A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

Week 30, 19.Sept.09 - 25.Sept.09

Berat, Albania to Skopje, Macedonia


View Week 30 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.


19.Sept.09
Berat, Albania
I'm chilling out back in my hotel room here in Berat, after touring around today visiting the sites. Took the overnight but from Lamia, Greece (where the super-friendly Albanian woman working in the bus station was acting like a concerned parent... "You're traveling to Albania alone?? You've never been there?? Here, take my cellphone number."), and having passed through really pretty Albanian countryside at dawn with fog all over, arrived early morning in Berat.
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Went and checked in to this hotel which is pretty dull (but cheap so I'm not complaining!), had lunch then hiked up the steep rocky road to the 14th c. Kala (Citadel), where castle ruins are accessible to walk around (in fact, no ropes/railings anywhere - sort of, "explore at your own risk").
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A whole village exists here in medieval looking houses!
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There was a museum housing some paintings, and loads of old churches and mosques. Then swung by (and waited for the reopening to) the Ethnografic Museum with its 18th c. Ottoman objects.
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It started pouring outside, I'll have to see whether this lets up to head out tonight!

20.Sept.09
Tirana, Albania
Sitting here outside the National Historical Museum waiting for it to reopen (all museums in Albania seem to close from 13:00-17:00 then reopen for 2 hours until 19:00) here in the capital city of Tirana. Just had a really nice conversation with a man (I think his name was Byra) about life in Albania during communist days and after - he seemed to prefer the former. This conversation followed my less pleasant one on the other side of the museum where a younger guy sat down and interrupted my reading, forcing me into a conversation that ended (when I got up and said "I gotta go") with him asking me for money ("No, sorry"). There are some colorful observations I've made of Albanians so far: (1) Nearly all women between the ages of, say, 40-60 look identical with short dark-brown hair feathered and parted down the middle with a little swoosh at the bottom - awful, like frozen in the early 1980's.. reminds me of Elane's friend the physical therapist on that one Seinfeld episode. (2) Nearly all boys, in their teens and younger, have a tendency to constantly spit. (3) On the buses - which drive agonizingly slow (but also super cheap so again not complaining!) - while there is no smoking for the passengers, it doesn't stop the drivers from chain-smoking the entire trip. And (4) most bus passengers - usually involving a family with children, have an inability to pick one seat and stay for the entire journey - constantly getting up to move the whole family to another seat one row up or back or other side. On that bus ride up this morning from Berat, passing along the Adriatic coast (really nice), I saw countless (although estimates put an actual number somewhere at 700,000) concrete bunkers dotting the countryside.
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Supposedly the former dictator Hoxha had these designed so indestructible (as to withstand tank blasts), that they seem to be now and for the foreseeable future a permanent fixture on this landscape. Well, now that I actually read the sign on the museum, looks like it doesn't open this afternoon after all (I guess "winter hours" start in September here). So now to find out what to do the rest of the day!

21.Sept.09
Relaxing back here in my hotel, having just dodged the afternoon downpour outside... its been hot & sunny all 3 days in Albania, with each day producing the afternoon showers with the subsequent power-outages (I've learned not to go without my torch after dark in this country). Had a pretty slow-paced day, after a nice omelette breakfast at a cafe with great coffee (going there again tomorrow for sure!), went over to El'Hem Bey mosque, kicked-off my shoes and went inside for views of the beautifully painted dome.
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Waited around outside the Bell Tower to climb up inside for views of the city, but the guard or whomever never showed up to unlock it... which is fitting - the dysfunctional clock in the tower had 4 different times showing anyway!
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Then went over to check out the Tirana Int'l Collaboration Art Biannual Exhibits (TICABE); really enjoyed Erik Olofsen's "Drives" with slow-motion effect, and Adrian Paci's "Per Speculum", with reflecting sunlight from glass pieces held by kids up in a tree.
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Well, walking around this city for the past day, I'll retract my earlier statement about Albanian women - there are definitely good looking ones here in Tirana! But I'll also add one more observation: If I am sitting at a cafe on one extreme side and 100 empty tables around me, it is a guarantee someone or group will sit right next to my table and proceed to light-up. Unbelievable!

22.Sept.09
Pogradec, Albania
Sitting out on the vine-covered (with loads of grapes - smells like a big jar of Welch's Grape Jelly!) balcony at my hotel here in Pogradec.
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Earlier today back in Tirana, after having my new favorite coffee, went back to the (now open!) National Historical Museum to see some great exhibits on Albanian history.
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Grabbed the next furgon (taxi van) that was heading out of town, and braced myself most of the way as the van sped around the curvy road along the mountain cliffs, most of the road without guard railing!
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Arrived in Pogradec and got checked-in to this hotel, but neither confirming the destination in the furgon, nor the availability of rooms in the hotel, was easy (More cultural observations): Albanians shake their head (or rather, kind of wobble) back and forth when they mean "yes", and nod up and down when they mean "no". I was so confused about whether the damn furgon was going to Pogradec or not, and "Do you have a single room available? Yes?Ok? Yes or no??" I then remembered reading about that custom in my guidebook, but it was the funniest thing to see this in practice. Wandered around the town with all its torn-up streets (seems like every street's pipes are being replaced or something) and then down to the lake, which is really pretty. Overall, the town is pretty quiet, it seems the busy summer season's over!
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23.Sept.09
Ohrid, Macedonia-FYROM
I must say, Ohrid is sure living up to its reputation as an amazing place - beautiful town bordering lake with the same name, in Macedonia.
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This morning I got in a taxi to the Albanian/Macedonian border (with a wallet full of Albanian Leke that I couldn't exchange!! - WTF, what border crossing has no exchange offices or even black-marketeers working??), and waited for the bus to take me up here to Ohrid town. As soon as I got off the bus a couple different guys approached me asking if I needed a place to sleep, they have "apartments" available for 15 Euro. Ordinarily I would have been very skeptical, but I had heard about this from another traveller back in Albania, this is how they do it in Ohrid - most of the accommodation in the town is spare rooms in someone's house. My place, Stephan's apartment, is actually pretty nice (but I still negotiated down to 10 Euro!). Had a coffee with Stephan, he got me registered with the tourist police and an exchange office to change my Leke for Macedonian Denar (phew!), then I was off to stroll around the Old Town. Many ancient cathedrals,
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some with recovered (removing the Turkish whitewash covering) painted frescoes dating back to the 11th c.
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Climbed up Samoil's Fortress for some great views of the town/lake,
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then over to the ancient amphitheatre, which according to the guidebook, dates from the birth of Christ. But was altered during Roman era when the first 10 rows were removed & wall put up for allowing blood sport events (sweet!).
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24.Sept.09
Today was spent in Ohrid at a pretty slow pace. Slept in a bit, had a great omelette & coffee at the restaurant down the road from my "apartment", then back into Old Town to visit a couple churches I missed yesterday, as well as the National Museum. Pretty weird setup, 5 floors but a good number of display cases were empty, and of those containing items, majority were without any description - not even in cyrillic! They did have a random drawing of G. Washington up on the wall for some reason.
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Read my book (novel) down by the lake and then did some shopping, where I finally bought a new pair of black shoes to replace the Doc Martins - sort of sad to give them up after around ~ 15 years and countless miles hiked in all over the world, sort of like losing an old friend (a completely beat-up, worn out old friend!).

25.Sept.09
Skopje, Macedonia-FYROM
I'm about to head out and check out Skopje nightlife a bit; arrived a while ago from my bus trip from Ohrid & got checked-in to the nice, but definitely cramped, hostel. While the Macedonian countryside is really pretty - mountains and rivers running through, from the initial looks of the capital Skopje, seems a bit run down!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:21 Comments (0)

Week 29, 12.Sept.09 - 18.Sept.09

Rethymno, Greece to Thermopylae, Greece


View Week 29 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.


12.Sept.09
Rethymno (Crete), Greece
Started out today with an excellent omelette at my new favorite restaurant down the alley with the cat and old people, then strolled around this town of Rethymno, which is pretty touristy with all its shops, but they do it well!
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After, went to Rethymno fortress on top of a hill,
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which had some excellent views of the town and the Sea of Crete.
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Now I'll try to crash early (amongst the loud kids staying here in the hostel) for my long hike tomorrow...

13.Sept.09
My long day started at 05:00 wake up, to catch a tour bus I had signed up for yesterday to hike the Samaira Gorge. Bus took the group to the head of the Gorge at Xyloskalo just as the sun was coming up and cast this beautiful light on the mountains.
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The 16.7km walk was all downhill (starting at 1,230m elevation to sea-level), but not necessarily easy terrain; definitely strain on the knees! There were some spectacular views along the hike,
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leading to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea Coast where I decided to relax after the ~4 hour hike and catch some rays (and maybe get rid of my farmer's tan!).
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The beach was black rocks/pebbles that were literally cooking in the sun, looked like asphalt does with the heat waves rising. But, the water was about as turquoise-blue as I've ever seen, and really quite warm. I was so tired on the bus ride back to Rethymno, that I fell asleep and almost missed my stop!

14.Sept.09
Corinth, Greece
I'm in Corinth, gateway to the Peloponnese & unfortunately stuck here for the night (as there's not much to see) in my fairly expensive hotel. Earlier today, took the bus from Rethymno back to the airport for my flight back to Athens, then straight to the train station. I bought a ticket to Corinth with the hopes I could grab an onward bus into Peloponnese once I arrived, but I got here too late, the train station was way on the outskirts of town and frankly now too tired to try and figure out the bus schedule!

15.Sept.09
Olympia, Greece
Drinking a beer on the balcony of my (second consecutive) fairly expensive hotel here in Olympia, having just returned from touring the museum and ruins where the ancient Games took place. Mostly the Altis - sacred grove at Olympia - is ruins, but the significance of this place still made it worthwhile to come and see. Touring the grounds today first came upon the "Gymnasium" from the 2nd c. BC, where athletes trained.
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Passed by a couple temples until I came out overlooking the ancient Stadion (Stadium), which is actually pretty big - although no seats apart from the stone throne in the center, the map information estimates 45,000 spectators (all men) filled the embankment.
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I took time to practice my wind-sprints running back from setting my camera timer to get in a good pose for a photo!
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Passed by some other temples and ancient Baths to the workshop where Pheidias created the 11m high gold & ivory statue of Zeus (from 470 BC),
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as well as the Temple itself, which the Statue remained for centuries.
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The guide map listed it as one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World (which was transported some centuries later to Constantinople and subsequently destroyed). Looking up what exactly the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World are (or were), looks like I've been to 3 (or in the presence of, if no longer in existence): The Great Pyramid in Giza, Lighthouse of Alexandria, and now the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. After the ruins, went inside the museum which carried all the remaining in-tact artifacts from the site, with really impressive collections!
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16.Sept.09
Delphi, Greece
I gotta say that Greece's transportation infrastructure isn't as good as I thought it would be. Intercity buses run infrequently at best, and most cities have split stations on opposite ends of town so if you're arriving from one area and want to go to another, you have to cross the city in a local bus/taxi. It wouldn't be such a big deal except when I am able to catch a bus, its pretty damn expensive! One thing I miss about Central America - show up at a bus station and 9 times out of 10 a bus is leaving to your desired destination within the hour, and never more than US $10 no matter the distance. So having said all this, it took me the entire day to reach Delphi starting out this morning from Olympia. Fortunately found a hotel right away (considering they're everywhere, not difficult at all) as it is already pretty late. But since the town seems to still be alive here at midnight, I'll go and check out the bar downstairs!

17.Sept.09
Spent today exploring the museum and ancient ruins of Delphi, which was considered the center of the universe in antiquity (kind of like NYC today, maybe?). The ruins were quite spectacular considering the history of this place - all Greek city-states had their individual offering temples and treasuries.
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There were rockslides yesterday from the mountains above which limited where tourists were able to walk, so I could only get up to the edge of the Temple of Apollo, but still got a good view of where the Oracle used to sit and dole out her prophecies.
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Continued down the Sacred Path past the ancient gymnasium,
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to the Temple of Athena and the awesome 4th c. BC columned rotunda Tholos.
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As the rain started to fall, made my way back to inside the museum where most of the recovered artifacts are displayed, like the Sphinx (not surprisingly Egyptian-influenced),
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Stone statue (oldest in Greece, 6th c. BC) of the Twins of Argos,
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and the famous Bronze Charioteer.
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18.Sept.09
Thermopylai, Greece
I'm recording this journal entry on some sacred ground... I'm sitting at the "Hot Gates" of Thermopylai, site where one of the most famous battles in history took place, the 2nd Greco-Persian war of 480 BC. This place wasn't the easiest to get to - no information in my guidebook (the book was published before the 2007 movie "300" came out; I'm sure next edition's will have clear info), so I had to research on-line to the location of the site, then figure out which bus could get me here from Delphi. Earlier today I got on a bus to the closest main town, Lamia, then after arriving had to (unsurprisingly) lug my pack across town to the other bus station serving points southeast, to catch a bus here to Thermopylai. But sitting here now at the Phocien fortification spot at the Hot Gates, where "numbers count for nothing" (Leonidas & 300 Spartans battled Xerxes and 1 million Persians),
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makes it all worthwhile as an awesome conclusion to all of the amazing historical sites in Greece (For effect, I took the liberty of turning up the Soundtrack of "300" on my Ipod while filming the battlefield :0)

Now back to Lamia and the other station across town (of course) to try and catch the overnight bus to the next destination, Albania!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 09:03 Comments (0)

Week 28, 5.Sept.09 - 11.Sept.09

Mykonos, Greece to Rethymno, Greece


View Week 28 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.


5.Sept.09
Mykonos, Greece
Today was awesome: I sat on the beach and did nothing... just what I needed for a couple days rest from running around sightseeing! The Aegean water is really nice, and its sunny and hot here, but the beach isn't all that great - little pebbles/rocks, no sand. It certainly isn't what I imagined the beaches of the Greek islands to be, but maybe this is the exception? Although, the conditions aren't taking away from the woman renting out the chairs & umbrellas on the beach, greeting me with an enthusiastic "Hi! This is for you! (a bill for the chair)". But I do love the entertainment of being on a nude beach - the old man making his slow and deliberate entrance in whatever that thing was had the whole beach staring.
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The bungalow Tajuana and I are staying in is simple enough, the bathroom is ridiculously small with the shower directly over the toilet, so we're using the communal showers from now on. And I love the cleaning lady's attempt to hold out on more little bars of soap by pretending she doesn't understand ("Oh, sopa!" - whatever.) Anyway, we went into Mykonos town (meeting, on the way, the 3 girls from "New York". "Oh really, where?" "Uh, Connecticut...") to have dinner & stroll around a bit, nice relaxing end to the day!

6.Sept.09
Sitting by the water at night having a beer and trying to listen to the waves over the thumping sound of the bar 100 feet away... looks like the crowd is getting ready for the club tonight, b/c in case anyone hasn't realized with the 1 million fliers posted everywhere, "Ministry of Sound is back on the island". It was another relaxing day today, was on the beach in the sun for only an hour, but was dying - too hot!! Now I'm convinced this is maybe the worst beach I've ever been to - the pebbles felt like they were on fire, causing me to sprint to the water... sprinting on rocks barefoot isn't a great feeling! Met up with T. in town for lunch, which I had a Greek salad, big mistake! Note to self: it is not the same as Caesar salad!... I'll stick to Gyros if I want to continue eating local cuisine. In town I tried to buy a ferry ticket tomorrow to Crete, but daily departures are sold out for the next week - WTF?? Use more boats! Anyway, looks like I'm going back up to Piraeus & seeing Athens first. I spent the rest of the afternoon painstakingly climbing up roads & rooftops (as Tajuana's picture proves),
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searching for those perfect photo ops, which I came away with a couple!
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7.Sept.09
Athens, Greece
Getting ready to go to sleep on my sofa bed (with dirty sheets - ugh) in the apartment Tajuana and I are staying in here in central Athens. Other than the dirty sheets and warnings about electrical fires and flipping the switch on to get hot water 30 minutes before showering and no paper in the toilet... this place's a gem! Took the ferry from Mykonos back to Piraeus earlier today, not without some effort: Boarding the wrong ferry and just hanging around waiting to check-in until 5 minutes before the departure, then being told we're on the wrong boat (I asked the guy working if he was sure about this, as if he wouldn't know). Ran to the correct boat, good thing I had ginger tablets -- the seas were angry my friend -- then subway to Athens. The streets here are not exactly pedestrian-friendly with the 5 second walk signals - provided I can survive, will get out tomorrow to see some sites!

8.Sept.09
Having a gyro for my late lunch at a sidewalk cafe, with a nice view of the Roman Agora & Acropolis in the background. I probably overdid it with the # of sites today, I'm exhausted! Started the day over at the Acropolis, Athens' iconic symbol and majorly impressive ancient monument. So many amazing sites here, and mind-boggling to think how old. Theatre of Dionysos (built 5th c. BC), held up to 17 thousand people.
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Walking along the Stoa of Eumenes ruins to the Roman-era Theatre of Herodes Atticus was the same promenade theater audiences used millennium ago. Passing through the monumental Propylaia Gate which was the city's entrance in ancient times,
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led me to join the thousands of other tourists (Tajuana being one of them, but now separated not sure where!) to the Parthenon, heart of the Acropolis. Despite all the scaffolding and cranes around (for restoration), still amazing.
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Next door visited the Erechtheion and its 6 famous Caryatld maidens (replicas from the originals).
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As I exited the Acropolis through the olive groves, with no sight of Tajuana, decided to make my way to the brand-new Acropolis museum, which contained a huge number of the sculptures, friezes and artifacts preserved on 3 floors.
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Next went over to the Ancient Agora marketplace where Socrates spent time expounding his philosophy - sweet!
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Great museum inside the restored Stoa of Attalos, and then went up the hill to check out the Temple of Hephaestus - although not as large as the Parthenon and certainly not as historically significant, I found it a better site without the cranes/scaffolding and hordes of tourists.
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After Ancient Agora stopped over in nearby Roman Agora with its impressive Tower of the Winds from the 1st c. BC.
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Finished the marathon day (not literal, but close enough to the ancient city to qualify!) over at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with some spectacular views at sunset.
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Going to head back to the apartment to (hopefully!) meet up with Tajuana and check out the nightlife.

9.Sept.09
Getting ready to turn-in (fairly) early - last night turned out to be a long one! Went to a nice dinner that Tajuana (who I was able to meet up with!) treated, then to a rooftop club. Somehow was able to cab ride home (as Athens metro stops at midnight). Today we spent the entire day (after a pretty late start) at the absolutely spectacular National Archaeological Museum. I usually do not spend so much time at any one museum (unless, of course, it was spending time waiting to sneak photo opportunities, but N/A here as they were allowed), but I really took in (if that's the correct phrase) the pieces and exhibits at this museum. Its difficult to say what was my favorite, but I especially loved the "Gold Death Mask" from 16th c. BC,
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Gold cup (there was a lot of gold here) with a bull impaling someone and trampling another, found in Tholos' tomb at Uapheio, near Sparta (15th c. BC),
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the sarcophagus from AD 150 of Herkales drunk and being helped by Pan & a satyr,
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the 100 BC statue of Aphrodite and Eros fighting off, with her sandal, the advances of Pan,
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and too many more to mention! This city amazes me - if anyone loves history, this is one of the best places in the world to visit, as history is all over the place... even in the subway station near our apartment!
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10.Sept.09
About to head out for dinner and possibly a club of 2. Today was spent checking out a couple more museums - Benaki museum (which I didn't think was so great), and Goulandris Museum of Cycladic & Ancient Greek Art (which was pretty great). Also visited Keramikos, ancient graveyard with incredible-looking sarcophagus and tombs.
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Got back to the apartment fairly early so I could do laundry with the expectation it may actually be dry by tomorrow morning!

11.Sept.09
Rethymno (Crete), Greece
I'm here in Rethymno on Crete island having dinner at a cute restaurant down a side alleyway with tables outside,
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where a cat is just hanging around and occasionally jumping up on unoccupied tables for views of everyone's food. This is the kind of old-European small town where everyone knows everyone, and instead of just saying "hi" when passing, stop to have a conversation. The elderly woman cook comes out to greet her customers, which include this table of old men playing cards and yelling at each other (I wish I understood Greek, they're really laying it on thick!). And there is this old woman outside with 2 canes passed by down the street 20 minutes ago, now inching her way back the other direction. The whole pace of this island is s-l-o-w, probably has something to do with the average age, which has to be about 75.
Earlier today back in Athens said goodbye to Tajuana who is heading back to NYC tomorrow, and got on the subway for the airport. Athens is one of those cities where the public transportation works on the "honor" system - you buy your ticket and validate/time-stamp before you enter the platform or when getting on the bus. If you don't validate and get caught by a random inspector, you'll be fined. Not having seen one inspector the past few days, decided I'll just use my 24-hr subway pass that I had bought yesterday (and still valid) to the airport, even though it requires a special ticket for 6 euro. So at a certain point about 4 stops from the airport low and behold, here comes a ticket inspector! I play the dumb American and act as though I didn't know it required an extra ticket, so he let me off at the next station to buy one and catch the next train. Of course when I did buy one and got on the next train, wouldn't you know - no inspector! Anyway, after a couple-hour flight delay, arrived in Crete and bussed here to Rethymno - the landscape of Crete is amazing, really beautiful - should be a great couple days!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 14:04 Comments (0)

Week 27, 29.Aug.09 - 4.Sept.09

Gdansk, Poland to Mykonos, Greece


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29.Aug.09
Gdansk, Poland
I'm sitting at a diner having, once again, pizza for dinner (I vow to have a pierogi before I leave Poland!). Turned out, there was a lot to see here in Gdansk after all - most of which I was able to cover today. Started out with a walk over to the Monument to the Shipyard Workers, to commemorate victory of a 1970 government crack-down on a workers strike.
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Nearby was the Solidarity Museum, Poland's claim (it seems most Eastern/Central European countries think it's them) of the beginning of the fall of communism/Soviet Union. Really good displays of what life was like during the Soviet-controlled Poland.
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Next was a walk down picturesque Ul Piwna, with its rows of colonial houses,
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to enormous St. Mary's church with its grand astronomical clock, complete with zodiac signs.
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Next strolled down touristy Ul Dluga (Long Street), as former Polish kings had done in centuries past, in the form of parades and ceremonies. Passed Neptune's fountain (1633 AD), which some football (soccer) fan felt compelled to tie a Polish team scarf around his neck.
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And came to the eastern point on the street, with the renaissance Green Gate (1568 AD). After, stopped off at the 3-part Central Maritime Museum, which offered a really interesting insight into Gdansk's seafaring past. First part contained the humongous crane from the 15th century, driven by immense wooden wheels that was used to hoist (by virtue of man-walking power) up heavy cargo loads & masts on ships.
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Took a ferry over to Olowianka island and the second part of the museum, Granaries, which had an impressive gallery of maritime artwork & displays, along with an exhibition of particular interest to me, history of scuba diving.
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Finished off the 3rd part of the museum with a tour of the ship Soldek, built just after WWII. After the maritime museum, headed to "old suburbs" area of town to the National Museum, containing 2 floors jam-packed with paintings, artifacts and exhibits. Finally, finished up at Gdansk's oldest church (1220), St. Catherines. Full day!

30.Aug.09
Wroclaw, Poland
I'm having a late lunch (pierogies, finally!... but not that great...) here in Wroclaw, another one to try & remember how to pronounce (like "Fort Suave"?). Got up today at the wee hour of 4 AM for my 5:06 train from Gdansk. I must say, the 7.5 hrs on the train were much nicer/more comfortable than the bus a couple days ago. Got checked-in to the very nice hostel (especially if comparing to the dump in Gdansk!), then immediately went over past Rynek (market square), and - pausing to take in the magnificent sight of City Hall -
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headed straight to the National Museum & the Raclawicka Panorama and got ticket for both, as they will be closed tomorrow, being a Monday. First was the museum - really elaborate collection of old polish sculptures, artifacts and paintings (one of which I'm convinced is actually Robert DiNero).
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Then over to Styka & Kossak's Panorama, a gigantic (15m high x 120 circumference) 360 degree mural of the Polish-Russian battle of Raclawicka in 1794. Additions like real wood and dirt around the interior give it an extremely cool 3D effect, in fact, I found it difficult at times to tell where the actual painting ended and the real objects began. All-in-all impressive, but a bit over the top with the security entrance procedures, etc. Of course, didn't prevent me from sneaking a photo!
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31.Aug.09
Having a beer outside "The Mexican" restaurant after a really nice day. In particular, as it is Monday, all museums are closed so a relaxed-pace tour of the city was in order. I went down the main pedestrian street Swidnicka, which conveniently is where my hostel is located, and spotted my first pair of gnomes that are scattered all over town, supposedly no-one knows how many.
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Walked over by Rynek to admire City Hall once again (quite spectacular!), then over past the "Old Shambles" area, formerly occupied by a row of butcher shops (complete with monuments of the animals carved up). Nearby was the church of the Blessed Name of Jesus (1689 AD), with a spectacular baroque interior. A small orchestra was practicing inside, making the stop that much more impressive!

I crossed the bridge over to small Piajek Wyspa (Sand Island), housing the monument of Metropolit Cardinal Kominek, commemorating a reconciliation letter sent from the Polish Bishop to German Bishop in 1965. Finally, crossed over to "Cathedral Isle", and up (via lift!) the Belfry of St. John the Baptist Cathedral for some great views of.... Fort-Suave(?)
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1.Sept.09
Krakow, Poland
About to go to sleep here in Krakow, having just returned from getting drinks and 80's music with Annette, German woman from the Lithuanian days now also traveling in Poland. This morning, took the train from Wroclaw south through the picturesque Silesia area of Poland, with the cute-as-a-button little 1 room houses/shacks with their individual small gardens (around 15' x 15'), one right next to the the other for rows and rows along the countryside.
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Arrived in Krakow & got checked-in the hostel -- as it was already late afternoon, just took a quick shower & then met up with Annette and another German (some short guy whose name I couldn't understand!) for a drink, then on to enormous (as in, the biggest in Europe) Market Square, which was broadcasting a symphony concert being held inside nearby Church of SS Peter & Paul, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII. Really inspiring classical music up on the big screen, with old B&W photos mixed-in.
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As we were talking about the significance, I told Annette I wasn't sure if this day, Sept 1, gets as much press/media coverage back in the states as say D-Day, but obviously a very significant event here.

2.Sept.09
About to head out for drinks with Chris & Carli, Aussie couple I'm sharing a dorm with, and the Seattle couple, who are also traveling for 1 year (imagine that!). Today was all about Wawel Hill, with its 14th century castle and cathedral originally dating from 1020 AD, but the current structure still an impressive age of nearly 700 years (1364 AD).
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First visited in the castle, the state rooms which were full of paintings, like Jan Matejko's historic, "The Prussian Homage (1879 AD)",
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tapestries and unique artwork - including the quirky Royal Audience Hall with 30 heads peering down on you, carved from the wooden ceiling.
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Next, took a (mandatory) guided tour of the Royal Apartments which, other than being on a different floor, I had trouble telling the difference between them and the State Rooms. Afterwards, visited the historic cathedral, which had seen every Polish king's coronation and funeral from the 14th to 16th centuries. Tombs/crypts all over the place, and up the crazy narrow/low overhead staircases to the enormous cathedral bells.
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Finished my tour of Wawel underground, in the "Dragon's Den", where dripping limestone caves led back up to Smok, the fire-breathing dragon!
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Supposedly Krakow was founded when King Krak fooled the Dragon by feeding it a dummy sheep stuffed with tar & sulfur, causing it to explode. Leaving Wawel, went back up to Rynek Glowny (Market Square) & visit to the 13th century St. Mary's Church, with an incredible alterpiece & stained glass windows.
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Followed by a quick stop through the Florian Gate to the 15th century Barbican Fort wall, now off for some drinks!

3.Sept.09
Oswiecim, Poland
I'm having a late lunch/early dinner waiting for my bus back to Krakow from Oswiecim. Started this morning back in Krakow with a lox bagel breakfast - awesome cure for my hangover, courtesy of a rough night drinking & clubbing with the Aussies & Seattle crew!
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After breakfast was in the Kazimierz district with its long history of Jewish culture, of which I had a really enjoyable first-hand look at the Galicia Museum, with some neighborhood paintings by memory from an 80-year old man who relocated to Canada in 1939, before the outbreak of the War.
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Next visited the nearby Old Synagogue (15th c.), housing the Jewish Museum with exhibitions on the background of the religion. After, I took the bus from Krakow to Oswiecim with an expectation & belief I'd be prepared for what one sees here at Auschwitz, but it still is so gut-wrenching and fills you with so many emotions: sadness, anger, disbelief -- its difficult to try and identify all of them.
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The tour around the old sub-human living quarters with the straw mattress bedding and militaristic latrines, then into the gas chamber and crematorium, you just can't believe the heinous acts some people are capable of. Took the shuttle bus over to Birkenau (Auschwitz II), which, although Nazis attempted to destroy evidence when retreating, left a clear picture how immense this concentration camp was.
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Looking around the surrounding town today functioning in a normal, everyday pace is somewhat surreal.

4.Sept.09
Mykonos, Greece
I'm about to crash in my bungalow here in Paradise Beach on Mykonos, in the Cyclades Islands region of the Aegean Sea. Today was long, starting at 03:00 back in Krakow to get up for my 4 AM train to the airport, connecting flight and layover then arriving in Athens and bussing to Piraeus port where I scrambled around to buy a ferry ticket for a 4 hour boat ride to Mykonos, then bussing here to Paradise Beach from the pier. Literally a planes, trains and automobile day! Tajuana, friend from Sirius Satellite days who I had made plans to meet up with here a few months ago, had already arrived earlier from New York, but it seems she had her own issues getting here from Athens via flight. Anyway, we're both here, partied in the club with the Aussie dudes we met until 4 AM, now to go pass out!
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Posted by rd wrld1yr 11:07 Comments (0)

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