And here I thought there was no place I could like more than Greece! We spent two days in Marmaris. Our homestay host was amazing- homemade apple tea several times a day, suggestions for all the most enjoyable ways to spend the aftenoon or evening in and around town, as well as an unmatched hospitality which is really saying something for this trip. Wandering through one of the covered market places on day two there we met a man who owns a jewelry and genuine Turkish carpet store. He shared tea with us and we spent a couple of hours learning all about them- there are different sizes, styles, techniques, materials, regions, and traditions and we are now practically ready to own a shop ourselves! He requested that we come for breakfast the next morning where we had a delicious meal of Turkish coffee, hard-boiled eggs and boyos, the richest and most delicious breakfast pastry on earth. Then, a rented scooter ride and a great cheap meal along the waterfront. On to Selçuk and the Ephesus ruins which we have heard are the most amazing ones out there.
Location: Marmaris, Turkey
We will be sad to say goodbye to Greece. Every moment of it felt new and insteresting- we have never been to anyplace quite like it and I certainly want to come back again some day. We only spent half a day on Rhodes Island but for the time we did have there we decided we would like to have had more. The photos of old stone walls and towers as well as the turquoise blue water and the boat fleet there explain it quite well. Our ferry ride to Turkey was a fun adventure- about 3 hours on a small boat with only 20 other passengers on the warmest and sunniest day as of late. We napped, read, took photos and marveled at being near the Adriatic and Mediterranean, skirting alongside their meeting place between the land masses of Europe and the Middle East. We have hostel reservations at a place that sounds interesting- more of a homestay with a family that is said to be incredibly welcoming, offering hot tea and great advice and support for travelers. It is run by a man named Maymo and his parents as well as his extremely huge cat that is said to be famous throughout southern Turkey. Sounds like good times to me.
Location: Athens to the islands, Greece
What an enjoyable country to hang out in. We love the food and the people and the ancient history. Not to mention we are again in a place before the big crowds of tourists show up so we are afforded some space and mellowness that will be harder to come by around here in the coming weeks. Santorini Island is the most popular of all Greek Islands for tourists to visit but we beat the hoards of people and while it isn´t warm enough for swimsuits on the beaches we did rent a four-wheeler for the day and cruised around the island feeling some sun on our faces and marveling at the beauty of this place. The photos don´t really do it justice and I was able to wander for hours and hours along the cobblestone walkways and in between homes and businesses of all shapes and sizes and design. There is a giant caldera out in the water and the volcano that shaped Santorini and the small islands surrounding it must have been a sight to behold. We had our first pre-planned romantic dinner of the trip by heading out to the western tip of the island to a small community with shops and restaurants catering to couples wanting to sip a glass of wine, eat some delicious traditional Greek cuisine and watch the sunset do its thing...a really good night for us. Tomorrow we head to Rhodes and then on to Turkey.
Location: Athens, Greece
Sometimes it works best to wing it...show up somewhere, talk to people close by, wander and search for lodging. Athens, it turns out, was not the ideal city to try the winging it version. A couple hours of walking, asking for directions, and finally finding out that we did not have a reservation at the hostel we had emailed, only because they were booked. It was a late one, but we found a nice spot only four cobbletone streets from the base of the Acropolis. We have walked the National Garden, done our own torch run in front of the first Olympic Stadium arena, spent hours at both the Acropolis Museum and all the ruins associated with the city of Athens, and ate our hearts out. It is lovely and only slightly crowded since it is still early season, lucky us. We plan to head to the islands for a couple days on our way to Greece. The people here, by the way, are kind, boisterous, and often sound like they are yelling with excitement. We have been warmly welcomed and encouraged to partake in all parts of the Greek culture. What fun!
Location: Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece
Another few weeks and more smooth and fabulous traveling. Macedonia was beautiful, peaceful, and blooming. We were there for the cherry blossoms in full force and the spring breeze and sunshine in the morning and the clouds and rain in the afternoon. It smelled delicious at every turn and it hasn't stopped yet. Thessaloniki is a great introduction to Greece. We are on the Adriatic with ruins and ancient structures everywhere from seaside to mountainside. The food is better than we even expected- gyros, moussaka, tatziki, and bakery goodies galore. We spent almost three days with hours of walking and exploring each day and we had our most wonderful restaurant experience of the trip here. I was out wandering and spotted a corner restaurant with Turkish-style stained glass lanterns and globes hanging throughout the inside and teraza. The woman working informed me it was traditional Greek food- meat and fish. That night we dined and had some wine and talked for a while with the owners and it was a culinary and cultural success. On to Athens by train tomorrow afternoon.
Location: Ohrid, Macedonia
Another road trip! We convinced Zlatka to spend another few days with us, and ended up taking her car to Macedonia for a bit. Our first night was randomly in Stip, where we asked just the right people sitting outside a cafe where to eat and sleep. We proceeded to be taken to a nice hotel and given a very inexpensive rate, taken out to a bar with great live music (our new friends are musicians) and shown a great time, all without us forking out a dime and with no expectations or pretenses. It was another real experience with local people and will serve as a highlight of the trip, Steve has referenced more than once- no guide book gives you this kind of information or experience! Then, on to Ohrid. It is magnificent, on the shores of the lake there and surrounded by mountains on almost all sides. Across the lake you peer into Albania, yet another country in the Balkans that looks to be like a good stop, although there isn't time for that one as well. I woke up and ran around in the morning, picking out the sites to take Steve and Zlatka to when they woke up. We drove along the lake, and up over the mountain pass, stoping to take in the sights, drink a local beer, and chat with locals. Zlatka's Bulgarian was easy for the Macedonians to understand, so she was our tour guide.
We had a great few days, and on Thursday afternoon she headed back towards Sofia to help her mom open the restaurant.
We then took a taxi with a few others to Bitola and because there is not a train or bus across the border, we hitchhiked (as most travelers do), getting a ride within our first few attempts and rode the 20 km with some really nice Greek guys living in Florina where we were hoping to land. A few hours in Florina, then we are on to Thessaloniki.
Location: Belgrad, Serbia, Europe
Oh boy, oh boy, so much has happened since March 25th. We successfully dropped off our rental car in Timisoara, after staying at great hostels and meeting great folks in Sibiu and the western part of Romania. Turns out we were really ready to leave the country just about the time we needed to, so lucky that. We took a train to Belgrad, Serbia and spent a few days there as well. We randomly found the Black Catz Hostel and it was a perfect spot- right near the main square and citadel and run by a very nice Serbian guy who drank rakija (a popular Balkans liquor made from distilled fruit, usually plum) with us, shared a bunch of music from the Balkans with us, and set us up to rent bikes, hit the town, and see the best sights. We spent three days there, then one day in Nis, a beautiful city south of the capital.
Another ride, this one a bus, found us in Bulgaria. For two days we went out with Zlatka to celebrate her birthday. First a late night on her birthday night at the bar in the basement of the hostel we were staying at, the second night at a hip hop/DJ/breakdancing party that happens only every couple of years and was a magnificent cultural experience.
We moved to Zlatka's house the second day, where she lives with her mother and brother. Oh, what a time! We slept in a comfy bed, ate food in a kitchen made by a mom (who just so happens to be opening a restaurant and makes delicious food) and felt right at home. She has a great family and as we spent time with them we learned a lot about like in Bulgaria and hope to visit again some day to explore the rest of the country outside of Sofia.
Location: Brasov, Romania
A few new travel adventure updates...
~We went to Borsec, a place famous for it's spring fed water that is bottled and sent throughout Europe. It was a bustling resort town for several decades and included a spa and a ski area. It was abandoned (for reasons we never totally came to know) and left to fall into disrepair for about 20 years. We wandered around the abandoned and dilapidated buildings, played in the six inches of snow that fell during our stay, and drank the healing Borsec waters.
~Our two days in Sighisoara were a hightlight. It is a breath-taking town with red clay roof tiles, a citadel wall and clock tower to rival all others, and interesting history at every turn. Many of the houses and buildings are historic landmarks and painted brilliant colors with intricate hand-carved wooden accents. It is known for being the childhood home of Vlad Tepes "Dracula"
~Our second day in the area we drove to the Breite Ancient Oak Tree Reserve "nearly 70 hectares of land. The largest, most representative and beautifully preserved wood pasture habitat with multi-secular oak trees in Central and Eastern Europe. From the point of view of its origin, the Breite Plateau is a culturally modified forest, created not only by eight centuries of local Saxon culture, but also by a rich and diverse natural environment. It is this dual origin that gives the Breite Reserve its multiple and exceptional values historical, cultural, ecological, aesthetic and sentimental. A rich natural heritage and living evidence of the history of Sighisoara, Breite represents a unique treasure of European value." It is managed by the Mihai Eminescu Trust and the Sighisoara Local Council and was saved from becoming a Transylvania/Dracula theme park! It was a highlight of our time here in Romania.
~Yesterday we spent the afternoon checking out Vlad Tepes Dracula's infamous castle in Bran, Romania. Turns out that he wasn't a blood-sucking vampire and spent only a short time at the castle. However, the history is fascinating and the legend rich. He did gain quite a reputation for impaling Turks and being a masterful warrior and protector of his land and assets. It was the most touristy place we have visited but well worth the small crowd.
~After our castle visit we drove up into the mountains to Poaina Brasov, the largest ski are in Romania. The skiable snow would have allowed us to make it about a tenth of the way down the slope and we are coming to wrap our heads around the fact that spring is here and we can start to plan how to dump our winter/ski gear and travel light, finding other ways to explore the mountains and get some cardio exercise.
~We plan to visit Sinaia and Sibiu before dropping off the rental car and heading to Belgrade, Serbia for a few days. After that it is on to Sofia, Bulgaria to visit our friend Slatka. Good times.
Location: Suceava, Romania
We had two mentionable experiences with folks between Ukraine and Romanian border that reminded me how many great people fill the world. First, we were in Chervnisti, Ukraine arriving off the train with our gear and met Peter from Portland who was waiting in line for train tickets in the same line as Steve and I. As Steve and I were talking to each other and attempting to figure out where we wanted to head on the train, Peter started chatting with us in English. Considering that we don't speak Ukrainian and have only begun to understand the Cyrillic language this trip, hearing a friendly voice can go a long way. Peter grew up in this area of Ukraine but is currently a truck driver in Portland, Oregon. Peter volunteered to ask about the train and bus schedule to Romania as well as make a few calls about lodging in Chirvnisti. He even ended up driving us and all of our gear to the best accommodation deal in town in his tiny car with the skis sticking out both of the backseat windows and his brother in the front wondering what the hell was going on. We exchanged info in hopes of taking Peter out for a beer in Portland some day for being such great help.
The next afternoon we got a ride to the border instead of the train and ended up walking up to the Customs and Border station with our gear in hand. As we handed off our passports to one agent, another began asking questions about what we were carrying and "Why are you WALKING across the border?" We explained not wanting to wait until the next morning for the train and the nice man who helped us get to this point. We then spent about an hour and a half talking with Azri (never mind that none of his coworkers seemed to care that he was on the clock and not working a bit during the time we were there). He had lived in the U.S. for a few years, missing not so much the people or places there, but peanut butter and Jack in the Box :-). Azri told us jokes, shared about his family and growing up in Romania. He said that he doesn't believe that the American dream can only come to fruition in the U.S., but that hard work and determination can help that be achieved almost anywhere in the world. He did share a few off-color jokes, but that is easily something picked up in the U.S. as well. The icing on the cake was two free cups of coffee and finding us a ride with a nice Romanian speaking man crossing the border who drove us and our gear the 40 kilometers to Suceava where we spent the night. Thank you Azri!
Location: Suceava, Romania
Today finds us traveling by car through Romania after a great chance encounter with a Romanian couple that own a hostel and work as monastery tour guides in Suceava. Our research indicated that it would be difficult to find reliable bus and train transportation to several of the villages and mountain areas that we were hoping to visit. Ciprian and Irene were generous enough to make us a deal on renting their car and helped us find out information about what areas to visit and even how to do a homestay with a Romanian family which is on our list of things to do.
It is incredibly beautiful and interesting here. There are mountains and forests covering most of the area that isn't plowed land, orchards, city or village. There are rivers throughout and the birds and critters are starting to show up as spring enters the picture. Almost all houses, including peasant homes, are either colorful (reds, blues, purples, greens) cement or tile with elaborate patterns and designs, or intricately carved wood. Churches are ubiquitous here, very tall and either wooden or painted, some with incredibly steep spires covered in wooden shingles or tin roofing in amazing shapes and designs. The people are interesting and friendly and the language is easier to understand than Cyrillic- a combination of Slovak language and a romantic language, so our limited Spanish and French is helping out. We are loving the countryside and villages, and plan to continue to roadtrip into the Transylvania area and more of the Carpathians. Romania is great.
Location: Dragobrat, Ukraine
Steve and I just spent four days at the ski area Dragobrat. It was quite an adventure with limited services and even fewer English speakers. We stayed at a pension with breakfast and dinner included and each meal was a new experience, with things such as buckwheat in the morning and pickle and potato soup in the evening. We met some Ukrainians about our age on the way there and they helped us buy ski passes and order the best Ukrainian beers. Their names were Sergii, Olga, Sergei, and Sasha, and they all live in Kiev. Super friendly and fun to ski with as well. We rode an UAZ, a Ukrainian made vehicle that Steve's sights as his favorite ever of all time, the last 18 km on a dirt road with the driver that just so happened to be waiting to take passengers from Jasinya to the ski area. We bought ski passes by the lift ride rather than the day and they were all but one just rope tows, and slow ones at that. We had two days of sunshine and two fresh powder days, potentially the only ones of our season. We followed up this neat experience with the polar opposite one at Bukovel, the "European standards" resort in Ukraine...high-speed quad lift chairs, much more expensive ski passes and lodging, women walking around in furry boots, and cappuccino machines at every corner. We had just one day here and it was worth the visit, if nothing else to have robes and shower slippers and breakfast buffet included as well as many more kilometers of ski terrain. And today? We head towards the Romanian border. Woo hoo!