Days 30 – 31: Albania [Sarandë]

Day 30 – Friday 20th July

After departing by bus from Athens last night a bit after 10pm, we arrived to Sarande, Albania, very early this morning. As usual, sleep on the bus was impossible. Crossing the border from Greece took about two hours, normally it’s boring enough but so much worse at 3am.
Luckily our host was waiting on the street to greet us in when we finally arrived in Albania. Seeing as there’s not really any street signs, let alone bus stops. It seemed that people just got off wherever they needed to be dropped. Tommy, our host, is an overly helpful bloke and his favourite expressions are “no problem”, “don’t worry” and “I’ll take care of it”. Turns out there was a problem upon arrival; he had overbooked his hostel but he kept his word and did take care of it by letting us stay for a few hours in an apartment until the people in our bed were ready to check out. After a couple hours sleep, at about 11am, Tommy came to take us to the hostel. Second problem: there’s no water at the hostel which wasn’t to be fixed until later that afternoon. This was quite strange but didn’t matter too much as Jen and I were pretty keen to explore. After loading up on some local currency; 15,000 leke, we caught a bus to the ancient ruins of Butrint, an old Roman city approximately 45 minutes from Sarande.

Butrint, Albania

Fire the cannons!

The Baptistery at Butrint

Here’s a little bit more info about The Baptistery at Butrint:
“By the 5th century AD Christianity was flourishing at Butrint and the city had its own bishop. The Baptistery and the Great Basilica were constructed in the early 6th century. The Baptistery was discovered in 1928 by the Italian Archaeological mission. It is the second largest baptistery in the Eastern Roman Empire, the largest being that of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

Every aspect of the architecture and decoration of the Baptistery is symbolic of the baptismal rite, with the fountain on the far side of the Baptistery representing the fountain of eternal life. The intricate brightly coloured mosaic has representations of land (animals), air (birds), and water (fish), symbolizing aspects of Christian salvation.

The attention of the visitor crossing the threshold of the main entrance is held by two large peacocks in a vine growing from a great vase. The peacocks symbolise paradise and immortality, and the vase and grapes, the Eucharist and the blood of Christ.” – From website.
After wandering around for a couple hours we took another bus to Ksmili, a small beach village on the way back home, and relaxed there.

Chillin’ at the beach

That evening our friendly “no problem” host, Tommy, took all the guests down to the beach where he dug a hole and made a bbq right there on the sand and cooked up a pretty delicious dinner.

“Dad, I dug a hole”

For a Friday night the rest of the city was pretty quiet, even down at the towns most “happening’ bar. It was still nice to walk along the beach at night.

Day 31 – Saturday 21st July

Another local attraction close to Sarande is the beautiful Blue Eye, a natural spring about 30 minutes bus ride from the town centre.

Welcome…

Jen and I went with two lads from the Netherlands, staying at the hostel with us. Once there we went in for a very, very quick dip. After about ten seconds my lower half was numb from the coldness, but the water was amazingly clear. The Dutch boys spent a bit more time in the water, being that they’re more accustomed to the cooler climate.

 

Days 25 – 29: Greece [Ios and Athens]

Well…
It’s been over a month between posts and time really does fly! Jenny and I have been travelling for almost three months now and with only two weeks left I really have to update this. I think the next few posts are going to be heavily imaged based and I’ll update the words later on.
Luckily I have done some writing, I just haven’t made the time to update this until now.
So here goes:

Final days of Greece

Day 25 – Sunday 15th July

We caught the ferry from Santorini today to the party capital of the Pleiades. Ios is basically a party island packed full of tourists aged from 20 something to early teens. Our friends Kirsty and Jack met us there, who are staying at the same hostel we are, The Purple Pig. The hostel is about 2 minutes walk from the start of the beach and about a 10 minute drive from the port where we arrived, and were met by a transfer bus from the hostel. The Pig is run by Georgie, whose parents own it, but he’s the boss man, and probably one of the best blokes ever. He’s a real genuine guy, always happy to help out everyone. Having nice hosts have really made it an even better experience.

Jack had already met the whole island and made friends with 2 lads aged 17, Yani and Joe, who acted more mature than us, and were great value! Jack also had his cousin Sam there, and another of Kirstys friends, Tez, met us there too. So we had about 10 or 12 of us rockin’ around the island.
After a short stroll down the beach we went for afternoon drinks at the ‘Far Out’ beach club, all set with a dance floor and pool. Far Out is where most of the island (well, those that are awake) go during the day, while others recover from last night.
It’s a bad choice to start drinking before sunset as everyone doesn’t hit the town til about midnight so we stayed in, just having beers on the balcony tonight.

Day 26 – Monday 16th July

Talk about the hard life – today I stayed in bed til around midday then hit the beach and sunbaked for the rest of the day!
After a hard day at work, we all went out for Mexican at a restaurant about 5 mins walk up the hill called ‘Harmony‘ [voted #1 restaurant on the island]. There were lots of Aussies dining and working there. Another bad decision was starting to drink with dinner and back at ours after that. By about 11pm I was knackered and decided to have a nap. I was woken up after 1am when the others called a couple of cabs (there are a total of five cabs on the whole island) and we went in to town. The main part of the town, pretty close to the port, is absolutely packed with tourists! They were all over the streets, jumping from bar to bar and pashing all along the way. We visited nearly all of the bars as they’re so densely packed in to one area. One of the popular hangouts with most of the drunks, ironically, is called Rehab. Check out a guide to the rest of the clubs here.

 Day 27 – Tuesday 17th July

Another late rise, around noon, which has been a nice change to be able to sleep in after so many early mornings in Turkey.
Our crew decided today that we’d go and get a pedal boat to go for a cruise around the water. The hire shop commented, “it’s windy out there today – stick close to the rocks and you’ll be fine.” I asked if it’s safe to go out and he sort of laughed and said “you’ll be fine on the way out, but the way back might be a bit of a struggle.”

It’s a bit choppy out today

We got two boats between the eight of us and followed Jack out to a cove where we tied the boats up and climbed some rocks to jump off a 7 meter cliff.

Docked and climbing

Up to the top

It was a pretty popular place as there were another two or three groups of people who came out to jump while we were there. We stayed for a couple hours and I jumped off about for times.

We made it!

Me assessing the jump…

Bombs awaaay!

By the time we decided to leave the winds were picking up and the water was pretty choppy so it was near impossible to stick to the rocks.
We ended up getting blown right over to the opposite side end of the beach from where we had originally hired the boats from. While we were trying to avoid crashing in to the rocks the others had beoken their rudder and were stranded out in the middle still. Luckily one of the locals came out on his speed boat and towed them back in to safety while we pushed through the strong current and eventually made it safe back on to land. Turned out to be a very thrilling afternoon!

This is me jumping backwards!

Day 28 – Wednesday 18th July

Today we caught the ferry to Athens and said goodbye to Jack, Kirsty, Sammy and the others. We’ll be seeing them again soon in Spain. The ferry ride was a bit shaky as the sea eas very rough and I was having flashbacks from yesterdays shocker. I was very glad to be back on land once we arrived. Just had a quiet night out at dinner for Annie and Aidan’s last day with us.

Day 29 – Thursday 19th July

We all visited the Acropolis today.

Our hostel was within about ten minutes walk which made it nice and easy to get to – especially because it’s just about the only thing to see in the entire city.

Jenny and I

The rest of Athens wasn’t that exciting and I’m pretty glad we only had the one day here.


We went for one last sight seeing adventure with Annie and Aidan to the old ruins. After lunch we said farewell to our travel buddies and it was pretty sad to see them go. We’ve had a blast with them over the last month and Jenny and I are both very glad they came along with us! Look forward to catching up again when we return home.
So long to Greece! Now off to Albania..

Days 22 – 24: Greece [Santorini; Thira / Fira]

Day 22 – Thursday 12th July

We left Crete around noon today, and caught a ferry to the stunning island of Santorini.

Beautiful Santorini

The main part of Santorini, where we were staying, is Thira and it’s “the epitome of relaxation, with it’s sun-drenched beaches and ambling white washed stone paths. The island is a partially submerged volcanic caldera poking above the oceans surface in five places” – from ‘The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget’.
From the ferry port we caught the bus in to Thira, then from there it was a 2 minute walk to Hotel Flora. After check-in we went for an orientation walk, being about 5 minutes to the entry point to the main build up of shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. Stumbled across ‘Obelix’ gyros, which turned out to be the best gyro’s in all of Sanotirini, according to their logo, and I couldn’t argue with that. Costing less than 3 euros for a feed, I knew we would be coming back here multiple times within the next few days.

Deeeliciouss Obelix gyros

After lunch we walked through the town and found the cable cars with a beautiful view.

Jenny and I overlooking Santorini

*Travellers tip* – If you’re going to catch a cable car, either do it from the bottom up, or pay for a return ticket.
Jenny and I are on a pretty strict budget so we bought a ticket one way, down to the bottom. Costs about 3 euro, or 4 for return. The ride goes so quick down that you can’t even get a photo, and at the bottom, there’s not much to do…at all. It’s the old port so there are some boats, a few restaurants, and a lot of donkeys. The alternative way to get down and up, other than the cable car, is ride a donkey (4euro) or take the steps.

Mother flippin’ asses!

Now, as I said, we are on a pretty strict budget and once we were at the bottom, didn’t want to fork out for another ticket. I thought it was pretty cruel to make some poor ass schlep my ass back up the stairs on a 40 something degree day, so Jenny and I told Annie and Aidan we would meet them up the top, and take the stiars. Turns out, stairs fu*king suck! Especially when there’s 588 of them. Yep, we walked 588 stairs, winding there way up a really steep cliff face. Anyway, about an hour or two later, a lot of sweat, tears, and a mild panic attack along the way, we made it to the top! I’ll be happy to never see another donkey in my life.

Day 23 – Friday 13th July

Santorini, like most of the islands in Greece, really comes to life after sunset. Last night, after getting over the massive stair-hike, I went hopping around the different bars until early morning with Aidan, so our morning today was written off.

We woke up and dragged ourselves to Murphy’s, an Irish bar that played the AFL live, from back home, which Aidan was very excited about to watch his team play. I wasn’t too fussed.
After the footy we met up with Jenny and Annie again and all caught the bus from Thira to the north part of the island, Oia (pronounced ee-ah).

Amazing Oia

Oia is an absolutely flawless village, famous for it’s postcard sunsets and definitely a must see.

Other than the tourists who pepper the streets, making it almost impossible to move, you instantly understand why so many people go there once the sun begins to go down.

Bloody tourists

Once the sun had actually set below the horizon, everyone along the strip applauded. Quite an amazing sight.

Travellers tip – When visiting Oia it’s probably worth getting there at least 2 hours before sunset to secure yourself a good viewing spot. Take a picnic along with you as the restaurants are a rip off, and practically all booked out anyway.

Stunning + sunset = Stunset

Day 24 – Saturday 14th July

Today was probably one of the best days I’ve had so far, definitely the best day in Greece anyway! All four of us hired quad bikes [2 per bike] and toured around the island. It cost about 22.50euro per bike (I’ve heard you can find even cheaper) and filled up with petrol twice, costing 11euro, which is very reasonable for the whole day.

Broom broom!

With our map we guided ourselves around and visited several beaches. One was called ‘Red Beach’, as the rock faces surrounding it and the sand were a deep crimson.

Jenny and I at Red Beach

Nothing like the beaches back home. From the red beach you can catch a taxi-boat to the black beach and white beaches (again, named after the colour of the sand), which I think is the only way to access them, as you can’t get there by road.
We also went to a nice strip along the south part of the island that seems to be another party hub as it was surrounded by bars and clubs, and undoubtedly would be very popular at night time.

After beaching it for majority of the day, we went to a Santo Wines and sampled 12 different wines, all made locally. Aidan and I were the drivers so didn’t want to drink too much…well, might have wanted to, but wisely chose not to get pissed.

Click here for a full list of wineries in Santorini.

From there we went over the road to a Mexican restaurant, Señor Zorbas, for some delicious grub. Of couse, enjoyed another amazing Santorini sunset. It was pretty devastating having to return the quadbikes at the end of the day. But it was probably for the better as I couldn’t work out how to turn on the headlights. Turns out it was an easy flick of the switch.
Soon to follow; the final days in Greece, on the party island of Ios..

Days 18 – 21: Greece [Crete; Chania & Heraklion]

Day 18 – Sunday 8th July

It was a day of farewells today at the airport as Jenny, Aidan, Annie and I all said goodbye to Nick, who is heading back to London. It was also time to say goodbye to Turkey and hello to Greece.

From Istanbul it was a pretty quick flight, with one stopover in Athens we then boarded again to head to the island of Crete. According to the Lonely Planet, Crete is distinguished as home of Europe’s earliest civilization, the Minoan. The island is the centre of a maritime trading empire from around 2000 BC that produced artworks unsurpassed by the rest of the ancient world.

We landed in Heraklion and had to catch a cab from the airport to the bus station. From there we caught a bus that took about an hour to get to Chania, the ‘Spiritual Capital of Crete’. It was pretty good timing as we got to watch the sun setting over the water along our bus journey.

From the bus station we got some local help, after the lady at the information booth was very uninformed and after asking if she knew where our hotel is all she replied with was a very blunt ‘no’! Very helpful. Luckily, there was a kind old gentleman that spoke English and apparently had nothing better to do so he walked us there. Hotel Idramon is about a 10 minute walk from the bus station and situated along one of the main drags  that lead straight down to the water, and the town square.

Atop the hotel roof

Our host, Nicholas, was happy to go above and beyond to make sure we were all happy. He told us we were always welcome to sit up on his rooftop and chill out, or if we wanted to go somewhere he would organize it all, and he even had organised with a few local restaurants to have discounted meals for guests of his hotel. We were pretty happy to enjoy a meal down by the water and just people watch for the evening.

View of the sunset over Chania from our hotel

Downtown Chania

Day 19 – Monday 9th July

Crete is one of the few Greek islands that can most likely support itself without tourists, however tourists flock there constantly, and stay out until the wee hours of the morning. Some areas of the island are overdeveloped, though there are some unspoiled coastal areas. Chania, where we are staying, is the most attractive part of the island, we are told. The beaches are just a short bus ride from the centre of town, where we are staying. Only 15 minutes away by bus we went to a section of the beach called ‘Costa Costa’, one of the most “happening” parts of the beach, according to Nicholas.

Costa Costa

Basically, the main road is scattered with hotels that back out on to the water and the each own a section of the beach. So Costa Costa is the name of the hotel, and also that section of the beach. Overlooking the water we sat undercover on a verandah, with a DJ that cranked out the usual house tunes, with a waitress serving us drinks, it was quite a relaxing afternoon. The sand is covered with toned up and tanned Europeans. The hotels also provideded deck chairs and umbrellas that cost around 5euro to hire two chairs and shade.

By the time the sun sets most of the guests have left the beach to go home and have a siesta for a few hours before hitting the clubs later on, much later on.

Chania Nightlife
The bars situated in Chania are all pretty much along the same street, with staff members out front trying to get you in. It’s easy to take advantage of this as they all offer a free “welcome shot”, so after you’ve been welcomed, just move on to the next bar.

Day 20 – Tuesday 10th July

Hungover as hell, and probably still a little bit pissed, today we had organised a driver (thanks to our helpful host Nicholas) to take us to a beach, just outside of town. I think it was Falassarna Beach.

It took about 30 minutes to get there and is a whole lot less touristy than the beach we visited in town yesterday. It was quite relaxing, and the perfect spot to nurse ourselves back to 100%. It was about 10 euro’s each to hire our personal driver and he was happy to sit around and wait all day until we were ready before heading back in to town.

Click here for a list of other beaches in Chania.

Day 21 – Wednesday 11th July

Today we left Chania and came back to Heraklion for another night before leaving Crete. After dropping our bags at Hotel Lena, about a 7 minute walk from the bus station, we caught a taxi* to the better of the two water parks in Crete, ‘Water City’.

Awesome view over Water City

The four of us spent the whole day there, going on every ride at least three times. Entry to Water City was 25euro and although it was school holidays, it wasn’t overly packed so the queues moved pretty quick, too. Nice way to spend the day!

*Note: When catching cabs in Greece, be sure to ask them “how much?” beforehand, and don’t pay more than what they quote you. Seems to be a pretty widely accepted rule throughout Europe as they don’t really seem to use meters too often.

Days 15 – 17: (Finishing up) Turkey [Istanbul & Gallipoli]

 

Day 15 – Thursday 5th July

After an overnight bus back to Istanbul we arrived around 6am feeling very seedy and tired. It was a very draining trip as it was near impossible to sleep while the driver cranked his radio all night and pumped the air conditioner, probably to keep himself awake…as well as the rest of the bus. After freshening up at the hotel a few of us went and checked out the Basilica Cistern. It was pretty cool, literally, being that it is an underground waterproof receptacle for holding liquids.

Inside the cistern

Statue of Medusas head

As there was a mix-up with our original flight out of Melbourne, Intrepid were nice enough to give us a free upgrade to the Best Western hotel on the otherside of town. We all met up with Annies brother for a pretty relaxed afternoon of beers on the roof of the hotel and then went for our favourite beers and shisha. Jenny and I have an early start tomorrow so didn’t stay out late.

Day 16 – Friday 6th July

For the final two days of our Intrepid tour, Jenny and I went for a vist to Gallipoli. We caught a mini-bus from the hotel to the main bus depot where we travelled about five and a half hours to get to a nearby town Eceabat. We dropped our bags off at the hotel ‘Crowded House’ [this is probably where the band got their name], had a quick bite to eat then were swept up by a new tour guide and a minibus with 10 other people.

It was pretty a big day with visits to lots of locations, our guide told us stories that are famous from the war such as Simpson and his donkey, and about the day where both sides called a truce to bury the dead soldiers.

“Scary” Turk carrying back an Aussie soldier

Lone Pine

We took a walk through some of the original trenches, being very careful not to step on any of the barbed wire that still lines the dirt walls.

Some trenches

More “enemy” trenches

There are quite a lot of memorial sites for both sides that we visited, jumping on and off the minibus every 5 minutes between sites. Hearing stories of brave soldiers; the youngest Turkish was 13 and a 14 year old Australian. It was a pretty hot day as we wandered around. I cannot even fathom how hard life would have been for the soldiers living in the trenches.

Day 17 – Saturday 7th July

Today is our last day in Turkey and I’m a little bit sad to be leaving the Motherland. Definitely filled with a new found appreciateion for the country and the amazing people that live here, I will be leaving with plenty of amazing memories. I’m sure that I will be back again many more times in the future.

Not much else to report for the day as we prepare for the next leg of the journey, Greece.

Some last travel photography of our time in Turkey…

So long, for now, Turkey!
Up next, Greece…

 

Days 11 – 14: Turkey [Konya, Göreme & Cappadocia region]

Day 11 – Sunday 1st July

I was very glad today that we had an early night as the others stayed out very late and today was another early start, as per usual. The bus left Kaş for a journey that took us first to Antalya (3.5 hours) and then onwards after lunch on another bus to our next destination, Konya (5.5 hours). Quite a long day on the bus!

Konya was the first Selçuk Turk capital and home of Mevlana.
It was almost night time  upon arrival and after we had checked in to our hotel, Burak took us around the corner  to see a demonstration of felt making.

Demonstration of felt making

It was quite interesting to see how they make certain patterns and items of clothing like the hats for the Dervishes. I was pretty close to buying a felt beanie but decided against it, regrettably.

Trying on felt hats

Aidan the Whirling Dervish

After our long bus journey today most of the group were pretty tired so decided to call it a night, while I went with Burak, Nick and Aidan to watch Spain Vs. Italy in the Euro Cup final. Spain won 4-0 which made for a interesting watch, except for Italy fans. We watched the game in a Turkish tea house with some locals smoking shisha.

Day 12 – Monday 2nd July

Today started off with a visit to the tomb of Mevlana and a museum dedicated to the Sufi sect. Before this trip I was oblivious to the Sufi’s so it has been very interesting learning so much about them and their history.

Amazing looking calligraphy from the museum

The museum was exceptionally crowded – which I think had a lot to do with it being school holidays.

Creepy mannequins

We didn’t stay too long and departed mid-morning to travel to the amazing Cappadocia region. Along the way we stopped at what used to be camel pit-stops. They are situated every 41km’s as that is how far camels can go before collapsing. It was sort of like an old fashioned temple with big open rooms for resting. The rooms still had an odour of camels about them.

After arriving to Cappadocia and check-in, Burak took us for our orientation walk around town then up top to get some fantastic views and panorama shots of the area[see previous post]. The rock formations are incredible!

Aidan & Burak overseeing area

After walking around some more we were taken to visit a local family in their home where she prepared some delicious food for all of us.  It was great to be able to dine with a family and they were very friendly – the food was soup, rice and beans, then watermelon for dessert. She did extremely well to accommodate for all 13 of us, with still some left over. Afterwards we went to a local pub that was very Aussie inspired, called ‘Fat-Boys’. Over a couple beers we played Jenga and a few games of Pictionary too – lots of fun! Our plans to go hot air-ballooning tomorrow were quashed by the very windy forecast.

 Day 13 – Tuesday 3nd July

 HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MAMA BEAR! 🙂 (miss you mum!!)

 Organised for today was a hike through the beautiful valleys of Cappadocia to get up close and personal with some surreal rock formations.

Burak organised a mini bus to take us after our hike through the valley to visit an underground city, Derinkuyu, another very interesting site. These cities were built underground to protect its inhabitants from any enemies . After the underground city it was time to visit the open air museum; which consists of some some churches, still with intact frescoes of stories from the bible, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

It was hard to realize our time together in Turkey was coming to a close. It’s been such an amazing country and definitely the best tour group ever [this was even confirmed by Burak!]

We went out for a traditional meal for our last supper, but a meal none of us had yet tried. The meat, chicken or lamb, is cooked for 3 to 4 hours inside a claypot then cracked open upon our arrival – it was absolutely delicious!

 Day 14 – Wednesday 4th July

Today was like a dream! Jenny, Aidan, Annie, Deb and I had to wake up just after 4am to get ready for hot air ballooning. We were taken to an airfield and waited inside while have breakfast and patiently waited for the weather forecast. After an hour or so we were given the all clear! It was amazingly beautiful and the best thing to do here is let the pictures do the talking.
I’m also just going to put up the rest of the pics from Cappadocia as it was an absolutely amazing place and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

…More to follow!