Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I (Heart) Santorini

If I had seen a t-shirt that said this, I would have bought it. A quick 20 minute flight from Athens had us landing on the glorious volcanic rock that is Santorini. We stayed here and during the first day, didn't leave our apartment and its private jacuzzi and complimentary wine. That jaw dropping tray of food goodness? That was breakfast.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Awesome Athens

I really wasn't sure what to expect before arriving in Athens. I think I had envisioned a hot, bothersome city that had been cleaned up thanks to the 2004 Olympics, but was still pretty rough around the edges. But I ended up being completely taken with the city. We lucked out with the weather - hot, but not too hot - which helped. It was perfect for wandering around all day and stopping to cool off in outdoor cafes in all of the gorgeous little courtyards that were dotted around the centre of the city. The shopping was a treat too - see the photograph evidence below. A department store window with fruit, linens and....Longchamp bags! Of course I ended up loving Athens.

We stayed very close to the Acropolis and spent one morning wandering around it. I hadn't imagined that the Parthenon was so large - and so intact. It was also pretty amazing to have the Acropolis as such a towering landmark - anytime we were a bit lost, we just looked up at it to find our bearings.

And apart from all of that...we ate. Oh. My. God. We. Ate.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bitola to Athens: One Long Day

From Ohrid, we hopped on a bus that took us south in Macedonia to the town of Bitola (photograph below). Bitola wasn't much to write home about, but there were some cool ruins nearby, Heraclea Lyncestis, that we checked out. We were happy to just have a really chilled out day in preparation for our long travel day that followed. The route: Bitola to Florina (just across the border in Greece), then Florina to Thessaloniki by train, the day in Thessaloniki and then the overnight train to Athens.

We encountered an interesting dilemma when planning our route over the border into Greece: Macedonians cannot obtain visas to enter Greece. There's nothing like a couple thousand year feud to become a travel headache. We eventually found a driver with a Bulgarian passport to take us into Greece and ended up enjoying the harsh stares from both the Macedonian and Greek border guards as they went through our backpacks. The train from Florina to Thessaloniki was only 3 hours and we arrived in time for lunch on the very pretty waterfront.

We enjoyed Thessaloniki, which was a bit of a surprise. It's a very walkable city and we loved how on a typical 2009 street we would suddenly be standing in front of a huge, ancient Grecian arch; or have to maneuver our way around the ruins of a Roman bath. One highlight (as per usual for me) was the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography.

But the best part of Thessaloniki happened toward the end of our evening. Unfortunately, a storm rolled across the Adriatic and slammed into the city - thunder & lightning and torrential rain. Before leaving on the trip, I had picked up two "emergency camping ponchos" in lieu of packing an actual raincoat. So on they went. They were plastic and bright blue and completely hideous. Many jokes along the line of "Do you think they know we're travelling together?" were made. However, our evening in Thessaloniki happened to collide with the Greek PM being in town to give a speech before the EU elections. The centre of the city was full of thousands of people waving Greek flags and in our blue ponchos...we fit right in. We had numerous people coming up to us and asking where we had got our ponchos...or just slapping us on the back, high fiving us, and in one case, hugging us, for our Greek nationalistic pride. Go Greece!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sveti Naum

Our second day in Macedonia took us by bus to the monastery at Sveti Naum, established in 905. (Check out the photograph below of the old-school bus ticket contraption.) The monastery was small and lovely (the hotel next to it was garish and terribly unfortunate) but the most amazing aspect of the place was the view looking out over Lake Ohrid. Oh, and the peacocks.

We had read about the peacocks "guarding the monastery" but thought there would maybe be one or two wandering around. Not the 30 or so enormous, preening peacocks that really made their presence known.

We had to wait a couple of hours for the bus back into Ohrid and ran into this crazy Kiwi who is cycling from London to Brisbane. (Yes, from the UK to Australia.)