A beautiful ancient city with locals to match
01.06.2007 28 °C
Sitting in our room in Amalfi, bags packed we took a very long breath and sighed as we knew the journey would take almost 40 hours door to door. Excited at the prospect of seeing the Amalfi coast from the road we practically bounced down the laneway and spilled out into the bus terminal.
On long bus trips position is key. We sat as close to the driver as possible to get the best vantage point and bus maneuvering tips as we snake our way along this famous coastline. Sheer drops on the right side and gorgeous vistas looking east along the coast distracted us momentarily from the action in the drivers seat. Stunning sunrise and a great way to enjoy the road without the stress of having to dodge oncoming buses etc.
At Solerno we changed the mode of transportation to Italys finest old rattler for the 3 hour ride to Taranto where we would change to Brindisi. The view from the train varied from undulating countryside similar to the Tuscan landscape however it was dry in many parts (reminding us of home). One of the highlights of the train trip was when we entered the gorge about halfway and followed the winding passage through some tunnels and under the freeway structure (the other highlight was a prepacked lunch sufficient for the duration of the journey).
Brindisi, what can we say. In the spirit of the blog we are trying to remain positive about all locations and experiences, but...
Had a tumbleweed passed us by on the wide marble street as we walked, man and wife side by side, alone it would not have looked out of place. Chuckling to ourselves we utilised the only three shops open at what we thought would have been a peak business period, the ferry ticket office, gelateria and internet cafe (in that order).
Realising we had completed a few hundred kilometres of travel and feeling reassured by the ferry ticket in hand we sat down to enjoy our addiction, blogging. It is true, you the readers with your encouragement and positive feedback have lead us into the dark realms of being internet junkies.
It was an easy mistake retrospectively to leave a full hour to get from the internet cafe to the ferry, which in our minds would be a five minute walk down the main street via the supermarket. Little did we know that the ferry was actually a 10 minute speeding taxiride at 10 minutes to disembarkation. With Elvis playing quietly over the radio we knuckles went white as the taxi driver swerved in all directions whilst ranting about the crappy advice we had received from the ticket office regarding the free shuttle bus. If it weren't for our extorsionist taxi driver we would have missed the boat completely.
Throwing 20 euros at the port tax officer seemed almost like a bribe as the entire office willed us to start running for the ship. Camilla had already commenced her best effort to move her and 15 kilo backpack / supplies bag toward the vessel. In hot pursuit Steve was glancing between the final truck reversing in, beeping louder and louder as if mocking our progress, and those passengers on the back deck smuggly reminding each other that it is worth being an hour early. Amazing race audition complete our applications will be posted on our return.
Setting up camp in the 'Air Chairs' (sitting room only for cheap travellers such as yours truly) was a bit of a giggle. With all but the tent sprawled out between the back wall and row of seats in front we were the envy of all with our featherdown mats, sleeping bags and pjs. A quiet night of lolling with the ship sent us into a deep sleep interrupted marginally by the crew runnning through the ship annoucing the arrival at Corfu and two other ports (12am, 1.30am, 3am). Steve took the 3am opportunity to take a few shots of the sistership docking alongside in the cool night air and most importantly Camilla in camp.
Not knowing where the sea borders start and stop we assumed we arrived in Greece when the first rope was wrapped around the bollard at Patras. Now late moning our entertainment came in the form of watching all the passengers, trucks, farming equipment etc. unload from the ship and ensueing chaos on the dock.
Our mission was to make our way to Athens (read across the whole of Greece) in time to find a decent cheap hotel in the heart of the city. Asking at the train station for the next connection we were informed it would arrive at 12 midday. Thinking that an hour and 10 minutes was a long time to wait after a 20 hour boat ride we walked 200 metres to the bus station. Informed that the next bus would leave NOW we bought tickets, re-read them as we raced for the bus and at that point realised we had changed timezones. It was almost 3 pm when we arrived in Athens bus terminal.
Camilla continually needs to remind Steve that it is important not to write off a city by it's bus terminal and surrounding neighbourhood. With a shrug we offloaded the coach and made our way through the metro network (a crude ordeal of 2 buses and a few train lines) to Plaka. A narrow maze of shopping streets and small squares overlooked by the Acropolis, which at this point we had not clearly viewed, we got rejected from a couple of hotels / hostels which were full before finding our oasis. On the best street, within 2 minutes walk of the acopolis we settled into the Travellers Inn for a reasonable tariff and ignoring the continual reference by the manager that the room was in the basement (literally).
Keen for a taste of the city we walked entirely 20 steps across the way to the local bakery. Greeted by the lovely shopkeep we ordered one of every cookie she makes and settled down to a gorge fest. Content that we were still alive and kicking after the long haul travel we continued along the street blindly climbing higher and higher. Afronted by a narrow passage between the rock and small whitewashed houses we emerged smack bang under the Acropolis overlooking Athens in its entireity.
Athens is enormous beyond what we thought and to add to the spectacle the entire city is a sea of whitewashed roof tops a nonsensical network of lanes and roads. It is not surprising when viewing Athens from above that this city has grown over an extensive 2500+ year history. From behind a graffiti covered (not so whitewashed) wall we looked down the hill to a rooftop wedding celebration. With traditional music reverberating off the cliff behind us we paused a long while to admire the vista in the setting afternoon sun.
Dinner and desert was as typical as it gets, 2x gyros (mini kebab), chips, coke, free baclava to taste sitting in an ancient archeological site only metres from our hostel. After dinner we headed to a bar which caught our eye, impossible to miss really with hundred upon hundreds of backlit bottles of coloured liquid lining the walls up to the 30 foot ceiling. We each enjoyed a glass of local wine, chatted to the Canadian Minister for Tax in British Columbia and struggled to finish our thimble full of ouzo.
Day 1 Athens - 28 May
As we were greated with a smile each of the subsequent visits to the nearby bakery it was a nobrainer to guess where we had breakfast. Steve was let loose to order which resulted in sufficient food for morning tea and lunch also. Optimistic at first that the rain would hold it became apparent on the first mouthful that today would be pouring. Undetered we dodged the raindrops back to the hostel and equipped ourselves in full wet weather battle attire.
Taking the route we discovered the previous afternoon up the hill to the Acropolis we arrived at the gate, cash in hand, ready to purchase a superpass for all the Athens sites. There is nothing more satisfying to budget travellers than to realise you have landed unplanned in Athens on Holy Spirit Day and therefore all museums and monuments are FREE. Rome first, now Athens, we are feeling lucky. Little did we know our luck would run out shortly.
Standing at the entrance to the acropolis and looking back through the windows of the 2nd century BC ampitheatre over Athens is fantastic. Surrounded by some of the most recognisable ancient monuments in existence gives little people like us a perspective on the length of time and generations which have preceded us. Although not intricately detailed and currently undergoing significant restoration work the Acropolis is still a wonderful site to explore. To think that all those centuries ago democracy was born in the walls of these towering marble masterpieces is humbling.
Battling the wind, rain and tourists whilst jumping between puddles and avoiding the tourist group leader with the deafening whistle (Camilla suggested a cattledog may do the trick also) we found sufficient time to soak in our surrounds, pardon the punn.
Descending the acropolis we snaked our way around ancient buriel grounds to Ancient Agora, the marketplace of Athina. Camilla's feet were becoming increasing soaked (read the disclaimer on the Merrill website about the difference between Waterproof and WATERPROOF and tell us if we should have known) we marvelled at the well preserved buildings and drainage systems.
Shortly after this moment Steve suffered a horribly debilitating accident. Slipping on the wet marble stonework underfoot (who knows what the ancient greeks did when it rained), the moment in time would have been perfect to capture on camera had it not been for the fact that said photographic equipment was airborne. Plummeting to the ground and stopping with a satisfying crack then rolling slightly into a puddle Steve let out a short yelp (had the cattle dog been there it may have replied).
Glaring at the sky and cursing the close proximity of the puddle to the landing place Steve commenced an hour long grieving process whereby he thumbed and caressed the limp camera equipment. Knowning it had probably captured in excess of 40,000 images in the last 4 years it was time to say goodbye.
Our tour of Athens came to screaming halt as the rain thickened, marble staircases turned into waterfalls all around and Camilla's feet started to squelch. We scurried around the commercial district nearby to replenish our gas supplies knowing full well the only solution was tea. After argueing with the sales manager that Merrill owed us our entire holiday expediture back in full we retreated to our basement to dry our hair.
Satisfied we had seen Athens great monuments in a different light, many smarter tourists would have delayed, we bought a ferry ticket to the sunny shores of Mykonos and completed the evening with Gyros, chips and coke (sound familiar?) Athens is worth the visit, rain, hail, damaged camera equipment or shine. You can sense how quickly time passes humanity when standing there knowning that only a few centuries ago western democratic civilisation was conceived.