A Travellerspoint blog

İstanbul, not Constantinople

"are all Amerıcan women so beautıful?"

sunny 50 °C
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Our Greek adventure came to an end on Tuesday when we took a ferry from Samos to Kuşadasi, Turkey - the resort capital / cruise ship paradise of the Agean coast. Entering Turkey, we all have the privilege of paying a €10 port tax AND purchase a €15 entry vısa, for whıch we had to surrender our passports. Wouldn`t you guess that the machıne was down, so they sent our passports ınto the center of town to scan them while this hoarde of 15 backpackers waited ın the practically deserted terminal. (All the day trippers from the cruise ships had to leave their passports all day while they were in town)

When we eventually got them back, we were a bit worried that the guy from Hotel Sezguın who was to pick us up would have left, but as soon as I brought out the brochure he approached us. And as soon as he approached us, a cop car approached him and began shouting! Apparently in Turkey (contrary to most every other country we've been to) barkers aren't permıtted to approach you at the ferry or bus station enticing you to stay at their hotel or pension, and the police were angry! They asked another man to ask us ın English if we were "customers of this man" ...so much drama ın just 1 hour in the country!

We checked into our hotel and promptly jumped into the pool to cool off. We met quıte the collection of Aussies staying at our pension and one of them showed us where the best gyro pıtas ın town were found, as well as these delicious Turkish pides (basically pizzas) made right when you order them for only 2.5 Lıra.

Because the weather was so hot, but forecasted hotter the next day, we decıded to head to Ephesus that eveniıng to avoid the bus tour groups as well as the sweltering afternoon heat. Such a good decision! Only about 20 km away, we took the local transport minibus to the Roman ruins at Ephesus and explored the grand town still very well preserved - even when compared to many of the places we've seen so far on our inadvertent tour of the Roman empire. The grand theatre was stunning, but the facade of the Library was majestic! One of the only buildıngs still intact - you can see that this was an exemplary city! Two thumbs up for these ruins.

That night we had BBQ prepared at the pension by the Turkısh proprietors (veggıe for me...) and then spent the next day basically avoiding heat exhaustion wandering through the market and hanging by the pool before our overnight bus to İstanbul. Let me say one thing on Turkish bus service: CLASSY! The staff dressed wıth crisp white shirts and bowties, and in the middle of the journey, they came down the aisle with a cart and served cake and tea and coffee...just like an air hostess...now that's service!

Once in İstanbul, we tried to take the metro to the Sultanhammet area where our hostel is located, but the system was too confusing for us at that hour of morning/exhaustion, so we opted for a cab after a failed attempt to transfer about halfway there. OOPS! Our cab driver must not live ın İstanbul, because he had no idea where we were going. Permit me to make a comparison: the Aya Sofia (Sultanhammet neighborhood, where we were staying) is to İstanbul as the Empire State Building is to New York Cıty. Tell me how someone would be able to get a cab driver's license wıthout knowing how to get to the most popular monument in the city!? It was actually sort of funny, Sarah and I in the backseat with our crappy Lonely Planet map trying to direct our cab driver while he pulls over every 2 minutes to ask a fellow cab driver how to get to the Aya Sofia (and of course, they all laugh at him)...one cabbie saw us in the back with the map and asked ıf one of us spoke French, so I told him where we wanted to go and he gave our driver explicit directions - which he promptly forgot.

It was pretty funny.

At lunch, our waiter asked ıf all american girls are so lovely...and then offered us free turkish tea anytime because he wants to "practice his English" (we also encountered this same line about 3 more times in the course of the afternoon...) We managed to see the Aya Sofia (built by the Emperor Justinian) and the Blue Mosque today - they are both so amazingly ornate, and it was my first time ever entering a mosque - quite a grand introduction. But Sarah and I were the only tourists smart enough to dress covering our shoulders & knees and bring along scarves...we didn't look as silly as the men who had to wear skırts of scarves provided by the staff to ensure modesty.

Posted by Bexter 07:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Minotaur

Cretan hiking, swimming & escaping the heat at street cafes

sunny 37 °C
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Post-Athens, we hopped a hydroplane speedboat to Crete - Athens' port (Pireaus) was surprisingly easy to navigate, contrary to various reports such as Globetrekker

[sidenote: if you don't watch Globetrekker on BBC, then you should. That's the entire reason we went to Tunisia in the first place...]

We were in Chania in less than 4 hours and found a great little pension in the heart of the old town, grabbed some dinner and the next morning slept in (finally!) rising to drink real british tea on our grapevine shaded terrace before heading to the beach. We met another New Yorker staying with us at the pension, and spent a few days hanging out together - the next day tackling the famed Samarian Gorge hike: 13 km from the crest of the mountains to the Libyan Sea on the south coast of Crete, passing through a steep stone gorge that is at the narrowest point only 3.5 meters wide. We meandered down the trail early in the morning in hopes of escaping the worst of the day's heat, and managed to reach the sea in less than 4.5 hrs - the trail taking us through switchbacks, then dry riverbeds and even through portions of the river where we had to hop stones to cross. We spent the night in the sleepy town of Agio Roumeli before heading back the next day to Chania and then to Iraklion (not much to see here...) where we will catch the ferry tomorrow to the island of Paros.

Today was really hot, but we had to hit up the Minoan palace of Knossos, featured in our 10th grade lit book: the King Must Die. What can I say, we're dorks.

Posted by Bexter 08:06 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

"Bad train roads"

yeah right...

sunny 33 °C
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We decided to take the adventurous route from Ohrid to Greece, which routed us to Bitola on the Macedonian side of the border where we hopped in a cab that drove us across the border and into Greece. Our cab driver, however, was being very difficult and tried incessantly to convince us that it would be such an uncomfortable 6 hour ride from Aminteo to Thessaloniki on the "bad train roads" that he should drive us there for only 65 euro - seriously?! We weren't so keen on that idea, so we demanded that he leave us to take the train where we got on the mini train for inter-city transport (very posh, though) and were in Thessaloniki in 3 hours, for 7 euro. HAH

Thessaloniki is a really big city - a port town lined by a long seaside row of swanky cafes. We even found an english bookstore, which we were in dire need of, as Sarah reads so fast and between the two of us, we've finished all the books we have and are now carrying around 3 each just waiting to find a book exchange. Dinner was very tasty at a local taverna, but not so tasty at 1:30 in the morning...note to self, don't eat stuffed peppers that have been sitting behind the cafeteria counter all day...ugh!

The next morning we got up early and pranced back to the train station to catch the 11:38 train to Athens. But when we got there, we found that all the trains for the whole day were full. Unlike Italy, where they'll sell you a ticket anyway, we were stuck. Not really rellishing the idea of a 7 hour bus ride, we decided that we had to suck it up and take the bus rather than hang out for another day, so hot and sweaty we made our way to the next station. Luckily there was a bus leaving in just an hour, so we enjoyed some cocas and realized just before getting on that we should eat lunch...unfortuntately we weren't allowed to bring they gyros on the bus, so after only a few bites, we had to toss them out and board the bus with empty tummies.

The upside of Greece being yet an hour ahead (now 7 hrs ahead of the east coast) is that the sun goes down around 9pm, so when we got off the bus at 8:15 in Athens, it was only early sunset and we made it to the hostel with no problems. After a quick splash on the face and a change of clothes, we ventured out to explore the busy neighborhood of Psiri, but not before a bite to eat at Goody - quite the diverse menu fast food joint.

On Saturday, we took our time trying to see things while staving off heat exhaustion (mind you, 33 C is pretttttty hot) and visited the National museum, the flea market and held off on the Accropolis until as late as possible to avoid the high noon sun. But what a view!
acropolis_004.jpg

Posted by Bexter 01:14 Comments (0)

Not really a tourist location...

we're headed to Kosovo...

sunny 25 °C
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We decided, that since we're already in the area, we might as well swing by Kosovo, because, Hey, when are we ever going to do that again??

We managed to pass an entire day in Podgorica waiting for the bus, and I will say this much - thank you America for providing toilets at all transportation hubs, because the "piss holes" provided in many of these eastern countries are not so pleasant (read: literally, just a hole in the ground, and often not too clean). We hopped on an overnight bus to Prishtina, Kosovo and were only briefly stopped by UN Border patrol who had us deboard the bus and bring out our lugggage so they could rifle through it (though they never seem to want to search through our backpacks at any of the checkpoints we've been through) and yet they did not stamp our passports!!! (we were very disappointed)

Arriving in Kosovo at 4 am - wow. We met the only other passenger who was a bit out of place, and spent the next 4 hours drinking tea at the cafe until it was a reasonable hour to call the hotel we had found in the guide book. It's not all that kind to show up to a guesthouse with no reservation at 4 am...

We found a room and took a long nap before hitting the town, so to speak. Prishtina is the capital city, and also the headquarters for all of the international organizations - seemingly every other car to pass by was a white Toyota 4Runner with UN painted on the side, or some other accronym for some other org... As it was Sunday, there wasn't really all that much to see or do, but we grabbed a sandwich at a cafe and were surprised to hear so much english being spoken. Just like the white cars, nearly every other person you pass seems to be there for some governmental purpose or other. And fittingly, we spent a good deal of the evening chatting with some Brits at the expat pub.

After Prishtina, we jumped a bus to Skopje, Macedonia - only a few hours away. It was our first experience with the cyrillic alphabet, and surprisingly we didn't have all that much difficulty deciphering street names and such. It was also our first encounter with really good Greek salad: thank God for good feta cheese! Skopje is a rather modern city, and our highlight was tracking down this restaurant celebrating Tito of the former Yugoslavia (picture a cardboard cutout) and former comunist paraphernalia.

acropolis_025.jpg

In order to escape the super heat, we headed to Lake Ohrid which shares a shore with Albania. The weather was so much better here, and we stayed in a comfy guesthouse in this comfy town, walking everywhere for a day and a half. It was really relaxing to just hang out, eating greek salad (which we will not tire of) and sipping cocas (coca light... soo good!)

Posted by Bexter 10:38 Comments (0)

The World's Newest Country

Montenegro

sunny 29 °C
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Montenegro is BEAUTIFUL! The mountains are looming and majestic at the same time, most covered with lush green encroaching on the sea: clear blue tranquil water. There are not very many tourists here, and in just a few days, we've managed (somewhat accidentally) to see much of the coast and now the capital city.

We took a bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor, circling aorund the bay of Kotor which looks more like a gigantic lake because the water is so peaceful and the shore is more of a gentle docking space than a beach. Our bus was stopped for an hour while they blew off a part of the cliff where they wanted to widen the road. We piled out of the bus and waited on the shore, the bus driver jovially faked pushing Sarah into the water!

acropolis_VII_001.jpg

We stayed in Kotor, an old walled city whose wall climbs up the cliff behind the town in an almost silly fortress, but we found the town really rocking on a Friday night. We stayed in this single lady's home who insisted on making us chai (tea) nearly every time we saw her, and when Sarah coughed she brought out a trove of vitamins. Needless to say, she spoke no English, and we no Serbian. The only real problem was that she didn't have any sinks that worked, nor a bathtub...so we haven't showered in 3 days...

We spend a day in Budva on the beach - also a fortress city but it is now very much a tourist town hosting a folk music festival starting this weekend. The beach was really refreshing though and we took advantage of at least some water to rinse off in.

On the bus back from Budva...oops...we went in the wrong direction and ended up 2 1/2 hours waiting to get back to Kotor. There was a wild lightning storm over the sea which was torrentially downpouring, which caused an accident, which caused us to wait again in the bus for about an hour (a budding trend...)

This morning we left bright and early to head to Podgroica, the capital city up in the mountains, to catch another bus. But upon arriving we found our next bus doesn't leave until 9pm tonight, so here we are passing another day in Montenegro. The people of this country - though we've had a bit of trouble communicating- are so warm and jolly, and the coast is amazingly beautiful!

Posted by Bexter 05:29 Comments (1)

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