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  4. Clare

    Day 9: Delphi to Athens

    It was a bright sunny day when we woke up in Delphi this morning. After breakfast in our hotel, we enjoyed a final look at the view from our balcony, and then it was time to set off on our journey back to Athens. We knew we had about 3 hours of driving ahead of us, but as our flight back to London wasn't until 20.00 this evening, we wanted to try to do something more interesting with the day than drive straight down the motorway back to Athens. From doing some research online last night, we found that there is an "old" route between Delphi and Athens which doesn't involve going on the toll road. That sounded like it might be a lot more scenic! Our journey started by leaving Delphi behind and driving towards the small village of Itea. Itea is situated on the coast and we thought it was the seaside town that we had been able to see in the distance from our balcony. We found a place to park and admired the impressive Greek Orthodox church. It was really beautiful. We walked down from the church to the seafront. The views here were really beautiful too. We watched a fishing boat coming into the harbour, completely surrounded by seagulls! And when we turned our backs on the sea, we could see up to Delphi on the slopes above. We left Itea and began to drive through the mountains, in the direction of a town called Distomo. The road here was really spectacular... ...and we had some more incredible views out to sea. It's hard to make out in the photo, but there was a beautiful little Orthodox church with a blue roof on the top of the hill in front of us at this viewpoint. We continued around the coast for a while... ...before stopping by the sea in Distomo. There were some great views here too, and a little lighthouse. From here our route took us inland. We drove through the nearby town of Livadia, but didn't stop because it all looked rather industrial. We continued on via minor roads to the village of Chaeronea, where we had read online that there was an ancient theatre. There was indeed, and it was quite an unusual one, carved into the side of the mountain. We drove on more tiny roads, past interesting churches, towards the village of Orchomenus. There was a pretty monastery here.... ...as well as another ancient theatre. It was mid-afternoon by this point, so we needed to make progress back towards Athens. Tim successfully navigated the route back in and we handed back the hire car without any problems. Phew. We had just enough time to head back to one of the restaurants we'd enjoyed during the week for a late lunch. Tim went for a dish of beef and onions, in a tomato sauce... ...while I decided to try a Greek dish called pastitsio, which was basically like a Greek lasagne It was a lovely meal, and a fun end to what has been a really great holiday. Greece has definitely surpassed my expectations, and I'm not sure anywhere will ever surpass the view from our Delphi hotel
  5. Clare

    Day 8: Delphi

    The weather looked a bit sunnier this morning when we woke up in Delphi and went to check the view from our balcony. It still hasn't come out terribly well in the photo, but we could see the blue sea in the distance a lot more clearly We had breakfast in the hotel and then began walking towards the archaeological site, which is a few hundred metres up the road from where we are staying. As we walked along the road, we began to get wonderful views along the valley in the opposite direction as well. The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was a mystical place and the centre of the universe; looking at these views, it's not hard to understand why they were so impressed by it. It costs €12 for a ticket to get into the ruins. Luckily there was no strike today The site at Delphi is quite large - and built up the hillside - so there was plenty of walking to do. We easily got our 10,000 steps in as we explored! This was good though, because it meant that even though there were quite a lot of tour groups, the location somehow managed to absorb them and it never felt too busy. And the higher we climbed, the more we were able to enjoy the beautiful views The most impressive building at Delphi is the Athenian Treasury. This was built by the city to commemorate their victory against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The most impressive building in ancient times would have been the Temple of Apollo. A temple was first built here in the 7th century BC, although the ruins visible today date back to the 4th century BC. The Greeks believed that the god Apollo spoke through the high priestess at the temple, giving advice and prophecies about the future. The Oracle of Delphi was known throughout the ancient world and was consulted by famous leaders including Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors Nero and Hadrian. After the temple, the path took us quite steeply uphill towards Delphi's theatre. This was built in the 4th century BC and could accommodate up to 4,500 spectators. The path continued even higher than the theatre, leading towards the stadium. We had some amazing views as we climbed... ...and soon we were looking down on the theatre from above. Eventually we arrived at the stadium, which was built in the 5th century BC and is the best-preserved ancient stadium in Greece. Unlike at Olympia, we could see the stone seating alongside the track here. The stadium is the highest point that you can climb to, so from there it was back downhill. As we left, we could see that it was starting to get a bit busier with tour groups. It looked like some of them had come off cruise ships. We had just seen the main site, but there is also another smaller site further down the hillside. We walked along the road towards it, turning back to get views towards where we'd just been. This second site is home to a temple known as the Tholos of Delphi. It was really impressive... ...and the best thing was that none of the tour groups seemed to have bothered climbing down this far, so we were almost the only visitors. The €12 ticket also gives you entrance to the archaeological museum, but we were well overdue for lunch at this point so decided to give it a miss! We walked back into the new town of Delphi and found a nice restaurant. I played it safe with pizza, but Tim decided to try Greek food again, ordering something which was described as "beef in tomato sauce" but which turned out to be very similar to goulash. Then it was time to head back to the apartment and relax with a spot of reading on the balcony
  6. Clare

    Day 7: Olympia to Delphi

    As the strike had prevented us from seeing the ruins at Olympia yesterday, we decided to visit them this morning before setting off for Delphi. When we arrived at the site today, we were relieved to find that the ticket booth was open and we were finally able to get through the gates The ruins at Olympia are spread over quite a large site, so although there were already several coachloads of people being led around in tours, we were able to plan our route strategically to avoid them as much as possible. One of the complaints I've read from people reviewing Olympia online, is that it's just a pile of rocks and so it's difficult to know what you are looking at. The area was struck by two serious earthquakes in the sixth century, which is why everything is so badly ruined. The criticisms are a bit unfair, because there are lots of helpful info boards dotted around the site to show you what you are looking at. These are the remains of the gymnasion, described on the info board above. One of the most impressive buildings here in ancient times would have been the temple of Zeus. The one pillar which you can see standing in the photo was reconstructed by archaeologists to celebrate the 2004 Olympic games being held in Athens. The best-preserved building on the site is the Temple of Hera, originally built in 590 BC. The flame for the modern-day Olympic Games is lit in front of this temple, and then transported via torch to wherever the games are taking place. The tour groups were starting to catch up with us, so we had to move on! When we managed to get away from people, the ruins were quite peaceful Every so often we found some stones with Greek inscriptions on them. We were gradually making our way towards the archway in the left of this photo. This is the archway which leads into the Olympic stadium. It wasn't possible to avoid all the tour groups here! Once you get through the arch, you are in the stadium where the Olympic running races used to take place. The stone blocks at this end are to mark the place where all the athletes were supposed to start. The track was 200 metres long. We walked to the end and there were some nice views of the surrounding countryside. Then it was back through the archway to see some of the things which we'd missed when trying to avoid the tour groups. These were the remains of a temple called the Philippeion... ...and this was the palaestra. This is where the athletes would have practised sports such as wrestling and boxing. It's probably possible to spend a lot longer at Olympia, but I think we succeeded in getting a good flavour of it Then we had to head back to the apartment, collect our things and set off towards our final destination for this holiday: Delphi. The first part of the route wasn't terribly exciting, as we drove north on a fast road towards the town of Patras. We were getting quite hungry, so stopped off at a small village just short of Patras to try and find some lunch. The restaurant we found wasn't quite as close to the sea as yesterday... ...but there were still some beautiful views After lunch it was time to leave the Peloponnese behind and drive back to the mainland of Greece. Shortly after Patras, we crossed the Rio-Antirrio bridge, which spans the sea here. The bridge is 1.8 miles long and really impressive to drive across, although it is a toll bridge and I was slightly less impressed when I found out that it cost €13.30 for a normal car 😮 Once on the other side, the drive became more interesting as we followed a narrower road along the coast. There were some really fantastic views We could see the mountains of the Peloponnese on the other side of the water... ...and passed a picturesque little town with a huge church. Eventually we arrived in Delphi and checked into our hotel. A hotel room seems a bit small after the spacious apartments we've had, but this one is good value at around £55 per night (including breakfast). The best thing about the room is the view from the balcony! It's a bit cloudy today so the photo isn't perfect, but we can see all the way down the river gorge to the sea. It's absolutely incredible We're definitely looking forward to exploring more of Delphi tomorrow - assuming that there isn't another unexpected museum strike!!
  7. Clare

    Day 6: Messinia

    Today was the day we planned to see the site at Ancient Olympia, where the original Olympic games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD. The archaeological site is not far away from our apartment, so we set off for a short walk through the village towards it straight after breakfast. There are lots of Olympic-related things in the village, including this museum of the Olympic games at the bottom of our street (which looks like it may have seen better days!). It didn't take long for us to get to the site and find the ticket office. There were a few people standing in front of it, I assumed buying tickets, so we stood behind them. As they moved away, however, we realised that they had actually been reading a notice which was stuck on the front of the ticket booth. This is what it said: Oh dear A strike was not on my list of possible things which could go wrong! We walked towards the site anyway, to see how much we could see without a ticket, but everything is behind high fences so this was the closest that we were going to get. How frustrating!! We wandered around Olympia a bit more, but there isn't a lot to see here when the main attractions are closed. We found a small botanical garden to stroll through, but that was all. Luckily we had the car, so we weren't stranded in Olympia all day with nothing to do! We went back to the apartment to consult our Peloponnese guidebook and decided to drive around one of the southern fingers of the peninsula: Messinia. The area around Olympia is comparatively flat, but as we progressed further south the landscape became more mountainous again. We passed through small towns like Kyparissia (above), which had a ruined castle on the top of a hill, and Filiatra which, for reasons which are completely unclear, is home to what appears to be a replica of the Eiffel Tower!! We were driving towards a seaside village called Gialova, which the guidebook had said was really pretty. Sure enough, once we arrived we found that it was There was a nice promenade alongside the sea... ...and a beach which looked quite sandy. There were some beautiful views out to sea. We chose a restaurant right by the water's edge I had a spaghetti bolognese, while Tim decided to be adventurous and try some Greek food. We've got no idea what this was called, but it consisted of meatballs, mashed potatoes and cheese, all baked in the oven. Not far from Gialova is the larger town of Pilos. As we began to descend down towards it, we had some great views of the coast. When we arrived, we managed to find free parking down by the harbour and went for a stroll around. It was a colourful little town, stretching up the hillside. From the main square we had a view up towards the town's church tower. I wasn't expecting us to see much of the sea on this holiday, so it was an unexpected bonus to be here Before too long, we were driving off up into the mountains again. Every so often we got glimpses of the sea on the horizon. Our ultimate destination was a town called Koroni, which the guidebook had said was one of the prettiest in the region. The steep narrow streets were a bit challenging to navigate and park, but Tim managed it A series of steps led down towards the sea. We followed more small streets towards one of the town's churches. This was the church of St Dimitrios. Eventually we made it down to the seafront. From here we could see up to the town's second church, on the top of the hill. We didn't feel energetic enough to climb up there, so we enjoyed more views of the sea instead As we walked around the harbour we got a good view of Koroni castle, which was once a Venetian fortress. It was a really pretty location It was late afternoon by this point, so time for us to think about driving back to Olympia. We'd travelled much further than we thought, so we had nearly 100 miles to cover before we got back to the apartment. All in all it was a fun day and really nice to be able to spend some time by the sea, even if it wasn't quite what we had planned for today!
  8. Clare

    Day 5: Athens to Olympia

    Today it was time for us to say goodbye to Athens and set off on the next part of our adventure. The place we had hired a car from was in the centre of Athens, a little further on from Hadrian's Arch, so we had a bit of a walk to reach it first thing. We'd hired the car at the last minute and gone for the cheapest car on offer; a small Nissan Micra. The prices seemed ridiculously good value after Iceland; we paid £76 for five days, which is cheaper even than our car hire in the Azores! We picked up the car without any problems and Tim took plenty of photos of the bumps and scratches the car was already covered in! Then we were off, with the first part of the journey probably being the most nervewracking: driving out of Athens! As you can probably imagine, the standard of driving in Athens is rather chaotic, not helped by the numerous mopeds weaving in and out of the traffic, people walking across the street at random and vans simply stopping in the middle of a lane when there isn't anywhere else to park. Luckily, Tim had downloaded the maps of Greece to our Sat Nav before leaving home and so we were able to follow its directions without too many problems. I thought we might get stuck for ages in traffic jams, but it wasn't actually too bad and before long we were out of the busiest part of the city and driving off towards Corinth. I had expected us to be on a large motorway, for which I knew we would have to pay a small toll, but had forgotten that the Sat Nav was set to automatically avoid tolls. It therefore avoided the main road and led us down a series of much more scenic smaller roads along the coast. After an hour or so we reached the Corinth canal, which we had just got a glimpse off as we crossed it on the train to Corinth yesterday. Being in a car meant that this time we were able to stop to take photos There had been attempts to build a canal through the isthmus at Corinth since ancient times, but a combination of geological and financial problems meant that the canal wasn't successfully built until 1891. The high limestone walls of the canal are quite susceptible to landslides, however, and the canal itself isn't wide enough for most modern cargo ships, so today it mostly only used by tourist boats. After Corinth, our route took us through an increasingly mountainous countryside. I had expected Greece to quite dry and barren, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much greenery there was here. At one point we came across a herd of goats who were quite casually sitting in the middle of the road We also passed countless beautiful churches. I've got no idea why, but every now and again we also passed what looked like small shrines with models of churches by the side of the road. Our ultimate destination for the day was Olympia, but with the freedom the car gave us we wanted to take the opportunity to visit another town: Nafplio. Nafplio is a seaside town, and supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the Peloponnese. I'd read online that there was free parking down by the port, so we headed there. Luckily this information turned out to be true, as it looked like parking would be a nightmare otherwise! As we got out of the car, pretty much the first thing we saw was this castle in the middle of the sea. As we turned around towards the town, we then saw that it was in the shadow of this huge fortress on the mountain above. It reminded me a bit of the fortress in Kotor in Montenegro. We were quite hungry by this point, so decided to get lunch at one of the restaurants along the seafront. I was very excited to find pizza on the menu (first pizza I've seen in Greece!). Tim ordered a burger, and was surprised when it arrived and turned out to be two burgers! Unluckily, he also ended up with sweet potato fries rather than normal chips. After lunch we went for a stroll around Nafplio. It really is an extremely pretty town. There was a colourful main square... ...narrow little streets, full of flowers... ...and a big clock tower on the hill behind the town. It definitely felt like a place we could come back to and spend more time We still had a couple of hours of driving to do cross-country to Olympia though, so it was time to take a move. Our journey took us on slightly bigger roads this time, but still on winding routes through the mountains. At one point we came to an amazing village, perched on the mountainside. I've got no idea what it was called, but it was in an amazing location. Shortly after that we came to another viewpoint at a rather rocky part of the road. The view down into the valley from here was absolutely spectacular I didn't expect Greece to be this scenic! It didn't take us too long from here to get to Olympia. We are staying for two nights in an apartment which seems incredibly good value, at £52/night. As well as this kitchen/living/dining area (with random spare beds), we've got a separate bedroom and bathroom, plus a little outdoor terrace Tomorrow we're looking forward to visiting the archaeological site of Archea Olimpia, where the ancient Olympic games were held!
  9. Clare

    Day 4: Corinth

    Our aim for today was to visit the ruins of ancient Corinth. On a map, Corinth looks like it ought to be an easy day-trip away from Athens, but it was actually surprisingly difficult. First of all we had to catch a train, which runs from Athens to Corinth station once an hour. The main train station in Athens isn't far from where we are staying, so this part of the journey was quite straightforward. Return tickets to Corinth cost €14.50 each, which didn't seem too bad considering the journey took just over an hour in each direction. The train station is in a town known as Νέα Κόρινθος (New Corinth), which was founded in 1858 after an earthquake wiped out the existing town of Corinth. The guidebook warned that, because the town was so new, there wasn't really anything of interest to see here. The site of ancient Corinth is located several kilometres away from the new town, which meant that we needed to catch a bus. Unfortunately, the bus station is located on completely the opposite side of town from the train station so, with the help of Google Maps on my phone, we had a 3km walk through Corinth. Not long after we set off we were accosted by a taxi driver who, obviously wanting to charge us an extortionate fare, tried to tell us that we would need to take three buses to get to Ancient Corinth. What I'd read on the internet definitely didn't suggest that this was the case, so we persevered and eventually made it to the bus station. In fact, on the way we even found the sea This part of Corinth was actually quite pretty. It was around 11.30 by the time we got to the bus station. The bus to Ancient Corinth only runs once an hour, so we had a while to wait in the bus station. Bus stations in Greece seem even more low-tech than in Croatia and Montenegro; the bus timetables weren't even posted on the walls, you had to go to an information desk to consult a piece of paper there instead! The bus was supposed to arrive around midday but it wasn't terribly punctual, so I began to worry it wasn't going to materialise and we should have taken the taxi driver up on his offer after all. Thankfully, around 12.10 it eventually pulled into the bus station. Phew! The journey to Ancient Corinth took less than half an hour and cost €1.80 each, which I'm sure is a lot cheaper than a taxi would have been! As we were getting off, the bus driver told us the timetable for the return journey and that the bus would pick us up from the same place; that was good to know, because there was no bus timetable on display here either! We turned a corner and got our first view of the ruins. Wow It cost €8 each for a ticket to get in, so cheaper than the Acropolis. Corinth was one of the largest cities in Ancient Greece, with a population of 90,000 people in 400 BC. The town was captured and significantly destroyed by the Romans in 146BC, but then rebuilt as a Roman colony in 44BC. The most striking part of the ruins is the remains of the Temple of Apollo. As we walked around the temple, we could see what looked like the remains of a fortress on the hilltop behind. These are the remains of Acrocorinth, which the guidebook had said was a 4km walk from Ancient Corinth. It looked like that would be a very steep 4km, so we decided to give it a miss In addition to the Temple of Apollo, there were remains of several smaller temples... ...as well as numerous other columns and pillars, some of which had really elaborate detail on them. We could just about make out the remains of painted colours on these stones... ...and this stone seemed to have some Roman writing on it. Of course, there are also biblical associations with Corinth. St Paul not only wrote letters to the Corinthians but lived in the city for a while, during which time he was put on trial for conducting illegal teachings. The trial is believed to have taken place here at the rostrum, a large platform used for public speaking. A church was later built on the spot during the Byzantine period. I'd expected the ruins to be quite busy - and there were a few coaches in the car park - but as we were walking around it actually seemed pretty peaceful. It was definitely a lot quieter than Athens, and the views were really spectacular. The way out of the site lay down a wide Roman road, lined with the remains of buildings on both sides. It certainly wasn't a bad view to end with There's a small town outside the ruins, where we found a restaurant to have a belated lunch. I tried chicken souvlaki today, which were really nice, and Tim went for a mixed grill. For pudding we tried baklava, a pastry filled with honey and nuts, which was lovely too. The coffee we had was Turkish though, so we had to be careful not to choke on the coffee grounds Our journey back to Athens started smoothly. We managed to catch the bus back to the new town and navigate our way across the town to the train station, all on time to catch the 16.14 train back to the capital. Unfortunately, when we were about 15 minutes away from Athens, something went wrong with our train. We left a station, slowed down, reversed back to the platform, then proceeded to sit there for over an hour. The announcements about what was happening were only in Greek, so it was one of those times when you really wish you could speak a language! Lots of people were getting off the train and staring at something, so I'm guessing either the train had broken down and someone was trying to repair it, or something had happened to the track which needed to be fixed/cleared before we could move on. It took an awfully long time anyway, so it was nearly 7pm by the time we finally got back to the apartment. It was a good day though - Corinth was beautiful and we managed to cope without needing a taxi Tomorrow we will be picking up a rental car and saying goodbye to Athens, as we head to our next destination: Olympia.
  10. Clare

    Day 3: Athens

    Today was our second day of exploring Athens. We woke up to another bright blue sky and warm sunny day, although the woman we saw wearing a coat, scarf and Ugg boots not far from our apartment appeared to disagree! Our destination for this morning was Mount Lycabettus, which we'd seen from the Acropolis yesterday. Our thinking was that if we could see the hill from the Acropolis, we ought to be able to see the Acropolis from the hill I'd seen in the guidebook that there was a funicular up the hill, which suggested that there ought to be good views at the top. The only challenge was finding the funicular station, which necessitated quite a lot of walking uphill on small side streets. We did pass a pretty church on the way, though. The funicular cost €7.50 each for a return ticket. I think it only runs once every half hour, but we were lucky and arrived a few minutes before one was due to depart, so didn't have to wait long. It wasn't the most exciting of funicular rides, as the whole journey was within a dark tunnel, but it was also quite short. We soon arrived at the summit and climbed a series of staircases to get to the viewpoint. From up here, Athens looked even more enormous than from the Acropolis! There is only one corner of the viewing gallery that you can see the Acropolis from, so we had to wait a while before we could get round to that side. Once we did, it was a great view As well as an expensive restaurant, there's also a small chapel on the top of the hill. To try and get away from the people, we followed a path around the side of the hill. We turned a corner and suddenly had an unobstructed view of the Parthenon It was much quieter here and there was plenty of space to enjoy the views. There were also some pretty cactuses growing along the hillside. The path down seemed pretty easy, so we decided to walk back into Athens rather than using our return tickets on the funicular. The views of the Parthenon got a little bit clearer as we got lower. Although it was a pleasant walk down, I think it would have been exhausting walking up here in the heat, so the funicular was definitely worth it in one direction at least. Once we were back down in the centre of Athens, our next stop was the large park we had seen marked on our pop-out map. The park is called the "National Garden", which makes it sound rather grand, but it turned out to mostly be woodland. We did find an extremely large cactus... ...and at one point when we were walking through the trees, I looked up and realised they were full of green birds. There were ancient ruins marked on the map, but they turned out to be not quite as impressive as the ones we'd seen yesterday As we left the park, we found this little pool full of turtles, which was rather surprising! We crossed a road and ended up in a slightly grander bit of the park. The park eventually came to an end by this enormous building, which is a conference and exhibition centre. As we came out onto the main road, we could just see up to the Parthenon. We passed Hadrian's Arch... ...and began wandering around the streets, looking for a likely place to get food. We found a nice restaurant before too long, in the part of town where we had eaten yesterday. I had grilled chicken and rice, while Tim tried something called souvlaki, which turned out to be pieces of chicken on a stick. Both were tasty, and a friendly Belgian man at the next table told us that we could ask for a carafe of wine for €7 (the menu only listed expensive bottles!). Once we'd finished eating, there was time for a bit more exploring. We found what looked like some more Roman remains... ...as well as some more churches. This one had a beautiful painted roof All in all we've had another fun day exploring Athens Tomorrow we're going to brave the Greek public transport system in an attempt to visit Corinth!
  11. Clare

    Day 2: Athens

    We were quite tired after yesterday's long day of travelling, so we didn't make a terribly early start to today. By the time we left the apartment, it was nearly 10am and already a bright sunny day. It felt like it was beautifully warm to us, although the some of the people of Athens seemed to disagree and we passed multiple people wearing jeans and coats as we began to make our way towards the centre! We didn't have to go far from our apartment before we found the church of St Constantine. We were walking towards Syntagma Square, which is the main square in Athens. As we were walking along one of the main streets in that direction, we caught sight of a very impressive-looking building on the opposite side of the road. This is the academy of Athens; Greece's most important research centre. Some of the buildings are very grand! We kept walking, somehow managing to miss Syntagma Square (it was a bit confusing, because there was some sort of race going on!) and unexpectedly found ourselves outside Hadrian's Arch, which was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman emperor Hadrian in Athens around 132 AD. When we turned around and looked up the side street we were standing beside, we got our first view of the Acropolis. It looked a long way up! The view helped us to orientate ourselves and it didn't take long before we found the entrance to the Acropolis slopes. I'd bought our tickets in advance online (€20 each), which was great because it meant we didn't have to queue. The guidebook said that you could spend several hours queuing for tickets in the summer and although the queue didn't look that long today, it also looked like it was moving pretty slowly. Once we were inside the grounds, the climb didn't look quite so daunting. The tickets included a map, which numbered and labelled the different sights. The first one we came to was helpfully called "shed of exhibits" Things got a bit more exciting after that, as we started walking around the grounds. We passed piles of stones and pillars... ...before arriving at what looked like a huge amphitheatre. This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 AD and used as a venue for music concerts. It was restored in the 1950s, so the seating is all rather new. We'd climbed a fair way uphill by this point, so as we looked out over the theatre we started to get a sense of how big Athens is. The Acropolis had been quite quiet up to this point, but once we passed the theatre we got caught up in a bottleneck of tour groups. This was the Propylaea, the ancient gateway into the Acropolis. It's a bit difficult to see because of the crowds, but there is a series of quite slippery steps leading up here. You had to be careful not to get jostled off by people! Once we got up the steps and started walking through, it was a bit more peaceful and we got a glimpse of the temple of Athena Nike. Finally we were at the top, and we could see for miles. If you look carefully in this photo, you should be able to make out the sea! We walked along the edge of the wall which we'd seen from a distance. All the rocks and pillars looked a very long way below us now. After a while I realised we could see Hadrian's Arch which we'd passed earlier, and what looked like the remains of a Roman forum behind it. The best view was when we turned around though and saw the Parthenon for the first time Restoration works are still ongoing, so there is a fair amount of scaffolding and even some cranes, but it's still really beautiful. The big hole in this side of the structure was caused by the Venetians in 1687, who were bombarding Athens as part of a war against the Ottomans and accidentally ignited a pile of Ottoman ammunition which was being stored inside the building, resulting in a huge explosion. Most of the sculptures which survived the explosion were then removed by Elgin in the early nineteenth century. As we walked around the Parthenon we found a stone with some Greek inscription on it, but unfortunately we have no idea what it says! I also have no idea what I was doing in this photo, which otherwise would have been a great view Luckily there was also a great view from the other side, and I managed not to do anything weird in this photo At the far end of the Acropolis is a viewpoint with a huge Greek flag. There wasn't really enough wind to see it properly today. There was also a view of Mount Lycabettus, which is the highest point in Athens. The Parthenon isn't the only impressive building on the top of the Acropolis. This is the Erechtheion, an ancient Greek temple which was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The temple is best known for the Porch of the Caryatids. The statues which you can see today aren't the real ones; one of them was removed by Elgin, so is now in the British Museum, and the other five have been moved to the Acropolis museum for safekeeping. The restoration has been done very well - I wouldn't have known they were replicas if I hadn't read it in the guidebook! We just had time for a last look at the Parthenon... ...and then it was time to head back out through the gateway. Thankfully the steps were slightly less of a crush this time around! We soon found a sign for the exit, which is one of the few Greek words we have learned so far: Exodus. We wandered around the slopes a little bit more, before making our way out. As soon as we left the Acropolis, we came to a small rocky outcrop with steps carved into it. It was slightly challenging to climb up because the rock was very slippery. Once we made it to the top, there were some great views back to where we'd been though Thankfully there was a less slippy staircase to climb back down! We were well overdue some food by this point, so we started trying to find our way towards a part of Athens where there might be restaurants. On the way we passed this beautiful little church, which reminded me of some we'd seen in Macedonia a few years ago. Before long we found a nice place to eat, with a roof terrace from where I could see the flag on the top of the Acropolis Tim opted what was described as "kebab" and turned out to be suspiciously like Croatian ćevapčići. I played it safe and had spaghetti bolognese. Can you work out which words are "kebab" and "bolognese" on this receipt?! (Clue - in Greek, the sound "b" is represented by the letters "m" and "p" together). When we'd finished eating we strolled back through the side streets and Tim navigated us so that we came down to Hadrian's Arch once again. From here we were able to get a better view of the Roman forum. As we started to walk back in the direction of the apartment, we tried to pay more attention so that we didn't miss Syntagma Square this time around. We did find it, but it turned out not to be terribly impressive. This building, which we hadn't paid much attention to when we first walked past, is actually the Greek parliament! We were quite tired by this point, so headed back to the apartment where we enjoyed the airconditioning and I had a bit of a siesta If it's this warm in October, it must be unbearably hot here in July and August! We've had a great day and it was definitely worth €20 to see the Parthenon
  12. Clare

    Day 1: Home to Athens

    I put a lot of effort into planning our trip around Iceland... so much so that I didn't have much holiday-planning time/energy left to research Greece in quite so much detail! Greece is not a country which has ever been at the top of our list of places we wanted to visit, but I had a week of holiday to take in October this year, and thought we might appreciate going somewhere warm and sunny after a potentially cold and wet trip to Iceland. There aren't many places which are reliably warm and sunny in October, but Greece looked like it might fit the bill. The only problem was that I didn't wanted to end up stuck in a beach resort... but when Tim found that Bradt have published a guidebook to the Peloponnese, we realised that it would be possible to plan a holiday which involved visiting some of the historic sites of ancient Greece. That sounded like our sort of holiday, and when we realised that there were reasonably-priced flights from Heathrow, a loose sort of plan started to come together When I started trying to plan our itinerary in more detail, I began to run into problems though! The Bradt guide is really good, but a lot of it is written on the assumption that you have a car. We have a copy of the Rough Guide to Greece as well, but it's an edition that was published before the worst of the financial crisis, and so its section on public transport refers to how easy it is to get between two places by train... but when you check the actual Greek train website, you find out that trains are no longer running on that particular route. There is a network of buses across Greece but it seems to be set up in a very confusing way; each region has its own bus website, so you have to work out which jurisdiction your route falls into before you can even start to look for a timetable. Some of the bus websites have timetables in English, but some of them don't... some of the websites give the prices for tickets, other websites don't.... It probably all makes perfect sense if you speak Greek, but we are still trying to master the alphabet so it felt like very hard work! In the end we decided to admit defeat and hire a car for the second half of our trip, once we leave Athens Anyway, today was all about travelling to Athens and although our flight wasn't until 12.15, the fact that it was from Heathrow meant that we had to leave home around 07.30. The journey to the airport all went like clockwork and we even managed to successfully use the self-service baggage machines. It was once the machine had finished printing our baggage labels, that it suddenly flashed up on the screen a message to say that our flight was going to be delayed. Oh dear! Initially it didn't seem like it was going to be a terribly long delay and we were told that take-off would be at 12.50, with gate information at 11.55. We had a late breakfast at the airport, then checked the info boards to find that gate information was now coming at 12.15. 12.15 came and went with no gate information... We did eventually get a gate and were herded into a queuing area, which seemed promising, but then we were left to stand there for a long time for no clear reason. By the time we got on the plane, we were running about an hour late and by the time the plane actually took off, we were nearly two hours late! The reason for the delay was apparently the weather at Heathrow, which felt like a pretty poor excuse. It was a bit rainy and cloudy, but I would imagine the percentage of days on which it is rainy and cloudy at Heathrow must be pretty high The delay was frustrating, because it was already quite a long flight (around 3.5 hours) and there is a two-hour time difference between Greece and the UK. When the flight was scheduled to depart at 12.15, it was due to land in Athens at 17.50, so a two-hour delay would probably mean it was dark by the time we arrived, as well as meaning that we definitely weren't going to be checking into our apartment at the time I'd prearranged with the owner Apart from the delay, the flight was excellent though. We were flying with Aegean, which is not an airline I'd ever heard of before to be honest, so I didn't really know what to expect. I can confirm that the service is definitely a lot better than Ryanair There were three separate trolley services, with the first one serving free soft drinks, the second one providing free food and alcohol, and the third serving free tea and coffee! I am generally quite excited if I get a free bread roll on a plane, so this rather surpassed my expectations! Not only did we get a bread roll, there was also a triangle of some Greek variation on the theme of Dairylea, a packet containing two chocolate digestives, and a very hot foil container with an actual meal in it (pieces of chicken with something that tasted very similar to Ebly wheat, although it was a slightly different shape). I also received a tub of salad, which I ignored, and a small bottle of wine, while Tim got a can of Greek beer. The plane itself wasn't quite as posh as Icelandair, but there were some screens which gave us an indication of where we were flying. It was cloudy for a lot of the route but cleared up for a while as we flew down the Croatian coast, so I was able to see Zadar and a lot of the more northern islands. It was cloudy again as we flew over Split and Dubrovnik, but brightened up by the time we got to Albania and began to head inland. We flew over some really spectacular mountains, past two huge lakes (one of which I think must have been Lake Ohrid on the Albanian/Macedonian border) and then finally began to fly down across Greece towards Athens. From the glimpse we got of Athens as we were coming in to land, it is absolutely huge! We made up a bit of time while we were flying, but it was still around 19.30 by the time we were getting off the plane and then we had a bit of a wait for our luggage. Athens airport is a fair way outside of the centre of Athens and the easiest way to get into the main city seems to be by metro. There are only two metros an hour, so by the time we'd reclaimed our baggage we had to wait for the 20.30 one, and the tickets cost €10 each. Normal metro tickets are only €1.40, but there's a special inflated price for journeys which begin/end at the airport! It was a nice train when it arrived and one of the few airport metros I've ever been on that had a proper baggage rack for big suitcases We were on the first metro for about 45 minutes, which was the time it took us to get to Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens. From there, we had to change to a different metro line for three stops. The apartment we're staying in is just across the road from the exit to a metro station on this other line, so thankfully it was very easy to find the correct building once we eventually arrived The apartment is really lovely. We've got a nice living room... ...a well-equipped kitchen... ...and two bedrooms in case we fall out with each other After Iceland, it feels like a lot of space at a very reasonable price; about £60 per night It's been a long day but it's good to finally be here, and we're looking forward to actually seeing some of Athens tomorrow!
  13. Clare

    Iceland: Summary

    We've had an absolutely amazing time in Iceland Our route around the country looked something like this: Adding up all the various sights we stopped at and the detours we took, I make it a total of 1,279 miles driven According to my Fitbit, I've also walked 170,461 steps (which equates to 70 miles) and climbed the equivalent of 552 staircases, so it definitely isn't a holiday which has just been spent sitting in a car. Without doubt this is the most expensive holiday we've ever been on. The costs break down as follows: Flights 440 Airport parking 81 Accommodation 1,147 Hire car 526 Petrol 197 Parking/tolls 34 Airport bus 79 Eating out/groceries 351 TOTAL COST 2,855 This was a holiday that I so nearly didn't book, because I thought it was going to be too expensive. £2,855 is a lot of money, but I think we've done pretty well at keeping costs as low as possible in what is an extremely expensive country! The holiday has been dominated by waterfalls. We saw 10 in total, starting with the small but pretty Öxarárfoss... ...which was soon overshadowed by the enormous Gullfoss. We walked behind the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss... ...and climbed a huge staircase to the top of Skógafoss. We hiked to Svartifoss in unexpected sunshine... ...came across Gufufoss unexpectedly halfway down a mountain pass... ...and tried not to get blown over the edge of Dettifoss in high winds. One of the prettiest waterfalls was undoubtedly Goðafoss... ...plus its smaller sidekick, Geitafoss. The final waterfall of the trip was Kirkjufellsfoss, with the strangely-shaped Kirkjufell mountain behind it. Of course, we haven't just seen waterfalls; there have been so many other amazing things in nature. We stood between the continental plates at Thingvellir... ...watched Strokkur erupt at Geysir... ...walked on black sand at Reynisfjara... ...and walked along the most incredible canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur. We enjoyed some beautiful scenery as we drove through Eastern Iceland... ....and were amazed by the morning views at Seyðisfjörður. Of course, I mustn't forget to mention the volcanic activity. There was steam and bubbling mud at Hverir... ...the brilliantly blue crater lake at Krafla... ...the enormous crater we climbed at Hverfjall... ...and the slightly smaller one on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We saw a couple of lakes; the first one was at Thingvellir... ...and the second one was the midge-lake at Myvatn (from where there are no pictures of me, because I didn't want to risk getting flies in my mouth if I smiled ) We've seen two large towns as well. First of all, Reykjavik... ...and towards the end of the holiday, Akureyri. The views of the coast have been pretty cool too. In addition to black sands, we've had some golden sands... ...an orange lighthouse... ...and plenty of rock formations. For me, the absolute highlight has been the glaciers. It was unbelievable to be able to walk so close to the glacier at Skaftafell... ...and I think it's fair to say that the experience of visiting a glacier lagoon is something pretty unique to Iceland This is definitely the most expensive holiday we've ever had, but also the most spectacular, and I think it's been worth every penny
  14. Clare

    Day 10: Rif to Reykjavik

    It looked like quite a sunny day when we woke up in Rif this morning. As we were checking out of the apartment, I realised rather belatedly that there was an amazing view of the Snæfellsjökull volcano from around the corner of the car park. Today was the final day of our road trip, so the plan was to drive around the southern edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and then back to Reykjavik. Our route led us through the Snæfellsnes national park, which mostly looked like a huge lava field in the shadow of the volcano. The first stop on our itinerary was a place called Öndverðarnes, which is located at the westernmost point of the peninsula. The road here was gravel and a bit bumpy, so we got out and went the last section to the very end of the peninsula by foot. We passed by some beautiful cliffs... ...before arriving at the Svörtuloft lighthouse right at the end. The lighthouse is a very bright orange - you definitely can't miss it! There were some great views out to sea from here. Unfortunately, though, it looked like the day might not be staying sunny for long! We drove on through another lava field. Our next stop was the beach at Djúpalónssandur. In contrast to the sandy beach we visited yesterday, this is a beach of black pebbles. To get to the beach you have to follow a rocky path which leads through some strange lava shapes. I particularly liked this one which had a window in it Once you get down to the beach, you realise that it is littered with bits of rusted metal. These are the remains of the Epine, a fishing trawler from Grimsby which was wrecked here in 1948. The metal has been left on the beach as a memorial, and it's quite eerie to see. The beach is in a beautiful location, although the black pebbles are quite hard work to walk on! Our next stop was the small village of Arnarstapi. The weather had really deteriorated by this point though, so by the time we arrived there it was pretty wet. There is a walking trail which you can follow along the coast here, with views out over the cliffs. There are some really unusual rock formations here. I think people also come here for bird watching, although September isn't really the time of year for it. I was quite relieved that there weren't many birds around, because I'd read some reviews of people complaining they'd been attacked by aggressive arctic terns! As you can see, we were a bit damp by this point so we didn't follow the path in its entirety. We did walk a little further to find this beautiful rocky arch though Then it was back in the car, to dry out and progress a bit further along the peninsula. We stopped briefly at a place called Búðir, where there is a striking black church in the middle of nowhere. After Búðir, the weather thankfully began to brighten up a bit again. In fact, the closer we got back towards the Ring Road, the sunnier it became Our last stop was at the Gerðuberg cliffs. These are a collection of enormous basalt columns. They were really quite striking to see Soon after that, we rejoined the Ring Road and drove the final short stretch back into Reykjavik. What I hadn't realised in advance was that at one point, the road would take us through a 7km-long tunnel under the sea, in order to cut out a long detour around a fjord! Reykjavik seemed huge in comparison to the places we've been over the past few nights! We are staying in the same small apartment place as last time, so we drove there first to unload our stuff, and then went back to the car rental place, where we successfully handed back the car without any problems The apartment is fine again for one night, except that the internet isn't working as well as it did when we stayed before, so doing the blog has been slightly problematic! We were pretty hungry after all our adventures, so walked into the centre of Reykjavik in search of food. We ended up having exactly the same meals in exactly the same place as last Sunday; Hawaiian pizza for me and fish and chips for Tim Then there was just time for a last look at the iconic Hallgrimmskirkja, before heading back to the apartment to battle the Wi-Fi!
  15. Clare

    Day 9: Blönduós to Rif

    It was a bright sunny day when we woke up in Blönduós this morning. Although the hotel had been nice, the breakfast buffet was a bit limited so it felt difficult to get our money's worth this morning! There were waffles again, though Our day started with quite a long drive from Blönduós towards the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We are taking a detour from the Ring Road for the final part of our road trip, to explore this peninsula which has it's own little ring road, route 54, running around the edge of it. We reached the peninsula around midday, and soon had a view out to sea. There were lots of small islands in the water... ...while the interior of the peninsula is very mountainous. Our first stop was the town of Stykkishólmur, which is the biggest settlement in Snæfellsnes (but still pretty small!). We were hoping we might be able to find somewhere to get lunch here, but there wasn't a lot going on. Just some colourful wooden houses... ...and a small harbour. We drove on into the mountains again. Although it was a bit cloudy, there were some really beautiful views on this stretch of the road. The road itself was a little bumpy at times! We drove through the Berserkjahraun lava field. It was a very unusual landscape! From there it wasn't far to the small village of Grundarfjörður. We had more luck there with food, finding a small cafe where we were able to get lunch (although Tim ended up with a chicken burger drowned in mayonnaise!). We finished off with coffee and cake Just outside of the village is Kirkjufell. This is allegedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland (I think it's been in Game of Thrones). Tim wasn't very impressed; he thought it looked like a witch's hat Across the road from the mountain there is a waterfall. There's a path you can follow up and around it. Compared to some of the other waterfalls we've seen on this holiday, this one seemed rather small. But it was pretty The views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the path were good as well. This is the highly photographed view of the mountain and the waterfall, which features on lots of postcards. There were some very serious people with tripods here, trying to get the perfect shot. The best view of the waterfall itself was from a bit further down the path. Once we'd taken enough photos, we were on our way again, progressing further along the northern edge of the peninsula. We were soon rewarded by some beautiful views out across the sea. We were on the look-out for a beach called Skarðsvík, which apparently is one of the view beaches in Iceland which has golden sand, but we struggled to find the correct turn-off. Instead we found ourselves driving through what looked like another lava field. When we saw this strange shape looming on the horizon, we just had to pull over and make an unscheduled stop. This is the ancient volcanic crater of Saxhóll. You can follow a metal staircase to get to the top. It was quite a tiring climb! It was smaller than the crater we'd been to yesterday, but still impressive There were some good views from the top as well; the mountains in one direction... ...and the sea in the other We got back on the main road and this time managed to find the correct turn-off for the beach By Icelandic standards, the sand does look pretty golden. We stood and watched the waves for a while. Some of them were enormous! This definitely isn't a beach where you would want to paddle! We're staying overnight tonight in the small town of Rif. As we began to drive down the road towards it, we suddenly got a wonderful view of the ice-capped Snæfellsjökull volcano. We're staying in a small apartment tonight, which was one of our cheaper nights at £108. It's been another fun day - definitely worth taking a detour off the Ring Road to visit Snæfellsnes
  16. Tim

    Geysers

  17. Tim

    Þingvellir - Thingvellir National Park

    Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a historic site and national park in Iceland, east of Reykjavík. It's known for the Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. On the site are the Þingvellir Church and the ruins of old stone shelters. The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault.
  18. It was pouring with rain when we woke up in Brekka this morning, so we had a slightly damp stroll from our room to the main building where breakfast was served. The highlight of today's breakfast buffet was waffles, and there were also some very nice little twisted doughnuts, which I think are an Icelandic speciality We had to start the day by retracing some of our route from yesterday, back in the direction of lake Mývatn. Lake Mývatn is a volcanic lake, formed from a flooded lava field. As a result it's a very shallow lake - not more than 4.5 metres deep at its deepest point - and there are lots of little islands in the middle of it. Our first stop was a place called Skútustaðir alongside the lake. Skútustaðir is home to a collection of pseudocraters, which look like volcanic craters but are formed when hot lava flows across a wet surface, causing gases to explode. The result is a slightly strange bumpy landscape like this. It was interesting to walk around and we got some great views of the lake, but the one downside was the flies. In Icelandic, Mývatn means "midge lake", and although we weren't here during the main midge season, we could definitely tell how it got that name! The midges don't bite, but they were still pretty annoying! We didn't stay too long at Skútustaðir, driving on to another parking place a little further round the lake. There were some interesting rock formations here. I liked this rock which looked like a pillar There were lots of paths we could have walked on here but the flies were a bit overwhelming, so we carried on a bit further round the Ring Road to a place called Hverfjall. The guidebook says that Hverfjall is a tephra cone, but I have no idea what that means It's basically a big black volcanic crater which looks like this. Hverfjall is about 420 metres high, and there's a rather steep path you can follow from the car park to the top. This is a photo of me looking slightly tired on the way up. And this is me with the crater once I got to the top It's very big and black! You can follow a path all the way around the rim, but we decided not to go the whole way round in the end (it was about 3km), because we figured the view would get pretty samey. There were some good views of the lake from up here though... ...and some good views of the surrounding countryside too. Best of all, we were now high enough to avoid the midges! The weather had dried up temporarily, but it felt like it might be going to start raining again, so we set off back down the rather steep path. Our next stop was just around the corner: Dimmuborgir. Dimmuborgir is an area of unusually-shaped lava rock formations. There was a series of signposted trails to follow in between the rocks. My favourites were these two with the unusual holes. Half an hour or so drive from the lake, we came to today's waterfall: Goðafoss In Icelandic, the name literally means "waterfall of the gods". Around the year 999, Iceland's parliament made the decision that the country would convert to Christianity. According to legend, on his way back from making this decision, one of the local rulers flung all his statues of Norse gods into the waterfall, giving it its name. It's a really beautiful waterfall anyway There are car parks on both sides of the falls and - unlike at Dettifoss - a bridge you can walk over to get from one side of the canyon to the other. As we were making our way towards that, we found that there was another, smaller waterfall, a little further down the same river. This was Geitafoss. We climbed down to a viewpoint beside it, and someone took a picture for us Then we continued along by the river and across the footbridge to the other side of the falls. The views from this side were really great It's hard to pick a favourite waterfall on this holiday, but Goðafoss is definitely in the running. Our next stop after the waterfall was the town of Akureyri, Iceland's second city. It's situated in a really beautiful location, at the end of the Eyjafjörður fjord, and we could see the town looming in the distance from quite a long way away. When we arrived in the town and found a parking space, we realised that the front of our car had turned into a midge massacre We were able to park in an extremely scenic part of town, overlooking the fjord. The hotel we're staying in tonight is quite remote, so we took advantage of being in a large place to have a big meal. When I say "a large place", the population of Akureyri is actually only 18,800, so it's not exactly a metropolis by UK standards We strolled around the seafront for a while and caught sight of the main church in the distance. This is the Akureyrarkirkja, which was designed by the same person as the enormous Hallgrímskirkja we saw in Reykjavik last week. The prettiest building in town was this bright blue one, which serves as a cafe. We had another 80 miles or so to cover before we reached our hotel for the night, which is near the small settlement of Blönduós in the northwest of Iceland. It was a scenic drive, which took us through a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. At £143 for the night, this is our most expensive hotel room of the trip; I think because of scarcity of accommodation in this part of Iceland, although it is quite a nice room The hotel is in a very rural location, by the side of a small lake, and there aren't too many midges here All in all it's been another very exciting day in Iceland!
  19. Tim

    Gullfoss

    Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found in the Hvítá river canyon in south-west Iceland.
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