Friday, May 4, 2007

Oh Good Greek: The Peloponnese, Santorini and Mykonos.


The Peloponnese - Nafplio and Olympia
I love that I've lost track of the days of the week! I am truely in Holiday Mode.
On what must've been... Friday, I left Athens for Nafplio, "one of Greece's prettiest towns," according to Lonely Planet. It is a small, heavily Venetian-influenced town on the Mitroon Sea. I hadn't exactly set out intending to go there, but having arrived at Terminal A in Athens just before 7am, I couldn't bear the thought of waiting 'til 9:30 for the bus to Olympia.

While I waited for my 8am departure, I had my first Greek coffee. I'm not going to use that particular coffee as my benchmark for what appears to be a hugely popular Greek drink. I am, however, beginning to understand why the espresso-type coffee is also served with a glass of water.
On the way to Nafplio, the bus passed through Corinth (or Korinthos or Corinthia, depending on which map/sign you're looking at. It's a wonder more tourists don't go missing in Greece). We also passed over the Corinth canal (avlaki - "ditch"), a mighitly impressive structure. We then went through Mycenae (Mikines), home to the oldest European monument. I had considered going to see it, but with my 17kg backpack, walking 2km into town from where the bus dropped people off on the highway wasn't all that appealing. I later heard from a fellow backpacker that the Lion's Gate ain't so impressive.
Arriving in Nafplio, I took advantage of a moment when the lady at the bus station wasn't screaming at someone down the phone to ask about buses to Olympia the following day.
After being directed by the tourist office and numerous locals to the Hotel Economou, I dumped my 17kg appendage and went for a walk... and that's pretty much all I did for the rest of the day. I walked past the start of the 1000-step climb to the Fortress of Palamidi (built by the Venetians between 1711 and 1714), but to be honest, after my two full-on days in Athens, was a little historied-out. Instead, I walked around the headland, enjoying the view. The beaches are very pretty - but so rocky!
[beach at Nafplio]
[Fortress of Palamidi]
I spent most of the rest of the day just walking around the town, sitting in the park to read, then walking some more. There were so many school kids - I think Nafplio must be a big excursion venue! Something I'm unsure of, though, is the legal drinking and smoking age in Greece. It must be very young...
The main thing that stood out to me in Nafplio was the cute little Italian-y Old Town. It was packed with jewellery stores, souvenir shops and restaurants, but the buildings were very cute. The girl I was sharing a room with that night (Alba, from Kilara!) said that if I liked that, I'll really enjoy Italy. She and I chatted for a few hours before bed. It was so nice to have some company.
I got up early on Saturday to go for a run, but it seems it was too early for the owners of the Hotel Economou, because I was locked in! Rather than go back to bed, I took advantage of the extra hour and had a long shower and shaved my legs - travelling alone has made me pretty gross...
At 6:30, while I was in the shower, I heard Mr Hotel Economou rummaging about downstairs. Oh well.
I was quite early for my 8:30 bus to Tripoli, so bought some lemon yoghurt (yum!) and sat in the park to have breakfast.
Once I'd bought my ticket from the Crazy Phone Lady, I gave Tiffany a quick call (she'd just bought a couch - it's all very exciting!) then settled in to wait...
At Tripoli, I had an hour to kill before my connection to Olympia, so bought a "caffelatte" which was served with a straw!
The trip to Olympia started out as a beautiful, leisurely drive through some beautiful, mountainous towns. After four hours, the towns eren't so cute... That's something I've noticed in Greece - they don't tell you when you're going to arrive, so the whiney inner child keeps asking "are we there yet?"
Olympia is a small town, clearly only relying on tourism. And I would guess that outside of Olympic years, it must be pretty quiet. When I went to the hostel, the owner was having a siesta (I'd forgotten about those - between 2 and 4pm, Nafplio was a ghost town), and when I signed in I noticed that they'd had one guest each night - if that! It kind of reminded me of that Roald Dahl short story about the taxidermist... so I was quite glad when a French Canadian woman who reminded me a little of Alpha Gregory and Sheana Hayden came to share my room.
The ruins of the Ancient Olympics are quite interesting - some 2500 years old! There was also this great story on one of the information boards which said that the Bases of Zanes - 16 of which are still standing - were erected using the funds from athletes who had been fined for cheating. The statues led towards the entrance to the stadium - intentionally placed in order to remind entering athletes of the ramificastions of cheating!

[the Bases of Zanes]


Another highlight was, of course, seeing Hera's Altar - where the Olympic flame is lit every four years.

[Hera's Altar]


To make up for the morning's failed attempt (and what better place?) I went for a jog before dinner. I met George the Jogger - a jewellery seller who'd run with the flame four times. He gave me a postcard to prove it and everything. Too funny...

That night, I packed my bags as best I could because - once again - I was intending to be up before dawn to continue my tour of Greece.

What a long day! I got up at 5:30 and snuck out of the hostel (having checked the night before that I would be able to get out!), and sat at the "bus stop" (the statue on the corner that I'd been told to wait at - Greek buses are weird), enjoying my breakfast as the sun crept over the horizon. The bus was supposed to be there at 6:30. It wasn't.

[dawn at the "bus stop" in Olympia]

Luckily, after walking the length of the main drag, I just so happened to be passing the train station as the train pulled in. Six-and-a-half hours, and foru train changes later (should've been three, but I jumped ship one stop early) and I was in Pireas. I bought my ticket for the 3 o'clock ferry, grabbed a spinach and fetta pie thing (calories be damned), and boarded the boat. It was such a relief to be on that darn boat! I met a nice Chinese girl named Chris, and an Aussie couple, and we bonded over our dislike of the way smoking inside is acceptable in Greece. It isn't until you can't escape cigarette smoke that you realise how lucky you are to live in a country like Australia!

I pulled out my sleeping bag and used it as a pillow, and used my very useful thus far sleeping sheet - and after popping in my earplugs, managed to actually sleep pretty soundly until 6am!

Santorini


One thing that I will get out of my system now is this: Santorini's bus system sucks. We arrived at the main dock at Santorini at around 6am, and after fobbing off numerous men trying to sell their hotel to me (and, as continues to be the case, rip me off), I discovered that there wouldn't be a bus into the main town - Fira - until 11am! I ended up sharing a cab with Chris, and a German couple. I left the three of them at Fira and ventured out on my own to find accommodation. I ended up at "Santorini Camping," the cheapest option recommended by Lonely Planet. After a couple of failed attempts at following the Lonely Planet's suggestions, I was a little wary, but luckily it did exist, and though my hired single man tent is cozy, if not claustrophobic, it's the cheapest accommodation I've had since Thailand.
After a shower (in the only hot water shower at the camp ground) I wandered the tourist agency-, souvenir shop-, cafe-filled streets of Fira for a little while, and then decided to walk to Oia (ee-ah), a town at the northern end of the island. It was supposed to be a three hour stroll along the Caldera, but every time I stopped to ask directions, it seemed Oia got further and further away - first 9km, then 12km, and along the highway rather than the coast. I decided to try anyway, and though I got stuck about 40 minutes north of Fira, it was a nice little stroll. I also did a little bit of (unintentional) rock climbing, trying to reach the top ofa peak just off the coast. I was about a metre from the summit when I realised that even if I did lift myself up to the top, it'd be pretty tough to get down again. So near and yet so far!

[my great rock climbing adventure]


I headed back into town and called home - my 5 euro phone card is like the Enegiser Bunny! I was feeling a little down - lonely, I guess - but then a donkey clip-clopped past, and I couldn't help but laugh.

I spent the afternoon figuring out ferry schedules (I've decided just to go to Mykonos and not Naxos - it's just too expensive), and eating a delicious salad sandwich (fresh veggies - hooray!). At around 3pm I took the bus to Perissa beach and sat on a dodgy banana loung for a while, reading and enjoying the view (that is, when my chair wasn't collapsing under me). I walked along the black pebbled beach and then headed to the bus stop.

[Perissa beach]

The bus was, of course, running late, but I got chatting to a nice woman from Athens named Maria. The bus eventually turned up and I headed back to the camp ground for an early night. As the sun goes down at around 8:30 and I don't have a torch, this was my bed time. I woke at 10:45, thinking it was dawn! I didn't sleep as well as on the boat, but the more money I save now, the more fun I can have in Paris. I've decided to try and spend as little as possible in the next few days, and try not to withdraw any more money until Sunday when I head to France. We shall see how this goes...

My second morning in Santorini was much nicer than the first. I got up at 7am and headed for Oia - and this time was successful! I don't know where I took the right turn, but all of a sudden I was north of the peak I'd climbed the day before... and it turned out to be far less impressive a climb than I'd thought - I'd only gone up the top eight of it, if that!


[ha - not such an impressive climb after all]

But the walk to Oia was lovely, and I had three dogs follow me (and lead me at times), so I had a great time.

[my guide dogs, nicknamed Buddy, Other Guy and Blondie (not in picture)]

[Oia]

After looking around Oia for a little while (pretty, bug again more cafes and souvenir shops), and then waited for over an hour for the bus back to Fira. by the time I was back at the campground I was freezing cold, so took a long, hot shower. On my way back into town, I popped into the camp office and met "the boss." I asked whether, if it rained (which it looked like it might), there might be an alternate form of accommodation. He laughed, said it wouldn't rain, but showeed me their dorm room (which I hadn't known existed) and said that if it did rain, I could stay there. I then paid the recetionist - who I think was Italian because he said "ciao" and spoke only in English to his boss - for my two nights. He tried to charge me 5 euros per night just for hirin gthe tent! When I balked he said it would be 2.50. So much for his "it is only a tent - it will not be much" from the day before.

So, in a less than happy mood I set off to find a supermarket to buy my next few days' meals. I got a little lost, and the spitting rain turned to showers, so when I returned to the camp ground, soaking wet, I chucked a rather impressive tanty at "the boss" and the receptionist, and they let me stay in one of their proper rooms (somehow the dorm was forgotten) for free. I was so cold and wet, I just hopped into bed and read for the rest of the evening, listening to the rain and wind and thanking my lucky stars I was inside.

Santorini > Mykonos
Taking the long, slow boat to Mykonos seemed like a bad idea first thing on Wednesday. Once again, public transport was screwing me over. The first bus went to the pier at 11am, but my boat was at 9am! So, no choice but to take a taxi. At 10 euros, I was not wanting to take a taxi on my own, and after sitting and waiting for over an hour for other backpackers to turn up and share a cab with me, I did what any lone female traveller does in a time of semi-desperation would do: I cried a little, hoping the taxi driver would have some compassion. Just as I was about to give up, two people wearing backpacks appeared! Hooray - my fellow cheapskates! We split the taxi to the ferry and were on our way.
On the ferry I met a girl from Melbourne named Kat, who has been travelling Europe for many months. In the nine hours to Mykonos, she gave me quite a bit of advice, and - though I'm still a little wary after Barry, the slightly-odd guy I met in Chiang Mai - I decided to share a room with Kat in Mykonos.


Mykonos

I was pretty intimidated by Mykonos. Everyone says it's the most touristy and most expensive Greek island, and the four women who accosted me and Kat as we stepped off the boat were pretty full-on, but I found Mykonos quite charming. After Santorini's Nothing-But-Souvenirs main town, Mykonos, with its little Mom'n'Pop grocery stores and sheets hanging from lines draped across cobbled streets was quite sweet.
[easy to get lost... Mykonos]

Kat and I ended up in a huge apartment - enough to sleep four people - with a lounge room and kitchen! We went for a walk, got our bearings (as best one can in Mykonos), bought some groceries and then went home and cooked dinner! It was all very exciting.
After the daily American movie that is shown on TV at 9pm, we went to sleep, with the intention of being up at 7:15 for a run. We only ran for 20 minutes, but once we found our apartment again, it would've been stupid to go running off again. If I can get lost in Athens, I can get horrendously lost in Mykonos!
After breakfast, we walked to nearby Ornos, a pretty little beach, but - like so many others at this time of year - almost completely deserted.

[Ornos beach]

We were back to check out by noon, and then began the mammoth ten- and twelve-and-a-half hour waits for our ferries. With backpacks, it's a little difficult to really go anywhere!
We waited until the sun had set, then caught a taxi to the seemingly very new (and therefore makeshift) "New Port." I said goodbye to Kat, and boarded my boat. I met a lovely guy from Terrigal, and we both tried to sleep - with a football match blaring on the TV til 1:30am.

[Mykonos's famous windmills... with no sails...?]


Back in Athens


Joel (my new Aussie buddy) and I spent a few hours wandering around Metaxourgio, waiting for my hostel to let me check in, and waiting for his train to Patra - the crazy kid was going from Mykonos to Venice in 24 hours!

I checked into the good old Victor Hugo, showered (ah, luxury), and set off into town to post some things home that I've been intending to post for ages. Three hours later, and I am trying to remind myself that I really do like Athens - a beautiful city that should not be judged by those working at the local post office!
The next 48 hours will be spent doing very little, I am sure, so I shall write again from Paris! I can't wait!

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Tami, you're leaving us hanging! Steph and I are checking your blog every day to try to get some relief from the usual workday grind of dodgy CV after dodgy CV. We need to live vicariously through you, so have some more awesome adventures and blog about them...QUICKLY!

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