Hanging out and feeling woozy in the earth´s belly button.

We were really happy to leave Lima.  As cool as the things we saw are, the city is dirty and you can´t help but feel like your purse is going to be snatched at any moment.  At the airport, our plane changed gates THREE TIMES.  We felt so relieved when we finally got to Cuzco.  Cuzco, by the way, means the navel of the earth.  Thus, the belly button title.  It´s a beautiful city, with houses built into the hills.  The only problem is that it´s 11,000 feet above sea level.  So I have a constant headache.  I´m a huge wimp.  What of it?

Just like with Lima, we were nonstop from the time we arrived.  We took a bus tour of the city and visited some of the ruins.  One of the ruins is called Saxaywaman, which sounded like ¨Sexy Woman¨ every time our tour guide said it.  It never got old and I chuckled like a 13 year old each time.  After awhile, the ruins all start to look the same.  The Incas were brilliant though.

It´s late spring here, so it´s the rainy season.  But as we were walking part of the Inca Trail, we turned around and saw two rainbows over the city.  It was stunning.  The image of all the tourists in diffrenent colored rain ponchos was amusing.  It was a rainbow of ponchos on parade.

That night, Jason and I decided to try some of the Peruvian traditional cuisine.  Ladies and gentleman, I ate guinea pig.  It was repulsive.  It came out as a full guinea pig too, it´s claws out and baring it´s teeth.  We took some pretty hilarious pictures, which I will try and post as soon as I can.  We also decided to try another traditional food– Alpaca.  But in a less daring way.  We ordered the hilariously titled ¨Big Pac¨, which was an Alpaca burger with fries.  Not too bad.  But a little unsettling.

Yesterday was the coolest.  We woke up early and hopped on the backpacker´s train to Machu Picchu.  I had no idea what was going on, and just assumed the train would be aroun 45 minutes.  It took a solid FOUR HOURS to get there.  That´s a longgg train ride.  But it´s a great way to see a country.  Gorgeous mountains.  The Peruvians would watch the train go by like statues.  Some held their hands over their ears, but most just stared.  I wonder what they think of us.  They´re so poor, and here we are, with our expensive hiking gear, flying past them on a train.  It was an interesting thought.

Jason and I decided to ditch our tour within three minutes of being on it because we quickly realized we were on a double tour.  Victor, our guide, would say everything in Spanish, and then in English.  Um, no thanks.  So instead of waiting for him after the terrifying bus ride up to Machu Picchu, we ran right in.  It was the best decision we made.  Everything we needed to know was in our Lonely Planet guide, and we covered way more ground than anyone on the tour.  At one point, we passed Victor and he started calling out to me.  Oops.  I had just gotten busted for cutting class.  But we just couldn´t handle it.

Machu Picchu is unlike anything I have ever seen.  The ruins are just ruins, yes, but it´s the scenery and thinking about how the Incas managed to get it all up there that made it so amazing.  I think it was impossible to take a bad picture…everything looks like a postcard.  I can´t even begin to describe it with words.

Last night´s dinner was entertaining.  Peru is obsessed with Chinese food, and there are ¨Chifas¨everywhere.  They come really highly recommended.  So last night we were in a Chinese restaurant, in Peru, and American music was playing.  Messed with my head a bit.

We missed the bus for our tour today, but we were really sick of guided tours so we didn´t really care.  Besides it was just more ruins.  So instead, we´re going to bum around Cuzco and go to some museums.

Sorry if there are spelling and grammatical errors in this…my time at the internet cafe is running out.

Tomorrow we leave for Puno, and we´re going to see Lake Titicaca.  Teehee.  Funny name.

My headache is a little better.

Lima as in the city, not the bean.

We made it!  The flight was long and annoying, but somehow I managed to sleep.  Lucky for me I´m one of those people who can sleep anywhere.  That sounds bad.  Whatev.  So we arrived arround 6 a.m.   Some quick observations and facts about Lima and Peruvians.  The drivers in Peru are worse than any European country I´ve ever been to.  It´s really frightening.  Camel toe does not bother them, but it bothers me. A lot.  If you don´t vote, you get fined!  GREAT idea.  The architecture is wild.  There is Inca influence, Spanish influence, Moorian influence, French influence…you get the point.  They absolutely LOVE music from the 80s and 90s.  Duran Duran, REM and Cyndi Lauper have all had concerts here within the past month.  I had some other observations, but I´m jetlagged (read: not really, just using that as an excuse. I´m actually just exhausted) and I can´t remember.  Sue me. Ha!

Jason and I hit the ground running this morning.  No breaks at all.  We hopped on a tour bus of the city.  The first thing our tour guide, Enrique, did was assure us that Mr. Felix, the bus driver, had never been in an accident.  Phew!  The tour was fairly dull, except we went some catecombs that had the most bizarre sights I have ever seen.  Pits of femur bones. (REALLY SMALL FEMURS, MAL!)  Pits of skulls.  Pits of pelvic bones.  And in some cases, they were organized into ornate patterns of femurs and skulls.  It was really creepy.  I got to frolick around with a bunch of pigeons and manage not to get pooped on.  AND I SAW THE PERUVIAN HAIRLESS DOGS!  Daddy, I WANT ONE.

This afternoon was spent lounging on the beach and watching the coastline.  I burned the bottoms of my feet on the rocks.  I don´t know how, but if someone can do it, it´s going to be me.   I cannot believe this is my life.  Tomorrow, we wake up at 4 a.m. to take an early plane to Cusco. 

Pictures as soon as possible.  XOXO.

I chopped my hair off and I’m going to South America! Wooohooo!

I chopped off 8.5 inches of hair yesterday. Now I’ll look like a real backpacker.  I say we’re backpacking South America, but it’s more like wandering South America.

My flight to Miami leaves in a few hours, and then I meet up with Jason and we catch our flight to Lima.  I will be arriving at 5 a.m. local time.  Eeek.  But we’re going to hit the ground running.  There’s so much to see.

My stomach is in knots and there isn’t much to say.  This is going to be awesome.  Sorry this post is boring.  They’ll get better, I promise.

Skype me, email me.

xoxo,

k

PS- So I uploaded the blog posts from my last travel blog to start this one off and make it look less new.  I mean, Yes, I never finished the last post.  But I was in Greece and my computer died.  Geeeeeeez.  If you really care about the rest of my island trip, just let me know.  I still can’t shut up about Greece.

BIG ISLAND TRIP aka WE ARE CRAZY (part one)

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away…

Steph, Laura and I came up with a crazy idea. An extended island trip– skipping a week of class (which is only two days). After class on Thursday, the three of us walked into a travel agency and left with Friday morning tickets to go to Rhodes. Rhodes, which is part of the Dodecanese islands, is in the farthest island cluster from the mainland.

We woke up early Friday morning, but left a litttle late. We walked out the door at 7:20 for our 9 am plane. We decided to take the express bus. Now I usually run late for everything EXCEPT class and travel, so when we arrived at the airport at 8:20 I was nearly having heart palpitations. We stood in line to get our boarding passes and then ran like hell. By the time we went through security, it was 8:45. I ran up to the counter only to find the bus to the plane hadn’t even started boarding yet. oh, Europe. At 9:05 the bus pulled up. The plane didn’t even take off for another forty minutes.

As we took off, I saw Athens from the air and remembered how I felt as I was landing in Athens just over a month ago. It’s still amazing to me. As we were flying over the islands, I looked like a 5-year-old with my face pressed up against the window. In my mind i could picture the map of the islands, and there they were right before me in 3-D. I’m still floored by Greece’s geography. There are hills, mountains and cliffs everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it. The islands looked like a school project with paper mache molds outlined with a coat of turquoise and then surrounded with a coat of the brightest blue paint Crayola offers.

RHODES

Stepping off the plane, I looked like a rockstar. And by rockstar, what I really mean is exhausted student/budget traveler. But it felt good to know that we were really doing this trip and there was no going back. We took a bus from the airport to Rhodes Town.

The Old Town is surrounded by the walls of the Palace of the Grand Master. The medieval palace was built by the Knights of St. John in 1309. It’s huge. Inside the castle walls, the buildings have been converted into museums , adn the streets have turned into a tour group’s paradise. Shop after shop selling everything yu could possibly want and never want. Knock-off Gucci bags and Yankees hats with fake curly blond locks attached, handmade leather belts and Turkish rugs. I bought a few postcards. The better part of our first few hours on the island were spent in search of our youth hostel. We found it on a little side street. The courtyard was colorful and picturesque, the room reeked of budget travel. Just how I like it. The owner gave us a “special” price and even threw sheets on the beds for free. What a doll.

After we settled in, we went out and got some lunch. We walked around in the castle’s moat for a bit and then walked the coastline. We bought our ferry tickets to Kos for Saturday morning and I splashed around in the warm water for a few minutes. Rhodes is truly gorgeous. It’s called the “Island of the Sun” because in mythology, Helios (who is god of the sun) fell madly in love with the Nymph Rodos. His love for her warmed the entire island. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling–I felt the love.

We went back to the hostel to nap for a few hours before dinner, but clearly I got antsy and set out on my own for a few hours. I walked around the palace’s park and then found myself outside of the castle walls. I stumbled upon the fortress and lighthouse of St. Nikolaos. As I was sitting at the foot of the fortress, I noticed a pillar with a statue on it about 200 feet away. I immediately remembered what Let’s Go had said and got very excited. Rhodes is known to be the place where the giant statue of Colossus once stood. As one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it stood at 33 meters and was made of bronze. Around 226 BC it was taken down by an earthquake. The remains were taken by Arab pirates 800 years later, so there are no remains on site. Now two statues, one on each side of the harbor entrance, mark where it is believed the statue was. The statue on the lighthouse side is a doe, the statue on the other side is a buck. I walked to the doe statue and just admired the view. An old Greek man was there and began talking to me about how Rhodes is the most beautiful place on earth adn then invited me to sit and chat with him. He promptly asked me if I was married, which caught me off guard for a few reasons. 1) That means I looked old enough to be married. 2) He probably wanted to introduce me to one of his sons. Like a smart girl I quickly answered yes. For the next five minutes he jokingly tried to convince me that cheating on my husband with a nice Greek boy in Rhodes is okay. Haha. We laughed a lot, but he could tell that I took my “till death do us part” vows seriously. Errr…see ya later, Mister. Good talk. I left and walked ten minutes to the other statue. Just as I got there, the fortress and lighthouse lit up. It was beautiful. Two hours had passed so I met up with the girls for dinner. We had a great night and our waiter loved us. When we got back to the hstel, some other backpackers invited us to party with them in the courtyard. We were too tired, but I love that about youth hostels. You have something in common with everyone else there. You just want to see the world and not go broke doing it. It’s a strong bond.

In the morning we walked back to the statues so that the girls could see it too, then got on our ferry to Kos.

KOS

As we were pulling up to the shore, we opened THE BIBLE (remember– that’s my Let’s Go book) and found the number for the Pension Alexis. We could tell right away Sonia, the owner, was a sweetheart, because she offered to drive to the port to pick us up. Since it was only a ten minute walk, we decided to do it ourselves and set out. As we were walkng past the docks, we saw tons of signs advertising day trips to Bodrum, Turkey. We each got round-trip tickets for around 12 USD for Sunday morning. We made to our pension where we were greeted with kisses and lemonade. Sonia was nothing less than amazing. She gave us maps, told us where to eat and gave us a pristine trip with a shower and hot water. We threw down our bags and Sonia drove us to the train that would take us to the Asclepion. The Asclepion is where Hippocrates lived and set up the first medical school in the 5th century B.C. Oh, and when they said train, what they meant was a kiddie amusement park like train that drives on the road. I felt nervous at times–the driving in Greece is so BAD, especially with all the mopeds and motorcycles.

The Asclepion is one of the coolest ruins site I have been to. While we were there, we hung out wth these two Dutch women, and alternated taking group shots. From the top of the Asclepion we could see the coast of Turkey, which made us even more excited for the next day’s journey. We ended up having to wait about 45 minutes for the “train” back to Kos Town. During that time we made friends with Ana, a 5-year-old Dutch girl and her 2-year-old brother Rolfe. Ana would run up to us and use English phrases her parents were teaching her on the spot. Since we were within earshot, we could hear what she was going to ask us next and her parents could hear our responses and translate them for her. Then Laura got her i-pod out and played some Disney songs for Ana. She recognized all of them, but hadn’t heard them in English. After our Asclepion trip, we went in search of ferry tickets to Mykonos. We learned that ferries were no longer running to Mykonos from Kos. Instead, we would have to ferry to Syros and then to Mykonos. We left to eat dinner and think about it. After dinner, we bought our tickets, and I even managed to get us the EU student discount. We go to school in the EU, but we don’t usually qualify as EU students because it’s an American campus. Just a funny note, people usually think we’re from England or Australia. A lot of the ime we don’t correct them. We were surprised at first that they couldn’t tell the difference between ur accents, but we realized that in the same position we probably wouldn’t be able to as well.

BODRUM, TURKEY

Sonia drove us to the port at 8:30 for our 9:30 boat. We had to wait in line to pay the port taxes and get our day passes. They don’t require visas for one day trips. I was bummed because I wanted my passport stamped. The pages are so naked right now. The boat ride was only 45 minutes long. With everything so close, it’s no surprise that Turkey and Greece have had issues and some bad feelings. This should change if Turkey makes it into the EU.

I could feel that I wasn’t in Greece anymore when we stepped off the boat. Yes, it looked similar, but it had a different feel to it and a different flag flying from the castel that stands next to the coastline. The Knights of St. John also built this castle, and it was fairly similar to the one on Rhodes. We tried to get into the castle, but didn’t have any Turkish currency. So we walked into the market. Hundreds of stores with thousands of knock-offs.

We walked around in search of a currency converter, but because it was Sunday, nothing was open. We eventually found an ATM and took out 30 Lira, which I’m guessing is around 20 USD. If it weren’t for the admission to the castle, we wouldn’t have needed to change currency. Everyone accepted the Euro anyway. Our boat was leaving at 4:30, and we got to the Bodrum Castle around 3:30. The view from the top was spectacular. The peacocks wandering around the courtyard gave it a more exotic feel. Bodrum is in Asia minor, so not only did I visit two countries in one day, I made it to two continents. As we got ready to pull away from the dock, we could hear the Islam call to prayer. I cannot wait to get to Istanbul.

Sonia let us leave our bags at the pension and picked us up from the port again. We kissed her goodbye and spent our last few hours in Kos just relaxing by the water.

SYROS…Seriously?

The thing about having to go to Syros first instead of directly to Mykonos is that we had a little bit of a layover. Meaning we left Kos at 9:15 pm and got to Syros at 4 am, and then left for Mykonos at 10 am. As we were on the ferry to Syros, we just kept shaking our heads and laughing. What were we supposed to do at 4 am? The write-up for Syros in THE BIBLE listed a bar that was open until 5, and then a church with nice artwork opened at 7…oh dear.

The ferry ride was alright. The guy behind me had some of the worst B.O. I have EVER encountered. Greece is funny like that. They either asphyxiate you with cologne or body odor. There is no inbetween. Let me just say that metro rides can be hell. Even with three feet between me and Stinky, I felt the urge to vomit. I slept for a few hours too, which helped.

Things in Greece tend to run late. Well, on the one day we really could’ve used some lateness, we arrived 15 minutes EARLY. We got off the boat at 3:45 laughing hysterically because there really wasn’t anything else to do. We followed the water because we saw a lit up hotel that would mostly likely host a bar, but fortunately we stumbled across a late-night sandwich place first. We tripped in and ordered three cheese pies and three cappucinos. That killed 45 minutes. Only five hours and 15 minutes to go! We sat down on a bench next to the water in a well-lit area and pulled out our books. We read for a few hours and snuggled on the bench for warmth. A stray dog decided he liked us and hung around. I sort of liked having him there. We had one hysterical moment where the boat docked in front of us emptied its sewage. It was before 6 am, it smelled like human waste, we looked like hobos on a bench with our stray dog at our feet AND we still had four more hours before we could leave. We were shrieking we were laughing so hard. Really, the adventures that come with budget travel are priceless. I don’t think I’ll ever take a cruise or planned tour.

Around 6:45, we got up and found an open cafe. Three more cappucinos. It was finally 7 am, so we went to the Church of the Assumption to see the painting done by Domenikos Theotokopoulos, also known as “El Greco“. When we walked in, we were blinded by stunning gold plated painting and crystal chandeliers. We walked into the chapel area, and a Greek Orthodox priest was there reading from the real Bible and saying prayers. It was very calming. The beauty in the room was overwhelming. We saw the painting too, which was pretty cool.

We watched the sunrise from the harbor, which was practically a religious experience. The colors were so vivid it hurt my eyes at times. The rest of the morning was spent reading my embarrassingly bad thriller. But hey, it was one of the only books in our apartment that was readable.

At 10 am, we got on the boat to Mykonos. Six hours went by surprisingly fast, and we were in really good moods. I thought the layover would be miserable, but really it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip so far.

*Right now I’m in an internet cafe in Mykonos so I didn’t get to check this for typos. Oops. It’s beautiful here but not what I was expecting. I’ll post as soon as possible. Pictures will be uploaded most likely in the next week or so.

Climb on the Magic School Bus.

This past weekend was the program’s first mandatory excursion. I was nervous and relieved. Nervous because I wasn’t sure I’d like being led around—relieved because I was glad that someone else was planning the trip.

Friday morning we were all on the bus before 8 am. We were all settling in, plugging in our i-pods, and adjusting our pillows to get ready for a nice nap on the bus. Then she spoke. Sophia, our tour guide for the weekend, has the most annoying voice I’ve ever heard. Her voice is nasal, and the pitch and tone wax and wane with every syllable. She talked non-stop about anything and everything—the highway that we weren’t even taking, the statue that we couldn’t see—everything. We all turned up the volume on i-pods and took a nice long nap.

We visited the ruins of Ancient Corinth. I’m worried I’m becoming desensitized to ruins, because I wasn’t really impressed. I love the history, of course, but the ruins are a bunch of rocks. Sophia led us around, her voice booming and echoing off the ruins. During our 30 minutes of free time, we just hung out at the park next to the ruins.

We went on the bus again for another two hours, and my i-pod was dying. Sophia kept talking, but Laura, in the heroic move of the day, stealthily managed to turn down the volume on her microphone. Haha. We got to our hotel in Olympia in the early evening. We didn’t have anything to do all night, so we went into town for a bit. It was touristy, but nice.

We visited the site of ancient Olympia in the morning. This is ruins as well, but I loved it. Maybe I’m not as desensitized as I thought. Olympia, of course, is where the first Olympics were held. The first recorded Olympics were in 776 B.C., but games were held before then. Much of Olympia still stands. There are columns everywhere, and it’s easy to picture what it did look like. I was glad to have Sophia along at that point, because she really knows her stuff. We all even bonded a little with her. The best part about Olympia was running the first track. Steph and I started off saying we were just going to jog it, but as soon as we were given the count, things got competitive. She won, but only by a little bit. AND she was wearing shoes and I was wearing flip flops. Psssh. I would’ve won. The museum at Olympia had amazing statues. There was one of Zeus that was especially awe-inspiring.

We hopped back on the bus and drove to Tolo, a beach resort. Our hotel was right on the water. That night was the most fun of all. We were disrespectfully loud, caused trouble and had a blast. The next morning we were all feeling a bit sluggish, so getting back on the bus was nice. We stopped at Epidauros, a famous theater with the best acoustics. We didn’t actually get to see the theater because it was the weekend of the Greece’s elections, and most of the sites were closed on Sunday. Greece conducts elections two weekends in a row. I was actually a little sad that I wasn’t in Athens for the weekend, because Syntagma Square has been crazy for the past couple of weeks. I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

We moved on to Mycenae, which was also closed—so we just got out of the bus and looked at as much as we could. Our final stop on the trip was to Nafplion, which at one point was Greece’s capital. Now it’s another adorable port town that lives for tourism. We spent an hour just walking around and eating lunch.

It was a nice trip, but like always, I was glad to get back to my home base. Sophia announced that she would be our guide for the next excursion as well, which brought laughter and groans.

Next Weekend: I HAVE NO IDEA.

My restlessness always gets the best of me.


I tried to take the weekend off. I did, I swear. Friday morning and afternoon I went shopping (But didn’t buy anything. I just don’t really like the euro-style. Plus, I’d rather spend money on trips). By Friday night, I was restless. As I sat in my bed, the wheels began to turn. My roommate walked in and all of my thoughts managed to make their way from my head to my mouth. “Do you want to go to Thessaloniki tomorrow?” I blurted out. “I’m just so antsy!”

Thessaloniki is Greece’s 2nd largest city, and according to everyone, is stunning. It’s in Northern Greece, and is about 6 hours away by train. She laughed. And then we started plotting. Although Greece is dependent on tourism, they still haven’t figured out that posting train schedules in English online would help tourists out. So Laura and I traveled 20 minutes on the metro to get to the big train station. We found a train for Thessaloniki that left at 7:50 the next morning. But that’s about all we knew about it, because nobody at the train station spoke English or wanted to waste 15 minutes communicating with two silly American girls.

I woke up at 5:40 am. At 6:10, Laura, our roommate Amanda, and I marched out the door. We got to the train station around 6:45. We waited in line, and when it was finally our turn, the man told us it would be about 45 euro per person for one way. That was definitely too much for my weekend budget, and luckily the other girls felt the same way. So it was before 7 am, and we had full backpacks and no place to go and an overwhelming determination that we were going to go somewhere this weekend. We sat down with THE BIBLE (my Let’s Go Greece guidebook) and found a place to go. We chose the island of Evia, which is Greece’s 2nd largest island. It’s only an hour away, and since it comes close enough to the mainland for a bridge, can be reached by bus.

Before 9 am, it’s hard to find people that speak English in Athens. We were especially out of luck because we weren’t in the touristy section. Getting to the bus station was adventure in itself. We took the metro to the Attiki stop, and then tried to get on a bus but couldn’t figure things out. So we metro-ed back to our familiar Syntagma Square so that we could talk to someone who spoke English and get bus tickets. The woman we spoke to told us to go to back Attiki. Once we got to Attiki, we got on the bus going in the wrong direction, so we had to ride the entire bus route to get to the actual bus station. It was frustrating/funny, but I was not going to give up and hang around for the weekend.

We finally made it to Halkida, Evia’s capital. The bus station was disgusting. Turns out Halkida wasn’t much better. I read that there was a nicer section, but our hour-and-a-half search for it was in vain. Nobody spoke English. We took a taxi back to the bus station and whipped out THE BIBLE again.

Thirty minutes later we were in Eretria, a tiny town that boasts ruins of an ancient palace, an ancient theater, and an archaeological museum. Wow, that’s unusual. Eretria is a pleasant place to be, and we had reached that point where we were tired, cranky, and just wanted to land. We found a small pension, threw down our backpacks, and went for a walk. The waterfront in Eretria is exactly how I picture Cuba. It looked tropical and beautiful, yet poor. The weather was slightly overcast, the water was wavy, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind. We sat on a dock for an hour, just looking at the ocean town across from us with the foggy mountains looming above it. It was awesome.

We ate dinner at a cute place called Romeos. The owner was convinced that I was Greek, and spoke Greek to me even after I told him IN GREEK that I didn’t understand him. He would switch back and forth between Greek and English, but always spoke directly to me in Greek. I tried my best, and used the phrases I’ve picked up. After awhile it all became a big joke, and he ended up throwing in some free ouzo and fruit for us. Ouzo, Greece’s alcohol of choice, tastes like melted black jelly beans—except more bitter and it burns the back of your throat. We didn’t want to be rude, but we only took a few sips.

We went to bed early that night, and fell asleep watching Greek music videos. The music videos are hysterical. Each one is like a bad mini-soap opera, complete with ghastly over-acting and plenty of passion. The singers are trying so hard that you just have to appreciate the effort.

In the morning we ate crepes on the beach. Fantastic. Unlike the day before, the sun was out and the weather was lovely. We went to the archaeological museum, the “palace” (more ruins) and the ancient theater (even more ruins). All three of these things took a total of an hour. Satisfied with our trip, we went back to Athens.

The truth is I’m happiest when I’m traveling. Buying a ticket to go somewhere gives me a natural high that I don’t know how to match. I guess I’ll just have to keep traveling. 🙂

A link for pictures will be posted soon, I promise.

Next weekend: Ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplion and Olympia!

THIS POST IS LONG OVERDUE AND I KNOW IT.


The Crete trip started off as a trip for a few people and quickly grew into an excursion for ten people. The more, the merrier. After a mandatory luncheon with the school’s chancellor and a painfully long coffee hour Friday afternoon, we were finally released. Our ferry from Piraeus to Crete didn’t leave until 9 pm, but we had to leave our apartment around 7:15. Ten backpacks managed to make it onto the boat.

Crete is divided into four prefectures. Going east to west, they are Lasithi, Iraklion, Rethymno, and Hania. We skipped Lasithi, and decided to come into Iraklion. It’s a nine hour boat ride to Iraklion, and because it’s an overnight boat, most people sleep—oops.

When we were walking around the boat, we noticed the majority of the passengers were bikers, decked out in the Harley Davidson Hellas (Greece) attire. It made me think of New Hampshire during bike week. Our big group had split into two groups to eat and then hang out. We did everything there is to do on a big ship. We walked against the wind, told life stories, re-enacted the famous scene from Titanic. I was with Laura, Steph and Chris, and once 1:30/2 am hit, we decided it was time to pass out. As we walked by the boat’s lounge, we heard screams of laughter that sounded familiar. We walked in and saw the rest of our group partying with the dignified members of Harley Davidson Hellas. Clearly, we had to join. We were the stars of the show. We took pictures, told stories, and refused a lot of sketchy alcohol. I had a blast. They wanted us to ditch our plans and ride on the backs of their bikes with them to the bike show in the morning. As tempting as that was, we politely declined. After we left the guys, we goofed around on the boat some more, and managed to get about 1-2 hours of sleep.

We got off the boat at 6 am. We stumbled around until we caught a 7:30 bus to Knossos, the site of an ancient Minoan palace. We were standing at the gates when they opened at 8. The ruins of the palace are cool, but the truth is that it’s just ruins. What made it worthwhile was the chance to see it in the early morning light and the friendly stray kittens that were hanging around.

After that, we took a bus back into the city of Iraklion and decided to just walk around. We found ourselves at the Koules Fortress, which sits right next to water. At one point, Iraklion was owned by the Venetians. This fortress is one of the reminders. Exhausted from all the walking and unfortunate lack of sleep, we wandered down the road looking for a café, where we could imbibe copious amounts of caffeine (yes, I used two SAT words in the same sentence). We found the Café Del Mar, perched right on the cliff overlooking the ocean. There was a long white couch that fit 10 weary students perfectly. We all ordered frappes, which are similar to Dunkin Donuts’ Coffee Coolatta but thicker and stronger. I fell asleep waiting for my frappe. We took advantage of that couch for nearly an hour and a half.

After that, we did some more walking and got a sense of Iraklion. It was nice, but the nice sections were all for tourists. The non-touristy sections were plagued by dilapidated buildings and unhealthy stray dogs. Our next stop was the Archaeological Museum. We got in for free because we qualified as EU students. I got a kick out of that. The museum had a bunch of Minoan era artifacts, especially pottery and frescos. There was a marble statue room which I liked the best.

The next goal was to make it to Rethymno. We missed our first bus, and there wasn’t any room on the second. The third bus bus worked out, but we didn’t get to Rethymno until early evening.

We stayed at the Rethymno Youth Hostel, a really cool place owned by a guy named Ivan. The showers are all solar powered, and the atmosphere reeks of granola-loving backpackers. After gyros and gelato, we hug out and played cards with some fellow travelers at the hostel.

Steph, Emily and I woke up at 6 am and were on a 7 am bus to Omalos, the starting point to hike the Samaria Gorge. Samaria Gorge is Europe’s largest gorge and is about 16 km long (that’s around 11 miles). Even though the bus ride was so early, the ride alone was worth it. I got to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and see it touch each individual peak. It was strange, but the air was so clear that it seemed like I could point to each tree on the mountain tops.

We finally got to the gorge around 10:30 am, ready to go. I was pumped. The hardest part of the hike was the descent into the gorge. Rocky and steep, we had a few close calls and a lot of laughs. Once in the actual gorge, we were completely dwarfed by the magnificence of the peaks. Trees and flowers have adapted to the environment and grow out of rocks, sticking out of the strangest places and lending their color to the monotony of the terrain. A stream with mossy rocks followed the path. At times it looked a lot like New England, except the gorge was deeper and the mountains were higher. Wild goats, called agrimi, were also around.

My ‘Let’s Go Greece’ book, which we affectionately call THE BIBLE, said that the gorge takes between 5 and 6 hours to hike, but being the superstars that we are, it only took us four hours. We bought ourselves ice cream and took a series of victory pictures at the end. It was another 30 minute walk to the water-front town of Agia Roumeli that seemed like the longest part of our journey. From Agia Roumeli, we took a ferry to Hora Sfakion and then from there the 5:30 bus back to Hania. Step and Emily decided to go back to REthymno for the night, so I met up with Luara in Hania.

Hania is a charming town, which is also on the water. We went out to dinner, hit up an internet café, and then passed out. In the morning, we had breakfast a café and walked around for a few hours. To put it mildly, I was a little sore from hiking the gorge the day before, but took on the “walk it off” mentality. I did my best not to make noises of anguish every time I walked down stairs, stood up, sat down, well…really when I did anything. I managed to shuffle along and see the seaside shops, lighthouse, and gorgeous scenery Hania offers.

Laura and I met up with the rest of the gang who had stayed behind in Rethymno to hang out at the hostel and shop. And guess what we did? WALKED. Though I think all this walking might be working off all the food I’m eating, so I shouldn’t complain. We got on a 9 pm ferry back to Piraeus, and took the metro back to Athens. We got home at 7:15 am. We went to Greek class at 10:30 am. I did not nap inbetween. This is the most in-shape my body will ever be. Might as well take advantage of it.

Crete is yet another amazing island. My favorite parts were the gorge, Hania, and the villages we passed through by bus. Parts of the island look like the prettiest of postcards, and other parts just look like mediocre cities ravaged by travelers. The contrast between the regions is so drastic, you feel like you’re in another country.

I think we’re taking next weekend off to just hang around Athens. We’ll see.
I’ll put up pictures from the trip as soon as I can get to an internet café. It’ll be a big file, and my lousy internet at the apartment can’t handle it.

Isn’t it Saronic? Don’tcha think?


Saturday was my roommate Laura’s 21st birthday. As we were sitting at lunch, we decided that we were going to blow off our previous weekend plans and have an adventure traveling to the Saronic Islands. Laura, Lainey and I packed our backpacks and were out the door in 20 minutes. We flew around the port of Piraeus and made our ferry just in time. The weather was rainy and gross, but the weekend forecast promised better weather on Sunday and Monday. I booked us a room at a pension while we were in line for the boat to the Island of Poros.

POROS

As the boat pulled into the tiny port of Poros Town, we knew we had made a good decision. Despite the rain, the town was still lovable. We had to take a 2 minute ride on a water taxi to the even tinier town of Galatas, where we stayed. The Manos Pension is owned by a hospitable German woman and her Greek husband. The coolest part about the pension is that there is an outdoor kitchenette on the roof. We had stopped at a grocery store earlier and snagged bread, cheese, meat and cookies. It was a perfect birthday dinner. That night we watched the Muppet Treasure Island on T.V. with Greek subtitles and did our best to pass out. We found out in the morning that all three of us had an uncomfortable sleep, but that didn’t stop us from having a full day. In the morning, we hopped on the little water taxi for € .70 and headed back to Poros Town. After breakfast we ambled around and then caught a bus to the Monastery of Zoödochos Pigis. If I could find a better word than serene, I would use it, but that’s all that comes to mind. Pure serenity. The monastery sits on the top of a hill and has a view that serves as a constant reminder of a higher power. As we stepped out of the church, Lainey said “How can you live here and not be religious?” The monastery’s church is adorned with gold-plated frescos depicting Christian icons and symbols.

We walked down the rocky path straight to the water and had a photo shoot in front of a fat seagull with the mountains and striking waters in the background. There’s a fountain that the monks have been drinking from since 200 BC that is said to be a life-giving spring. We missed it, but I saw it as we rode back on the bus. Oops. That’s probably something I should’ve hit up. Haha. Having taken in most of Poros, we left and took a ferry to the Island of Spetses.

SPETSES

My Let’s Go book says that Spetses is unlike all the other islands because its greenery breaks the palm tree mold and is mostly coniferous. Perhaps we missed that, because I didn’t see a lot of pines. Spetses is lovely and had some of the best views and cutest stores we’ve seen.

When we landed, we were completely without a plan and a place to stay. I love that feeling. We walked around looking for a place to sleep. We wandered around the island for almost an hour, taking in the sun-bleached buildings and island architecture. That was entertaining, but we still hadn’t found a place to sleep. We decided to walk back into the port area. And then I saw a sign. Thank God for my year of ancient Greek, because now I’m familiar with the alphabet, can pronounce a lot words, and can even read and comprehend some of the signs. When I saw ∆οματια, I immediately knew we were all set. The owner called down to us and welcomed us as we walked towards the entrance. She’s a sweet older Greek lady who took us to a spotless room with three beds and crisp, white sheets. We each paid around $15, which was worth the peace of mind alone. Right now is the end of the tourist season, so prices are dropping, yet the weather is still fantastic. After we dropped off our backpacks we got some food and strolled around the island some more. There isn’t too much to do on Spetses, but the atmosphere is so relaxing that it’s one of my favorite places that I’ve been to.

That night we watched a soccer game in a bar with the locals. We stuck out pretty badly, but that was the most fun. We also had some roommate bonding time on the beach. Our sleep that night was much better than the night before, so we woke up energized. One afternoon, night and morning in Spetses was enough. We parted with the family of kittens we had befriended the night before, had breakfast at a bakery with doughnuts that rivaled Krispy Kremes and then sat on the wall overlooking the water.

We caught the 11 AM boat to Hydra.

HYDRA

Once we arrived in Hydra we quickly realized why it is the most popular. With water that is the color of Listerine and white cottages popping out of the many hillsides, Hydra is extraordinary.

Since Monday was the day with the best weather, we dedicated Hydra as our beach island. We set out walking uphill on a path following the coastline, just marveling at the water and scenery. After 20 minutes, we realized that we were not going to find a beach, only rocky coast, in that direction. So we turned around and ate at a gyro place. These gyros were especially good. They put French fries in them—don’t judge it until you try it. We then found a local man who ran boat rides to a little beach for €2. SOLD.

The “beach” turned out to be a small sandy patch owned by a restaurant that rented beach spaces for a ridiculously high price, so we walked down the coastline and found a dock. It was perfect. We met some older British men who had sailed in on their yacht and dropped anchor. They gave us their best imitation of an American accent, which sounded funny, but felt strange. Even though I mock accents and diction all the time, the idea of other people imitating my accent seems foreign.

We sat on that dock for two and half hours, just worshipping the sun and playing our two favorite games. 1. My House- the childish—yet satisfying—game where you call which house you own/will own. There is no limit to how many houses you can own. 2. What would I be doing now if I wasn’t studying abroad? This self explanatory game was particularly gratifying on Monday.

As promised, the boat came back to pick us up. The trip back took a little longer because our driver decided to double the journey as a fishing trip for himself. Not a big deal. He didn’t even catch anything!

Once we got back to port, we decided to explore the darling back streets of Hydra. Hydra, like Poros and Spetses, is home to an extremely large population of stray cats. As we walked around, every bony and malnourished kitten with oversized eyes found us. At one point, a 4-week old kitten almost found himself in a purse going back to Athens. But then we realized that after we left, he still wouldn’t have a place to go.

The ride on the ferry back took about an hour. I was thankful to get back to my home base and comfortable apartment, but even more appreciative that I can do what I do every weekend.

The pictures for Poros and Spetses are here:

http://richmond.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2012102&id=15800177&l=c4571

The pictures for Hydra (which are particularly pretty) are here:

http://richmond.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2012106&id=15800177&l=a30a2

NEXT WEEKEND- CRETE!

Greek temples and American nights.


We woke up early on Monday morning and caught a bus to Cape Sounion, which boasts vacation beaches and the Temple of Poseidon. The bus followed the Greek coastline for about an hour, which helped to pass the time.

The Temple of Poseidon sits on top of a ledge overlooking the Aegean Sea. Before a rope barrier was put up, people used to carve their names into the pillars. Lord Byron’s name is written on one of them. As we were leaving, we realized that there was a ticket booth, and all five of us had just walked right past it when we went in. Oops.

We trekked down the rocky hill in flip flops to get to the beach. The beach was nice, but clearly for tourists. Luckily for us, it was a Monday and the beginning of off-season so there was plenty of room. We decided to eat before hitting the beach. There was one tiny restaurant with an ocean view, but it was closed. My Greek is abysmal, but once I conveyed to the owner that we were starved, he opened the restaurant up 30 minutes early for us.

The pictures for the Temple of Poseidon and Cape Sounion are here:

http://richmond.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2011583&id=15800177&l=74022

On the bus ride back, we got a call from Laura. She and the other girls had met three American boys in the Navy while at lunch. They had been at sea for two months, and were just looking to hang out and talk with other kids their age.

Kenny, Erwin and Greg are all really good kids. They told us side-splitting stories about life on the ship, and detailed the many different personalities. What was really sad was that they were all miserable in the Navy. They said they were homesick, felt useless, and were just tired of it all together. We (me and my roommates) did our best to keep things positive. “Well you’re seeing the world,” we said in unison. Then Erwin looked at us and said, “But it’s like seeing the world without windows.” Wow. Nothing like that to remind me how lucky I am. I’ve got windows. Hell, I’ve got sliding glass doors.

To make them less homesick, we told them we were having an American night in Athens. Before Monday, we did our best to avoid all American chains. We’ve had a few Starbucks slip-ups, but for the most part we’ve been eating all Greek food. We decided to take the boys to McDonalds. Eleven of us marched in the pouring rain to the McDonald’s in Syntagma Square. When it rains in Athens, the roads flood and things shut down. We were told that classes get cancelled when it rains because the teachers can’t get to the schools. Not that it would matter anyway right now. The teachers in the public schools are on strike. (We live two blocks away from the Education building, so we get to see all the action).

After cheeseburgers and fries, we trudged back to our apartment to watch Boy Meets World and Sex and the City episodes on DVD. After some more stories, the boys had to leave. They thanked us for letting them just hang out and be themselves for awhile. Most of the time, we try to lose our American identity and just blend in with the crowd. But Monday night we made jokes that even the English-speaking Greeks wouldn’t get. We reminisced about our American childhoods—the shows we watched, the clothes we wore, the songs we sang. Even though I wasn’t the one that was homesick, I still found it comforting.