A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Clayton30

When Following The Path Of Enlightenment Gets You Lost

Adventures in Meteora

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I was standing deep in irony. Mel and I took a moments pause to keep calm, and try and get our bearings. We were in the forest of Meteora in the north of Greece, where ancient monks had once taken to the isolated mountain peaks and built glorious monasteries into them. Mel and I had spent the day exploring these with wonder and bewilderment, admiring the monks dedication in their quest for enlightenment. Assumingly feeling lost in the world, they had chose a life high in the clouds in order to be close to their god, in order to find answers, and in order to find the path to spiritual enlightenment. And in that moment, lost in the woods, all Mel and I wanted was to find the path to the road.

Wowed by pictures I had seen of Meteora, we took the five hour train ride from Athens to see the ancient wonders, and I will tell you now they didn’t disappoint.

After a bit of miscommunication, it turned out we had missed the bus to the mountain top, but luckily there was a hiking trail just outside our door. It took us about an hour or so, but Mel and I weaved and bobbed through the gorgeous rainforest and rocky terrain that covered the mountains. Alone only for the pulse of nature it did feel a more suitable way to travel, giving our destination.

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Our first stop was the Monastery of the holy trinity. And it was incredible. Scaling the rock steps carved into the stones facades, we started to imagine the hardships faced by those who once inhabited it. Once we reached the top it did seem worth it though. Views stretched for miles around and we immediately felt that isolation, that disconnect from the world of earthly temptation.

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With the sun out but this really cool mist coming up from the forest below, we spent the day strolling around the mountain tops to the several monasteries scattered on the peaks of enormous rock pinnacles. Every now and again there was a bus load of tourists, but quite often we were alone, which just gave the day a great feel. It was an amazing change of pace from the crazy cities we had been to prior.

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By the time we hit the last monastery, after a day of walking, it started to drizzle rain slightly. This one was the original I believe, the Grand Meteoron monastery. Still in use today we discovered its kitchens, living areas, museums and churches that all hid within.

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We even got to witness a miracle as one incredibly fat monk passed over a gorge on an old rickety looking cable car that threatened to snap at any second. This was truly a man of god.

Well, having spent the day just amazed by the natural beauty of the landscape, and the monks ability to integrate and be one with it, we decided to head home. The only problem was that we were far away from our village, there were no buses or taxis, and it was now pouring rain.

From the map we had, we made out a possible route through the forest below, that started with a short walk around the roads, easy enough, then a trek through the mountain floor to finally meet up with the hiking trail we took to ascend it at the start of the day. Well, it looked simple enough on the map.

We started off ok, followed the road, and found the start of the trail that led into the forest. Feeling adventurous and excited for some hiking we dove straight in and followed a make shift path that had seemed to have been walked before, but admittedly some time ago. It was really cool, stepping over rocks, sliding down little hills, passing underneath the green canopy that protected us almost completely from the rain above. The forest felt alive, buzzing with energy. Then things started to turn a little strange. Gradually the path was getting less defined, and the vagueness of the map meant that we didn’t have much to work with, apart from the force. Being the one of us with a sense of direction I made our way the best we could, but then parts of the trail seemed blocked, either by fallen trees or umm, a mountain. We eventually got to a point where we couldn’t go any further, it was impossible. Continuing on either involved turning into rock climbers and scaling a cliff face, or taking a never to return slide down a gorge. I had thought of praying for wings or to transform into a bird and fly out, but I remembered that the monks were still using the same stairs their predecessors had been using since the 11th century, and figured that they might've mentioned that one once or twice during their daily Skypes to God.

So we decided to turn back and just find the road and follow that. It would be getting dark soon, and it seemed like the sensible thing to do. The problem was, everything started looking the same. We retraced most of our steps, but then things turned less familiar. We tried to reassure ourselves by saying we recognised certain landmarks, but it wasn’t the case. All of a sudden it became clear that the forest was no longer buzzing and alive, in fact it was silent and cold. The further we went in, the further lost we got, and the more the fear set in. I wouldn't say we freaked out, actually we stayed really calm. We were even talking about how we would spend the night if we had to, but we really didn’t want to. I mean, we've watched Man vs Wild, so we knew what we needed to survive, and it was all down hill to the village, and there was a stream we could’ve followed to the river down below. But we just really wanted to find the road.

Well, after what seemed like hours we heard a truck passing, which meant the road was near. The only problem was cars don’t pass there too often, so we just had to remember the direction. We trekked until we came to what looked like a trail, but after a few steps we stopped. We looked down the path and saw what looked like some trash, or some evidence of human life, but we both had this really bad feeling about it. Mel didn’t want to go down there, and I could feel something bad had happened from that spot. We decided to try another route.

I decided to climb a rock through the canopy to get a view point, and ended up spotting the road. It wasn’t far away, but meant we would have to pass through that trail. Well this time, when we paused again at the foot of the trail, we picked up some rocks and a big stick for defense, and powered through it. The bad juju only heightened as we went in, but then appeared the road, so we saw salvation. I was never so happy to see black tar in all my life.

Well we were still miles from any sort of township, it was still raining, and there was nobody around, but somehow we felt we would be alright, even if it took us days to walk the road. As it turns out, a little red car passed down the road and pulled over at the sight of my outstretched thumb. Inside were a sweet old Mexican couple who invited us in and gave us a lift to our village. I cant remember their names, but will just call the man who was driving the most common Mexican name I know, Jesus. That way Meteora will always be for us a magical site of of natural beauty and spiritual wonderment, where we ourselves got lost, but were then saved when we found Jesus.

And just because it was so amazing, I'll leave you with a few more pics.

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Posted by Clayton30 04:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece europe meteora 2012 Comments (0)

Our Day With Athena

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We were standing at the seaport in Santorini, waiting for our ferry to Athens. Sad of our departure we were embracing our last moments in paradise. We breathed in the sea breeze as if it were our last breath, letting it fill our lungs while at the same time it poured over our skin, the salt crystallising on our sunbaked flesh. If this island had been heaven for us, the next four hours on the ferry would be hell, as it wasn’t the sun, sea and nostalgia that awoken our senses, instead it was the scent of stomach bile, the heaving sounds of hundreds of vomiting strangers, and the iron claw of nausea that gripped our insides.

Luckily for us, we escaped the rocking spew machine without any projectile of our own, thanks to some sound isolating earphones and a few seasons of Big Bang Theory on the laptop. I will say though, that the next 24 hours in Athens, we did so much that it makes my head spin, but in the most awesome of ways.

We met our CouchSurfing hosts Emily and Mitsos late at night as they picked us up from the station. Emily was a well travelled girl from Michigan in America, who herself had Couchsurfed around Europe for ten months, during which time she was hosted by Mitsos, an Athens native, and the two of them fell in love. We shared a beer, and the obligatory get to know you chit chat, during which the two offered their services as personal guides for the next day, which was both extremely generous and kind.

To be honest, these kind of days are great for us. Instead of planning and researching and trying to cram as much as we can in one day, we really just get to sit back and enjoy. But the most rewarding part by far, is the stuff that we could research for years and never discover. Like I said we did so much in one day, I cant describe it all. But I will say that it was the perfect mix of experiencing the culinary culture, the lifestyle, the Ancient historical wonders, both new and old architecture, as well as the day to day customs of the Greek people both past and present. In fact so much we did that a lot of the names escape me in a blur of details, so please excuse the vagueness of the facts.

So off we went. We first met up with another couple who had joined us at the last minute, some friends of friends from Chicago. They were pretty cool. On the way Mitsos showed some of the parliament buildings of past and present, and as beautiful as they were, it was a shame to think of the decline in action that is actually going on inside them.

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Anyway, politics aside, we then saw the flamboyant changing of the guard and went for a traditional breakfast.

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The breakfast consisted of some Greek coffee and pastries made of cheese, spinach and roasted vegies, along with a very delicious cream custard one. Ah, custard tarts, the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.

We were obviously making our way toward the Acropolis, but saw some really cool stuff on the way. The great thing about Athens is, there are ruins everywhere. We would just walk down the street and see something interesting.

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We past the columns of the old Temple of Olympian Zeus. I would’ve love to have seen it in its full glory.

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Then, rather than take us the normal way to the Acropolis, Emily took us around the side of the mountain to a small town built by the original craftspeople that made the famous hill top. This was really interesting, as at the time of construction, these labourers were brought over from the Greek Islands, so to feel at home, the people built this little mini-town to look exactly like their island homes. It was really cool. Plus it had some great views.

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Continuing on we came to a hill at the foot of the mountain, a place where ancient trials were held and important agendas discussed. We just dug the views, as Mitsos explained some of the sites and regaled us with stories of myth and historical fact.

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Next up it was the big dude, the Acropolis. Epitomising the glory of ancient Greece, the Parthenon stood majestically, surrounded by other incredible monuments such as the Erechtheion and the Theatre of Dionysos. They were moments once again to drift back in time and fantasise of a life past, wondering hopelessly how a civilisation can create such beauty with the limited resources of its era. Its truly amazing.

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Onwards we made our way through some bustling streets, full of market stalls and restaurants, lined either side by parks of lush green trees and olive groves.

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We eventually came to the Ancient Agora, the old town centre whos ruins were now accompanied by a reconstruction of its main market building. Again, we were dizzy with awe, or maybe it was sun stroke, it was so hot.

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A few more ruins, including the Roman Agora, a few more shops, and a few more back streets, we started to work up an appetite. Mitsos led the way, us trailing him taking in the sights and sounds of the surroundings. He led us through a wild meat market, then a more crazy fish market only to come out and find ourselves weaving in and out of fruit and vegetable stalls, the highlight of which was the incredible smell of fresh olives that was in the air.

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Then, we stopped. Standing on a busy footpath in a dirty street with cars and people screaming past chaotically, Mitsos looked at us, then headed down into the basement of an apartment block, through some unmarked doors that looked like an entrance to some dank cellar.

Well, surprise surprise, instead of the rape dungeon I thought he was leading us into, the cellar opened up into this awesome traditional taverna. Filled with a bunch of locals and lined with barrels of home made wine, this place was about as Greek as we could get. The owner came up and greeted Mitsos, telling him he will take care of us. And that he did. After a few wines we started to receive plates and plates of amazing traditional dishes, prepared by the owner the way his father before him did, and his father before him, who started the establishment at the very same place. Among the dishes was a macaroni soup, Fava beans, Greek salads, grilled fish, hommus, and lots of bread to soak it all up in. It was seriously one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. The flavours were spectacular. And sharing such a feast with new friends made it all the more special.

Dizzy with culinary delight we moved on for dessert. And holy crap, I'm salivating thinking about it again. In a small little shop, very humble, we sat and picked a range of desserts from behind the counter. We had some custard pie, some ice cream made from a local plant, some chocolate cake, and a massive profiterole and chocolate sauce to die for.

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Then we went for a long stroll through some of the neighbourhoods, passing a cool industrial area turned bohemian sanctuary. We tried to get into some art and design expo that was going on but weren't able to. We did however find a tucked away meet market, which was a cool underground area filled with stalls of vintage and local independent designer wares. The place had a really funky vibe to it, with people chatting and DJ's playing funky soul tunes.

By now all this walking had worked up a thirst, and the American guy was stinging for a beer, so once again, we found ourselves walking through this run down alleyway in some backstreet, through some door that barely hung to its hinges, magically stepping into an oasis of beer and cocktails. Yep, inside some dilapidated house, someone built a really chilled bar. It even had some sort of photography/art display inside the emptied rooms. We sunk a few of the yummy local brew as night fell.

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At that stage we said goodbye to the American couple, and went to see some live music. Located, in the square of some apartment blocks, well I say apartments, but it could have been an empty building people were squatting in, was a crazy little percussion concert. Musicians beat out african/cuban rhythms and beats with furious intensity, jamming and entrancing the crowd. At one stage some guy even jumped in for a spontaneous tap dance, which was a bit random.

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Still up to party, Mitsos guided us around the popular party hood, which was packed with night-goers ready to hit the town. Restaurants were also packed with people eating dinner at 10:30pm, which was strange to us, but there were enough attention seeking air-heads and wankers driving loud cars that we didn’t feel like we were in a totally strange place.

Well, disenchanted with not finding the music he was looking for, Mitsos called it a night and we all agreed to head home. On the way we passed a train station with more ruins in it, highlighting again that construction cant happen in Athens without something getting dug up. And we stopped for souvlaki, which we ate on Mitsos and Emily's roof top terrace, meeting his brother and sister. With a nice night view of the area, we stayed up chatting for a while, before realising we had to catch a train in a few hours, so we headed for bed. Frankly, I don’t know how I lasted that long.

So that was our whirlwind tour of Athens. It was amazing to see, and we wished we had stayed longer. Its really an experience to be in a city of such ancient grandeur that sadly appears to be crumbling in economic ruin. But where the politics have failed, the countries people have shone through. You can see it in their hospitality, their food, their passion for history and the general passion for which they hold their culture with pride but without the commonly associated arrogance. Luckily for us we got to see so much of it, even if it was just for one day.

Posted by Clayton30 16:07 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens europe 2012 Comments (0)

The Crimson Wash of Paradise

Refreshing the soul in Santorini

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I love days like this. Soaring high above the world. Dancing the dance of the wind. She and I, wings outstretched, twirl and loop around each other, in an invisible embrace. Her warm air gently lifts me, propelling me closer to the overhead sun that shines gloriously from above. I let go and allow her hands to tickle my belly until their release, when once again the cool caresses my feathers and I start to descend, reaching a point of equilibrium, when lined up even with the horizon we just glide. We are like one in this moment, the wind and I. And all I have to do is relax, and go wherever she takes me.

And so there I sat alone on my white deckchair, overlooking the Cardela, feeling a connection with the birds gracefully gliding overhead. We shared a freedom together, a state of being. The same sun kissed my face as it did theirs, the same cool sea breeze brushed over our feet. Their black tipped wings mirrored my mind, open and without direction, just floating through the sky.

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And this was Santorini for us. It was a holiday away from our holiday. Travelling non-stop for over two months gets pretty exhausting, not that I'm complaining, but the brain is in overdrive constantly, particularly the way we were getting about, so we planned five nights to ourselves in the Greek islands. It was intended as a perfect break, but it ended up being so much more.

Originally it was a bit of a task getting there. Although we were next door in Turkey, the trip involved an overnight bus to Istanbul, to catch a plane to Athens, followed by another plane to Santorini. We wanted a break from CouchSurfing so had booked the hotel a week earlier, just picking one online. On the net it had looked like most other hotels there, typical white house on the cliffs with blue furniture overlooking a sun sparkled sea. We went with this one because through email communication they were really helpful. Well once we actually arrived we were blown away by the place.

The hotel was called Atlantida Villas, and it was awesome.

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We were greeted by a really cool Greek man named Georgos, who had upgraded our room for us, as there was pretty much no one else in the resort. Well the room was awesome! It was an apartment with a kitchen, couch and upper level bedroom, but by far the best bit was opening the back door and walking onto the balcony. Talk about amazing views. The little blue chairs, the fence, the water, the sun, it was just all perfect.

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The sun was starting to go down as we arrived, so we walked down to the shops and grabbed a bottle of wine and cooked some pasta, and enjoyed the moonlight over the water. To be honest, I think we were both in shock with just how beautiful it was, luckily we had a few days to get used to it.

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The next day we planned as just a sit by the pool day. It started with an amazing breakfast that Georgos made for us, amazing. Fruits and bread and eggs and the most amazing Greek yoghurt, along with coffee and juice and cake. And somehow I think the view made it taste even better.

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Fat, satisfied, and not needing to be anywhere or talk to anyone, we hit the pool area. And that was the day. Swimming, relaxing, reading, and just staring out into space. Looking at the pictures now doesn't do it justice, I was totally floored with how gorgeous it was.

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Refreshed and relaxed, we decided to check out the famous Santorini sunset from the most popular place. We were staying in the area of Oia, so it was a short walk to the point of the island furthest west. In fact the walk was amazing, scattered everywhere was that picturesque scenery of white houses hugging the cliffs, looming over the crystal clear water below.

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At the end of the town was a ruin of a castle that everyone congregated on to watch the sunset. On there and the surrounding roads of the cliff side village was this great party atmosphere, with people bringing food and wine and chatting and laughing. We stopped in front of two guys playing some awesome traditional Greek songs which really set the mood. And once the sun started setting, everyone went quiet except for some scattered oohs and aahs, and the barely audible clicking of a thousand camera shutters. Mel took a million shots herself, it was hard not to.

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Afterwards we made the beautiful walk home and decided to stay in for the night, eating a home cooked meal on our incredible balcony.

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The next day, inspired by the incredible coastline we decided to take the three hour trek to Fira. The walk started right from our back door and took us along the clifftops, over the hills, and through the winding streets of towns in between. Again it was as if we were dreaming, white houses on one side, sparkling crystal waters on the other. The sun blazed down and caused sweat to flow down our smiling faces, and we laughed in disbelief of it all.

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We did a few things in Fira, and had some delicious ice cream, but unlike Oia it seemed over populated and a bit dirty. Preferring the isolation of our quiet little village, we caught the bus back, pulled out a book by our pool, went for a swim, and disregarded the existence of time or worry.

Later in the night we visited a traditional little taverna called Santorini Mau. Run by a friendly family of staff, the food was amazing, and the view of the sunset was once again breathtaking.

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On our return home, Georgos even prepared us some coffee and cake. That dude rocked.

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The next day we went in search for a quiet little spot to swim for the day. We decided to stick around Oia, planning to go to the Ammoundi and Armani bays, which were small alcoves I had learned that the locals go to when swimming. Well, due to falling rocks the cliff side pathways had closed, so the gruelling descend in the heat was in vain, and getting so close to the most magical water I have ever laid my eyes on was just a tease. After such torture, we took a rest and had a coffee in one of the seaside ports.

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Rejuvenated by the amazing Greek coffee, we continued around the point to Kathos beach. It was a secluded little area, featuring black sand walled in by white cliffs and caressed gently by the smooth ocean waters. And that was us. Again we swam, and slept, and hoped that we would not awake from the glorious dream.

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Arriving back at our hotel on a wave of euphoria and relaxation, Georgos offered us a bottle of the regions own white wine. In a unmarked bottle he explained that we would never find it in the shops, that it was grown almost across the road, and that it was very special and we should enjoy it together. The gift was very appreciated, and very much enjoyed.

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From the pool to the open road, the next day we hired a quad bike with the intention of exploring some of the famous beaches of the other side of the island. With Mel clinging to me tightly, occasionally offering encouragements of sensibility, we spluttered our little beast through the towns and over the hills on the way to our first stop.

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The Red Beach of Santorini was spectacular. Named for the towering red cliffs and the red sand it produced, this beach was incredible. A small climb over some rocks and we were in this amazing little alcove of picturesque beauty. And the water was amazing. Floating there in the crisp clean water I stopped and looked around me. Behind was the imposing red cliffs, underneath were the multicoloured rocks of the sea floor seen with perfect clarity, to the right was the deserted banks of the White beach, and stretched out far ahead was the shimmering blue of endless possibility.

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After dragging ourselves away, there were a few more beaches we heard were worth seeing before we left, so we jumped back on the little white beast and headed around the coast. Well, I knew we had put of a little bit of weight, and I was thrashing the throttle on the poor thing, but either way our little quad warrior died on us. But, with a phone call, and a 30 minute wait by the beach, the hire company arrived to help out. The simplest solution it seemed, was just to swap it with the quad bike they themselves rode in on. Well, now we were talking. Our new wheels made the little engine that could look like a wind up toy, so we mounted all 450cc of it (not bad for a quad), and took off.

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We visited a few more beaches, and then got lost in the abandoned and somewhat desolate estates of the other side of the island. It was really quiet strange actually, as one side of the island seemed to thrive on tourism, maintaining the white houses and blue fences look of the postcards, while the other side appeared almost totally inhabited. Driving through we passed almost no one, and saw several empty houses and farms. The remnants and ruins did look cool against the mountain backdrops, but the atmosphere was a little sad and desolate.

We made it back in time to purchase three different types of cake, yes we have a problem, and then back to Kathos beach to watch the sunset alone on what seemed like our private little island. It was a perfect way to spend our last night there.

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The next morning we had time for a last dip in the pool and a relax, before officially saying goodbye. I cannot emphasise just how special and amazing this place was for us. Everything just seemed to work out for us. It succeeded in relaxing our weary bodies, refreshing our travel alert minds and really just cleansing our souls. Once again we were ready to stretch out our wings, and let the wind lift us out into our next adventure.

Posted by Clayton30 15:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece santorini europe 2012 Comments (0)

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue.

.... and no Mum, we didnt get married.

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If there is a Hell, I call it Turkeys overnight buses. We arrived off ours in Pamukkale at 6am, after getting zero sleep. We had heard various things about the natural wonder of this place, everything from enthusiastic endorsements to tales of bitter disappointment, either way we were here to see for ourselves.

So we had 2 hours to kill before the grounds were to open, so sat and had a tea with two American girls we had met the night before. They were nice and inspired us with travel tales and the adventures of living abroad. One lived in Spain and the other in Lebanon.

We planned the day to involve trekking through the ruins of the ancient city in the hills, Hierapolis , followed by checking out the famous travertines, the white pools of water which the mountains spring water flowed over. The water contained special minerals which resulted in a very unique white build up to form. So we did the opposite to what most the visitors do and explored the ruins first, given us a down hill run to the water. Alone on the hill we casually strolled through the ancient remains and rumble of a civilisation lost, its history scattered nonchalantly across the plain. Some structures were magnificently intact, while others not so much.

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Interestingly though, we soon saw three other people, two Japanese girls led by a Turkish guide. Upon passing, the guide looked at us strangely and then asked if we were CouchSurfers. Stating she had recognised us from the website, she all but abandoned her clients and started chatting with us. She seemed nice for a while and I though we might be getting a free private tour, but after asking where she learnt Japanese she suddenly turned very racist and aggressive towards the Japanese people. Now we don’t like racism at the best of time, but we love Japan and its people, and had an amazing time as guests in their country, so we got away from her at the earliest opening.

Following that unpleasantness, Mels legs started hurting. The overnight buses hadn’t done them very good, and they were swelling up and causing her quite a bit of pain. We found a place to sit and chill for a bit while they recovered somewhat, and then checked out an old ruined theatre.

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Then onwards to the springs. They were amazing. Again, unlike anything we had seen to date. The blue and the white combination was magical. We took our shoes off and went for a walk through the pools of water, which has long believed to contain healing properties, along with the white mud like substance that rests underneath. I do know that our feet have never felt so smooth for days afterwards, but in terms of medicinal properties, I think I benefited more from the laughter brought on by half-wit girls posing for photos like they were supermodels. I am always a fan of watching the posses of others, and getting your boyfriend or friend to take a photo of you making love to a waterfall is bar far one of the most ridiculous. The amount of pouted fish lips and hair flicks I have seen can rival that of US's deep south beauty contest judges. Ah, there I go again, I start talking about real, natural beauty and end up talking about hollow, superficial vanity. Whoops, my bad. Pamukkale is spectacular, and I'm glad we didn’t pass it as originally planned.

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Having to wait for the bus to Selcuk a few hours away, we walked around the town a bit and got some excellent gozlemes from a nice little restaurant. We also tried the traditional Turkish ice cream, made from goats milk, which gave it a whole new consistency. It was quite delicious.

We arrived to Selcuk a few hours later, just in time for dinner at Atillas Getaway, an excellent Hostel/Resort which is listed among the best in town. It was easy to see why, as the place was gorgeous. It had a well constructed resort theme going on, the staff were lovely and the food was amazing. Unfortunately we hadn’t slept in like three days thanks to overnight buses, so we crashed straight afterwards and couldn’t socialise, which I think is what the whole place is set up for.

The next morning we headed for Ephesus, which is one of the largest remaining and well preserved ancient cities around today. It didn’t disappoint. We took our time in the sun, seeking shade inside the century old structures. Tour groups sped past in hordes, their guides being useful to gather bits of information from that wasn't displayed on the info boards.

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There were a few highlights one was the enclosed area of villas, an excavation site dedicated to the preservation of the housing occupied by the rich. Set up on the hill it showcased decadent rooms and mosaics and lavish paintings from an ancient time.

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The next highlight was the library. Although mostly reconstructed by modern teams as opposed to preserved, this structure is quite imposing and beautiful. The facades is the most well known symbol of the city, but we actually found inside to be really calm and peaceful, and its energy caused us to just sit there and chill for a while, embracing the ambience.

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Moving on we hit the theatre, of which its size and design is magnificent, particularly when thinking about when and how it was constructed.

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That night we had another awesome dinner and a few drinks by the open fire at Atillas. We met a bunch of other travellers and shared stories from the road, and really had a good relax. Atilla, the Turkish/Australian owner, came down and had a few beers with us and it was a really cool vibe.

The next day we had free to explore Selcuk some more. Timing had it that there was a massive market in town that day, so we went in and explored and purchased some local produce. It was a good day to chill and catch up on the sanity lost from fast paced travelling. Luckily we did, as we had another overnight bus that night. Plus, Atilla had lent me his clippers, so I discarded the hairy beast face I had been sporting, and was now clean shaven for some fun in the sun.

Funnily enough, you could throw a stone to the Greek islands from the Turkish coast, where we were very near to, but we found ourselves having to get an overnight bus back to Istanbul, then a plane to Athens, then another plane to our Greek island of choice. We had absolutely loved all of Turkey that we experienced. Truly loved it. We cant wait to go back. But the transport system was a pain in the arse. Luckily though, all that travelling, all the pain of buses and trains and planes, all the hassle and stress to make connections or the draining boredom to wait for them, all of that disappeared, when we saw our first sunset on Santorini.

Posted by Clayton30 03:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey europe ephesus selcuk pamukkale 2012 Comments (0)

Cappadocia Rocks!

Turkeys Out-Worldly Wilderness

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One of the amazing things about our travels on this trip is the variety of landscapes we have been through. From the modernised cities like London, the rolling hills of Scotland, the Imperialistic romanticism of Paris and Vienna, the canals of Amsterdam, the architecture of Prague and the icy soviet remains in Russia, we have truly been blessed with a visual smorgasbord. And now we found ourselves coming from the animalistic exoticism of Istanbul, to the desert like wilderness that is Turkeys Cappodocia.

I had heard many great things about this place, and it truly exceeded all of them. I knew it was somewhere special as it welcomed us with a beautiful sunrise.

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But the wow factor came as we arrived in Goreme, the town we were staying in, and the epicentre for the areas exploration. It was like I pictured, the desert of Americas mid-west, except for these amazing rock and sand structures exploding out of the ground in peaks. And nearly each one housed a dwelling of ancient civilisations who fashioned homes for themselves amongst the rock. It was spectacular.

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We had at the last minute planned a day tour of the region, as it seemed necessary given the scope and quantity of sights, and it was well worth it. The first days tour picked us up pretty much just after we hopped off our overnight bus. It was a cosy little shuttle bus lead by a bubbly local little hipster, with pink hair and orange sunglasses. The group was the typical “walked into a bar” joke, we had some Korean guys, a cool Japanese couple, an Englishman, an Aussie and two Chinese girls. Todays tour would mainly focus around the different rock formations Cappodocia is famous for.

Our first stop was Imagination Valley. A group of formations made by Volcanic rock that would erode at different speeds due to the climate of the region. Many people say they can see animals within the shapes, I just wanted to get up and climb the things. It was pretty cool.

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Next up we drove to see the Fairy Chimneys that are in every Cappodocia picture. We spent a good time here roaming around, climbing up rocks, and inside rooms carved into the stone. This place also had incredible views of the region. It really felt as if we had landed on another planet, just awe inspiring.

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With the sun beating down on us we moved on to lunch. Escaping the heat we were led to a cave restaurant, yep, a restaurant within a cave, to sample some local cuisine. The food was great, we chatted with our tour buddies, and because the caves are designed to be cool in summer, we got a chance to rest and rejuvenate.

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Next we got a chance to get some modern cultural insights, as we went to visit a local pottery maker. Due to the regions conditions, their main income comes from agriculture and clay ceramics. It was pretty interesting, and the show rooms had some nice pieces. Old women would go crazy over it.

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With the sun still punishing from above, we went to Goreme Open Air Museum. It was a vast valley filled to the brim with tour groups, risking heat stroke and cliff drops to see some of the old cave churches located within. The area goes back to Byzantine times, when practising Christians would isolate themselves for fear of persecution and worldly temptation. Inside the rock they would carve out churches and living quarters, and this one was one of the largest remaining monasteries from the time. The structures themselves were incredible and the church walls were all covered with remains of frescos depicting all kinds of religious propaganda, the most highly preserved ones being the main attractions.

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We finished off the day by going to the Goreme panorama spot. Just incredible views. I was pretty blown away.

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That night, we had our only real negative CouchSurfing experience to date. We had planned to stay at a hosts place for three night in Goreme. A few days out he sent me a reply to one of my “see you soon” emails telling us he actually wont be there during those days, but reassured us that his friend would be able to host us, plus he wanted us to chip in a few bucks for water and food and electricity. Well, we met his friend ok, but he wasn’t hosting us. Instead, he drove us up the road to the guys house, told us the key was under the mat where it was to remain, and said his goodbyes. He also let slip that our original host hadn’t been there for some months and wasn’t planning to be. So Mel and I were left standing there, outside a dilapidated building that was resting in the middle of a construction site. It looked abandoned, but with no other option we went in. Well without going into detail, the place was the pits. People had been sleeping in other rooms, nothing worked, it was really dusty, the toilet was a hole in the ground with a hose attachment and we had no hot water. Now, after a day in the desert under the hot sun, all I freakin wanted was a shower. We convinced ourselves that its free accommodation and not that bad, but went and sat in a local bar for the rest of the night until we were ready to sleep. When we arrived back, the door was half open for anyone or anything to come in, and someone was in one of the rooms.

We awoke, thankful for well, waking up, and got set for the next days tour of desolate paradise. We had a different tour guide, who annoyed us with 5 minutes of constant repetition, and took a long drive down south to the hills of Selime monastery. Kind of the same but different from the last, this cliff village was carved into one whole side of the mountain face. We explored the abandoned rooms and living areas of the long gone monks, and could make out kitchens, stables and wineries all chiselled out of the rock. I might point out here that Mel has both a fear of heights and a fear of enclosed spaces, so exploring caverns on a mountain isn't really her idea of fun, but with a little cautious hesitation she powered through. Again, we really dug it.

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Back on the bus we headed to Ihlara Valley, which is Turkeys Grand Canyon. It was really beautiful. We climbed down from the top, and trekked 3kms along the base by the river, making a few stops at some church caves, a little farm for some tea, and finishing off at an awesome restaurant on the river. Again, the food was great, the location was awesome and we had a good chat with the others. One guy we talked to heaps was a Korean named Leo, who happened to be an M16 pilot, and he was really cool. He loved the idea of CouchSurfing and has since joined up. We had some good laughs.

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Just after departing there, we stopped at a big crater lake. It was pretty picturesque.

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Now the next stop was pretty much the craziest. I had heard about the underground cities of Cappodocia, but nothing really prepares you for going in them. A brief ancient history lesson, the locals who once lived here were continuously besieged by wars and fighting, to the point where they had had enough of it and thought that the best way of protection, was to head underground. They carved out and built cities and fortifications under the earth, the largest one discovered one being Derinkuyu, which is where we were. A brief modern history lesson, Mel is very claustrophobic, and myself too to some extent. Seeing documentaries on cave explorers we always think no bloody way. Mel gets anxious in elevators, but we had been talking about this for a while, getting prepared, and she was ready to step up.

So we entered. And it was incredible. The structure was nearly 100m deep, covering 8 floors, and only 20% of the city had been excavated. It featured winding corridors, storage facilities, living and working quarters, a church, a cemetery and even stables. It also had defense mechanisms to use against invading troops as several battles took place within. I'll tell you now fighting down there wouldn't be pleasant. In fact doing anything down there wouldn't be. We were walking around most of the time with our knees hitting our chest from being so crouched over. But one of the coolest things was the ventilation system they invented, which involved chambers placed all throughout, dispensing fresh air from above and removing the bad stuff. It was quite genius and still worked to this day.

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Oh, and did I mention Mel was petrified of small spaces, well not any more apparently, she nailed it! Smashed that fear in the face and weaved in a out of those tunnels like a graceful spider. She is so amazing.

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Its funny, that even after exploring underground tunnel systems centuries old, cold, damp and muddy, trapped 100 metres, we couldn’t bare the thought of spending another night in that house, so we made plans to get out of there. We booked an overnight bus to Pamukale, grabbed our bags, and headed out.

To us, Cappodocia was like experiencing another planet. It was just so different to what we had seen. It was baron yet full of life. Its history was long and plentiful yet looking at it you could think you were the first to discover it, as if untouched by human hands. But then you look closer, to the secret chambers carved within, on top and underground, and it becomes more special. That these people could integrate themselves into nature and still doing it is a beautiful thing. And I think anyone would struggle not to be touched in some way by this place, where ancient mysteries meet serene simplicity . It inspired George Lucas's Tatooine, and it's easy to see why, as to myself, a fantasy scifi nerd, came inspirations of excitement and adventure, and although a Jedi craves not these things, it was truly amazing to experience.

Posted by Clayton30 15:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey europe 2012 Comments (0)

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