Location: ATHENS, Greece
Leg weary but happy we have done Athens, we have walked all around the city taking in the many sites and attractions.
Today being the last day of the holiday we took the bus to Sinion, the southern tip of the Attican Peninsula to see the Temple for Posiedon. This temple was the first thing the seafarers saw when they approached Athens, in its day it must have been spectacular.
At lunch we had to put up with a bunch of whinging aussies from Port Douglas who thought that the whole trip had been a disappointment, they were on a cruise, because it was so cold. What did they expect? it is winter here. Admittedly there has been a northern wind straight out of Russia that has kept things a bit cool in Athens but at least it has been dry.
There have been very few tourists which has made life tolerable around the Acropolis, peak season must be hardwork especially if it is hot. It is ceratinly hard work walking around this sites and after a while the statues all look alike. We have skipped the museums as we felt we could not face another one. One of the minor problems of being on the road for so long.
We have really enjoyed the food and have been trying to find the most authentic greek cuisine given that the tourist market is the dominant one. Last night we ate in this outdated restaurant where the walls were yellow, covered in photos of the owner with honoured guests, but full of locals. The meal was excellent if a bit haphazard, we think we may return there tonight.
Well thats about it for this trip, we have to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the flight to London. A week with family and then its back to NZ with a short stopover in Singapore.
We hope we have kept everyone entertained and informed, we have enjoyed putting this blog together, that is what they are called apparently, and hope you have enjoyed reading it.
Location: CRETE, Greece
After Florence, Rimini was a complete let down. It was like Blackpool out of season, everything was shut. The town itself has a roman bridge, roman gate and a fort as its attractions and the shops sell designer shoes and clothes and there are numerous cafes. We were unable to find a restaurant so we ate in the hotel, the meal was not bad considering. The beach area was different from anything I have ever seen, the area adjacent to the road is blocked off by businesses offering food, changing facilities and games areas, beyond these compounds the beach is sectioned off right out to within 20 metres of the high tide mark. These are private beaches, our hotel had one, where you pay to use the beach and pay for the chairs and unbrellas. Postcards of the summer season show row upon row of deck chairs. Where jo public goes , who knows?
The journey from Rimini to Bari was a six hour marathon and we were surprised that the whole Aegean coastline was similar to Rimini. The rail line ran straight down the coast and if it was not apartments, it was holiday camps or beach.
Once in Bari we managed to negoiate the bus service down to the docks where a ship awaited us. Unfortunately it was a cruise liner, our smaller version was tucked around the corner. The ferry crossing is a 16 hour trip with a stop at dawn to let some trucks off. We elected for airline seats rather than a cabin and thank goodness the baot was empty. The seats were in a box with no windows, the lights did not switch off and there were about 50 seats, fortunately there were only 7 people for the trip. Sleep was fitful at best as the seats were a very poor cousin to your average airline seat. There was no entertainment in this section. Fortunately we shared the trip with an australian couple from the Murray River and we enjoyed there company. They are doing europe in 6 weeks by europass and are hell bent on seeing as much as posssible. The rest of the boat was very comfortable and the food and service very good and reasonably priced.
Whilst boarding the ferry we had to walkacross the lorry loading area in the dark, two very suspicious characters were also wandering around in the dark trying to get on the ferry, apparently without tickets! Then while we waited for the bus at Patras, the armed police arrived accompanied by a scuffy indivdual in handcuffs, obviously the illegal trade is flourishing.
Another surprise was the distance from Patras to Athens, 4 hours in either a train or bus. We thought it was about 50 km but its nearly 230km. Once in Athens we had to find the hotel, on the net it was shown as being close to the centre and airport, actually one hour by tram from the city! In all our travels this year this hotel would have to rank close to the worst we have stayed in. As we arrrived there were two drunken yanks in the reception playing some of their favourite music full blast, one apologised and then just carried on! The receptionist then gave us the best room(his words) as honoured guests, the main feature of the room was the washing machine full of dirty clothes, the outlet was stuck down the toilet bowl and the water supply was plumbed into the cistern and this was the best room! When we returned from dinner, which was very good, the yanks were even drunker and music louder and the owner appeared dressed as the local slob. As we were looking for a hotel for later in the week, these occurences did not put this establishment at the top of the list.
We flew to Crete and as we had no idea where the apartment was so caught a taxi. as we drove up this side street, dogs and rubbish everywhere our hopes fell, then we turned past a sports club with two soccer fields to see our apartment. A pristene concrete apartment block surrounded by over grown weeds, unsealed drive and pool seats and umbrellas lying everywhere. The view was quite good though!
We had decided to use local transport on this trip for a chnage, 'Cars for rent' is greek for no public transport! no that is not fair, there is a system and once you have figured it out it works well. Basically there are no signs on the bus stops to indicate which buses run where nor any timetables to be seen. Tickets can be bought from the driver though he is usually grumpy and they cost more, tickets should be bought from little kiosks or book shops dotted all over town and one ticket fits all. On entering the bus the ticket must be validated, ie date stamped to prevent reuse. We forgot on the bus to the airport in Athens and thought we were going to be fined 60 times the price of the tickets, about 420 euros. The inspector made us wait ten minutes before letting us off!
For the three days on Crete we took it reasonably quietly, visited Knossos on day 1, Xania on day 2 and moped around Iraklion on the third day.
Knossos was very interesting, the palace has been partially rebuilt but most of the remains date back to 1900BC and like Pompeii, the best pieces have been removed for safe keeping. The difference here was that where they have carried out restoration they have used different materials or have painted the particular items clearly showing the changes. In Pompeii it was difficult to differentiate between old and new.
Xania is a small town about three hours to the west of Iraklion and we had a very pleasant day there walking around the historical parts and having a decent greek lunch which was not tourist generated.
Our aim on the last day in Iraklion was to see the sites, of which there are few, and to have a long lunch, greek style. We had earlier earmarked a couple of restaurants that were off the beaten track and the only danger was them not being open on a Sunday. Fortunately one was open, full of locals and we had a wonderful lunch of salad, stuffed cabbage leaves, chicken kebabs (can't remember greek name) and local wine. At the end of the meal, the waiter filled our glasses again, and produced the local dessert together with some Raki (local firewater) and then we tottered back to the apartment.
The gravest danger we have been in to date is from the traffic on Crete. The scooters and motorbikes pay no attention to the traffic rules and pedestrians are in mortal danger at all times. These characters ride on the wrong side of the road, the wrong way up one way streets, along the pavements, through red lights etc. We were nearly taken out by one on a crossing after the cars had stopped to let us cross and he overtook the car!. Pedestrian crossings appear to have no meaning in Greece, they are ignored by everyone, even at traffic lights, the rule is stay where you are until all the traffic has stopped even if the little green man is flashing!
Car drivers are only marginally better, when you need to go into a shop etc and there is nowhere to park, put on the hazard lights and leave the car in the middle of the road and go about your business. The funny part of it is the following drivers get really irate and words and gestures are generally exchanged and then the aggrieved driver promptly pulls the same trick further down the road.
We are now back in Athens, the traffic is no different, the place is a mad house but there is lots to see.
Location: FLORENCE, Italy
Well we have done Florence and have nearly finished Italy.
This week we have daytripped around Tuscany to see the sites and finished off we the northern side of Florence today. We took the train to Pisa and the local buses to Sienna and Fiesole.
We enjoyed both Sienna and Fiesole but were not impressed with Pisa. Sienna reminded us of our trip to Umbria a few years ago where the old towns were relatively unscathed by progress as vehicles could not get around the narrow twisting streets. Fiesole is only about 10 miles from Florence and sits up on a hill giving magnificent views across Florence and the surrounding areas.
Pisa on the other hand was tired and apart from the leaning tower there was little else to see.
Today we visited the Museo Del Bargello that houses more of the magnificent sculptures from Michelangelo and others together with numerous other trinkets and treasures. Afterwards we walked across the river to visit the main cemetery and the Palazzo Pitti. The Pallazzo Pitti was the home of the medici family in the 16th century and the house decorations and garden are totally off this planet. This family were rich traders who were trying to become nobles and nothing was spared!
On the walk we passed through the Piazzale Michelangelo where they appeared to be a number of weddings taking place. It turned out that the japanese had organised a job lot and there were five or six couples having there photos taken all over the park. Looking at their clothes they were part of the package!
So far the trip has been relatively straight forward with not a lot to report. Each night we have tried a different restaurant in town and we have tried to keep away from the tourist route. The result has been very pleasant, so far we have not had a bad experience and had particularly good service and meals in two of the five visited so far. The best restaurant was the cheapest and from the outside looked definitely sleezy! anyway as we sat and munched our way through dinner, there was a constant stream of customers being turned away because the establishment was full. To add a bit of colour, anyone who was prepared to wait outside in the cold street, was offered a glass of wine, a nice touch.
In the evening as the shops shut, the street sellers appear on the streets, they are invariably of african origin, carry their wares wrapped in a white sheet which becomes the base of their pitch and they all sell similar gear, handbags and belts. When the police approach the melt away only to return a few minutes later! A good Gucchi bag costs about 25 euro!!
We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Florence and tomorrow we head off to the Riviera, to Rimini just for something to do! After a day there we catch the train to Bari and then the ferry across to Patras and finally Athens. All things being equal we should be in Athens by Wednesday night and then off to Crete the next day.
fter our disappointment with Naples we took ourselves off to the Amalfi Coast for the day on the local bus. The coast road was very narrow and has been hung off the cliffs. There were numerous occassions where tricky passing manoeuvres were required especially when two buses met!.
The town of Amalfi was small and really did not have a lot going for it. The main industry was originally paper manufacture but this has been surpassed by tourism. The beaches were stoney and small but there were numerous hotels suggesting large populations during the summer.
The cathedral was well worth visiting, the artefacts anhistory were well presented.
On the Tuesday we were off again, this time to Florence. We were a bit apprehensive at first but in the end it was easy, train from Sorrento, pick up Eurorial at Naples and straight through to Florence in three hours. Our hotel is in the middle of the old ditsrict of Florence and was easily found.
Today we have spent roaming around, marvelling at the architecture and the art. It is hard to believe that the masters spent their whole lives producing all this art for the church. Two of the museums we went into were full of statues and paintings from the 12th to the 15th centuries and most have been rescued from churches where they have been stored when styles changed. Where the paintings have been restored, the colours are magnificent. We have covered the northern part of the town and will do the rest another day. We may have to book to see a couple of museums as the queues were very long today.
At dinner we were discussing which countries we had enjoyed most and Italy did not feature! after Rome a few years ago and the couple of turn offs earlier on this trip we nearly got done again today. We sat down to have a coffee and there was no one around so Jean went into the cafe to order, I happened to see a menu and coffee was 5 euro a cup, but in the cafe it was 1.40 euro! and tonight we stopped for a cup and the published rate was 1.4 euro but the menu was 4 euro because we had sat down. Every restaurant has a cover charge which ranges from 1 to 2 euros per person, they then add 10% for service and then expect a tip! we do not understand the mentallity, we all have to eat, we are happy to pay the price so why have all these add ons. We are wondering what the Greeks will have in store.
Tomorrow we are taking the train to Pisa.
Location: Sorrento, Italy
We have arrived in Italy and for once we have found a good patch of weather with temperatures in the 20's which is very pleasant.
We decided to skip Rome on this trip as we did not enjoy being ripped off last time, but they stil got at us! the hole in the wall at the airport refused our cards so we had no money so we changed some pounds into euros, the rate allowing for cash should be 1.25 but we got 1.00, the excahnge rate was 12 points worse than the published rate and then there was 15% comission and taxes.
We still only had minimal funds so an attempt to buy our tickets to Naples with credit cards failed but we managed to get some money out of the hole in the wall. The next thing was to try and buy some tickets, this nice man came an operated the machine for us and took the change as commission! but we had our tickets.
Arrived in Sorrento in the dark with no idea where the hotel was located, a very short and extremely expensive taxi ride later we were home for the week.
Though we were totally pissed of at this stage we were not surprised at the events but since then everyone has been very helpful and there has been no hint of any other under hand deals.
Using Sorrento as our base we have visited Vesuvious, Ercolanum, Pompeii, Capri and Naples. We have plenty of photos but this internet cafe has no usb ports and the computere is so slow it would take about thre days to upload them, so next time.
This the last week of the season so it has ben interesting organising ourselves as there is no guarantee any service is going to run and the time to leave is variable. We suspect that tomorow night there will be nowhere to eat! The food has been good, in fact we will both being on strict diets when this is all over!
Tomorrow we are to use the local bus to tour the Amalfi Peninsular, the last people to try were left for two hours on the other side!
Our reflections so far are simple, Ercolanum and Pompei were fantastic and today we saw some of the artifacts stored in the museum in Naples and they really sealed of the experience. Capri was nice but totally tourist orientated but apparently it has fantastic weather all year. The shops, like Versace were shuting down for the winter it is bizarre. Naples is a dump, the city officals ask that people visit it as it deserves more credit, well they are wrong, it was like being back in South America again, rubbish everywhere and old unkemp buildings.
Of to Florence on Tuesday.
Well after a fairly long break we are about to start the next adventure, a three week flying visit to Italy and Greece.
Our stay in Feckenham was good as it allowed us to sort ourselves out and also get around our relatives that we had not seen for a few years. We have printed off some 1000 photo's (that is not all of them!) and most have been put into albums, the remainder will be done in NZ. We will be available to bore the pants off anyone who wants to see the holiday photos!
Our last weekend was spent in Norwich attending my cousin Anne marie's 50th. It was held in an old barn on the Norfolk Broads, miles from anywhere on the night of the final. No television, no heating but plenty of dancing and food, so a good night was had by all. I have put some photos of the McEntegart clan on the site.
Hopefully as we are staying in touristy places on the trip we will be able to access the internet.