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Rome, Day 25

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum – a day in ruins

sunny 30 °C
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Had a bit of a late start today, but eventually got on the road about 11:30am. Hot and sunny again, yesterday’s rain wasn’t enough to settle the dust today. It did threaten rain late in the afternoon, but none eventuated.

Took the metro to the station opposite the Colosseum, so you walk out the door and there it is right across the road. I wonder if the Romans that get off at that station every day even notice it. It’s a stunning building, and so familiar because we’ve all seen it so often.

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I decided to wait till later to go inside, as nearby are also the Roman Forum and the Palatino – and the same ticket gets you into all three. I thought I’d try the Palatino first, as the entrance to that is closest to the Colosseum. You walk past the Arch of Constantine and along a busy road. Well, it’s usually busy, but today there were no cars coming down it. I saw a line of police & carabinieri vans and trucks and next thing a cloud of what turned out to be teargas appeared. No one seemed particularly worried so we all just kept heading for the entrance to queue for our tickets. Waited for a few minutes & the line wasn’t moving, then a man appeared and told us all to “go away” (something got lost in translation – manners!). So we all had to leave because of what turned out to be some sort of protest – still don’t know what for, but as I was walking away there was a loud bang, so felt that wasn't the time to ask.

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So, headed up the road and round the corner to the entrance for the Roman Forum queue. It took about 40 mins in the blazing sun, but eventually got to the ticket window and headed inside. Good things really do take time. It’s the unearthed ruins of the original forum, where Julius Caesar was assassinated and Roman businessmen & politicians went about their daily grind. The remains of the temple where the Vestil Virgins were kept is still fairly intact (comparatively) and there are columns and temples everywhere.

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I met up with a group of four UK oldies, who had lost their tour group in all the confusion, so decided to "keep calm and carry on", as it were. One of the men had been there about 40 years ago and reckoned the best view was from up the top of the hill, so I latched on with them and up we went. He was right of course, and it was a bit easier to work out what was where from that angle. I left them shortly after that to see part of an exhibition about Nero and Rome during his time, which included some great statues and lots of information.

I wandered all over the place there, and found that the Palatino (which was a flash suburb of ancient Rome) is on the same piece of ground, just over a bit further and there’s no barrier between them.

I spent a little time there but had run out of water and decided to see the Colosseum next. With the ticket I could just walk right past the ticket booth, which is a very nice feeling when you’ve already waited in line for ages.

The Colosseum is an amazing building and I was surprised at what good shape it’s in, considering the hordes of people that go through it every day. The different angles for photos are great, and of course I took heaps. Unfortunately, you can only go under the Colosseum on a guided tour, so I missed out there – maybe next time.

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Piazza behind the Colosseum

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I gave my feet a rest and chilled out for a while on one of the many fallen marble columns that are placed in the shade under the arches, for people to sit on. Although there were a lot of people there, it was easy to shut them out and ponder about where I was, and listen for the sound of steel on breastplate, and the roar of big cats and the Roman crowds. Well, you have to in a place like that, don't you?

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View from the Colosseum

By 5:30 I"d cooled down a bit and wanted to see more of the Palatino, so headed back there since the protest was well and truly over. The setting is really lovely, with olive trees and huge cypresses in between the ruins. The Palatino is still an archeological dig, so a lot of it is fenced off – including a couple of houses which apparently still have frescoes on the walls. One of them, the House of Augustus, is open to the public, but only until 1pm each day so I was too late for that unfortunately. I just wandered through the other ruins, running my hands over the columns and walls and trying to imagine what it once looked like.

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The walls were all plastered, and covered in frescoes and designs, the floors – now grass – would have been mosaics like the house in Spoleto. There would have been ornate pools and fountains, and marble statuary – inside and out, and complete columns of solid white marble lined up in rows. Now, of course, the columns are broken and fallen, their bases and capitals still ornate, but broken and worn, and grey with time and mould. Many are dotted around the place (including behind the Colosseum), for people to rest on under the trees.

Sorry, got a little poetic there – so sue me. I think you get the picture though.

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View of the Colosseum from the Palatino

I left there at almost 7:00, and they were holding the gate open for us stragglers. I wasn’t quite ready to go back to the hotel so I had an early dinner at a cheap place right next to the metro entrance – my first pasta meal in Italy, believe it or not. So there I was, eating spaghetti carbonara, and drinking a Peroni beer (well deserved, I might add), looking at the Colosseum – with a big grin on my face. Awesome!

I was thinking I might wait to see the Colosseum lit up, but that doesn’t start until 9pm. I wasn’t keen on taking the metro that late – or hanging around that much longer, so I reluctantly left. Two short rides on the metro & I was back in the hotel.

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Tomorrow I’m planning to check out Trastavere, one of the suburbs that is apparently a nice place to go. Not sure yet how I’ll get there as there’s no metro line there, but maybe I’ll try the buses.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:11 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome, Day 26

Attempted pick pockets, un-scenic routes and more ruins

sunny 33 °C
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Sunny, hot, yadda yadda yadda… Started even later than usual since I had no particular place I had to go at any special time. Had a few problems with the hotel wifi anyway which took a while to sort out.

Thought I’d see how long it takes to walk to the Termini station for tomorrow morning to catch the train to the airport, for the flight to Athens. It only takes about 10 mins, and while I was there I thought I’d get the train ticket from one of the automatic ticketing machines.

I was standing in front of one, with my purse in my hand, trying to work out what to do, when this guy just walked up and tried to tell me what buttons to press. I knew what he was up to, so just gave him a scowl & said I’d do it later, and walked away. Went to another bank of machines, in a less open area, and was ready to start pressing buttons when another guy came up and started to give me advice! I told him to go away, and let me do it myself, but he didn’t want to budge so I just left. There are warning signs all around the station telling people to beware of pickpockets and only take advice from uniformed staff with the proper ID badges. Guess I’m really in Rome!!

Worked out that (I think) the best way to get to Trastavere was to take the metro to Circo Massimo, then leg it over the Tiber River. It did mean a bit of a walk, but certainly not as much as if I’d walked from my hotel. Problem: turned the wrong way (typical) out of the metro station and ended up walking about twice as far as I should have, just to get to Trastevere. Had a pizza for lunch on the way and found out I was no longer even on the map I was using (shades of Florence!). Got directions & sorted it eventually.

The bridge I went over the Tiber on probably has the least inspiring view of them all, and is the most southerly one on the Lonely Planet map - named Ponte Sublicia (translation = Bridge Piles - very original).

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Cool sculpture near the bridge

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View of the (icky green) Tiber from Ponte Sublicia

Entering Trastevere from that direction isn’t the greatest either, and I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Finally made it to the main thoroughfare, and wandered down the road towards the shopping area. It’s definitely a bit different to the parts of Rome I’ve seen and is quite open and seems welcoming with quite a few shops. Spent a little time there resting up after the walk in the blazing sun – I’d even had my umbrella up for some shade, it was like Death Valley!

There’s a tram that runs up the main street, across the river and into the historical centre of Rome. Once I found out how to get the ticket, I jumped on to save a little legwork. The line ends at Largo Argentina, where there’s a cat sanctuary amongst some ruins (another archeological dig site). There were a few kitties around, which was quite nice to see & I gave a friendly one a scratch.

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Pointed myself in the general direction of the hotel, and it was sooooo hot and without a breath of wind, I ended up going into the Museo dei Palazzo Venezia, just to get into some airconditioned comfort if only for a short while. There are a few paintings (mostly religious) and sculptures from a period spanning several hundred years. Couldn’t hang around there for too long, it’s not that big, so took on the sun again.

Just around the corner from the museum is Il Vittoriano, an enormous, brilliant snow-white wedding cake of a building, which I’d seen bits of from other vantage points and wondered what it was. It’s a completely over-the-top monument to Italy’s first king, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is housed there.

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From the piazza in front, I could see the Colosseum in the distance, which seemed strange given I hadn’t aimed in that direction. I guess it just shows that Rome isn’t such a big city after all. I worked out there would be less walking for me if I went to the metro station at the Colosseum again, so I headed that way. Along that road is the Imperial Fora, with more ruins and columns, including the Trajan markets from the 2nd century AD, including an ornately carved column.

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Fori Imperiali

There’s supposed to be a museum there, but I couldn’t see where the entrance would be. There was a lot of work going on along the roadside, cleaning up after yesterday’s protest and the parade from the day before, so perhaps it was closed for the time being. There are ruins on both sides of the road, and clearly an archeological dig is still in place. It must be hard to get anything new built in Rome, previously undiscovered ancient bits and pieces probably pop up when they’re just digging the garden!

Got off the metro at the Termini station, which gave me the opportunity to pick up my ticket for the Leonardo Express back to the airport tomorrow morning. Went into an agent for it this time – cost one extra euro, but at least no one tried to steal anything from me. Got back to the hotel and was so happy I’d left the aircon on this morning.

Have to take a bit more care than usual in packing my bags for the morning, since I’m back on an aircraft and there’s the 20 kg weight limit on checked luggage. Really looking forward to Athens – something different, although a bit concerned about the language, despite having a phrase book the alphabet is unrecognisable. It’s all Greek to me!!!

Posted by judesbucketlist 10:27 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Rome – Athens, Day 27

I think I’m going to like Greece…

sunny 30 °C
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Hopefully, this fine weather will stick around for one more week. The Termini station for the train was only 10 mins away from my hotel, so I towed my suitcase down there. Near the station, there were some torn-open bags strewn on the grass – obviously some thieves had managed to acquire a bit of a haul last night. I feel really bad for the people who lost all their stuff.

Just as well I left with plenty of time to spare, because they don’t tell you that the train for the airport is another 10 minutes inside the station! I was huffing & puffing (me, not the trains – they’re electric) to make it on time, and a man from the station (uniform + ID so I knew he was kosher) showed up with a trolley and offered to help me. I thanked him profusely & loaded my bags on. We made it with a couple of minutes to spare and he lifted the bags onto the train for me. I again thanked him, and he replied “I did it for money!” I growled that he didn’t tell me that, but gave him 2 euros anyway; don’t think he was that impressed but he wasn’t getting any more.

Got to the airport and checked in without any issues, and looked around the airport. There’s a display with glass cases containing important things from each region of Italy – like a violin (Stradivarius), a sculpture, wine, and one of hazelnuts & a jar of Nutella! It seems it was invented in Italy in 1964. Made me laugh that it was included with all these highbrow things. At least now I understand why they like it so much.

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Important Italian things!

The flight was nice & smooth and the Mediterranean looked lovely & blue. Although we left a half hour late, we still got to Athens on time – perhaps the pilot put his foot down, or his GPS gave him an alternative route that worked! Athens has an excellent metro system, including a special one from the airport for only 8 euros. It’s way quicker than a taxi, and cheaper with no chance of being cheated (Athens taxi drivers are notorious). There was a very attractive French guy trying to figure out how the metro worked so I helped him out because we were getting off at the same stop. Unfortunately when we got there, he went his way and I went mine – too bad.

My hotel is only a couple of blocks from the station & I found my way easily for once. There were a lot of people about, with the station being right next to Parliament (more on that later). Settled into the hotel and by then it was about 4:45. Not wanting to waste more time, I decided to head to the Acropolis for a gander at the Parthenon.

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Beautiful frontage of Hotel Metropolis (not my hotel)

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Church of Metamorphosis

Found the Acropolis OK and it took a while to find the way up, but made it in the end, just before 6pm. Even on the way up, there are some amazing views of Athens. Looking northwest, with the sun at the right angle, the buildings looked like stacked sugar cubes, and some were catching the sun on their windows so it was all sparkly as well – so pretty.

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Like jewels

The way you walk up the Acropolis from the entrance, you can’t see the Parthenon until you’re nearly at the top. It’s a lot bigger than I expected, and astounding, as I did expect. Although, because it is being restored, there are scaffolding and cranes and other evidence of the work going on, so it’s hard to see it as it should be. I tried to take the photos showing as little of the “foreign” elements as possible, but it’s pretty difficult to get the angles right.

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The views from up there are staggering, and it’s hard to say which one shows Athens’ best side.

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Lykavittos Hill from the Acropolis

You also look down on the Theatre of Dionysus, with the new Acropolis Museum behind it, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (AKA the Herodeon), where there will be some great performances for the Athens Festival this month; I think they were setting up for one today (see photo). I’d kill to go there for a play or concert, the atmosphere would be extraordinary; for me, I think it would be quite an emotional experience.

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The Herodeon

It closes at 7 so I headed in the general direction of my hotel. Walked along a street that’s lined with shops, all selling souvenirs – a bit like a market but more “up-market”. I ended up on a main road, and there seemed to be a lot of people coming from somewhere – I thought perhaps it was a train or bus station. But it turned out they were going to somewhere, not coming from somewhere. A protest, no less, about the financial situation. My second in as many days, and in as many countries – at this rate I’ll start getting a complex! I’ve included a pic showing a very small part of the crowd.

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The police presence was a lot more low-key than in Rome, but it did appear to be a pretty peaceful protest, and isn’t politically-based – just people having their say in the country where democracy was invented. There were all kinds of people there, some carrying their shopping, others, the blue-and-white-striped Greek flags or the odd placard (which I couldn’t read). There seemed to be almost as many on motorbikes as were walking, and everyone was very good-natured – and a lot of them had whistles, and weren’t afraid to use them!

I managed to avoid the middle of the mayhem, and got back to my hotel which is right at the edge of the police cordon. A little before 9pm, I went out for dinner, just a few doors down the road. People were streaming past the restaurant, presumably on their way home after the rally. I was there for more than 1 ½ hours, and there was no let-up in people walking past (and that’s only one of the many roads leading away from it), so I have no idea how many thousands were there. As they walked past a lot of them still had their whistles and were merrily blowing them, very loudly. I’d have happily grabbed them & stuck them where the sun don’t shine! Even now, at nearly midnight, I can hear someone with a loudhailer still making some kind of speech up by Parliament.

Regarding dinner: yum, yum, yum. After 4 weeks in France and Italy, I finally had a really delicious meal. When I sat down, the waiter came straight over with some yummy olives & a large pickled green chilli (which wasn’t too hot), and a shot glass of what he called an “aperitif”. Actually, I suspect Greek surgeons use it to sterilize their instruments, but I bravely sipped away at it and it was gone pretty quickly. Then along came my meal – squid (real calamari, not the cuttlefish we often get in NZ), grilled on a barbecue grill, with a fava bean mash and caramelised onions. The squid was well-cooked, but wasn’t tough, and was brown and almost crisp on the edges. Even the tentacles were served up, and they were crispy, including the long ones with the suckers still on them. You couldn’t have paid me to eat that any other time, but it was wonderful. The mash was just like having mashed potatoes with a slightly different flavour, and the onions were delicious with it.

Now that I have you all salivating, I’ll leave it there for today. Will head to the new Acropolis Museum tomorrow and see what else I can find – any other protest rallies I can muster up.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:13 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Athens, Day 28

Ministry of Funny Walks & nudity

sunny 32 °C
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Still hot and sunny, bodes well for Santorini – yay! Best laid plans went awry as soon as I found out that the Acropolis Museum is closed on Mondays! So I reorganized my thoughts and decided to go to the National Archeological Museum instead. It doesn’t open till 1:30 on Mondays, so thought I’d check out the Botanic Gardens which are close by, and hopefully catch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Parliament.

Some of the protesters are still in Syntagma Square across from Parliament, camping there with tents and banners. Guess they’re the ones without jobs. Headed for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, not really prepared for what I was about to see. I have seen the uniforms before, so not really any surprises there. For those who don’t know what I mean, they’re wearing buff-coloured, well, mini skirts over white pullup hose, and black shoes with big pompoms on them, topped off with a little fez-type hat number and of course, rifles. Two guards stand under little blue & white awnings attached to little guard houses, staring straight ahead. Tourists are allowed to have photos taken next to them (similar to the Beefeaters in London), but have to treat them with respect (e.g. no touching the soldiers!). It’s really hard to get a photo of one of them on his own because people keep running forward for their own pics.

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The changing of the guard happens every hour, on the hour, when 3 new guys arrive, 2 of them to replace the previous two. Then what happens can be described a few different ways, none of them respectful! It’s like a slow motion, clomping ballet in clown shoes with firearms. Or, Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks in fancy dress with firearms (actually wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where John Cleese got the idea from!). Or some strange, high stepping mating dance for soldiers who like anything in a dress - with firearms. I got an awesome video of it all, but obviously the file’s too big to upload so you’ll have to settle for a still screenshot.

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Once that was over, I went along to the Botanic Gardens entrance, to find that only one of the six entrances was open (police orders because of the protest). Walked halfway around the block to get in, and it’s quite nice with lots of trees, rather than flower beds – so more like a park. There’s a small area with animals – almost all waterfowl but also some goats & peacocks. Nothing startling really.

Got the trolleybus to the museum, getting there about 1:45. What a fabulous museum – for me anyhow. Some things in there are 5000 years old, most from Greece but also Egypt and a few other ancient countries. I’m afraid I’ve uploaded rather a lot of pics statues and other pieces that caught my eye (see the photo section for all of them).

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I particularly love the bronzes, especially the little ones – the detail is amazing and quite lifelike in some. There are a ton of vases and vessels of all different shapes, designs and sizes, statues through the ages of gods, goddesses, people and animals, jewellery, weaponry, helmets – made from bronze, gold, marble of varying types, granite, wood, clay … and on it goes. Many of the pieces are just that – pieces. In some cases, the museum has completed the piece – especially so with vases, so you can see what it’s supposed to look like. Quite hard to do if you only have a few fragments to use your imagination with. They’ve used just plain clay to complete the piece so there’s no question about which bits are real.

I spent about 4 hours there, including a late lunch - the best coffee in Europe (had to come to Greece for it!) is to be had at the Museum café – you heard it here first, folks! Then got the trolleybus back, with a little help from a local lady who knew which one I had to catch.

Had another nice meal at the same restaurant as last night – this time, chunks of tender veal done with sundried tomatoes and a touch of cloves, with chips (thought it was going to be mashed potato, but it was good anyway).

Probably not a terribly exciting blog or photos for most of you, but I enjoyed the day. Off to Santorini tomorrow morning, so don’t expect too many long blogs while I’m there. There’s only so many words you can write about sunbathing, swimming, reading, meeting nice Greek men… Well, we’ll see.

Hard to believe I’ve been away only 4 weeks – and there’s just one week to go before I head home.

Posted by judesbucketlist 11:43 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

Athens – Santorini, Day 29

Aaaaaaaahhhhhh…… (that’s a sigh of utter contentment)

sunny 27 °C
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Last night again that idiot protester with the loudhailer was ranting till fairly late, but my window’s pretty well sealed so not too much of an issue. Today was hot & sunny again, so I was really happy the hotel was so close to the metro station.

Grabbed my ticket & got on the train, then about halfway through the trip the track joins the suburban rail system. My trip into Athens from the airport went straight through, but this time the metro stopped & the lights went out, and the voice on the speakers said that here we join the rail network, and all passengers must leave the train! No idea what to do, so I did as I was told, the metro took off and there we were, me and a puzzled looking Japanese man. Thankfully there was also a local lady waiting for her train so even though she spoke no English (or Japanese, strangely enough), we worked out between us that we had to wait for another specific train. It was about 15 minutes’ wait, and there were other people from other metros that arrived in the meantime, also thinking they had been left behind.

Finally got to the airport and checked in, with about 45 mins till boarding. Since it was a domestic flight I didn’t expect there would be much delay at the gate. I was wrong. I seems the Greeks treat even domestic passengers like potential terrorists. I was patted down for the first time on this trip (or any trip for that matter!), and asked to show my plastic baggie of lotions & potions, and the guy also investigated the computer. Perhaps I looked like a suspicious character. Must have been the Beagle Boys outfit & mask that I was wearing – or perhaps the Uzi I had tucked in my belt!!

Anyhoo… we all walked out the gate onto a waiting bus which took us out onto the tarmac to the waiting plane. The flight was nice & smooth & uneventful, and took just over 30 mins. It was great to see the caldera side of the island as the plane came down that side of the island before lining up for the landing on the less hilly end.

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I’d organized with the hotel for a driver to pick me up since I had no idea what to do with the buses here.

He took me straight to Oceanis Bay Studios and I was so pleased to find it was exactly as the photos on booking.com showed.

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My room's on the ground floor on the right

I have a lovely big studio, with a kitchenette, so I can organize my own food if I want to. And the view is just lovely – in fact I wrote the draft for this blog on my wee deck, looking at the ocean. There’s a garden just in front, with a path to the gate, then across the pedestrian path and you’re on the beach – yes, it’s that close (see the pics). Location, location, location…

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View from my little deck

Once I’d got myself organised, I put on my swimsuit & sunblock, grabbed the towel & walked to one of the umbrella-shaded loungers on the beach, sat down & just breathed.

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A bit later, I had a wee cold beer (as you do).

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Aaaaaahhhhh! Bliss...

A little later still, I had a wee swim (very refreshing). After a bit of drying time, I ordered a pizza & another wee beer. Then wandered up to my studio & got my book, wandered back to the lounger & read for a while. Life is so tough sometimes, isn’t it? Hehehehehe…

At about 5:30 I thought I’d check out things a bit further down the beach. There are a lot of restaurants / bars along the waterfront, as you’d expect – all touting for business. It’s quite a long beach, with black sand, coarser than Auckland’s west coast beaches, and lots of smooth stones. When you walk into the water, it’s impossible to look graceful because the stones move under you and there’s a solid rock layer under them so if you’re not careful you can stub your toes – or just fall over & splash around trying to get up. I decided not to be embarrassed about looking like an idiot, because I’d watched heaps of other people looking the same (it’s quite funny really). I'm sure you'll be sorry to hear that some thin cloud came over about mid-afternoon which took some of the heat away, which is why some of the photos may look a little less blue than expected.

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OK, so you’re wondering if it can really be as perfect as it sounds, aren’t you? The simple answer is… mostly, but not quite. This beach lies under the flight path for planes landing at Santorini airport.

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Thankfully there aren’t too many landings, but at times you can get 2 planes in 15 mins – I’m assuming (hoping) there are not too many at night. There was one that came in so low the vortex caused some mini-tsunamis and made things a bit windy for a few seconds (to paraphrase Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, "There's nothing like the smell of aviation fuel in the afternoon"). Only had about 8 or 9 since I arrived (including 2 tonight) Yes, I knew about it not long after I booked and could have cancelled, but it’s still worth it as this place is really reasonable and the quiet times & fresh air in between are heavenly. I’ve lived next to train tracks which is much worse, and it's better than morons with whistles and megaphones! I may feel differently in the morning if I get woken up too often!

Had dinner on the waterfront – lovely fresh bread (for a change) with tzatziki (a Greek dip made from thick yoghurt, garlic, cucumber, and a little mint and parsley), followed by a swordfish steak which was too big for just me so I shared it with 2 furry friends. No, not hairy Greek guys – a couple of cats that showed up & begged me with their big yellow eyes. The bill arrived with another shot of that medicinal alcohol that I had in Athens. It hasn’t got any less strong – “like fire” the guy at the restaurant said. No kidding.

I think I’ll just veg out tomorrow too, though while I was lying there today I felt like I should be doing something, or planning something to do! Had to tell myself to just chill & enjoy it. I do want to check out the other side of the island, especially Fira and Oia – apparently the sunsets on the caldera side are spectacular (and I really want a ride on a donkey!). The buildings over there are the ones you see in all the photos, all white, blue & yellow and clinging to the cliffside, and I think it’s the churches that have the blue domed roofs. Lots of photo opportunities I think. There’s also an archeological site I’d like to get to. Unfortunately, the one I really want to see – Akrotiri – has been closed for some time, though apparently they’re talking about opening it in August. Perhaps if I find the right people to talk to I may get a look see. Fingers crossed.

Posted by judesbucketlist 13:04 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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