaining about his foot a little bit less so should be right for our three day assault on the capital.

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Posted by RobandEve 04:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Eve Andrews' Diary - Venice

With apologies to Helen Fielding...

7.30:
Arrive Ancona. Start of first day in Italy (Yay!)

8.30 -9.30:
Consume brioche con marmalette, e panino con prosciutto, espresso and something-elseo.

10.00:
Depart Ancona on train for Venice.

12.00 – 14.40:
Problemo - No foodo on traino! In extreme act of desperation consume 1 x Werther's original to keep blood sugar levels at acceptable level.

14.45:
Discover that adding -o to everything does not make me fluent in Italian.

14.57:
Arrive Venice, St Lucia.

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15.00:
Sustain ourselves with one slice each of Margherita pizza. Sugar levels now at required level to follow Roberto into canal maze....

15.10 - forever:
Arrive accommodation Santa Croce.

16.01:
After freshening up we departed accommodation (with canal view). Sighted arancini balls and decided that after the stresses of the day needed cheering up.

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Our room is top right of the photo

16.01 – 17.03:
Very stressful and tiring walk around boutique shops.

17.04:
Quench thirst with much needed Pinot Grigio. V. excited at first wine in Italy and glad that deserved it with much exercise achieved that day.

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17.15 – 18.00:
Further walking around the grand canal. Rob does not seem to be enjoying shops for some reason? Feet starting to hurt but Rob promised further sustenance.

18.30 – 19.30:
Well earned relax at wine bar enjoying red wine and cichetti (calamari in chili passata and cod and olive oil emulsion on polenta cakes).

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19.31:
Starting to feel peckish so decide to try to find restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet.

19.35:
Crisis. Bitch in pastry shop called me preggo. Had to buy chocolate canoli to console self.

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19.40:
Discovered that prego does not mean fat or pregnant. Decided to celebrate at wine bar.

19.42 – 20.30:
Celebrated skinniness at cantina with wine (several), baby octopus, and onion/anchovy skewers.

20.45:
Discover restaurant is closed. Devastated. Not sure how to salvage night.

20.46:
Find alternative restauranto. Consume meat ravioli in sage butter sauce and grilled vegetables. Wash away any remaining disappointment with two glasses of red wine.

21.10:
Despite all the exercise feeling surprisingly full. Make resolution not to eat as much tomorrow.

21.11:
Mmmm gelati looks good....

21.15:
Realise that we are lost in Venice. Starting to feel panicked. Too young to die and have not yet tasted zabaglione in Italy, and still want to see Crusaders win another Super Rugby title...

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Rob wondering where the footpath disappeared to...

21.20:
Fighting back the panic! Have photo outside of address '1981'. Feeling of panic increases thinking about 30th birthdays and Rob's first gray hairs.

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21.30:
Relief! Find way back to San Croce. Celebrate and erase bad thoughts with tiramisu and more wine...bueno!

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21.59:
Tiredo! Mhmm maybe will have a croissant for breakfast...

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Posted by RobandEve 03:24 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

The Balkans

Albania, Montenegro and Croatia (the others will have to wait)

Albania

As we waited to board the ferry from Corfu to Albania the local Police turned up with a shifty looking guy in handcuffs. They escorted him to the boat, took the handcuffs off, jumped back in their car and took off leaving the rest of the passengers exchanging uneasy glances...

What made matters worse was when our sweaty chain-smoking deportee decided to sit right next to Eve! Thankfully, he spent almost the entire trip smoking in the luggage room.

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Albania – Definitely a candidate for World's Coolest Flag!

We got to Sarande just in time to walk along the waterfront, find a local that spoke passable English, find the bus “station” (I use that term loosely), and get on the only bus to Gjirokaster that day, all with about five minutes to spare.

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Gjirokaster: the Ottoman-era architectre is amazing

When we got to Gjirokaster we shared a taxi with some locals from the bus stop to the centre of old town and found some really cheap (or so we thought) accommodation in a stunning old Ottoman era house, overlooking the town. That night, thinking we had kicked a goal on the accommodation front, we set off to explore the old town and castle/museum. The museum was quite interesting with a large collection of captured Italian and German weapons (including artillery) and an American plane publicised as a captured spy plane by the government at the time. In reality, it was just a training flight forced to make an emergency landing, but when an opportunity for propaganda presents itself...

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The infamous "spy" plane

We checked out of our guest house the next morning and were surprised when we were asked for more than we'd negotiated. As it turns out, we had fallen victim to the Albanians' (quite annoying) habit of shaking their head “yes”, and nodding their head “no”... After some discussion we chalked it up to cultural differences and split the difference (about 15 euros). In hindsight (having recently booked our accommodation in Venice and Rome – Ouch!) we should have just paid him the extra money with a smile...

The bus to Tirana was bumpy and slow – the roads in Albania are shocking, with massive potholes and half finished road works everywhere. It didn't help that halfway through the trip, the skies opened and we ended up driving through one of the most impressive thunder storms we've ever seen. All in all, the roughly 200 kilometre trip took just under five and a half hours so when we arrived, we were more than ready to get off the bus and stretch our legs.

We quickly found a room at a budget hotel and went in search of sustenance. We found a revolving restaurant in one of the tallest buildings in Tirana (a whole six floors!) and had a couple of drinks while we watched the sun set over this unusual city.

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You could probably describe Tirana as having come out of the closet since the fall of Communism – there is not much in the way of “new” architecture; however all the old buildings have been flamboyantly painted pink, green, yellow etc; some are painted in stripes, cubes, and squiggles, while others look like Warhol or Art Deco paintings.

Once our retinas had adjusted to the explosion of poorly coordinated colour we wandered off to the “trendy” Blloku district for dinner – Rob had no say in the choice of restaurant (welcome to marriage, I guess?) as Eve insisted on eating at the restaurant that shared her initials – ERA. Rob was quite embarrassed that Eve made off with a handful of the printed paper napkins stuffed in her handbag!

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In Tirana we enjoyed our first decent bottle of wine since leaving New Zealand, and fell in love with one of the local dishes; a grilled tomato stuffed with cheese and egg – Amazing!

After dinner we wandered around for a bit trying to find a bar recommended by Lonely Planet (on George W Bush Street of all places) but when we found it we were obviously a bit early so we found a place nearby called the 'Playhouse' (get your minds out of the gutter) which was a bit like Playschool, but with alcohol. There was a group of guys playing Uno in one corner when we arrived, and they even had a dedicated Monopoly table...

We sat on the balcony overlooking the street to enjoy the city at night and noticed a large crowd gathering near a building down the street. There were blue and white flags everywhere and cars were zipping up and down the street, horns blaring, with people and flags hanging out of windows and sun-roofs. We asked a local what it was all in aid of: sport or politics?

As it turned out, our arrival in Tirana happened to coincide with the result of a vote recount in an incredibly close-fought mayoral election battle – The Democrats narrowly edged out the incumbent Socialists after something like 11 years... Naturally, Rob needed to be somewhere near the middle of the celebrations to snap a few photos.

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We have since learned that Albania was almost plunged into a political crisis as a result of the election with allegations of fraud and a large number of ballots being “misplaced” - the irony of George W Bush Street was not lost on us...

Montenegro

The next day we crossed the border into Montenegro. We were amazed at the change of scenery from one country to the other: Albania was scrubby and dusty, Montenegro was lush and green with orchards and olive groves everywhere. It had spectacular mountains and a dramatic coast line – imagine a smaller, more condensed New Zealand with beaches like Perth...

Passing through the aged resort town of Ulcinj, we made our way up the coast to our first overnight stop, Sveti Stefan, which is an old settlement on a tiny island just south of Budva. It is connected to the coast by a narrow land bridge, but unfortunately is now entirely a luxury resort so we couldn't go for a wander through the old streets.

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We had called ahead to reserve accommodation in a small hotel and restaurant overlooking the island but were told on arrival that they had double booked us and there was no other rooms available – I think that makes us 0 from 3 attempts at pre-booking accommodation? What made matters worse was that they made no attempt to find us a room somewhere else. After “generously” offering to store our bags for us while we searched the busy resort town for a room at 5.30 in the evening, we were sent on our way...

After an hour or so of stomping up and down through the town we eventually found a budget room at a budget hotel. We also found ourselves a different restaurant because we weren't giving those b@stards our money. We had an excellent grilled fish which, along with a carafe of local wine and a pleasant sunset, did help to cheer us up a little.

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In the morning we had some luck and were able to flag down a direct bus to Kotor, a couple of hours further north. Kotor is an dramatic old town on a bay surrounded by three different mountain ranges. As we were enjoying a coffee in the middle of the old town our serenity was shattered by to two different wedding processions (one Serbian, one Croatian), each seemingly intent on being louder than the other as they strutted through the city. It was entertaining watching the ladies tottering (staggering?) over the cobblestones in their ridiculous heels – Eve's Louboutins would not have survived.

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We grabbed a picnic lunch (the healthy combo of burek and beer) and climbed the 1300-odd steps up the hill to the old fort to enjoy our lunch with beautiful views of the terracotta tile rooftops and mountains.

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The view

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The reward

After surviving the walk back down (Eve was savagely mauled by a beetle – evidently they do bite, Rob!) we cleaned ourselves up and shared a pizza in one of the squares near the Cathedral, and were treated to a free choir performance...

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The beetle that bites (apparently)

The choir...

Croatia

The next morning we caught a (very) early bus into Croatia, and finally had a win with our pre-booked accommodation in Dubrovnik. We found our room nestled in a pleasant little cove right under the walls of the old city and about two minutes walk from the main city gate. We stayed two nights in Dubrovnik and had an amazing time wandering the narrow streets and catching up with John, a fellow traveller we met in Athens. It was a perfect opportunity to relax the purse strings a little and forget the budget for a day or two...

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On the first evening, we found a great Bosnian restaurant and afterwards headed straight for a little jazz bar we had found earlier – during happy hour, naturally. The saxophonist was incredible, if you can call what he is playing a saxophone? Maybe a bent clarinet? Anyway, here's a sample...

Eve and John obviously weren't as impressed as Rob – that's them chatting in the background!

The next day we coughed up fifteen bucks (each!) for the privilege of walking around the old city walls, which is extremely expensive when you're counting pennies, but absolutely worth it. The views were spectacular in parts, although not so good in others...

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A spectacular view...

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Not a spectacular view... Although Eve insists that it depends on your point of view.

On the second evening we shared a massive seafood platter overlooking the old harbour and headed back to the jazz bar. The saxophonist wasn't there so we left after one drink and grabbed a gelati on the way back to our room.

We had hoped to catch a ferry from Dubrovnik to Split, but unfortunately the timetable didn't suit our plans so we caught the bus instead. The bus trip was pleasant enough – at four and a half hours it wasn't the shortest trip, but the amazing Dalmatian coast kept us interested. The road is flanked by the beautiful clear turquoise water on one side, and epic grey and green cliffs on the other!

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The tower at Split

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Gregorious of Nin – he's a wizard (you can tell by his sleeves)

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The daily market in Split had all sorts, from berries to baseball caps, skirts to snails...

We spent the next day and a half just chilling out in various cafés and bars inside the old city walls of Split, before catching on overnight ferry to Ancona in Italy. We snatched a last minute on-line deal for a 2-berth cabin for about half the price we had been quoted at the ferry office, so we were pretty stoked... The ferry left Split as the sun was setting so we grabbed the obligatory sunset photos before grabbing a bite to eat and settling in for the night.

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Split Sunset (sounds like a cocktail)

On that note, we're off for a drink! Next update from Italy.

Posted by RobandEve 13:22 Comments (2)

Greece

...is the word, is the word that you heard; it's got groove, it's got meaning

The ferry from Naxos to Athens took about six hours, which was pleasant enough as there was a cafe and restaurant on board the boat. When we docked in Athens, we were pretty unimpressed – the port suburb of Piraeus is probably one of the busiest in all of Athens and, being the ferry hub for the Greek Islands, is often the first and/or last glimpse travellers have of the city. Unfortunately the place is run down and shabby: A description we could probably share with the rest of Athens if we were feeling uncharitable...

The Metro train from the port to central Athens takes about 20 minutes and we wound through urban suburbs scrawled with graffiti and littered with derelict cars and other debris. From what we saw, the greater metropolis is dirty and charmless. Security must be a concern because the Metro company employs private guards decked out in stab vests to patrol the platforms.

We stayed in Plaka, which lies directly under the Acropolis so is pretty much the tourist centre of Athens. Everything of interest was within walking distance, which made sightseeing a doddle. We got in late afternoon so we got settled, went for a short walk and found a place to eat pretty much directly under our bedroom window – OK, it was a very short walk... Later that night (in the spirit of complete randomness) we wandered past a rooftop cinema so spent the evening under a floodlit Acropolis watching Monty Python's Meaning of Life... Unfortunately the Greek subtitles delivered the punch lines a little quicker than the soundtrack so the woman beside us was always cackling away (loud and annoying) about 10 seconds before anything even remotely funny was spoken on screen!

The following day we walked the tourist trail from the Acropolis to the Ancient Agora, Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora, and finished up at the Temple of Olympic Zeus... BIG day!

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The Acropolis under construction...

The Acropolis was quite amazing but, unfortunately, is undergoing a major restoration at the moment, so it felt like we were visiting a construction site rather than an historical site. It is also incredibly annoying to visit a place like this and realise that the actual facade of the building has been torn down and carted off to some museum in Germany or England, and what you're looking at is a plaster cast.

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The famous Caryatids on the Erechteion - the statues are all plaster casts...

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The temple of Olympic Zeus

The next day we needed to pick up our train tickets so we caught the Metro out to the main train station, and decided to have a peek at the National Museum on the way back. The museum was quite small, if we compare it to Cairo, but it is well organised and is full of interesting exhibits (including some facades torn off ancient buildings and replaced with plaster casts...)

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The Statue of Zeus

We especially enjoyed the Akrotiri exhibit which featured things recovered from the village after Santorini exploded (the volcano, that is) and covered everything with volcanic ash, like Pompeii.

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One of the frescos recovered from Akrotiri

We were thoroughly enjoying our wander through the museum when we were rudely informed that it was closing time (3 o'clock on a Monday afternoon) and hurriedly ushered outside looking quite bewildered. We half expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind a bush and yell “PUNKED!” We have since realised that trying to keep track of opening and closing times is almost completely impossible in Greece – Most things open whenever the staff decide to turn up, closing time is 8 pm on Mondays, 3 pm on Tuesdays through to Saturdays, except on the second Saturday of every month beginning with an M or a J when closing time is 3.45 pm! Oh, and on Sundays everything is closed...

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Aphrodite about to whup the frisky Pan with a sandal for being too fresh...

On our way back from the museum, we went through Syntagma Square in time to check out the changing of the guard ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier. To say that it was ridiculous would probably be worthy of the understatement of the year award 2011... The guards are “traditionally” dressed in tights, skirts, and frilly hats. They even had pom-poms on their shoes! OOH scary scary; now don't we look mean? (to quote Eric the Viking...) With uniforms like this, it amazes us that the Greek Army has any recruits without conscription and press gangs.

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Coming to you direct from the Ministry of Silly Walks... Ladies and Gentlemen, may we present The Greek Army!

We followed the museum and the tomb of the unknown soldier up with a brisk walk up the tallest of Athens eight hills - Lykavitta, or Hill of Wolves, was a good vantage point to see the sprawl of Athens.

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Lykavitta (from the Acropolis)

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Looking back towards the Acropolis from the top of Lykavitta

After Athens, we headed north to Mount Olympus, which we intended to climb based on Kent and Wenn's earlier summit success. When we arrived we were informed that there was no chance to summit (without specialist mountaineering equipment) due to the unseasonal snow drifts, so we decided to walk the gorge up to the first refuge on the summit trail instead. As it turns out, we forgot to make the appropriate sacrifice to the weather gods, and consequently were turned back after about an hour and a half into the five hour walk due to severe thunder storms rolling in from all sides.

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Mt Olympus is somewhere in there, behind the clouds...

When we got back to the hostel we checked the forecast and it didn't look like clearing up, so we bailed out early and headed to Kalambaka to check out the monasteries at Meteora instead. Of course, when we arrived in Meteora the famous monasteries perched on rock chimney’s were covered in thick cloud. To appease the weather gods we made a proper Greek sacrifice (moussaka and a massive carafe of red wine) and were pleased to see our sacrifice rewarded the next morning with perfect blue skies.

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With the approval of the weather gods shining upon us, we caught a bus to Greater Meteora to visit the Megalo Meteoron (one of six remaining monasteries perched on top of the rock formations) and admiring the amazing engineering feat of the 14th century monks. We spent the next four hours wandering back to Kalambaka enjoying the scenery on the way.

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At one of the monasteries there was a small art gallery dedicated to modern Greek heroes – Given the painting below, it appears that after the 1940 and 41 victory over the invading Italians, the Greeks may have counted their chickens before they hatched??

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From Kalambaka we caught a bus to Ioannina (Ya-nee-na) and then to Igoumenitsa (Igloo-mince-ah, or something like that), where we caught a ferry to Corfu. On the ferry we came across a very informative, but scarcely relevant, warning sign...

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When we got to Corfu we walked around for a while looking for suitably priced accommodation...

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The old fort at Corfu

We had no luck so we checked in to the Pink Palace, which is one of the best hostels in the world (apparently)... Words cannot describe the grotesqueness of this hot pink behemoth filled to overflowing with sexed up teenagers... Actually, there were only 60-70 people here while we were, so we cannot really say that it was full – in summer the Pink Palace caters for up to 800 drunk and horny party-goers!

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On the plus-side, we did get two large meals a day, a private room with an ensuite and free ATV hire for a day – a small price to pay provided you are nimble enough to dodge all the hormones flying around! All kidding aside, we absolutely loved our time in Corfu and spent our days strolling the narrow Venetian-styled streets in old town and climbing hills to admire the impressive view over Agios Gordios (below) and work off the massive Greek mezze plates we had for lunch.

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The mezze sounded much more appetising than the Gordon Bleu...

Eve also conquered her fear of motorbikes during our day's free ATV hire; her last experience on a motorbike ended upside down in a bush... She is smiling in the photo below, but then again, she wasn't actually moving...

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On the ATV adventure we indulged Eve's legendary literary bent by visiting both Gerald Durrell's former residence near the wetlands in Kanoni, and the new park area dedicated to Gerald and his brother Lawrence near the old fort in Corfu town. Rob did think it was particularly cruel freezing him in Carbonite a la Han Solo...

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We had a quick detour on the way back via the Achilleion Palace, an amazing old mansion built by Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, to admire the awesome statues of Achilles (with whom this queen was particularly infatuated).

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Check out the guy bottom-right to get a sense of the scale of this massive statue!

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Achilles trying to pull Paris' arrow from his heel...

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An awesome painting at the Achilleion showing Achilles dragging Hector behind his chariot... You'll have to take our word for it, but this painting was MASSIVE!

Tomorrow has us on an early ferry to Saranda in southern Albania, so the next update will be from Albania or beyond...

Posted by RobandEve 13:58 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

The Greek Islands

We caught an early ferry from Kusadasi to Samos, the first of stop on our Greek Islands tour. We arrived just before midday and set off to find our hotel. At about this point we realised that we were booked to stay at a place on the other side of the island. Awesome!

A bit of a hike, one bus, and a pithy email to the company that booked the accommodation later, we found ourselves at our hotel only to be informed that it did not open for business until the following week. Double Awesome!

Thankfully, this had already been addressed by the lovely couple renovating the hotel, who had booked our accommodation at a beautiful hotel/resort nearby and arranged someone to come and pick us up, which was fantastic. The hotel (Glicorisa) overlooked a small pebbly beach with wonderfully clear (but bloody cold) water. It was about three kms away from Pithagoria (the birthplace of Pythagorus) which we went for a wander through the following morning.

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The cove at Glicorisa

Samos was absolutely stunning and we could have easily stayed a week just chilling out – The fact that the hotel served excellent Greek food and wine in jugs may have had something to do with this sentiment... However, our taxi driver from Pithagoria back to Samos blamed both his marriage and his first child on the Samos wine so it was probably just as well we were moving on...

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One of the small fishing boats at Pithagoria Marina

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Samos (Vathy) town

The ferry from Samos to Mykonos took six hours with a few stops along the way. The trip was pleasant (the ferry was huge) and the scenery on the islands along the way was spectacular.

We arrived in Mykonos in the late afternoon and once we were settled in our hostel we went for a wander around. It was really our first true taste of Cyclades architecture and the white-washed buildings are absolutely blinding in the sunlight.

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We walked around the waterfront of Mykonos for a while looking for somewhere that took our fancy. Unfortunately, every restaurant was charging between 15-20 Euros for a main, which we thought was a bit excessive... Thankfully we walked around a bit and found that as soon as you duck into the side streets, the prices more than halved! We found a cute little square about 20 metres back from the waterfront and met the resident pink pelican – which scared the shit out of Rob (who thought it was a particularly gaudy plastic decoration) when it turned its head and looked at him as if it was going to swallow his face.

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Is this the face of a homicidal manic?

We ordered octopus, which was amazing and enjoyed the entertainment when the same pelican decided to saunter up to an Asian couple who were dining slightly closer than us to the evil creature's lair. While his wife tried to hold the beast at bay by waving her bread knife at it and screeching, the husband decided it was a perfect opportunity to grab some happy snaps (so did Eve).

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The following day we caught the aptly-named Flying Cat to Santorini... The boat was incredible – with a top speed of 40 knots and a double hull, we didn't even realise we were moving until we looked out the window and saw the islands whizzing past. We arrived quite late in the afternoon so we made our way to our accommodation and settled in before grabbing a meze plate on Kamari Beach, which is renowned for its black volcanic sand – We would call it gravel, but whatever...

The next day we caught a bus into the main settlement at Fira and set off on the 15 kilometre walk to Oia, along the ridge of the old volcano. We had an amazing sunny day and the views over the caldera were incredible. The walk took us just over two and a half hours which made it just about beer o'clock when we arrived. We found a neat little cafe which served blocks of feta, wrapped in pastry, fried, and smothered in honey and sesame seeds (Eve's reward). We have no idea what the Greeks call it, but we will call it Awesome!

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Some photos from around Fira

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Oia - The classic view of Santorini

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The sheer cliffs at Oia

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The intrepid travellers at the end of the walk...

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The windmills at Oia

The next day we went for a proper walk around Kamari before catching a bus into Fira for a caldera sunset dinner... The storm clouds were closing in so the sunset was quite striking.

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We caught an early ferry the following day but unfortunately the storm out ran our ridiculously slow boat, so that when we arrived in Naxos we were greeted with torrential rain, thunder and lightning.

When we got to our hotel we were very glad to have our Gore-Tex jackets and pack covers, although we were still thoroughly soaked from the waist down. Thankfully, the rain eased soon after we arrived and Rob was able to venture out to forage for food... There was a supermarket across the road so we were able to eat a lot cheaper than on the other islands, which was a bit of a relief.

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Naxos Marina

In truth, we did bugger all on Naxos but it was fantastic to just have a few days to chill out, get some washing done, and catch our breath. There were a few games played and Rob has since completely sworn off tennis; backgammon; and euchre. Although, he managed to retain some credibility by winning the chess...

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Checking the emails at Happy Hour...

We did see a bit of island life on Naxos with a (very noisy) wedding processional heading past our restaurant on the Saturday evening. The bride made an entrance heralded by air-horns (classy) and the groom followed close behind – we asked the waiter who told us that the groom's father owned a transport company, which explained the trucks...

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The bride's truck

The groom on his way to the ceremony:

We did think it was a bit strange the bride arriving before the groom... However, one thing is for certain - there were no plates safe on Naxos that night!

Posted by RobandEve 14:40 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

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