Location: Athens, Greece
Hello again. Go the All Blacks! Have just checked the web news and found another glorious defeat to the Wallabies has been inflicted. Marvellous!
Since Santorini, which we absolutely loved, we spent a night/day in Naxos, which was no where near enough. A nice island with not too many people, would have been good to get to know it a bit better.
From there we moved on to Mykonos where we stayed for 2 nights. Definitely the low-light of the trip. I can see how some people would love it, but we hated it! The weather was really really windy which didn't help, but what it came down to was the island was infested with beauty and fashion obsessed people. Every one seems to spend all day lying on the beaches burning themselves into the most hideously un-natural colours, then as soon as the sun goes down, they dolly themselves up and spend the evening looking at them selves and each other in one giant beauty pagent. Nasty....we were pleased to get out of the place.
We flew back to Athens, picked up another rental and jumped right back into the fray. Driving in Greece was actually a lot better than we expected, the drivers generally seem to be fairly courteous and laid back (yes, it is possible to be both of those things and drive like a ferret with rabies at the same time).
First stop was Meteora - a magnificent series of Monasteries perched on the most ridiculously inaccessable limestone pinacles. Fantastic setting up in the central Greek hill country - saw an eagle and a poultice of other smaller raptors hunting in the hills.
From there we drove back down to Delphi, a 2500 year old site where an Oracle who was very influential in the world at those times was situated. There weren't a lot of people there at all, and we really enjoyed walking amongst the ruins there. Sharon found a bunch of tortoises slowly getting drunk on fermenting berries under a mulberry tree, which was an amusing and interesting break from all the culture and history!
Yesterday we drove down past Korinthos and checked out the town of Nafplios, with a massive ruined fortress situated with a fantastic view out over the gloriously blue Mirtoon Sea.
Had a bit of a mission getting the car back to the drop off centre - we missed a sign and ended up taking a detour through a fairly busy section of friday night rush hour in Athens (Population of Athens is something around 3.5 million). It wasn't that amusing at the time, but we went through some crazy twists and turns after accidentally leaving the motorway, including un underground car park that we didn't want to go into and spent 10 minutes trying to find our way out of!
Anyway, we survived, I now feel like I can drive anywhere, so long as I have Sharon to co-pilot and Pat in the back to keep us both calm......actually maybe not quite anywhere.....I will wait until we get to New York and have a look at the place before I apply for my Taxi license there.
Athens has been cool, 2 more nights here. Have checked out the Acropolis and Temple of Olympian Zeus, found the spot where Athena created the Olive tree and Poseidon created the Horse, crowds haven't been too bad, its been a good day.
Leave for NY in a couple of a days - can't wait to check out that little old Town!
Better fly, love to you all, catch up again soon.
Ben, Shaz and Pat.
Location: Santorinin, Greece
hey, hey, what a cool island.
will keep it brief, to try to keep anyone who is still bothering to check this site interested.
highlight of the day today was skin diving - I didn't even have to twist Sharons arm to get her to come along...I couldn't hold her back and she is progressing in leaps and bounds. Today she learned to equilize and even went into a sea cave. Our Greek dive guides (Stavros and Janos) were absolutely brilliant. Pat got stuck into a bit of the old aqualung for the first time in nearly a decade, and despite going a bit deep for a start and giving herself a wee fright had a great time.
Right, its been several paragraphs since I talked about driving, so back to my favourite subject. Oh my god!!!!!!! After nearly converting to Roman Catholicism in Rome, we are now verging on a full swing to Greek Orthodox.....these guys must be getting a lot of help from someone important just to stay alive. First Taxi ride of the trip....9.30 at night after flying in from Rome. Lets just say that I picked up 2 important differences in the Greek road rules.
A sign that says 'stop', inside a red triangle doesn't mean you actually have to stop, or slow down. All it means is you have to put your lights on high beam and possibly honk your horn slightly more than normal, until you miraculously pass through the stream of cross traffic, with all parties moving at considerable speed.
The second thing is that speed limits are posted at approximately a third of the speed you are actually mean to do. eg A 100 sign means you drive as fast as your vehicle will go with your foot on the floor, a 30 sign (usually in a small town with tiny roads and lots of foot traffic) means you can do about 90. I'm not exaggerating....we did 95 kph through a give way sign in a 30 zone. And this is in a 1974 mercedes with no seatbelts in the back.
So, apart from all that, Santorini is the second most relaxed place I have stayed in after Tolaga bay. Its brilliant. Food and drink is cheap and good, the people are colourful in character and ridiculously helpful. The water and air is clear, you don't have to wear clothes for social or thermal homeostatic reasons....what more could you want?
Naxos tomorrow, Mykonos the day after, then 5 or so days on the mainland after that, then we are off to conquer the New World.
Love from Santorini, us.
Location: Roma, Italy
Well, they say all roads lead to Rome, and we seem to have found our way. What an amazing place! You can't go anywhere without tripping over a piece of marble with a 2000 year old inscription. Every where we go in Europe is full of history, but this place is positively infested!
Once again, it has been a whorl wind tour. Very impressed with the Pantheon. Those roman engineers were gurus! Just about killed ourselves climbing to the top of St Peters in the 39 degree heat yesterday, but it was definitely worth it. Pat and I had probably a little too much wine and limoncello last night on top of the dehydration and didn't feel so good this morning...Shaz (having been more sensible on the aqua) was rearing to go at 6.30 when the alarm went off.
Arrived at the entrance to the Sistene Chapel an hour and a half before opening time and were pleased to find only about 150 people in line ahead of us - by 8.45 am (opening time), it was a fast paced 8 minute walk to the back of the line (thats with a queue 5 people wide!). Anyway, it was worth it. Michaelangelo is a legend. We were so frightened by the fresco of The Last Judgement that we converted to Catholicism on the spot and toddled of to meet the Pope. We were lucky enough to get within about 25 metres of his Holiness.
I asked him to bless the All Blacks for the world cup next year. He didn't seem to worried about the All Blacks though, seemed more worried about the state of my soul.
Colosseum was pretty cool yesterday too, I think we should have the Wairoa Show and Rodeo there next year. Show these Romans a thing or too.
Must fly, literally. Off to Greece tomorrow. 6 days in the Greek islands should be just the ticket after all this hard work we have done in Rome....he he he. Next entry should hopefully be from somewhere in the Cyclades. Yeeha!
Until next time, love to you all from Rome.
Location: Colle di Val d'Elsa, Tuscany, Italy
Whoa!!!! Had another freaky day on the roads today! Shaz and Pat are taking turns to navigate - its a scary place, the passenger seat. There is either a rocky vertical drop off, a stone wall or a fast moving vehicle (passing on the wrong side) looming up large, and you have no control at all. I, in the drivers seat have all the power....he he he! Did a crazy u-turn on the autostrada entrance today, anything to save on tolls. On our first day of driving in Italy (from Como to Venice), we got whacked with a massive 45 euro fine because we couldn't figure out how the system worked - we would have had a better chance if there hadn't been 12 (no exaggeration) lanes of traffic queuing to get through the toll booths at breakneck speed. Needless to say there were plenty of toots and angry drivers on the outside and plenty of swear words and sweat on the inside!
Apart from all that, Venice was very brief but lovely. Spent less than 24 hours there, but saw some lovely mosaics in the Cathedral, and as you would expect, the atmosphere was amazing. Couldn't afford a ride in the gondola after the fine (gotta stick to that budget!), but we had a great ride around in a bigger boat.
The Cinque Terre was fantastic - for those that don't know, this is an area of 5 fishing villages clinging precariously to the cliff tops overlooking the sea in Liguria. We spend a whole day walking and exploring our way through the villages, eating gelato and sweltering in the heat. Had bit of fun on the trains, worked out alright in the end, but nearly to an accidental ride to Milan!
Random! Bumped into one Aaron McCullough (Bloody, one of our vetschool mates), with a ragged bunch of cycling buddies at the train station. Couldn't believe it when we got of the train and saw his ugly mug smiling at us!
Drove down into Tuscany today, stopped to check the engineering disaster that is the Tower of Pisa. Amazing to look at - you just can't get a grip on exactly how weird it looks until you actually see the flaming thing.
Looking forward to spending a few days here, hopefully go for a drive amongst the vineyards in the hills tomorrow at a leisurely pace, well away from any autostrada!!!
Better sign off, but all 3 of a us are fit and well.
Take care, see you next time.
Location: Como, Lombardy, Italy
Quick entry, never seem to have enough time. Too busy having fun!
Since Valencia :
2 nights in Barcelona, absolutely awesome, loved it to bits (liked it a lot more than Valencia). The Sagrada Familia Cathedral I think is my favourite piece of architecture for the whole trip so far. Still 50 or so years from completion, but amazing! Caught up with Catherine and Adam, which was really good, nice to speak Kiwi to other people for a change.
1 night in Nice, which was Nice (!), but not brilliant. France is definitely not a place we would hurry back to, especially compared to what we have experienced in Portugal, Spain and now Italy. Pat (Sharons mum) joined us here, after as crazy weather affected journey, its good to have her safely with us. Looking forward to some fun times with the Shop and Walk-a-holic!
1 night in Milan, first night in Italy, and man do we love it! Visited the Duomo (cathedral) - massive!, but the highlight of our short stay was the Ballet at Teatro alla Scala. Very cultural, quite different from anything we have done before, but very very cool!
Now in Como, which is a town of 80,000 beside a lake of the same name, north of Milan and not far from Switzerland. Very beautiful - similar to the lakes in central Otago, but we would have to say not quite as lovely! Maybe we are biased. Really loving Italy, the people and food are outstanding. We just had a guy call to us across the street inviting us into his restaurant - he actually stopped the traffic for us to cross the road, and by now you know what the traffic is like in the Mediterranean!!!! We felt obliged to at least go and have a beer. Outstanding!
Well, we have been away 2 weeks now, 5 weeks left! From hear the plan is another 10 days or so in Italy finishing in Rome, then over to greece for 10 days, followed by a spell in the States on our way home.
Work is looming altogether too close now!!!!!
Better fly, love from the 3 of us. Take care y'all!
Location: Valencia, Spain
Didn´t manage to get an entry in from Granada, but lets just say right now how awesome the Al Hambra is. Its a massive palace, fortress and gardens built by the Arabic Rulers in the 13th to 15th centuries (roughly, I think......I only got 55% in 5th form history!). Anyway, the whole thing is stunning. For a start, its perched on a hill top overlooking the whole city, the plains below, and with the back drop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range (still with patches of snow). The scale of it is awesome, but the intricate detail in the palace itself is amazing.....and this is even with half a thousand years of fading on the paint work. The way it is built makes it beautifully cool and peaceful inside, even though it is murderously hot outside....outstanding.
So yeah, that was the Al Hambra....we didn´t do a lot else in Grenada - getting the car in and out provided enough entertainment to leave us nervous wrecks in our hotel room for the rest of the time (I´m joking....sort of)
On the way there, we spent nearly a whole day driving through the back blocks of the Sierra Nevada which was really cool. Really remote, we went for up to an hour at a time without seeing another person, which was nice for a change.
Sharon has by now decided that the Mediterranean is definitely a piece of her. I don´t know how I am going to prise her out of the place when it comes to leave. I think the promise of shopping in New York with Pat might do it, but only just!
(I had this saved as a draft from Valencia, didn't quite get it finished, but now in Italy, so am going to post as is)
Next entry: Como!
Location: Antequera, Andalucia, Spain
This place is awesome! After Lisbon, we caught the train down to Tavira, in the South east corner of Portugal. Had an outstanding feed of Calimari, washed down with about a litre of Sangria (like a fruit punch with wine and brandy as far as I can tell) sitting by the waterfront as the sun went down. Brilliant!
Next day we caught the bus across the border to Huelva to pick up a rental car. I chose Huelva to collect a rental car from because it looked absolutely tiny on the map, though it should be straight forward to escape from........wowser! We survived, but by the skin of our teeth. There were enough one way streets, excited fast driving spaniards and dodgy motorway transitions to give me nightmares for months to come. It was bad enough driving on the wrong side of the road with all of the above, but no one ever tells you that you are also sitting on the wrong side of the car, changing gear with your right hand! Man that was weird. I only stalled the car twice, and only one of those times was on a motorway exit. Sweet! I think I only got honked at 5 times? Sharon, my co-pilot, was outstanding - although she has a proven track record of excitability in stressful circumstances, she remained a calming influence and good source of direction throughout the whole episode. Whew!!
The driving aside, Andalucia is everything I imagined it would be....golden fields of wheat, sunflowers shimmering in the sun. Our car registered an outside temperature of 37.5 degrees at one point. As we worked our way east to Antequera, the plains gave way to massive limestone bluffs. Very cool.
Better keep moving, gotta get pysched for driving in Granada tomorrow (Granada also looked tiny on the map, but on closer inspection of the Lonely Planet, turns out to be a seething mass of a quarter of a million hot blooded crazies).
See you there!
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
We had a great time in Lisbon. Another very relaxed city. Everyone is really friendly and helpful. Had a great time trying to order dinner on our first night. Our Portugese waiter spoke no english at all, but was incredibly helpful. We had our little translator machine, so between that and some creative sign language, we figured our roughly what we had ordered. The whole experience was so good, we went back to the same place the next night.
Spent the day wandering the city, checked out the Castelo St Jorge - got a really strong mediterranean vibe there, partially ruined castle, with knarled pine trees, olives, lemon trees, fantastic view out over the Tejo river. Lisbon is one HILLY city, we sure did find that out! Visited the Torre de Belem, built in the 15th Century I think to guard the river entrance. This place has some interesting history, its amazing how cities rise and fall over hundreds/thousands of years.
I got offered dope 3 times walking down one street, mind you a lot more discreetly than in Amsterdam! Sometimes its interesting just sitting down on a bench and watching people walk around.
Both of us feeling a lot more relaxed now, have caught up on sleep and can´t wait to get into the mediterranean proper.
Location: amsterdam, Netherlands
Right, now we are on the road again, hopefully we will keep these messages coming a bit more frequently again.
Due to the massive amount of organisation we piled on ourselves with finishing up work, sending excess gear home and getting everything booked a month in advance, both of us were absolutely shattered by the time we got to Amsterdam. We nearly didn´t make it at all because we managed to miss our bus to the airport - things were looking bad for a while. The first transport connection of a 49 day trip and we missed it!!
Nevermind, once we got to Amsterdam, and recovered a bit of sleep it actually turned out to be a pretty cool sort of a place. Very chilled out city. A real eye opener in terms of various different products and services freely available and on display!! Just as well we only stayed 2 nights, we were just starting to hit our straps when it was time to leave. On a more cultural note, the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house were very interesting. Very small, but not too many people, so we got a really good, intimate experience.
See you in Portugal!