Friday, June 12, 2009

Mixed Emotions

Well, it’s over…almost. Today is day 34 and tomorrow is our final day, day 35. We woke up early enough this morning to go to the beach one last time before having to hit the road. I had my last apple croissant and Erica her last chocolate for breakfast. After the beach we got take-away gyros one last time…yes, from Pepitos. I am now sitting on the ferry from Santorini to Athens and I’m just not quite sure how I feel about it. I suppose I have plenty of time to reflect as we have over 37 hours of travel between our shuttle departure from the hostel at 2 pm until we arrive in Omaha at 7:30 pm tomorrow. This entire trip has flown by; Killarney National Park seems like ages ago, Paris even seems so distant. When describing our time in Europe I use the word trip a lot, I’ll explain…

There are “trips” and there are “vacations,” we definitely went on a trip across Europe not a vacation. Don’t take this as being ungrateful; I don’t say this in an unhappy way…we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we planned this whole thing. What I mean to say is this…a vacation is intended to be relaxing where things are easier to come by and are more accessible, e.g. an amusement park or a resort. Our journey (perhaps journey is an even better word) across Europe has been work and at many times not glamorous at all; it’s placed us in a dead sprint situation trying to catch a train located at a different station, on a crowded ferry deck with no blankets, on hostel floors with a paper thin mattress, on dark streets with maps in different languages, and in unfamiliar places with little or no connection to the rest of the world….but the end result that occurred from traveling to each place has definitely been worth the work. We’ve seen things I never thought I’d see and done things I thought I would only dream of doing. Perhaps the best times have been the unexpected ones, yes the major sites and attractions have been great too, but the unpredictable experiences might be what I remember most…biking through Ireland’s historic countryside, spending an evening with an Irishman who participated in “Hitler’s War” (as he liked to put it), walking along a beach on the coast of France, cramming into a gigantic, full capacity German beer-hall and restaurant, being right in the middle of a truly European championship sporting event, and arriving on an island that I knew nothing about…it’s these experiences that will stick with me the most. I don’t know if this entire trip has completely sunk in yet or not…all I know is that it was 5 great weeks that Erica and I will never forget.

Last Morning Photos

Perissa Beach one last time

The alley from the beach to Anny Studios where we stayed

Waiting to leave the port with all our gear

Pictures Taken To Date

May 11 152
May 12 144
May 13 30
May 14 56
May 15 168
May 16 114
May 17 23
May 18 279
May 19 136
May 20 133
May 21 11
May 22 114
May 23 46
May 24 102
May 25 102
May 26 33
May 27 234
May 28 31
May 29 85
May 30 3
May 31 232
June 1 160
June 2 374
June 3 147
June 4 122
June 5 27
June 6 48
June 7 107
June 8 147
June 9 153
June 10 152
June 11 58
June 12 31

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Things I've Learned

I now know why Ireland is typically associated with the color green…the entire country side is so green

In London we heard that if you wait in Picadilly Circus for 37 minutes you would see someone you know. This has held true in every major city we’ve been in with their respective busy areas.
- Picadilly Circus in London I saw a guy I recognized from the day before
- At the main train station we always traveled through Erica saw someone she recognized from the Metro a couple days earlier
- Town Hall in Munich we saw our roommates from the Hostel and the tour guide from Dachau
- Duomo/City Center area we saw a couple of backpackers that we’d already ran into at the beginning of the day
- Barcelona…I know it happened, but I can’t remember where
- The Beach in Nice, France we saw backpackers that took the same train from Barcelona as us
- Milan’s train station on the way to Rome we ran into backpackers that stayed at the same hostel as us a week earlier when we were in Milan for the AC Milan game
- The Spanish Steps in Rome Erica saw a girl that we’d seen earlier that day at The Coliseum
- The Pantheon in Rome I saw another backpacker who I recognized from Dachau concentration camp outside Munich
- City Center in Siena Erica saw a couple backpackers we were in line with at the train station the previous day
- Train station in Florence we bumped into a couple that we met at the hostel we stayed at in Nice
- Apparently if you are in Europe long enough you don’t even have to be in a busy place b/c outside the door to our hostel in Florence we ran into a couple girls that were on the same train as us to Nice
- Driving along the beach in Santorini saw two girls from the hostel we stayed at in Athens
- A couple we met in Nice and bumped into in Florence is staying at the same hostel as us in Santorini

The movie Night at the Museum 2 is EVERYWHERE…literally every country we’ve been to we’ve seen the advertisements for it:
- Night at the Museum 2 (UK)
- La Nuit au Musee 2 (France)
- Nacht am Museum 2 (Germany)
- La Noche en el Museo 2 (Spain)
- La Notte al Museo 2 (Italy)

Paris, France has ruined bread for both Erica and me…there’s just no going back from the bakery just a half a block from Cecilia’s

It’s okay to use sun screen

I haven’t met a French person I feel indifferent about

There are three areas in Switzerland, each associated with a certain language:
- French
- Italian
- German

The saying a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush holds true for backpacking. If you know you’re at some place that’s great, you don’t always need to go searching for something else someone might have told you about.

We get the term “arena” used today for our sports complexes from the Romans. Arena is latin for sand. Sand was used to cover the wooden floor in the Colosseum to soak up all the blood that was spilt on the competition floor.

Apparently I am long time friends with every street vendor trying to sell me anything from knock-off purses and sunglasses, to replica paintings:
“hey, my friend…”
“for you, I give you good price…”

When dealing with street vendors don’t tell them “no, I don’t want that”, I’ve found that “no” doesn’t mean “no”, silence means “no”

Gelato is fantastic

A cruise and a ferry are two entirely different things

While Erica and I have re-discovered the card game “Speed” it would be nice to know some more two player card games.

Salami and peanut butter has gotten me through this trip, not together, that would be gross. Peanut butter sandwiches for the first couple weeks, salami and swiss sandwiches for the past couple weeks...not bad.

Always clarify travel directions given from a local and then add at least 30 minutes to the time they tell you it takes to reach your departure point

I could live off of 2.00 euro gyros…other than fruit and snacks we’ve purchased from grocery stores, I’ve eaten gyros for every meal except for one

We’ve found that take-away food to almost always be better than dining in. The best pizza we had was take-away outside the Vatican, and the best gyros we had in Greece were always from take-away places.

The entire trip we’ve worried about pick pockets, but really haven’t had a problem…little did we know that four little gypsy girls would be our biggest concern

There are “trips” and there are “vacations,” we definitely went on a trip across Europe not a vacation. Don’t take this as being ungrateful; I don’t say this in an unhappy way…we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we planned this whole thing. What I mean to say is this…a vacation is intended to be relaxing where things are easier to come by and are more accessible, e.g. an amusement park or a resort. Our journey across Europe has been work and at many times not glamorous at all; it’s placed us on a crowded ferry deck with no blankets, on hostel floors with a paper thin mattress, on dark streets with maps in different languages, and in unfamiliar places with little or no connection to the rest of the world….but the end result that occurred from traveling to each place has definitely been worth the work. I don’t know if this entire experience has completely sunk in yet or not…all I know is that it was 5 great weeks that Erica and I will never forget.

Last Full Day

It’s hard to believe that over a month ago we began this trip and it is almost over already. We spent a year planning and anticipating these 35 days, and now it’s all coming to a close. Instead of killing ourselves trying to see a couple last things we decided to really just spend today relaxing. We slept in, went to the beach and laid out. For lunch we got gyros from Pepitos (definitely my favorite place for gyros) and then headed to the pool at our hostel. We laid out some more, slept some more, and got in the pool to cool off, as necessary. For dinner we went back to The Volcano (same place as the first night), we started off with bake feta again, Erica got calamari, and I got the roast chicken platter (my first non-gyro meal). Another great meal to finish off another great day.

I apologize for the lack of excitement in the posts this week. I suppose the writing reflects the level of adventure involved in the day…and the number one goal of our time here is R&R.

Santorini Photos, p. IV

The pool at Anny Studios where we stayed

The Volcano

One last stop at The Beach Bar

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tough Decisions

Tough decisions...? Not really. The only thing we had to decide coming into today was whether we should stay in Santorini or go to Crete. We’ve decided to stay in Santorini for the remainder of our trip for a couple reasons: 50 euros a person to take a ferry to Crete, we’d be wasting a day on travel, Crete is much bigger and we’ve been told requires more than just two days, and we’re already at a great location (lesson learned from Nice I guess). Other than having to decide which island to be on our “tough decisions” have involved: Apple croissant or chocolate croissant for breakfast? Which beach should we go to now? Gyros for lunch, dinner, or both (usually both)? 15 SPF or 30 SPF? This has definitely been the right way to end our trip. We feel as though we’ve managed to visit the classic European sites all the way from the UK down to Italy, and even in Athens…but spending the final days of our trip in a much more relaxed setting has been an unreal experience.

Because we rented our ATV for 48 hours it was due back today at 1 pm, so we woke up early and drove to Oia and Katharos beach (probably our favorite) making a stop at one o the 24 hour bakeries for a apple and chocolate croissants. At Katharos beach we had our breakfast (the croissants are big enough to qualify as an entire breakfast) and stayed for as long as we could before having to drive back and return the quad. We purposely hadn’t hung out at Perissa Beach until today because we knew once we returned the quad that that’s where we’d be hanging out (30 seconds walk to the beach from our hostel). We hung out all afternoon on a couple of sunbeds until we were severely disoriented from the sun. The sun here really is piercing…in a good way…if that makes sense. I can’t say for certain, but I think it’s the hottest sun I’ve ever been under. For dinner we went to another restaurant on Perissa Beach, called Aquarius. It was really good (another gyro for me) and provided great scenery. Another sun-soaked, gyro-filled, great, Greek day.

Santorini Photos, p. III

Beautiful Katharos Beach in the morning

Breakfast on the beach

Enjoying the AM sea

Hanging out on the sunbeds at Perissa Beach

Dinner at Aquarius

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day Two Just as Great

This morning we ran some errands and as soon as those were done we hit the road. We started off by going to Vlichada Beach, another beautiful black sand beach located pretty close to Perissa. After an hour or two of blissful nothingness we left the beach and headed a take-away gyro place we saw yesterday. Just as great as the one’s we had in Athens, but even bigger and heavier…yummm. From there we headed to the lighthouse located at the southwest tip of the island stopping to take in all the scenery along the way. Our final beach today was Mesa Pigadia, which was a little bit harder to find, but definitely a good spot to be at. After another couple hours of fantastic nothingness with the occasional dip in the sea we headed back to get washed up for the night. Once we had changed we took the quad to a bar on the edge of the Caldera to take watch the sunset. It was really pretty and worth the drive. After the sun went down we headed back to Perissa and got take-away from Pepitos, I got another gyro and Erica got baked feta and bread…mmm. Hard to tell that coming into this week that Erica was worried about Greek food.

Santorini Sunset

Santorini Photos, p. II

Vlihada Beach

A magnificent gyro

One of the many blued domed chapels of Santorini

At the Caldera once again

The southwest tip of Santorini by the Lighthouse

Mesa Pigadia Beach

Monday, June 8, 2009

Waking Up In Paradise

We woke up this morning in a place much different than those we’ve traversed thus far. The first 29 days of our journey have included places of history, with landmarks and sites that many, if not all, can easily recognize…places like Big Ben & Parliament in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, the Colosseum and the Vatican in Rome, and the Acropolis in Athens. I don’t know if there is anything recognizable about where we are now, and maybe that’s what we like about it. Today was our first full day in Santorini, Greece and it was a great day. We started the day by renting a 4-wheel ATV, or “quad” as they’re referred to here, which we quickly found out was definitely the way to go. We’re staying in Perissa located on the southeast corner of Santorini. The great thing about Santorini is that there are beaches all arount the island and from Perissa we’re able to take the quad all the way to the other side of the island to the town of Oia (eeh-uh) in around 45 minutes. The unique thing about most of Santorini is the black sand beaches, which are a result of one of the Earth’s biggest volcanic eruptions that occurred around 3600 years ago (so I’m told).

We started the day off by going the Red Sand Beach. It took us a while to get there since we’re still getting use to the island and the road system (or lack there of). Once we parked the quad it still required about a 5 minute hike to get to the beach, but it was definitely worth it. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was blazing hot. After Red Sand Beach we drove north through Thira, the capital of Santorini, and then to Oia. By Oia we found Katharos beach, there was a much smaller crowd there and the scenery was pretty great. We stayed there for a couple of hours before making the trek back to Perissa. Once we got back to our hostel we got ready and went out to dinner at The Volcano, a family ran, authentic Greek restaurant close to where we’re staying. I don’t know if it was due to being halfway-delusional from all the sun I got or what, but the meal was incredible. Erica and I split “Feta from the Oven” with bread to start and then split the Gyro Platter and the Fried Squid (calamari) Platter. By the end of the meal we could hardly move and couldn’t have been happier. Somehow we managed to pry ourselves from our chairs and made it home eventually…great first day!

Santorini Photos

View from our room

Pit stop to take in the view

Red Beach

The view of the Caldera

Just can't get enough of that view

Erica took this picture while in motion on the ATV

Katharos Beach

Drinks at the Beach Bar

Greece Firsts and Half Truths

Well believe it or not Erica and I were able to get a decent night’s sleep on considering it was our first time ever to sleep on the floor of a hostel hallway. Since we still hadn’t planned the slightest bit of the remainder of our trip as of this morning we got to that as sons as we got our first shower since the morning before our 32 hour ferry (yikes). We knew that all we really wanted to do in Athens was see the the Acropolis and the rest of what’s left of ancient Greece, so with that in mind we knew we wanted to take a ferry out of Athens tonight (which is where I am now, on another ferry). Right now, after another far too exciting journey to get to our departure point (I’ll explain in a bit), we are on our way to Santorini, one the southernmost Greek islands (I think?). So that’s what we know for now, but back to today…

After figuring out what we’re doing for the next few days we headed for the Acropolis. When we arrived we entered by the Theater of Dionysis, the famous theater where the Greek comedies and tragedies of ancient Greece were performed. From there we made our way to the Acropolis, through the Temple of Athena Nike and found ourselves in front of the great Parthenon. We’re not quite a week removed from being in Rome where many of the great Roman ruins are still located, and now to see ancient Greece that is centuries older than Rome is really unbelievable. The only thing that is somewhat unfortunate, and has been true about many of places we’ve seen in Europe, is that renovation work is constantly being done on a lot of the major sites…including the Parthenon. Oh well, we could still see the entire building and got some pretty good pictures too. After the Acropolis we were getting pretty hungry (it’s quite a hike up to the top) so we headed back to the area where our hostel is located because we saw a lot of restaurants in the area; specifically we were looking for gyros. We found a great take-away restaurant where you could get a gyro for only 1.80…and let me tell you, they were fantastic; hardy, heavy, greasy, and great. Most of the food we’ve had so far has been a little lighter, so to speak. Ya know that feeling when your stomach feels really heavy, but in a good way? That’s how we felt after our gyros, which were accompanied by some really fantastic golden, buttery fries. Once we came to after our temporary food coma we went to the Temple of Zeus and then the grounds where the first Olympic Games were held, which has since been renovated and turned into a modern stadium.

After taking in what we could of ancient Athens we headed back to the hostel to get ready to head out by 5 pm in order to catch our 7 pm ferry to Santorini, thinking that was giving ourselves plenty of time. Well we caught the bus shortly after 5 heading to the port and arrived at the port at about 5:45, sort of, I’ll explain. The guy at the hostel said that the bus will “take you right there,” apparently he has a different definition of “right there” than I do. We’re finding out more and more that much of the information we get is only half-true, I’ll explain. Once we got off the bus we still had to walk about 5 blocks to the port, and once we got there we found out even worse news…we were on the opposite side of the port…we needed to be at gate 1, we were at gate 9. I don’t want to get into the whole logistics of a port, but they’re huge, and despite this fact we figured we still had enough time to walk. So we walked, and walked, and walked…30 min later we’re to gate 5 or 6. Finally we were coming up on what appeared to be the last boat in the port so we figured it was gate 1…only to find out we were only at gate 2 and that we had to go out and around to get to gate 1. Lets just say this was bad, it’s 6:45, we can’t even see where we need to go…so we run as fast as we can, stop the first taxi we see, hop in, pay 5 euros, and arrive just in time. I know this explanation was long and drawn out and probably not that exciting, but ya…we gotta stop doing this too ourselves.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Athens Photos

At the theater of Dionysis

View as we walked up the Acropolis

The infamous Parthenon

Erica in front of the Erecthion

Leaving the Acropolis through the Temple of Athena Nike

The site of the Temple of Zeus