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About Me

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  1. We had an earlier than normal start today, with my alarm going off at 7am, because we had an exciting day trip planned. We needed to leave Faliraki around 07.45, which unfortunately meant that we weren't able to have breakfast at our accommodation; no one around here seems to be a particularly early riser, so breakfast generally doesn't start until 8. We drove into the centre of Rhodes Town, then walked towards the harbour. I had booked us tickets for a ferry departing Rhodes at 9am for the small island of Symi. Symi is situated about 40 miles northwest of Rhodes. It's closer to Turkey than it is to Greece and we had some views of the Turkish coastline from the boat on the way there. If you look at the photo below, the further bit of land in the distance on the left is Turkey. The journey from Rhodes to Symi took around 90 minutes. As the boat began to approach the harbour in Symi, we got our first views of the colourful houses which make up the main town. I was really excited to see that it looked just as pretty in real life as it had in the pictures I'd seen online. The views were spectacular even as we were just waiting in line to get off the boat. Perhaps partly due to the proximity of Turkey, it seemed like a very patriotic town and we soon spotted a large Greek flag on the hillside. Symi is quite a mountainous island and a lot of the main town is built up into the hillside. It was a baking hot day today and so we didn't feel like much uphill climbing. Luckily, it wasn't really necessary to go uphill. There was quite a long flat round around the harbour, so we stuck to exploring that. This church tower by the water reminded me a bit of Perast in Montenegro. In other places, the colours were so bright that they reminded me a bit of Procida, the colourful Italian island off the coast of Naples which we visited in 2017. The houses in Procida had been a mixture of pinks, blues and yellows though. Here it felt like yellow was the dominant colour. The population of Symi is only around 2500 people, most of whom live in the main town around the harbour. Historically the main industries on the island were sponges and shipbuilding. Today, tourism is the main employer. It's certainly a popular destination for people to visit as a day-trip from Rhodes. Although it felt like we were off the beaten track, there were actually a lot of other British tourists on the island. A lot of people seemed to stay in the first part of the harbour which had the most shops - or else were travelling around the town on a tourist train - so as we walked further away from where we'd disembarked from the ferry, things got quieter. It must be really peaceful here in the evenings once all the day-trippers have gone home! As we walked further around we realised that there was another beautiful church up on the hill, with a large bell tower standing next to it. I think Symi might win the prize for most picturesque place we've been on this holiday! Once we'd explored as far as we could around the harbour, we found a restaurant with tables in the shade to get some lunch. Definitely one of the best lunch views I've ever had! I had pasticcio, which is definitely becoming my favourite Greek food. And it only cost €9! I also had yoghurt and honey, which is a new discovery on this trip. The honey here is delicious! Then we just had time for another stroll around the harbour, followed by a drink in the shade, before it was time to catch the ferry back to Rhodes. Symi was incredible and definitely well worth visiting as a day trip from Rhodes
  2. The plan for today was to do a road-trip around the island of Rhodes. We started by driving south from Faliraki, towards the village of Lindos, often described as being the most beautiful on the island. As we got our first glimpse of it from a roadside viewpoint, we could see why. It was a really spectacular sight; a cluster of white houses with a castle towering above. We drove closer to the village and parked, which cost us €5. A lot of places we've visited on this trip we've managed to park for free, but Lindos is a very popular town with tourists. We walked from the parking area into the centre, with some beautiful views of the sea as we did. Once we were inside the town we made our way down white and very narrow streets. It was actually a bit claustrophobic in places, with lots of the streets having canopies which provided shade but made it feel almost like you were walking inside. The little church in the centre of town was very pretty. We made walked to the outskirts of the town to find the old amphitheatre. It's not the most impressive ancient theatre we've ever seen, but it is the only one we've ever seen that was home to multiple goats From here we had some great views up to the castle above the town. It felt too hot to climb up there today, so we made our way back through the town towards the car. From Lindos we drove a bit further south, then across Rhodes to the western coast. On the way we passed part of the area which had been devastated by wildfires earlier this year. It was sad to see the burnt trees and vegetation, but driving around the island did make it clear how much of the island (thankfully!) hadn't been on fire. Our first stop on the western coast of the island was Monolithos, a small village in the middle of nowhere. There's a medieval castle just outside the village. The castle was built by the Knights in the fifteenth century to help defend the island. You can climb up to the castle from the car park via a series of stone steps. It wasn't too steep but it felt a bit difficult in places; the stone was worn smooth on some of the steps, which made it feel quite slippery. Once we made it to the top we had some fantastic views, both of the surrounding countryside... ...and of the sea. There was also a tiny little chapel up here, which was really pretty. We walked around for a while and admired the views, before making our way back down the steps to the car. The final stop on our trip was the castle of Kritinia. Parking was impossible at this one, so Tim dropped me off for a few minutes to take some photos. The castle was built to protect the local population from Ottoman attacks. There seems to be more of the castle left standing than there was of the castle at Monolithos, but there wasn't an obvious way to explore it without clambering over all sorts of rocks. Never mind, I managed to see a bit of it and get some nice sea views. Then it was time to complete our circuit of the island by driving up towards the airport and across to Faliraki. And to get some more use out of the pool and sun-loungers
  3. It was another beautiful sunny morning when we woke up on Rhodes. Breakfast was included at this apartment and it turned out to be more substantial than we'd expected. As well as the usual selection of bread, cheese and ham we were offered fried eggs and/or an omelette. As we sat outside to eat it at 8am, the sun was already beating down. The plan for today was to explore the capital of the island, also called Rhodes. Rhodes Town is less than 10 miles up the road from where we are staying in Faliraki, so we only had a short drive. We parked in some free parking near the commercial port and set off to explore the city. The port where we parked is a bit outside the centre of town, so first of all we had to walk towards it. We could see the walls of the old town in the distance as we walked past the city's main beach. We followed a lovely walkway, lined with palm trees. As we got closer we could see how extensive the walls were. And make out the minaret of a mosque behind. Rhodes is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and the fortifications here are really impressive. They were built by the Knights Hospitaller, a medieval military order who settled in Rhodes on their way back from the Crusades. The Knights lived on Rhodes for a couple of centuries, departing in 1523 when the island was conquered by the Ottomans. The fortifications they left behind are amazing. As you might imagine, Rhodes is a very popular tourist destination and the small streets of the old town are normally really busy. We'd made an early start and were walking around not long after 9am, which meant it was still comparatively quiet. We were able to wander down the streets and admire the buildings without too many other people in the way. The old town is packed with restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops, most of which were still in the process of setting up. We found the Suleymaniye mosque, which was the first mosque built by the Ottomans after their conquest of Rhodes. It's been rebuilt several times since then, having suffered damage from earthquakes. The mosque is not far from the main castle: the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. This was the headquarters of the Knights, originally built in the early 14th century. It's such an impressive castle! From there we wandered through more little squares. Every so often we'd come across a pretty fountain... ...more ruins... ...or a view of the sea. We found a second mosque too. We spent a while walking through a maze of narrow streets to get out of the old town, because I wanted to see what remained of the Acropolis of Rhodes. Unfortunately, once we got within sight of it we could see that what remained was currently completely covered by scaffolding! So we decided to turn around and walk back. This did give us the opportunity to leave and re-enter the walled part of the city at two different points though, seeing even more of the fortifications. In some places there's a large moat between the walls, which today has paths where you can stroll around. From the edge of the walls there were some great views of the towers and turrets within the city... ...as well as of the main castle itself. We'd been walking around for about three hours by this point and were extremely hot, plus Tim had an online exam to sit in the afternoon, so we decided to walk back to the port to collect the car and drive back to Faliraki. I had a very relaxing afternoon making the most of the pool and sun-loungers while Tim did his exam.
  4. We enjoyed our meal out in Heraklion so much the other night that we decided to eat in the same restaurant again last night. We got served free doughnut balls with honey and shots of raki again Today was the day we were leaving Crete behind and travelling to our next destination of Rhodes. Before we needed to check out of the apartment at 11, there was just time for one last stroll around Heraklion This little building was opposite the robotic parking where we've been leaving the car, and reminded me a lot of the former mosque we saw in Chania at the start of the week. It was set in a small park, beneath the remains of the town walls. Parts of the town walls and the former gates into the city remain here. You can't walk along a lot of them, but it's possible to climb up and walk along a little bit. There's a good view of Heraklion once you climb up. I could see not only the little church next to our car park... ...but also the main cathedral which we'd been admiring in the city centre. It was starting to look a bit cloudy over the city though, as if the promised storms might materialise. At 11 we checked out, dragged our suitcases to the car park and admired the robotic parking for a final time. Heraklion airport is only a few miles outside the city centre so we didn't have a long journey . Finding out where to hand back our rental car, however, turned out to be difficult! When we picked up the car in Chania on Friday night, we'd been told that there was a proper office for the rental company at Heraklion airport, so we'd assumed that finding the correct place would be straightforward. We managed to find the rental car part of the airport without too much difficulty, but it was complete chaos. We saw signs for dozens of different small car rental companies, but not the one we were looking for. At one point, as we drove around looking for it, a Greek man started shouting at us. We assumed initially that he was telling us off for driving the wrong way around the car park (although, no one else seemed to be adhering to any rules of the road!). Eventually it became clear that it wasn't that; he was trying to explain that we were driving the wrong way for our company and we should be in a different section of the car park. We found the right place in the end, although there was no one there from the rental company. There was a small hut with a flap to post keys through though, so in the end we did that and assumed it would be fine. They hadn't held any deposit on our credit card, so we didn't actually need to speak to anyone. We were at the airport a bit too early to check in for our flight, so went to the airport cafe to get a snack for lunch. We were flying to Rhodes with a Greek airline called Sky Express. When planning the holiday initially, I'd wanted to get a ferry from Crete to Rhodes, but travelling between Greek islands is actually quite difficult. Each island is well-connected to Athens, but generally quite poorly connected to any other island. Theoretically there was a ferry between Crete and Rhodes but it didn't seem to be possible to buy tickets for it in advance and there was some suggestion that the ferry company might go bust. In the end I decided to give up on the idea and just book a flight instead. Despite being at the airport with plenty of time to spare, we almost managed to miss our flight. Heraklion turned out to be quite a cramped airport and we ended up sitting several gates away from where we needed to be. A couple of other flights were announced over the tannoy when they started boarding so we assumed ours would be too. With about 20 minutes to go until it was due to take off, I started to get concerned that it hadn't been called. We could see the Sky Express plane from where we were sitting and at that point we looked at it and realised that people were starting to board. A short jog later and we just managed to make it through before the final call finished! The plane to Rhodes was fairly small, with just two seats on either side of the aisle. Compared to the plane we flew to Alderney on earlier this year it qualified as huge, though. The flight to Rhodes only took an hour and before we knew it we were landing at the island's main airport. We retrieved our bags and went to pick up our new rental car, a blue Citroen C3. Then we had a short drive of around 20 minutes or so to the village of Faliraki where we're staying. Faliraki is a place that used to have a very bad reputation as a party town, but I think it's long since stopped being a "cool" place to go and is trying to reinvent itself. We're staying a bit outside of it anyway, so I don't think we're going to be troubled by any rowdy behaviour. We've got a studio apartment with a kitchen/dining area plus bedroom on the ground floor... ...plus unexpected second bedroom on the floor above. Most excitingly, when we open the back door we've got our own outdoor area, complete with little pool. Once we'd settled in we set off to explore a little bit of Faliraki. There's a sandy beach here and we could just make out some sort of small fortress on the hill behind it. In the other direction was a small harbour. We could just make out what looked like some very large, multi-storey hotels on the other side of the bay. There was a beautiful little church down by the harbour. We found a restaurant by the sea to have dinner. Tim had spaghetti and I went for pasticcio again. It was really good! On the way back to the apartment we got a glimpse of the local church, illuminated at night. So far Rhodes seems nice and we're looking forward to exploring more of it tomorrow!
  5. After I'd finished the blog last night we walked into Heraklion in search of food. We ended up finding a lovely restaurant next to a small church, where we shared a mixed grill. At the end of the meal they brought us complimentary doughnut balls, as well as shots of a spirit called "raki" which seemed pretty similar to Croatian rakija. As we walked back towards the apartment afterwards we had some lovely views of some of the monuments we'd seen yesterday lit up at night. Our plan for today was to visit another archaeological site: Phaistos. First step was to walk to the car park and retrieve the rental car from the robotic parking again. This is what parking the car looked like yesterday... ...and this is what retrieving it looked like today! Fortunately, all worked well again and we were soon on our way, negotiating the chaotic traffic out of Heraklion. Phaistos is located nearer to the southern coast of Crete than the northern one, so our route took us through mountainous countryside. There were potentially more storms forecast for today and we could certainly see low cloud over some of the mountains. We arrived at Phaistos after an hour or so of driving and purchased our entry tickets. It was €8 each to get in. We then began walking up from the car park towards the archaeological site. I was impressed to see large cactuses growing alongside the path. Once we reached the top we had our first view of the ruins. Like Knossos, Phaistos is also a Bronze Age site. It's believed to have been inhabited since 3600 BC. The site was discovered in the late 19th century, although not excavated until the 20th. If we thought information about what we were looking at was poor at Knossos, it was even worse at Phaistos. There wasn't even a map, so we were just wandering around, trying to see what we could find. These seems to be the remains of rooms in the palace. Anything valuable was covered by a roof to protect it from the sun; in this case, remains of original pillars. It looked like maybe there had been some sort of drainage system here. We found more pillars here and some faint remains of colour on the wall behind. Unlike Knossos, Phaistos hasn't been restored and repainted. As we hadn't got here at the crack of dawn, there were a few more tourists around than there had been at Knossos. But still not a lot. This site definitely doesn't seem to be as popular with tourists, although after Knossos I think it was the second most important Minoan palace. It's set in a beautiful location, with views of the mountains on all sides. And some views of cactuses too! Eventually we came around to a large open area, which was the central courtyard of the palace. There were lots more little rooms and pathways off here to explore. I completely missed it initially, but Tim spotted these ancient pots hidden away. They looked really old! From here our route led us to the ancient theatre. We caught sight of some more pots, sheltered by a roof. And then we began to make our way back towards the entrance. The day had brightened up a bit by this point and the mountains weren't so cloudy. It was still really hot! We drove back to Heraklion to cool off, have a late lunch and try out the hot tub again
  6. We had a comparatively early start to the day today, with it still being dark when my alarm went off at 06.30. While I wouldn't normally choose to get up at that time on holiday, it felt like a good decision today because we were planning to visit the archaeological site of Knossos. Knossos is certainly one of the most visited tourist attractions in Crete, if not in the whole of Greece, and I'd read online about people standing for hours in queues to get in in the middle of the day. That sounded like no fun at all to us, so we planned to be there as soon as the site opened at 8am. Knossos is only a few miles from the centre of Heraklion where we are staying, so in theory it ought to have been a straightforward journey. But first of all we had to walk to the robotic parking, with our fingers crossed that our rental car was going to reappear in one piece! This is the turntable which you drive the car onto when you arrive... ...and here is our car happily emerging from a lift after we recalled it by scanning our parking ticket at the machine. Phew! It only cost €5 to park it overnight, which wasn't too bad. All that then remained was to negotiate the rush hour traffic out of Heraklion. It wasn't the most fun in the world, the usual bad driving being exacerbated by the fact that we were clashing with the school run, but we made it to Knossos for shortly after 8am. There were no queues at that time of the morning, but I'd already booked our tickets online in advance to be on the safe side, so we were able to walk straight into the site. Knossos is a Bronze Age archaeological site, often referred to as the oldest city in Europe. A large palace was built here by a civilisation called the Minoans, originally around the year 1900 BC. They lived here for around five centuries, before mysteriously disappearing in circumstances which aren't fully understood. It's thought that Knossos might have been destroyed by an earthquake, which Crete is prone to from time to time. The site was discovered and excavated in the early 20th century by a British archaeologist called Arthur Evans. His work here was controversial, because he reconstructed and restored Knossos based on his vision of what it would have looked like. These frescoes, for example, have obviously been repainted. They were fascinating to see though! We had definitely had the right idea to come early; at this time of the morning we were able to explore the site with almost nobody else around. As we made our way towards the central court, which connects different parts of the palace to one another, there was barely any other tourists visible. From here we were able to peer down into ancient rooms with colourful decorations. This is the grand staircase which leads down to the rooms below. As we peered over we could see that the site is really deep and there were several different storeys. Still not many other people around! Our next stop was the Throne Room. I'd read online that in high season you might have to queue for an hour to be able to get inside. We walked straight in! I was a little underwhelmed by the wooden throne to the side until I realised that was a reconstruction, and the real throne was in the room beyond. There were some beautiful frescoes in this room too. Outside again, we got a glimpse of probably the most photographed part of Knossos: the north entrance. This is where visitors coming to Knossos by sea would have entered the palace, via a road leading up from the harbour. The wall here is decorated with an amazing fresco of a charging bull. A bull is particularly appropriate for Knossos, because according to Greek legend the palace was the home of the labyrinth that held the minotaur. Still can't believe we managed to take all these photos and have the place to ourself (If you do an image search for "crowds at Knossos", you'll see what I mean! One of the slightly frustrating things about the site is that there isn't a lot of information to tell you what you're looking at. There was a map at the point we entered and a few info boards scattered around, but no explanations of the site's history or helpful arrows to tell you which way to go next. I caught sight of these pots just by accident. I suspect the lack of information is in some way deliberate. In order to get into Knossos, you have to walk through a small crowd of guides who want to sell you their services. I think we managed to see a lot, even without having a guide. Even if we weren't always sure exactly what we were looking at! As we began to come back round in a circle towards the entrance, we could see that the tour buses had started to arrive for the day. Sure enough, once we got back to the car park there were six coaches already in place and a seventh about to arrive. I'm so glad I managed to get out of bed and beat them to it With our sightseeing done we headed back towards Heraklion, where I spent some time enjoying the sun-lounger on our terrace. We also tried out the hot tub for the first time. We definitely had the best of the weather in the morning too, as mid-afternoon the promised thunder storms arrived and we had some rain. It seems to have cleared up a bit now, so we're going off into the centre of Heraklion to get some food
  7. It was another lovely sunny day when we woke up this morning, despite the weather forecast threatening rain later this week. We had time for another breakfast on the balcony in Kalyves before we needed to think about checking out. We really loved the place where we were staying, but it was time to move on to our next destination: Heraklion. We couldn't check in to our apartment there until after 3pm, so we weren't in any particular rush to arrive. Heraklion is only about two hours away from Chania by car, on a fast road along Crete's northern coast. So that we didn't arrive too early, I planned for us to stop at Lake Kournas, about half an hour into our journey. Lake Kournas is notable for being the only freshwater lake on the island of Crete. The perimeter of the lake is only about 3.5km, so it's not exactly huge. It is a pretty lake, though; the colour of the water was particularly attractive. There isn't a footpath around the entire lake, but there is a trail around part of it and we followed it as far as it went. There's a sandy beach on this side of the lake and it's quite commercialised, with lots of people renting out pedaloes. We decided to give that a miss and concentrate on enjoying the views. Once we'd walked as far as we could around the lake, we stopped off at a nearby taverna for lunch. We just had a glimpse of the water from where we were sitting. I opted for pastitsio again, while Tim had a spaghetti bolognaise. We also had pudding: I chose a chocolate crepe... ...while Tim was healthier and went for yoghurt with honey and walnuts. After lunch we drove the final hour and a half towards Heraklion. Heraklion is Crete's biggest city - and the fifth biggest city in Greece, in fact - so driving into it was a bit of a challenge. It doesn't compare with driving into Athens, which is definitely one of life's more terrifying experiences, but it was a maze of tiny little streets with crazy driving. Unfortunately, the place we're staying in doesn't come with parking. I thought it did when I booked (because I filtered on "parking" on booking.com), but no sooner had I made a reservation than I received a message giving me a link to a couple of car parks I could try. Bit frustrating! We navigated our way to one of the suggested car parks anyway, which was a bit unusual because it describes itself as "robotic parking". You drive the car onto platform, taking care to position it correctly, and then ultimately the platform gets lifted up and the car is suspended in its storage location! That was only about a 10-minute walk from the place where we're staying, and the good news is that it's a really lovely apartment. We've got a big kitchen area... ...plus a sitting area with bed behind. We've also got a fantastic outdoor area with a double sun-lounger and bean bags to sit on. There even appears to be a hot tub Once we'd settled in we set out to explore a bit of Heraklion. The first impressive building that we came to was the Agios Minas Cathedral. The cathedral is named after St Minas, the patron saint of Heraklion. From there we progressed to the Morosini fountain, which stands in the city's main square. This building doesn't look too impressive, but it's St Mark's Basilica, a Catholic church that was built in Heraklion by the Venetians. The Ottomans later turned it into a mosque and today it's an art gallery. This pretty church is the cathedral of St Titus. This one was built as a mosque and only converted into a church in 1925. Eventually we caught sight of the sea at the end of the road. And once we got to the sea, we could see the Koules Fortress. This is a Venetian fortress, which was built in the 16th century. The walls of the fortress looked really beautiful against the bright blue sky. We could see as we looked in the other direction that it was getting a bit cloudier over the mountains, though. There's some rain forecast later in the week. There were some big ships in the port here, including one that looked like a cruise ship. We'd walked quite a long way out on Heraklion's pier by this point. As we turned around to walk back into the city, we had an amazing view of the sun starting to set over the mountains. It's been another fun day in Crete and we're looking forward to exploring more of this side of the island over the next few days
  8. Tim had a couple of online exams to sit this morning, so while he was doing that I walked down to Kalyves for another stroll by the sea. It was an incredibly hot day again today; so much warmer than I expected for the end of September. I walked around by the harbour, from where I had a nice view back to the main church in the centre of town. The mountains beyond the town looked gorgeous in the morning sunshine. As I walked along the coast in the opposite direction, I got a glimpse of the hilltop fortress which we'd seen from Aptera yesterday too. Once the exams had been successfully passed, we jumped in the car and drove along the coast to the little town of Rethymno, which is only about 45 minutes away from where we're staying. We managed to find some free parking, right by the sea. In the other direction we caught sight of Rethymno's Venetian fortress. We walked towards it to get a better look. It was really huge, towering above us on a rock. I particularly loved the fact that there were cactuses growing all the way up the fortress rock. Eventually we made it round towards the centre of town. We stopped for some lunch at a cafe with an amazing view of the sea. After lunch we had a stroll through the picturesque streets of Rethymno. The town seemed to be a mixture of old and new. It hasn't come out very well in the picture, but this building had an Arabic inscription above the door, presumably a legacy of Ottoman rule. We found our way to what seemed to be the town's main church, complete with large bell tower. From here we followed little streets down to the sea. By the sea we found a huge Rethymno sign. It seems to be a local recycling initiative, with people encouraged to fill the letters with plastic bottles. I enjoyed walking under palm trees by the beach. As we walked we could see the town's lighthouse in the distance. The old harbour here is Venetian, although the lighthouse looks newer. The harbour itself is really pretty Once we'd finished exploring we walked back around past the fortress and towards where we'd parked the car. Rethymno was a lovely little place to visit, but with temperatures over 30 degrees again today we were glad to get back to the air-conditioning of the apartment to cool off for a while!
  9. It was a beautiful bright sunny day when we woke up this morning. We had breakfast sitting on our balcony, enjoying the amazing view of the sea. The aim for today was to do a bit of a road trip around the western part of Crete. Our first stop was Aptera, an archaeological site not far from where we're staying. We were expecting to have to pay four euros each to get in, but for some reason it was free today. There weren't very many other people there when we arrived, which meant we had this theatre all to ourselves. To be honest, the theatre was probably the highlight of Aptera; it was a pleasant place to walk around but there weren't loads of ruins to see. We enjoyed looking at a beautiful little white church... ...and we got a view of what looked like a fortress in the distance... ...but I don't think the ruins themselves are going to win any prizes compared to some of the other historical sites we're hoping to see on this trip. What was really fantastic at Aptera were the views of the mountains. The interior of Crete really is very mountainous and this was a good location from which to admire it. After Aptera we jumped back in the car and drove west, towards a place that seemed to appear on every list of must-see sights in Crete: Falassarna beach. Falassarna has apparently been voted not just the best beach in Crete, but also one of the best beaches in Europe. It is a very sandy beach, but we weren't really that impressed! It was extremely busy and covered in paid sun loungers; not like some of the amazingly remote sandy beaches we've been to in the Hebrides! Admittedly, the weather is better in Crete and the sea was an amazing shade of blue We had a quick drink of water and then got back in the car to continue our road trip. The route took us back up into the mountains and the views of the sea from here were fantastic. We made an unscheduled stop at a viewpoint when we noticed goats by the side of the road. There were so many of them! And plenty of sheep too. The goats in particular were quite brave, just wandering across the road whenever they felt like it... ...before jumping up to safety. It was a viewpoint well worth stopping at for the views of the sea too. Both the sea and the sky were perfectly blue Our route continued to take us through the mountains. As we began to loop back around towards Chania the countryside was surprisingly green in places. We stopped for lunch with a lovely view in a taverna by the side of the road, which was deserted except for us and a local cat. We both had chicken souvlaki, which came with chips and some gorgeous pitta bread. Then we headed back to the apartment, where I enjoyed sitting in the air conditioning for a bit; it was very hot today! Once the weather had cooled down a bit, it was time to venture out for a little stroll around the village of Kalyves. There's a small beach here too and a little seaside promenade. I loved the view of the mountains behind the town... ...and also this absolutely tiny chapel right by the sea. The main church in the middle of town is much bigger! We've had a fun day today exploring some different parts of Crete. I think we've probably managed to see some bits which most other people on our flight won't have
  10. We were a bit restricted in when we could go on a late summer holiday this year, with Tim's study commitments in Poznan falling in mid-September. When I was trying to find places which might still have good weather in late September and early October, I kept coming back to one destination: Greece. We'd had a really good trip to Athens back in autumn 2018, as well as a very warm trip to Cyprus in autumn 2019, so it felt like this part of the world might be a good choice at this time of year. I was still trying to get value out of the final dregs of my pandemic EasyJet vouchers and in the end I managed to successfully utilise them on two flights to Crete. Crete caught my attention because it is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean; the fifth largest, in fact, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica. That was good, because it felt like we could spend a reasonable amount of time there, perhaps doing some sort of road trip. Going to a sunny destination just to sit on the beach isn't our sort of holiday! For some reason a lot of flights to Greece seem to take off in the late afternoon and early evening, arriving in Greece in the middle of the night. So we ended up with flights to Chania, Crete's second city, taking off from Gatwick at 17.05 on Friday afternoon. Getting to Gatwick for that sort of time is slightly stressful, as you never quite know what the traffic on the M25 is going to be like. In the end it took us slightly longer than I'd anticipated and by the time we'd made it to the airport parked, parked and caught the bus to the airport, we only had about 90 minutes to go before our flight. That was plenty of time to get through bag drop and security, neither of which seemed particularly busy, but possibly not enough time to get any food before the flight. We were flying from the north terminal at Gatwick and it was absolutely rammed, with no free seats anywhere and queues outside all the restaurants. There was only 15 minutes until our gate was supposed to be announced so we didn't think we had time to queue anywhere... until the departures board announced our flight was delayed and there would be gate information at 17.38. And so began the mystery delay! Over the course of the next few hours we had multiple reasons why the flight wasn't on time. The EasyJet app sent me a push notification to apologise and say it was due to an air traffic control restriction delaying the incoming aircraft. Once we ultimately got to the gate, airport staff made a not very audible announcement explaining that we were waiting for a new crew, who still had to go through security checks at the airport. Once we were eventually on the plane, about two hours later than scheduled, the pilot said that we'd been delayed because they'd been waiting for water to be delivered to the plane. All in all a bit baffling! Never mind, the delay had at least enabled us to get some dinner at Wetherspoons. And I'd used the time while we were waiting to message the car rental company and the hotel we were staying at to let them know that we were going to be late. I was crossing my fingers and really hoping they were going to wait up for us, because with the two hour time difference in Greece we were already due to be arriving quite late. The scheduled arrival time was 23.00 and now it looked more like being 01.00 on Saturday morning! The flight time to Crete is around four hours and I think it would have been a spectacular flight if it hadn't been pitch black. The pilot explained at one point that we were flying over Zadar in Croatia, then down the Adriatic coast towards Albania and across to Greece. We also had some unexpected in-flight entertainment when, half an hour into the flight, someone from the row in front of us went to have a smoke in the one of the plane's toilets. An alarm went off, there was a great commotion with flight attendants running backwards and forwards and the man in question got a stern telling off, having to give his passport details to the crew. He was then a model passenger for the next two hours or so.... at which point a flight attendant had to come and confiscate the bottle of duty-free spirits he'd been working his way through! I was slightly worried at this point that we were about to turn into one of those stories you see on the news about flights being diverted to random places because of unruly passengers! Luckily that didn't happen and we landed safely in Chania, some time around 1am. Passport control was pretty brief, with staff stamping our passports but not asking questions about our itinerary. While we were waiting for the baggage I realised I had a missed call from a Greek number on my phone. I rang it back and it turned out to be the hotel, saying that they couldn't wait for us any longer but were going to send self check-in instructions to me via Whatsapp. Phew! I had chosen the accommodation because 24 check-in was supposed to be possible, but it was still a relief to know we were definitely going to be able to get into the accommodation. Now we just had to wait and see whether car rental people would still be waiting for us. The good news is that they were! As soon as we stepped out into arrivals, I caught sight of a man holding a sign with Tim's name on. He directed us to a small Fiat Panda and proceeded to drive us a few minutes up the road to the office of the car rental company. Or, rather, the car park of the car rental company. We then sat down at a table outside while he filled out a rental contract by hand, using the light of his phone. After a negative experience with car hire in Mallorca last year, I'd done a lot of research before booking anything in Crete and chosen a company who sounded like they were going to be pretty relaxed. That turned out to be the case. The man said he didn't need to hold any excess on Tim's credit card, advised us on how to avoid getting caught by the local speed cameras and told us that we weren't allowed to drive the car off road, but that if we did to be careful and drive slowly because it's a low car! He also gave us directions for getting onto the main road which was really helpful, and we were soon on our way towards the seaside town of Kalyves where we are staying. Initially the plan was to stay in Chania itself, but when I was trying to find accommodation I struggled to locate anything that looked like it had decent parking. Kalyves is only about 15 miles down the road from Chania so we didn't have a long journey, and luckily we found the accommodation without any difficulty. Self check-in was easy, with our keys just left in the door for us. The apartment itself looked basic, but comfortable. It was 3am Greek time by this point, so we went straight to bed! When we woke up on Saturday morning, we discovered we had a large balcony with an incredible view of the sea. Breakfast at the hotel had seemed a bit expensive (£20 each) so I hadn't booked it. We walked into the village of Kalyves for some pastries, which we ate on the balcony with a coffee. It was a nice relaxed start to the day. By the time we'd finished breakfast it was already boiling hot. I covered myself in sun cream and then we got in the car to drive towards Chania. Parking in Chania was a bit of a challenge but we eventually found a parking garage and made our way down towards the harbour. I didn't know anything about Chania before I started planning this trip, but it's a really beautiful place. The city had a period of Venetian rule followed by a period of Ottoman rule, which has left it with an interesting mix of architecture. We walked around the old harbour, which was built by the Venetians in the 14th century. One of the most striking buildings in the harbour is this former Ottoman mosque, built in 1645. It's hard to convey in photos but the harbour is huge and takes quite a long time to walk around. We were heading out towards Chania lighthouse, which was built in 1864 on the site of an original Venetian lighthouse. The lighthouse sticks out quite far into the sea. As we walked out towards it, we had some fantastic views back towards the town... ...including some great views back towards the mosque. Crete looks really mountainous away from the coast! At last, we got to the lighthouse! On the walk back there were some more great views of the town and we spotted what looks like the minaret of another mosque in the distance. We found a really nice restaurant in the harbour to have lunch. I had pastitsio, which is a Greek variation on the theme of lasagne (made with macaroni rather than sheets of pasta). I can't remember the name of Tim's dish, but they tasted a bit like ćevapi in a tomato sauce. Really good! We ordered a coffee at the end of the meal and were given complimentary little pink cakes and shots of a very sweet wine. I was suspicious that we might end up actually getting charged for them, but we didn't! Then it was time to negotiate the chaotic Chania traffic and drive back to Kalvyes. After yesterday's rather tiring day of travel, we had a relaxing evening. I spent some time reading on a sun lounger on the terrace, before going for a drink at the pool bar. Tomorrow we're hoping to see a bit more of Crete, but today has been a really nice introduction
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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!!
  14. 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!
  15. 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!
  16. 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.
  17. 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!
  18. 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
  19. 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!
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