My Big Fat Greek Holiday

♪♫Mamma Mia, how can I resist you? ♫♪♫ 

Of course there are no signs or directions!

So we asked around and played a bit of follow the leader before lining up…. at the wrong boat!

After a quick discussion made up of quizzical looks, Greek gesturing and s-l-o-w English (yes, it’s coming along well thanks but I’m not sure why others  are so slow to catch on), we were pointed in the right direction towards our downsized ferry to Santorini.

All good! We strapped ourselves in with cappuccino and croissants and slept, just waking one eye at each port of call to check weTourists arriving were heading in the right direction. No… we really didn’t have any idea!

Finally we arrived at Athinios, Santorini’s port at the foot of the cliffs.

The tide of tourists had definitely come in and there was a feeding frenzy amongst the local tour operators, car hirers and local buses. We were eaten alive!

Somehow we blindly followed the other lemmings onto a local bus and our luggage was stacked in the storage below. There was nothing to do but hold on and see what happened next…

Winding Road
Winding Road

Oh my! Our huge coach carried us up the side of the granite cliff face along this narrow, winding snake of a road. I can only imagine the goat track that had existed in days gone by and the number of non goats that had gone over the precipice that greeted us on every hair pin corner. I closed my eyes and only peeked out intermittently to find our final destination of Oia at the furtherest end of the island.

Ok, when I opened my eyes fully… what a wonderful sight awaited!

Oia
Oia

I had heard about quaint Santorini and its world famous sunsets but nobody had prepared me for the snow coned blue churches dripping in character and the winding laneways overflowing with grateful shopkeepers who made such easy sales. Their ship had come in everyday… and this time I was on board!

We filled our days sailing, snorkelling, sunning and hot springing before we changed back a gear to an even slower pace and repeated our sloth on the island of Paros. This time tho we added some historical kulcha with a guided tour of the ruins on Delos and a long lunch in Mykonos.

Sunset
Sunset

After several days of chart topping sunsets and  guilty decadence we were ferried back to whence we’d come… Athens.

Yes, we returned to our little hotel in the Plaka where we were spoilt with a breakfast view of the Acropolis and lulled to sleep at night by Michael Jackson classics adapted into Greek folk music wafting up from the restaurants in the garden square below. I fell asleep easily and dreamed of Zorba dancing and I’m sure he looked just like Anthony Quinn.

Since I had been a student at school, I had always dreamed of visiting Greece. I had enjoyed studying Art and Ancient History and was looking forward to pacing out the Parthenon, examining those Doric columns up close and finally understanding those bloody peripteral temple plans. I yearned to sit in the ancient Agora and feel where democracy had been born. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of Plato, Aristocrates and good ol’ Pericles.

Parthenon
Parthenon

But in the end…  what I have taken away with me is completely different!

I have a new found respect and great memories of an engaging people who have a wonderful way of living life. They truly live, love and enjoy the unhurried moment. One day they might even finish the Parthenon!

And it is beautiful!

Thank you Greece.

Σας ευχαριστούμε Ελλάδα

      ♪♫and so I say, thank you for the music… ♫♪♫

Countdown

What things do you look forward to when you’re heading off on a trip?

I’m about to escape from an Aussie winter and wing my way to where the cockles of my heart shall be ignited by a young friend’s gorgeous summer wedding in London. The plan after that is to just play castaway for a while and laze in the sun on some idyllic Greek Islands before touring with a friend to discover the ancient and aromatic delights of Turkey.

So what am I excited about?

What things kindle my sense of anticipation??

What burning desires flare up my will for a travel thrill???

Here’s my COUNTDOWN… of  5 things.

countdown- of things

    5. The Little Thing

♫♪ I want to get away ♫♪♫ I want to fly away ♫♪  

Just the idea of leaving every little thing behind and not having to care about mundane chores or everyday living is my most basic joy in taking a holiday or travelling away. Once I’ve devoured any English mad cows, Greek salads or Turkish delights then I won’t care about what happens to the plate… yes, it’s the little things… I am really just looking forward to not washing up!

4    4. The Hidden Thing

♫♪♫ Food glorious food, we’re anxious to try it ♫ Three banquets a day, my favourite diet ♫♪♫

There is nothing better than chancing upon a busy restaurant full of locals enjoying a meal, buzzing with life and taking it all for granted. That’s when I walk right on past those golden arches, head for a back alley and get lost looking for a little hole in the wall eatery and the opportunity to savour a native delicacy or spend a long afternoon imbibing on the local interpretation of a good red.

3    3. The Familiar Thing

♫♪♪♫♪ Exit light. Enter night. Take my hand. Off to never never land… ♫♪♫ ♫

Even before Metallica took me by the hand, my dreams had always been about visiting faraway lands. I looked forward to overdosing all my senses on the exotic, bizarre and exceptional; all of which were a complete contrast to where I lived at home. Travelling does give me an appreciation for the strange and different but it also teaches me gratefulness for the familiar. So now I’m a fully-fledged travel junkie and while I’m addicted to the dream… I equally crave my return home! “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchet

2    2. The People Thing

♫♪ People. People who need people ♫♪♫ Are the luckiest people in the world ♫♪

I have a fondness for people watching. I enjoy meeting new people. I love ‘walking in their shoes’. I really appreciate having my eyes opened wider to how others think and I relish any opportunity to discover our similarities and to understand our differences. It’s the contact with people that starts a process of education. “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

1     1. The Challenge Thing

♫♪ It’s my life. It’s now or never ♫♪ I ain’t gonna live forever ♫♪

This first world lifestyle has made me very comfortable and to truly appreciate how really fortunate I am at having won life’s lotto then I feel I need to be challenged; to push my contented boundaries; to extend my complacent self. Yes folks, I feel I am now ready to once again take on the greatest travel challenge of them all…

… surviving 23 hours of mind numbing, boring, brainless inflight entertainment!

          ♫♪  ‘Cause it’s my life! ♫♪ 

Q&A: Siberian Sojourn

Seven Questions Only                    

Listvyanka is a fairly typical village
Listvyanka is a fairly typical village

What did you expect to see?

Gulags, frozen peasants and snow! Ok, so I needed an update since watching Dr Zhivago but isn’t that why we travel?

Snow icing everywhere
Snow icing everywhere

What did you find?

Not a gulag or peasant, frozen or otherwise, in sight! It’s a wonderfully modern, diverse, interesting and quite prosperous Russian oblast (state/province) that destroyed every ignorant, preconceived stereotype I may have held.

 

Was there snow?

Old world charm
Old world charm

Yes! Yes! And more yes! But my idea of snow was so limited. I don’t believe I could ever have imagined how much snow there was or indeed, how beautiful it would look to my dusty Australian eyes. Rooftops on gingerbread houses were iced with thick, heavy layers of freshly fallen snow; larch trees on hillsides stood firm and dusted in white powder that glistened like sugar in the late afternoon sunlight; fallen, wooden paling fences sank deep into the snowline all the time outlining quilted downy fields that reflected the myriad pinks splashed down abstractly by the setting sun. Falling asleep to this fairytale scenery we travelled from Asia on the train for four nights before awakening, 5200kms to the west in Europe, to the same snow covered story. It is an immense and beautiful part of our planet!

How did you fill your days?

We wandered around the village where individuality and old world charm oozed together from the wooden fenced backyards, public corner wells and winding streets.

Dog sledding through the forest
Dog sledding through the forest

Crossing a snow encrusted bridge we spied an old Russian Orthadox church at the end of a lane and entered wondering what kind of faith we might find. Dedication to service was worn on the sleeve of the young nun who greeted us at the door; a timeless story of sacrifice and love was revealed in the murals that elaborately adorned every corner of the 170 year old timber structure that had survived a religiously oppressive political time; multiple candles burned for loved ones while icons were sold in a corner of this ritualistic space. We moved on.

Outside we found a dog sled company and paid the tourist price for a local experience. I can’t complain. It was great fun!

Which was the best part?

Without a doubt… walking on the frozen Lake Baikal.

Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal
Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal

This  is the deepest (1637m) lake and holds approx. 20% of the world’s freshwater supplies. Snow covered turquoise ice blocks piled up across the surface hint at what lies beyond.

Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below
Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below

The lake is covered by a 50cm layer of clear ice that magnifies the dark depths below. Because the water below is so clear we could just make out the rocks up to 10 metres below on the bottom of our bay. It was fascinating to see whispy veils of cracks in the ice and various size bubbles trapped below while Aussie tourists kicked ice footballs or danced the cancan and etched abstract markings onto the glassy surface.

How was the food?

Fish at the markets
Fish at the markets

We were welcomed with warm piroshky (fish or meat pasties) and our fingers frozen numb from the unforgiving winds outside slowly thawed as they wrapped around bowls of steaming solyanka (meat soup). Our taste buds reveled in the delights of Russian champagne and local caviar on toast before we dined heartily on smoked fish and potatoes before celebrating late into the night like real Russians with vodka shots, beer and the occasional Georgian red. It is easy to party hard when you feel so satisfied and warmly welcomed.

What did you learn?

I realize that past generations here at various times have suffered harsh realities and oppressions that I will never fully comprehend and also atrocities that I choose not to contemplate… but I also realize this is what has made the contemporary people who they are today. They are not dwelling in the past but are learning from it. The modern Siberian is aware of their many indigenous peoples and rightfully proud of their heritage. They have big hearts and are a modern, vibrant part of Russia today. While my contemporaries here grew up under extremely different circumstances and restrictions to myself, our children are growing in similar worlds now that are connected, blended and full of opportunity. I wonder only about who will squander their opportunity.

Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice
Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice

What would I like to say to Siberians?

Spa-see-ba = Thank you!

Das ve danya = Goodbye!

Selfie on the dog sled with driver
Selfie on the dog sled with driver

Nas da rovia = Good health!

Ode to Munich

(Sung to The Twelve Days of Christmas)

 
And we'll celebrate and buy another beer!
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!
On the first day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“We’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the second day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!”
Glockenspiel dncing figures
Glockenspiel dancing figures
On the third day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!”On the fourth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 

Five golden mass... well here's three of them
Five golden mass… well here’s three of them
On the fifth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage, Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the sixth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage, Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the seventh day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
Sing and dance together
Sing and dance together
On the eighth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Jump up on the chairs,
Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
Go to the beer hall
Go to the beer hall

On the ninth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 

 

You wear a dirndl
You wear a dirndl
On the tenth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“You wear a dirndl,

 

Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop, Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
We'll get ledenhosen!
We’ll get ledenhosen!

On the eleventh day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“We’ll get lederhosen, You wear a dirndl, Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
Oktoberfest is party time!
Oktoberfest is party time!

On the twelfth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Oktoberfest is party time!

We’ll get lederhosen,
You wear a dirndl
Go to the beer hall,
Jump up on the chairs,
Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass,
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 

THANK YOU MUNICH! THANK YOU FAMILY! THANK YOU NEW FRIENDS HERE AND OLD FRIENDS BACK HOME … FOR ENCOURAGING ME AND HELPING ME TO ENJOY THREE OF THE MOST INTERESTING MONTHS OF MY LIFE!   

PROST!