Cappadocia, Turkey

Posted by Karie on Feb 11th 2008 03:50 pm

Cappadocia was one of the most interesting, actually surreal, places we have ever been. The story begins with the tale of our first overnight bus. We have done overnight planes and trains before, so we pretty much knew what we were in for. However, what we didn’t count on was being smushed into the very last row of a bus that was 100% full, and felt about 100 degrees.

Scott had the very center seat, meaning there was nothing in front of him except the aisle way (at least until 2am, when more people got on the bus than off, so a little boy had to sit on the floor in front of Scott’s feet). Then there was one couple on Scott’s right, me to his left, and another lucky person shoved into the corner on the other side of me. We were all feeling a little cramped, and to make matters worse, Scott’s seat would not recline, so we were in for a long night.

I got a little sleep in-between the frequent stops, in which I always got out to use the bathroom because I never knew when my next chance would be. (ok, a quick note about that… we were now on the Asian side of Turkey, and the bathrooms were a clear reflection that this was more “foreign” than any place we had yet visited. A hole in the ground, a bucket, a water spout, no toilet paper, no paper towels. Yet they charged you .50 YTL (about .40 cents) to use it.)

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Crete, Greece

Posted by Karie on Feb 7th 2008 08:56 pm

It was another early day heading from Santorini to Heraklion, Crete. In the summer it would be nice to take a ferry, but they are unreliable (or nonexistent) at this time of year, so we took a short flight. We only had one day in Heraklion before heading across the island it Chania, so we hit the ground running… straight to the gyro stand, through the open air market, around several churches, to the end of the harbor and back.

The main attraction of the area is the Palace of Knossos, or what’s left of it. The palace belonged to the Minoans who once inhabited the island, but were wiped out by earthquakes caused by the eruption of the volcano on Santorini. We weren’t able to visit the site of the palace, as it’s a bit too far away considering our time limitations; however, we did visit the archaeological museum which houses some of the artifacts recovered from the ruins.

Today’s Heraklion, as Scott put it, seems to be struggling to find its identity. It’s a large city, so there’s a mix of old, new, charming, and ugly. It’s the capitol of the best known island in Greece, yet it lacks that island charm that exists in the most of the other villages. However, I do have to give them credit for the fact that they put fries in their gyros, and for their fabulous cafés.

The Greek’s seem to think that Nescafé is coffee. In fact they advertise on menus like they expect the foreigners to be excited about it. Luckily, the cafés in Heraklion aren’t really as much about coffee as they are about sitting in plush chairs lining the sidewalks, basking in the sunshine, chatting with friends, or people watching… all of which happen to be among my favorite activities.

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Santorini, Greece

Posted by Karie on Feb 4th 2008 05:28 pm

Thanks to that 5:55am flight from Athens, we made it to Santorini before the sun.  Luckily our hotel let us check in early, so we were able to take a morning nap before heading out for the day.

We knew that February was not the best time of year to visit Santorini, and we were expecting some things to be closed.  March or April certainly would’ve been the ideal time for this trip, as it still beats the high season, but you’re likely to have a little more life on the island.  However, with the amount of traveling we want to do in the next 8 months, something had to come first, and we figured Greek Islands in February would be better than Poland in February!

So there we were.  I know there were other people in our hotel, but I don’t know who they are or where they went during the day, because we underestimated how much would be closed.  I had actually asked a few questions of the hotel before we booked this trip, but certainly not wanting to discourage any amount of tourism in their low season, I think some details were not fully disclosed.

Apparently a lot of Santorini’s business owners don’t actually live on the island, so they go home for the winters & return during peak season.  And while it’s true that there is a bus stop just a few meters from the hotel, upon arrival we learned that those buses are few and far between at this time of year.

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Athens, Greece

Posted by Karie on Feb 1st 2008 05:26 pm

We had heard mixed reviews of Athens, many saying that the city is dirty & overrated.  Apparently there was a lot of truth to that (and probably still is in some parts of the city), but the 2004 Olympics gave Athens a rebirth.  Like any big city, it has both good and bad, but what I liked about Athens is that you didn’t have to venture too far to see all the major sights, so it made a city of 3.7 million feel quite small and charming.

Our friends Thomas & Kaitlin Gertz, who are currently on a 15-month trip around the world, visited Greece just a few months ago.  We have no shame in following someone else’s proven plan.  So before I go any further, thank you Thomas & Kaitlin for the referral to the gyros for 2 Euros!  Between the two of us we ate 7 in 2 days.  That had to be the best tzatziki sauce I’ve ever had.  God bless Sabbas on 86 Metropoleos.

The 2nd great recommendation from Thomas & Kaitlin was our hotel.  No frills on the inside, but a great price in a great location, including a view of the Acropolis from our balcony.  What made this location even more desirable, for this week in particular, was that it gave us a chance to witness a very important part of Greek life and history.

Upon arrival to our hotel, we learned that the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church had died the previous day.  The church was literally across the street from our hotel, with an unobstructed view from the balcony in our room.  Thousands of people were waiting in 4-5 hour lines to enter the church and pay their final respects.  The line did not diminish all day and throughout the night.

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We moved again!

Posted by Karie on Jan 22nd 2008 12:47 pm

As you may recall, the flat where we originally landed in Barcelona was only temporary. For that period of time, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. We loved the flat, it was in a beautiful neighborhood, and we had a wonderful (and helpful) flat mate.

I was honestly a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find another place that we loved so much that was within our price range. The first few (of many) flats we looked at only proved my point.

One in particular was priced at less than half of what we budgeted, the reason being that it could only be rented from month-to-month, as the building was scheduled to be renovated. Since the owner wasn’t sure when the renovations would begin (after all, this is Spain… mañana, mañana, mañana…), he would benefit from having at least some income from an otherwise empty flat, and we would benefit from the price break under the condition that we could move with very little notice.

Knowing that the building was in need of renovation, we weren’t expecting much, but at this price, we figured we would have to HATE it in order to pass up saving that much money for a month or two. Well, we hated it. Actually, we were afraid of it.

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Paris, France

Posted by Karie on Dec 30th 2007 02:50 pm

Loosely following Frommer’s guide to “Paris in 2 days”, we started out with a bang.  Our first day began at the Louvre, the most visited art museum in the world.  It used to be a fortified royal palace, and it has been re-built and added to several times over the centuries, with parts of the existing building dating back to the 1500’s.  This place is massive.  You could run through the halls all day long and still not see everything.  Since Mr. Frommer had a huge list for us to accomplish that day, we prioritized.

We pretty much made a beeline for the Mona Lisa.  If you’ve never seen her, you might be surprised… some would even say disappointed.  It’s relatively small and unassuming.  I personally think that if they were to secretly move it into another area of the gallery without the plexiglas, ropes and guards, one might easily pass by and not give it a second look.  Nevertheless, it’s always cool to see a “masterpiece.”

We spent a couple hours hitting some of the other highlights, such as Venus de Milo, the crown jewels, etc., then we moved on.  We crossed Seine via the Pont Neuf, wandered through some parks, visited Notre Dame, walked the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and ended the day at the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived around dusk, just as they illuminated the tower, giving an orange-colored hue to the clouds above, which hid the very top of the tower.  I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower before, but for some reason it seemed so much more magnificent this time.

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t’was the day before christmas and all through the bus…

Posted by Karie on Dec 24th 2007 08:34 pm

Scott & I figured that Christmas Eve would be a nice day to take mom and dad to Parc Güell, for some of the most interesting architecture and scenery in Barcelona.  The park sits atop a hill, and there’s no easy way to get there (especially for our “Senior Citizen Tour Group”, as I lovingly refer to my parents).

Even the Metro doesn’t get you very close; however, we discovered that Bus 24 does!  Brilliant!  Mom and dad have not yet experienced this form of public transportation in Barcelona, so it will be like 2 adventures in 1.  What we didn’t count on was the bus being a bigger adventure than the day’s planned activities.

Come to find out, the buses were striking this day, so only about 25% were in operation.  This apparently makes for crowded buses, as determined citizens force their way onto a bus that you’re sure can’t hold one more person.

Mom and dad caught the bus near their hotel, and we later hopped on the same bus just outside our flat.  My parents situated themselves near the rear door, in an effort to gasp for fresh air at every stop, and Scott & I were at the front of the bus.

About ½-way through our cozy ride, a distinguished looking man in the middle of the bus started causing quite a stir.  He was yelling at another man in Spanish, and it took us a while to figure out that he was accusing that man of trying to pickpocket him.

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Road Trip: Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco

Posted by Karie on Dec 20th 2007 08:27 pm

The road trip continues as we head for the French Riviera, stopping in Nice for a couple of nights. “Côte d’Azur” (the blue coast), as they call it, is exactly what you see in the movies. Sand, crystal blue waters, and luxury cars as far as the eye can see.

From Nice, you can catch a 20-minute train to Monaco, which is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen.  With roughly 32,000 residents, Monaco is the world’s 2nd smallest independent nation (following Vatican City)… and definitely among the wealthiest.  Walking through the casino in Monte Carlo makes the high rollers in Vegas look like amateurs.

We spent the first half of the day browsing through a Christmas market along the harbor.  There were vendors selling specialty gifts and food.  And of course, no sidewalk market on the sunny blue coast would be complete without a man-made winter wonderland for children, including ice skating, snow showing, skiing, snowmobiling, and a Christmas train.  It was possibly better than actually going to the snow.

From there, we walked along the Mediterranean, with yachts to the right and designer boutiques to the left, as we approached the infamous casino.  The front was lined with Ferraris, Bentleys, and an occasional Smart Car for the “green” millionaires.  Even the taxis are Mercedes.

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