A Travellerspoint blog

Eight Days a Week

Day 6
Myth Busters

This morning we began in Crete and went on our second and final tour – to Knossos (pronounced with the ‘k’) Palace. Our guide was quite entertaining. At first, she spoke very slowly (but with good pronunciation!), and it was putting me to sleep on the bus. Not a good sign. However, I was thrilled when I noticed that she spoke EXACTLY like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding – it was amazing! She had the same rhythm to her speech and explained a bunch of words that came from “the Greek.”

The palace itself was interesting, but mostly rubble with a few reconstructions and some beautiful (but fake) frescoes. The most famous fresco was a bull at the entrance, and I laughed because it was a redbull! The one thing I was disappointed about was not getting to see the famed labyrinth. As the myth goes, the Minotaur, with the body of a man and the head of a bull, lived in the labyrinth outside the palace where he was fed fourteen sacrificed Athenian youths every certain number of years. It turns out, however, that the labyrinth doesn’t actually exist. “Labyrinth” refers to the palace itself, because of how many rooms there are and how confusing the palace was to navigate compared to other homes and buildings of that time. (We also learned that the Minoan civilization is one of the earliest recorded, so they can claim the first palace, throne, king, etc.) The family from dinner last night was on our tour as well, and it was fun to spend more time with them and laugh at how our guide repeated about eight times where we were supposed to meet our bus: in the same spot, right here, this exact place, etc.

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We then had an hour in Iraklion, the capital of Crete (and named after the hero Hercules), where we walked around and found another fort. Margaret went in, but I didn’t want to pay the euro entrance fee since we only had about 7 minutes before having to turn back and find the bus in the exact spot, right where we left it, in that exact place. Margaret had the “brilliant” (and yes, I do mean that sarcastically,) idea of continuing along the shore rather than backtracking into town to find our bus. Her plan was to just cut up through the city right where the bus was parked so that until then we could see more of the harbor. This would have been a good idea, except that the street that would have allowed us to find our bus from the shore didn’t exist. At all. The time we were supposed to be back on the bus (11:45) gave us literally just enough time to return to the ship before it took off (at noon), so when that street didn’t appear, I got very nervous. Luck, however, was actually on our side. We found the ship right about the time we were supposed to be on the bus! We felt terrible about missing it because everyone was probably waiting for us, so we raced up to reception and explained our little mishap. The guy just laughed and said he’d call the tour guide, and then we happily continued on to lunch with clear consciences.

Our last, and for me most anticipated, stop was Santorini! We went up on deck early to watch our approach to the island, and I was surprised because it was so tall! We sailed into the Caldera, where the volcano blew up many years ago and part of the island sunk into the sea, which, by the way, is (supposedly) the lost island of Atlantis. Anyway, it was quite windy on deck and Margaret and I entertained ourselves by playing with our scarves which were whipping around like mad.

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Santorini was different than I expected. From the pictures, it seemed like the traditional white buildings (capped with blue roofs) reached all the way down to the water, but for the most part the towns are actually up along the ridge. Therefore, you have to take a tram or donkey ride up to the top! You can walk too, but that requires using the same path as the donkeys, and let’s just say … they haven’t been potty-trained yet.

We chose the cable car which was the fastest and least smelly route, and made it up to the top to see an absolutely gorgeous view of the town Thira. We quickly walked through the tourist shop area and went on a hunt for a good place to watch the sunset, allegedly the most beautiful one in the world. At one point we walked by all these people looking up and taking pictures of something. They had professional-looking cameras, tripods, the works. As Margaret duly noted, even I had been out-camera-ed. We looked up to see what was causing all the commotion, and the answer is – just a roof. But it was a very pretty roof. A dome, actually, if you want to be technical. The dome and the walls were painted a warm yellow, and they practically glowed in the evening sunlight. I followed like a lemming and took as many photos as I could before Margaret pulled me onwards.

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Another interesting thing about our location on Santorini was that from certain, narrow spots on the ridge we could look down and see both sides of the island! The other half wasn’t as picturesque, but that’s okay. It was still Santorini, which is more than most places can claim! As we walked along the ridge we saw many pools with ridiculously amazing views, and I definitely plan to go back and use one someday!

We walked along the path on the edge of the ridge (don’t worry – there was a wall and a few houses protecting us from the deathly plunge) and thoroughly enjoyed the view. I have to admit, it was absolutely a beautiful sunset. There are a few other islands close to Santorini, I assume they were connected before the volcano erupted, and seeing the sun slowly setting with its light reflecting off the islands, water, and ships was simply breathtaking.

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Margaret: Even though Emily’s camera is better than mine, we wanted to get a picture of the sunset with both of us in it. We found a great spot with very few tourists and the perfect wall to set up my camera and its timer to face us sitting on the wall. The only problem was that my little camera couldn’t handle the sun so either my head was missing or Emily was cut out of the picture. This went on for a while until we finally came the realization that we could use Emily’s camera and just Photoshop each other together. We felt so smart at that moment.

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Can you tell which is which?

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When we arrived back on the ship, we debated about whether we should get dinner first or pick up our passports since it was the last day of the cruise. Then a man behind us – who worked on the ship – said “get them now because tomorrow morning I’m going to sell them!” Even though we knew he was joking, he said it seriously and we just cracked up! We did end up following his advice though, just in case.

Posted by ecfong 14:00 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Eight Days a Week

sunny 25 °C

Day 5
Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

Today was absolutely beautiful – hot and sunny, and we spent the whole time on the island of Rhodes. No excursion once again, because we decided we could get to Lindos (the only pace worth seeing on Rhodes according to Margaret’s dad) on our own for much cheaper. Yes – we were going to take the bus; no more silly walking ideas entered our heads. Lindos didn’t end up happening though because the first bus stop we found only had information in Greek, which really was not helpful, and when we found another bus stop that did have English, we decided it wouldn’t be worth the trouble because in addition to the bus ticket both ways, we had to pay to get up the hill once we were there unless we wanted to WALK (ha.) and then pay to get into the acropolis too. That didn’t sound so appealing after all, so we just stayed by the Old Town all day and ended up having a blast!

We sat by the water for a while, admiring the view of a fort, statues commemorating one of the lost ancient wonders of the world, the boats going in and out of the harbor, and the young fisherman to our left. As for the wonder of the world, apparently there used to be a giant statue of the god Helios straddling the harbor entrance, but we didn’t know what it was supposed to look like until we found a tourist shop later with post cards (and tiles and dish towels) with illustrations of the wondrous sight. Unfortunately, it fell down in an earthquake many years ago, so that’s why there are just other, not quite as impressive, statues there now.

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I finally got too hot just sitting in the sun, so we went into the Old Town to have a look around. When we first started exploring, we ended up between the two walls surrounding the city, and we had to walk a ways before we could get through them to see what was inside. It was so much fun in there! After we walked through the walls to get inside the actual town, we found a bunch of shops and restaurants as well as a few historical buildings like a library and a bell tower.

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We finally stopped for food, and my dessert - a massive piece of baklava - turned out to be more expensive than my lunch! (But totally worth it.) The lady who ran the little café ended up coming out and sitting at our table, but she didn’t speak very good English so it was awkward trying to have a conversation. It didn’t really matter though, because one of her three cell phones went off and she was busy talking on it until we were finished with our food anyway. It was kind of funny.

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On our way out of the Old Town, we walked down a street with many inns representing different countries. I wouldn’t really have noticed them, except that I’d just read in our guide book about the Lane of Tongues (named for all the different languages spoken there). I was quite proud that I recognized it!

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Evening attire for dinner back on the ship was “elegant,” so I wore my sadly wrinkled but somewhat fancy blue skirt. We sat with the same people from the night before, but the intense lady actually ended up switching tables to sit with some friends she had made. That was fine with the rest of us because I think she scared everyone a bit. For dessert we had Baked Alaska; it was literally on fire as the waiters presented them with song (Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot) and parade. It was an entertaining but odd end to a very good day.

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

Eight Days a Week

sunny

Day 4
The early bird just loses sleep.

Today was an interesting day. I woke up extra early to shower before our excursion to Ephesus, and although my internal clock wasn’t as messed up as Margaret’s, it still wasn’t happy. We arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey, but there was some problem while docking so we sat in the lounge with the other excursion people for over an hour waiting to be let off. At 6:45 in the morning, it was not an enjoyable use of my time.

But – once we started the tour I had a blast! Ephesus (or its remains) is one of the oldest cities in the world and also the place where St. John preached before he was exiled. The city itself was very cool because it really was a whole city rather than a few piles of significantly aged rocks. We saw two theaters, the third largest library of the ancient world, a brothel (supposedly connected to the library by a secret tunnel), and a few colonnades. Our tour guide was very good as well, a local who was proud of her country and obviously enjoyed sharing it with others. We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to just look around, but that’s okay I guess.

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Our other stop on the tour was at a shop back in Kusadasi where we learned about Turkish rugs and how they’re made. It was really interesting because we saw a woman doing some actual weaving – she had to tie a knot around every single thread without getting them mixed up, and then cut the excess thread off once a whole row was finished. Each row takes about two hours, so a whole rug takes anywhere from a few months to many years to complete! That certainly explains why they’re so expensive! Apparently the art of weaving is (somewhat) dying out in Turkey, so the government is subsidizing something about it, to keep girls learning how to weave and thus the tradition alive. Pretty nifty, huh?

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Then we were shown a bunch of carpets. It was so cool! It was a performance really, because while the manager spoke and explained about the different styles of rugs, three or four other men kept pulling rolled up rugs from the side wall and tossing them out on the floor in front of us at a very impressive rate. They’d obviously done the whole presentation many times before because it was very well coordinated. And I thought it was funny how the level of the floor kept rising because of the number of rugs on it. We were encouraged to feel them and walk on them because, as our host explained, the older the rug is – the more valuable it is, so by walking on it we were making it older and actually helping him out by increasing its value!

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Margaret: They offered us traditional Turkish drinks during the presentation which we enjoyed. I ordered hot apple tea while Emily ordered cold. They were both really good. The best part was that during the presentation he said that the rugs he was showing us would last hundreds of years because of the quality of them. If they did not last more than 100 years, he said you could just bring it back and he would personally give you another which made everyone laugh.

Before we jumped back on the boat we went through a little bazaar area. Margaret found a (fake) Burberry purse that she loved but didn’t have enough cash to pay for. The guy selling it, however, would not let her leave until she bought it anyway. It was incredible how persistent he was in making the sale – it almost would have been creepy if he hadn’t been friendly/funny, and from my end it was just entertaining. I believe the final price agreed upon after MUCH haggling and admiring in the mirror came to $24 and €5, or something like that. Good thing it was a cute purse, because it took a lot of effort to get it.

Margaret: The reason for the strange amount was because I only had 5 euros left. I told him I would go to the cash machine and be right back but he insisted that if I left I would not come back so I told him I couldn’t buy it then because all I had was American dollars and he said it was okay. So I bought my first (fake) Burberry!

Back on the boat we sailed through the narrowest bit of water separating Turkey and Greece, and from the deck we could see both countries at the same time which was cool.

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I noticed my camera battery was finally getting low, so I went back to our cabin to get it charging, and I was absolutely HORRIFIED to discover that my converter didn’t work! This is the second time that this particular converter, one that’s supposed to work for all countries, has failed me. I thought the first time it didn’t work was just because one of the prongs was wrong for British outlets, but apparently the problem is something else altogether. As you can probably guess, to put it mildly, I was not pleased. But I wasn’t worried either; I just went to the gift shop to buy another one. My brilliant plan would have worked if the store carried U.S. to Europe converters, but unfortunately, there were only ones to convert British plugs to the rest of Europe – not very helpful. That’s when I started to panic. Or despair. One of the two. Either way it was not good.

Only the first bit of the battery was missing on the little gage, but I’ve learned that my battery looks full until it’s almost empty, and then rapidly decreases to nothing, rather than showing when I actually have a half or quarter of battery life left. Therefore, my battery was not going to last until the end of the trip unless I significantly decreased the number of pictures I took. I knew Margaret at least would be happy because I wouldn’t be stopping every two seconds anymore to take pictures. But I was still sad.

Our next stop was Patmos, the island where St. John lived after being exiled from Ephesus. We took a tender boat to reach the shore, and we decided to walk up to the monastery at the top of the ridge rather than pay for another excursion. Unfortunately, we ended up going in the wrong, but certainly scenic, direction and had to back-track before we found the right path. I'd realized by the lack of taxis and tour buses that we were probably not on the right road, but at least it wasn’t as touristy!

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The people at the excursion desk told us it was about a fifteen minute walk to the monastery (assuming you don't get lost). However, when we saw it way at the top of the ridge, we knew there was no chance we’d get up there that fast. Once we found the right direction, we walked up the long switchback road, following signs that weren’t always clear. We found a trail for part of the journey that was steeper but eliminated the need for the switchbacks, thus making the walking distance shorter. Even though it was hard work, we decided that rather than take a taxi it was best to follow in the footsteps of St. John and hoof it. (And we were just being cheap.)

Margaret: As we huffed and puffed up the side of the mountain we second guessed ourselves on deciding to walk up. As we were complaining about the heat and the fact that we were potentially heading the wrong way again, I started to joke that “we are experiencing Patmos the way St. John experienced it.” That cheered us up until the next turn of the switchback.

It was a very pretty island, and when we finally made it to the top the views were breathtaking! St. John certainly chose a beautiful place to be exiled. And I used a few of my precious shots to capture the view. Unfortunately, the camera just couldn’t do justice to what we saw. It really was amazing – the little town was laid out in front of us with the sun setting on the horizon, and we could feel the fresh air blowing by and a bringing with it a sense of achievement for making it to the top. Then - it was time to turn around and go back because we had to be at the ship's restaurant for our assigned dinner time.

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While walking up the mountain, we'd agreed to take a taxi back down, but then when it was time we couldn’t find one anywhere! So we just had to start the trek back on foot. On the way a few taxis sped by us, but unfortunately they weren’t available. We determined that there must have been a taxi stand at the top that we’d just missed, and the drivers were being called for waiting customers. I finally flagged one down, but it had to deliver its customers at the bottom before it could come back for us.

By this time, we were really cutting it close to making it back for dinner, and I was getting slightly nervous because I didn’t want to go to bed hungry. Our driver returned quickly though, which was good, and he spoke enough English to have an entertaining conversation with us. He asked what we thought of the island and the monastery and who we were voting for and what had happened to the dollar.

Margaret: He was a little mad at us because we had hiked all the way up to the monastery but had not gone to visit the cave of St. John. As he put it, “there are hundreds of monasteries in Greece but only one cave of the Apocalypse.” I was thinking about retorting with “If there were proper signs we would have known how the find the cave” but I withheld.

When he learned that we’d walked up the mountain, he was horrified and told us Rhodes (tomorrow’s destination) was a big island and we were to take a bus or a taxi or something but not to walk. And after today - I will be more than happy to take his advice. We finally arrived at the bottom and had to pay €10 for half a ride, which was rather pricey in my opinion, but if we hadn’t gotten the ride we wouldn’t have gotten dinner.

But don’t worry – the adventure continues! As we tried to board the tender boat, Margaret realized she LOST her boarding card – the one thing that lets you back onto the ship! Fortunately, they weren’t going to leave her on Patmos, and when we got back to the ship we learned that the Second Lieutenant had actually found the card on the ground somewhere (after Margaret had used it to check out) and returned it. That was certainly a relief! The man who checked us in that night always commented to Margaret after that, saying “oh good you have your card” and laughing, which I thought was funny, although Margaret didn’t always agree.

We did in fact make it back in time for dinner, for those of you who were wondering, and surprisingly we were the first ones at our table! The next lady to arrive – scared me. She was on (well-deserved) military leave, but had a very intense personality. She was extremely vocal about her likes, or dislikes rather, meaning the food and wine she’d ordered. Fortunately, the family that arrived to finish off our little group was very nice – two retired professors and their daughter in grad school. However, the intense lady heard about my little converter problem (after I’d related my tale of woe to the grad student daughter) and ended up letting me borrow one of hers, (one that actually worked!) and for that I will be eternally grateful to her, intense personality or no.

Posted by ecfong 12:20 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Eight Days a Week

sunny

Day 3
Here Comes the Sun

We made it to our cruise before the boat left, which was exciting, especially because it took a few tries to figure out the bus and where to go once we got off. Such stress is not appreciated on vacation. But - the important thing is that we made it! Our first order of business was participating in an emergency drill, so we went to our room, put on our life jackets, went to our designated meeting place in the dining room, sat there, and left. Very exciting. Then we listened to a presentation about all the excursions we could go on if we wanted to pay even more money than we already had just to get on the boat.

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The weather was beautiful, and I really enjoyed just standing at the railing, watching the islands go by in the distance, and feeling the wind on my face. My sunglasses came in very handy because they kept my hair from whipping into my eyes and blinding me, and for that I was grateful. I noticed later that the deck chairs had been moved out of their nice straight lines and were now bunched up in one corner. I didn’t particularly care, but I couldn’t figure out why people would have wanted to be that close to each other while sunbathing. Then, with the movement of the boat, I realized that the chairs had adjusted their position with the help of wind and waves rather than people. I was entertained.

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Our first and only stop for the day was the island of Mykonos. We arrived at 6pm and decided to take the shuttle bus into town because, even though we could do the half hour walk for free, we really didn’t want to trek back in the dark. Once we arrived, my camera came out and pretty much didn’t go back in until it was too dark too work properly. Margaret heaved a sigh of relief at that point because she could finally walk without having to stop every two seconds to wait for me to catch up. We saw lots of stereotypical white-washed buildings that looked like charming lumps of clay with blue trimming. It was wonderful. The area was stunningly beautiful, and it was fun to walk around all the little streets (not big enough for cars!) and check out the shops and restaurants. We went into a few shops and although I was tempted, I didn’t buy anything. Until we found the baklava that is. We needed a snack since dinner was waiting for us on the boat, so we walked around until we found a little bakery. We ended up getting “baklava nests” which were little round desserts with different flavors in the middle – in my case, one with orange and one with chocolate. Delicious!

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Back on the boat, we went to the restaurant for dinner and sat with two women from Spokane (Margaret had spied their Gonzaga luggage tags earlier) and a couple from Holland who spoke multiple languages. It was more sociable than lunch because we all had something in common – Mykonos – which was nice. Margaret gave me a hard time for not knowing how to eat spaghetti properly (with a spoon), but it’s not my fault my mom never taught me how! And really, now that I know, I say my way was better in the first place. Less work and more fun. A good philosophy in general, I think!

Posted by ecfong 15:53 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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