Tag Archive for 'Athens'

Blog posts on Liako.Biz for 2005

A series of posts that summarises content created on Liako.Biz

You can also read 2008 and 2007 summaries.

Like a good host should, I welcomed you to my new blog which was to document my travel experience. Writing in April 2005, I then proceeded to say how I landed in America (Ohio) and then Boston (with a cheeky review of Harvard ). I also managed to visit New York, before I made my way to Europe to Gallipoli for the 90th ANZAC Dawn services and one of my favourite cities Istanbul.

Similarly, May 2005 was a fairly lame month of blogging as I was still getting into the groove. I spent a month literally sleeping, and trying to create some sort of travel plans. I stayed with my cousins in Athens and managed a side-trip to Mykonos.

I finally got into the groove in June of being a blogger that engaged an audience. It started with my trip to Albania, which then progressed to Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

My Balkan bash had to end there as the sisters in London called, so off I went to see them and the new baby. However I then had to go back to Greece, and what better way to do it than over land. Unfortunately, it meant I had go through the Nagging wife countries but it’s okay because I partied all the way.

I partied a little too hard and developed pneumonia, which was a bummer for my trip, but by late September I had enough and headed to Athens (from Athens via Moscow) starting with Bulgaria, then onto the long road to Iran via Turkey until I finally got to…Iran. Iran was cool to see but hot at the same time, so I opted for some cold in Russia. Seeing as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were just down the road from Russia, I also visited those countries. Oh and heck, since I was there, I went to Poland, Prague and Budapest until time ran out and my nine months away ended with a finale.

Finale!

I’m back! After 35 weeks of backpacking, partying, and avoiding reality – I’ve returned back home, surprising nearly everyone. (My parents answered the door 12.30 at night – only 24 hours earlier, I had an argument with them on the phone that I was determined to fly to Syria – they nearly had a heartattack. On both counts!) The reason I am back is because my employer, well, said so. Unfortunately, it meant I had to change my trip quite drastically (no Middle East, and not the rest of Eastern Europe). Fortunately, I was dying to come back home – I was very much over travelling, and was counting down the days I would end the trip. Travel is a life-long thing, not a “lets-see-everything-now-before-I-have-the-2.4 kids- and-a-mortage”. Just in case you were wondering, after Budapest I caught a train to Belgrade to see some friends, and then flew to Athens to catch up with family.

jeep

My new car – seriously. Bank loan was approved today, I pick up this 2004 Jeep wrangler next Wednesday.

Five days after I arrived, I started full-time work in a Graduate-entry position at PwC – where for an intense two weeks, we were being trained on things I already knew as I have previously worked at the firm (it was still tiring though). Now, I am on my first week of three weeks of holiday (it’s a hard life!), and I am busy catching up with friends, and organising myself for what is literaly a new stage of my life. Oh, and recovering – I think my pneumonia is trying to make a comeback because I am so exausted – I probably have bronchitis. Doctor said I was fine when I first arrived, but the PwC training really took it out of me when I should have been relaxing.

…Jesus, I just did some quick arithmetic, and over my 35 weeks, I visitied about 25 countries and twice as many cities, villages, and islands! Talking about my trip has become tedious, and I am finding it difficult to tell people things – partially because, I don’t know where to start.

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After my work’s Christmas Party (theme was “Bollywood” by the way), I went out to the city, and as I had my camera on me, I could not resist taking this photo. I found this guy on the streets of Sydney. I reckon he had a good night.

The travel bug in me is completely dead. But like Lazarus – expect it to come back one day. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Merry Christmas!

Poland, Prague and Budapest

When it comes to my blog, I love using regions. Updating it, whilst is valuable in retrospect, is an absolute pain in the arse when I have to write them. For that reason, I have created a new region of the last three countries on my trip. Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary – I dub thee the "Visegr?ɬ°d Three" (Slovakia, you be quiet now). Thinking back on those nearly three weeks, the memory is a bit scant, as it was just one big drinking binge. But it turns out I have an audience on this blog, so I’ll pretend I learnt something. I spent about 11 days in Poland ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú although I regard three of those days as ‘bad hangover’ days so I don’t think they should count. Of those 11 days, four were in the capital Warsaw, four in Krakow (with a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau), and another three days in Wroclaw (pronounced VROTZ-wahf). In the Czech Republic, I spent four days in Prague, and in Hungary about three days in Budapest.

All three of these countries are very different from each other: the Hungarians are descendants of the Magyar tribes that swept across Europe terrorising the continent until they settled there, and later ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the Hapsburg Empire (which became the Austro-Hungarian Empire), a dominant force in central Europe during the late Middle Ages that lasted until WWI. The Poles are Western Slavs, and together with the Lithuanians after a Royal marriage that sealed the deal, had an empire that stretched from the Baltic and Black seas. The people of the Czech Republic, inhabiting the ancient lands of Bohemia and Moravia, are linguistically and to a lesser extent ethnically related to the Poles. The Czech people have been invaded by Hapsburg’s, Nazis, Soviets and tour groups. They may not have dominated Europe like Hungary or Poland, but they have always been valuable territory for the empires that held them.

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Corner of a building in Prague

What makes these three very different countries so similar however, is their location. The Czech Republic is smack-bang in the middle of Europe, and together with Hungary and Poland, are a large component of Central Europe. The significance of this is that Europe has a very rich history, and heck, if you are in the middle, it means you’ve been involved in almost everything that has touched the continent. For example, their locations has meant that none of the local problems have remained local: when Czechs rejection of the Roman Catholic Church in 1418 resulted in the Hussite Wars; the revolt against the Hapsburg’s in 1618 started the horrible Thirty Years’ War; the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 was the opening scene to WWII; the reforms of the 1968 Prague Spring, led to tanks and soldiers from all over the Eastern Bloc to suppress it; and the peaceful overthrow of the government during the Velvet revolution stands as a model for freedom-seekers, such as the recent revolutions of Georgia, Ukraine, and Armenia. Lets also not forget that before Franz Ferdinand was the name of a band, it was also the name of the Hungarian prince that was assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb in Sarajevo – and is what sparked World War I; whilst Poland experienced the brunt of one of the greatest and most horrific wars of our history (WWII) – evident to the modern traveller by visiting Warsaw and Auschwitz-Birkenau . These three countries play no small role in the European story.

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"The one who does not remember history is bound to live it through again" – George Santayana

Something that striked me about Poland was the law enforcement, and the observance of the law. A simple example is the pedestrian crossings ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú in most cities I have visited, you get either one of three types of driver attitude towards them: the type that will stop once you have started crossing (Sydney); the type that won’t stop, but swerve around you as you cross (Tehran) and the type that make you wet your pants, as you run across like a headless chicken to avoid being hit (Athens ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú with the complimentary verbal abuse whilst you run). In Poland however, I merely had to look at a crossing, and a car would slam on the breaks! Another example was when I visited the Russian markets in Warsaw, and my friends and I were going through some pirated CD’s to buy (which may I add, looked more professional than a CD in a record store). As we were looking, the men and women quickly hustled us, and in two seconds, had the CD’s completely out of view. A few seconds later, a police officer strolled by. When he was out of sight, we were able to resume our commerce. Turns out, as they showed us later, they have a sophisticated monitoring network, where they know the exact movements of police near them so they won’t get in trouble. Whilst the funky headsets and organisational skills impressed my two companion friends, I was more stunned by the event itself: copyright enforcement to me is a sign that a country is very well developed. For these guys to sweat when the police officer walked by, tells me you’ve got a very well functioning government enforcing the law. That is the basis for a strong economy ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú especially for something as abstract as intellectual property, which is the basis of a certain buzz word that will solve all our problems like your paycheck and grandpa’s erectile problems.

On the right bank, the Red army stood there, as the Nazis demolished Warsaw

On the right bank, the Soviet army sat there at they watched the Nazi’s burn Warsaw to the ground – the Soviet’s were meant to be on the same side as the Poles. People speculate that Stalin let the Nazi’s do all the hard work, and crush any resistance, so that he would have a clean slate when he occupied the city.

Unfortunately the only "New Economy" thing about Poland, is that they actual have a free market now. And it’s not going down to well: unemployment is high. One of the most talked about backpacker stories, is the Krakow-Prague overnight train ride, where you get gassed while you sleep, only to find all your valuables missing in the morning. A Polish guy in Wroclaw, told me that the worst line of them all, was the Wroclaw-Prague line I was about to get on in one hour (needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night). The theft of course, is because of the high unemployment ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú estimated at 18 percent by this guy I talked to.

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Right next to the Warsaw train station: a funky new building

I found Polish people to be one of the highlights of my trip there. Watching the people in a Polish nightclub became one of my favourite pastimes, as the way Poles dance amused me. I am not saying they are bad dancers, but simply, different from other places. Women for example, seem to have an inbuilt hip-shaking movement which is incredibly sexy, but also seems just a natural as someone breathing. The men on the other hand, are so enthusiastic ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äúwith a big cheesy grin, and they dance like they are skiing a ski-slope. Very amusing.
Without resorting to specific examples, the general vibe of the place was very positive. When you travel, you create a lot of theories, my most recent one was that countries that were formally oppressed, have very grumpy locals. But the Poles shut that theory down in flames, as I found everyone to be smiling, laughing, and generally happy. Possibly also a little smart-alec ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú in Warsaw, all the strip clubs are located on (Pope) John Paul II Street.

Despite the positive feeling I had from the place, at the back of my mind, I could not forget the atrocities these people had to face. Warsaw is a city that was razed to the ground by the Nazis (as the Soviet’s sat watching) ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú travellers visiting the city moan how ordinary it is, but when you think of its history, you see things differently, and appreciate the Polish spirit. For example, they painstakingly rebuilt their Old Town, with only pre-war pictures and paintings to guide them. The city felt eerie for me. Krakow is a much more beautiful and vibrant city than Warsaw, for obvious reasons (it wasn’t bombed). But everyone visits Krakow, so you probably knew that already. I had a friend that I used to work with in Sydney, that lives in Wroclaw, and I really liked that city as well. Both cities have amazing Market Squares (Krakow’s is the largest in Europe ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Wroclaw not far behind) and they both have an atmosphere in their old towns which I really liked (locals strolling by, entertainers, tacky shops and restaurants). I arrived in Wroclaw at 11pm, and my friend dumped my bags at the local hostel so we could party: Wroclaw and Krakow, like any other university town, is a bit of fun as well. All the Poles I met in Wroclaw, had come from other cities in Poland, and would tell me how much they loved the city and how it is the best one in Poland (Krakow comes close, according to them).

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Krakow during Independence Day, also known to us as Remembrance day (November 11)

Auschwitz and Birkenau are something else ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú where it is estimated estimated that between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 people were murdered by the Nazi’s. I ended up touring the sites on my own, missing my friend’s group tour, but which instead turning into a more powerful experience for me as I did it on my own. I was surprised I didn’t get as emotionally affected as I thought I would, but then again, I consider wanting to punch a wall on two separate occasions as minor outbursts. What made be sick was the evidence of children being killed ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as 12 years old children were treated just like the adults. What really got to me, was seeing a presentation of children shoes. That is, children aged no more than five years old. Walking around Birkenau, which was where most of the exterminations took place, was chilling (and it was a lot of walking ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the site is 171 hectares large). It became very dark when I was touring the huge site, and visiting the compounds of the prisoners and seeing their living conditions, was something that made it hard for me to swallow. Seeing the ruins of the furnaces and gas chambers on Birkenau, as the Nazi’s attempted to cover their crimes on their retreat, just reminds you how recent all of this was.

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The Nazi’s tried to cover up evidence of the killings that occured, by blowing up the gas chambers and furnaces

When I met up with my friends later that night and shared our experiences, they told me how angry they were to see the Jewish children fly the Israeli flag around ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú their point being, it is that nationalism that created conflicts like this. That is usually something I would say, but I don’t really share that sentiment. Sitting in on a Jewish memorial service where the furnaces were in the dark as I wound up my tour on Birkenau, was definitely an experience I am glad I had.

Half the reason I went to Prague was to visit Veronika and Pete ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú two old friends and workmates. The rest of the reason was because I just had to see what the fuss was about. Just as I suspected, not much ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a great city, but way too much hype. It has one of the best integrated transport systems I have been on, and the buildings are very pretty. But that’s exactly the problem with Prague: it’s pretty. It’s a place you visit with your girlfriend, on a weekend away. Having said that though, as my friend Petr showed me, it’s way too much fun for the single (and not single) man.

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Prague’s city centre – the big building is the national library, me thinks

Veronika and Pete miss Australia because of the friendliness of ordinary people. As a contrast, Veronika would complain how clique and rude Czech people were. She reckons, and she is by no means an ugly girl, how hard it is to meet people at a club ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú everyone goes out with their groups of people, and refuse to socialise with other people, because you just don’t do that. Foreigners provide a breath of fresh air to Czech people, because they can break out of that clique.

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Prague: pretty.

Pete also reckons the emphasis on looks here has created a bulimic culture amongst women. He puts the figure at every second or third girl – and a quick look around the club proved him right, as all the girls looked unrealistically thin. On a related conversation I had with this American I met at the hostel who was about to start teaching English, he says how back in the States, everyone raves on about how beautiful Czech women are. However he says they are not beautiful but just skinny! "Everyone is so fat in America", he was saying, "that they see a skinny girl and they go gaga here".

The Soviet museum in Prague deserves a mention. Seeing the communist posters to inspire workers, made me realise how similar communism is to capitalism, with slogans talking about ‘efficiency’ and ‘output’. It was funny to see words I had always associated with capitalism, on a communist poster.
Watching a video about the failed 1968 revolution left me feeling mellow. A pop group mentioned in the video called the Plastic Group of the universe (I am sure it sounds better in Czech) used these lyrics: "Throw away your brains, throw away your hearts. Throw away everything that makes you human, and become pigs". For me, those words really help sum up the things I have learnt about communism and Nazism in the last month. Having just read Stalin’s biography, a quote on the wall helped sum up what took me 500 pages to find out as to how he could do what he did: "One death is a tragedy; one million a statistic". Like a spoilt seven year old with divorced parents, the Stalin’s of the world can get away with murder, because they don’t feel the consequences of their actions as no one will reprimand or tell them. And yet even Stalin was capable of breaking down, when his son was captured by the Nazis ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú because the suffering of the war then became personified with a familiar face. There is no such thing as monsters in history ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú only people detached from reality. It’s not hard to smack them back, it’s just that some need to be smacked harder than others.

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Budapest’s House of Horrors on the other hand, annoyed me. Of all the museums I have seen detailing atrocities of the Nazis and communists, this was the most extravagant of them all, but also the worst. It was too fabricated, and too glossy. When you are talking about horror, take the gloss out.And while we are on it – Budapest as well, was very different from Prague, and as a city I much preferred it as it had more character. Although a girl that helped me at the train station, said she hated it: good for a few days, bad for living here.

My experience with Hungarian people was something else as well. Whenever I was with a group of friends/travel companions, I always saw the rudeness of Hungarians. But in the few times I was alone, I found Hungarian people to be very nice and friendly. Even though I regard Hungarians as friendly, the incidents of rudeness really stuck in my mind ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú like for example, a guy at the ice-rink, literally shooing this woman away, like she was some intruder to a military base, when she inquired when it re-opened.

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Budapest’s parliament

Hungarian’s also just look different. Maybe it’s my historical knowledge that helps colour my perceptions, but if there was one word to describe them it would be "warriors". The men looked very different, very rough and tough. They were also weird: when I went to the baths with some of my female friends, there were incidents when men would just stare. Sure, my friends were pretty, but no one stares like that unless you are a psychotic.
Budapest definitely ranks as one of the most memorable cities I’ve been to, and one which I would put top on the list to visit again. The city has a character which I think all the former Ottoman Empire lands have, like Belgrade and Sarajevo. The baths are an amazing experience, and I really wished I had more time to do the rock-climbing tour underneath the city. It is hard to talk about cities as to why you like them, and it can be done, but this blog posting is getting way to long.

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Budapest’s Heroes square

Something I didn’t mention at the beginning of this posting, was one other similarity the three before-mentioned cities have in common: the are all new members of the European Union. And rising stars whilst they are at it. According to a study published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the Czech Republic ranks as the third most attractive country in the world for off-shoring, after China and India. Whilst cheap labour has something to do with it, the location of the country and its relatively well developed telecommunications and educated workforce help contribute to this.

But notice I said location was an important factor. Like before, the location of these three countries at the centre of Europe’s next big empire (the EU) means that they are again in the spotlight. Expect to hear about these three countries a lot more in the future, as the Visegr?ɬ°d group play catch up to the rest of the developed world.

Bulgaria

Having checked the map, I’ve realised that my trip-to-be isn’t really Eastern Europe in as much as it is Central Europe. And the term ex-Eastern Bloc is so passe. So let me start again: Greetings from the ex-commie bastard countries, before they turn into capitalist prick countries! Oh, I am excited!
The doctor ordered I stay in Greece another 10 days to recover, since my last blog posting. She could feel my anger, and did not charge for the session. The next visit, although better, she said I needed another month to fully recover – on top of the previous 25 days I had, locked up in Athens with rare glimpses with the outside world. Fearing for her life, she said it should be okay for me to leave. The next day, I was on a train north.

St Alexander Nevskis cathedral

Orthodox Christian iconography, at the big mother of a church in Sofia. Love them. And so does the Vatican, which sells them – the churches may disagree on doctrine, but they both know what sells well

So what to say about Bulgaria? The women are ridiculously hot (even the store mannequins looked good); the country is ridiculously cheap (and apparently, those two facts are not mutually exclusive, as I explain below). And I have never said the word “ridiculous” so many times, to describe a country.
I spent two days in Bulgaria’s capital – Sofia – and four in a former capital – Veliko Tarnovo. Sofia was pleasant; VT was great but could have been 10 times better if it wasn’t raining. We spent two nights hoping it would clear up, and I had to spend another night there because my bus to my next country broke down on the way. Unfortunately the day I left was also when it started clearing up, but I figure I will explore the country another time.

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Managed to get some pictures on my last day. The castle at Veliko is built on one of the three hills that the city sits on.

I enjoyed Sofia because it was bustling with people, had chic areas to hang out, and I had trouble trying to spend my money – always a good sign! In VT, despite the rain, I had some good company. I had met two British kids – Lydia and James – in Sofia, and said to meet them in VT. Although they left the day before me, they arrived at the same time and found me as I was walking to the hostel in VT, with a taxi driver that had no idea where they wanted to go. ?Ѭ? was wondering why it took them an entire day to get here, and they explained. In Bulgaria, like in Albania, they shake their heads sideways for ‘yes’ and up-down for ‘no’. Put simpler, the opposite to the rest of the world. So when on the bus the previous day, they asked the bus driver if the current stop was VT. He shook his head sideways, to indicate yes. The kids read it as a no. And so they spent the night on the Black Sea resort of Varna, a few hours from where they had originally planned to be.

Although it was raining, Lydia and James – who had met one week earlier but looked like a married couple together (something I think a lot of travelers can relate to when traveling alone) helped pass the rainy days with me. Lydia with her slapstick humour and James with his political incorrectness, wit, and political incorrectness. We found this amazing restaurant and we would eat there all day whilst laughing. On more serious discussions, James and I would reminisce the good old days of the British Empire, and how good the times were with slavery. James and I realised we are also a compatible writing team, as we discovered when writing an entry in the guest-book, and we are currently brainstorming a book we promise to write for the growing travel market. The book is called “Islamic Jihad on a shoe-string” or how to blow shit up on the cheap, for the budget traveler. I think we may have cornered a niche market here.

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The food was unbelievable. And ridiculously cheap: this dish cost about Five Lev or Three Euros. Also, they iron the tables with table-cloths when re-setting. Maybe that is what Sydney restaurants are missing?

Bulgarians look different from the rest of the people that inhabit the Balkan peninsula. Like the Serbs, there is a hint of Slavonic blood in them, but their unique look is obviously more dominated by other tribes. There is obviously some Thracian blood in them, but there is also a Turkic central-Asian look, from the Bulgar tribes that migrated in the 7th century AD. They have this characteristic round look, as in round face – like a teddy bear face. Having said that, there is also the sharp nose, sharp face look. Either way, they look different. And on the highly charged issue of Macedonia, I have to say the Macedonians do look a little different.

Sofia is located near the Republic of Macedonia’s border. It was picked as capital, because of the wishful thinking that one day Bulgaria would be reunited with “Western Bulgaria”, with Sofia as the capital in the middle of the country. Bulgarians claim the neighbouring Macedonians are actually Bulgarians, that speak a dialect of Bulgarian. I personaly find the Macedonians to be a little more Slavic in appearance. Either way, it’s a hotly contested issue. Maybe if the Bulgarians learnt how to move their heads for yes and no like the rest of the world, there wouldn’t be such a communication problem when discussing senstive issues like these? I was very confused when talking about the subject.

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Veliko is bu?Ѭ±lt on these hills. It was a strategic city, as it lay on the Rome-Constantinople road.

Bulgarians are very pro-Russia. In fact, when most of the commie bloc countries in the north where trying to get out of the Warshaw Pact, the Bulgarians voluntarily asked to be a part of the USSR in 1973. Whilst cheap Vodka may have something to do with it, the “we love Mother Russia” view is probably also due to the historic relationship with the Russians, where the Russians liberated the Bulgarians from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.

Russian church St Nikolay

Russian Church, built by the Russian Ambassador in the 1800s. They reckon he thought the Bulgarian Orthodox Churches spooked him, so he needed some Real McCoy Russian spritual protection

Squashed by the Byzantine Empire, supressed by the Ottoman Empire, and ‘liberated’ by the Russians – the Bulgarians are slated for joining the European Union in 2007. People don’t seem to understand why, nor care. The owner of the hostel at Sofia that I stayed at, reckons Bulgarians don’t have a deeply rooted culture of democracy. The concept of being an independent state isn’t a concept they understand. Whilst they are very proud of their culture, they are not so proud about their country. He reckons Bulgaria needs to be ruled by someone, because they don’t know better themselves.

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Sofia city centre.

Turbo folk music seems to be popular, music that has swept the Balkan states. I was told in Serbia, everyone hates it but it seems to be popular in Bulgaria. The girl at the VT hostel hates it as well, saying it is a bit like American R’n’B music with cars, naked girls, and sex. My Serbian friends claim it is nationalistic propaganda music. With short skirts and girls, I think I now understand how propaganda works.

And finally, a funny story. Was taking pictures.

St Alexander Nevskis cathedral

Actually, this picture to be exact

And a young man in a business suit asked me for the time. Then, he gave me his business card. It was too funny to refuse the card.

Medical control!

"non stop"

The card he gave me. Notice “non-stop”, ” medical control” and the generous discount.

Unfortunately, that is all I have to say. Blame the rain. Currently in Turkey and lovin’ it.

Party month

Judging from the amount of e-mails, text messages, and smoke signals I have received in the last month, from the standard “where are you now?” to the more dramatic “are you still alive?” I think now might be a good time to update my blog. Before I continue, this entry has nothing much interesting to read about travel destinations, and it purely is directed at my friends who are getting narky at my quietness.

So what have I been doing in the last month? After Paris I caught the bus down to Barcelona, with my friend from Australia, Max. We were there for a week, and we basically got drunk, slept, and ate kebabs in what seemed like an endless cycle. The cycle was as such: get up at post-noon, go to beach (or watch the cricket), hurry back to the hostel for Happy Hour which started at 6pm (two litres of Heineken for three Euros). Chat up some fellow hostellers, usually girls, and end up at some random clubs with those girls, drinking more beer, bourbon, and shots of, well, alcohol of some sorts. My memory gets hazy at that stage of the night. On alternate nights, we would do a pub crawl, the only difference being we went to five separate establishments in the space of a very short time. The three Euro Happy Hour Drinks and the chatting up of girls still featured prominently. As did the haziness.

I reached my fifth day in Barcelona, and said: “Hey Max, you know we haven’t seen anything of this city yet?” To which Max would reply: “True that, brudda”. It wasn’t until my final day there that I actually learnt how to orientate myself, and took some pictures of the place! So what did I think of Barcelona then? Well, it had a great night life!

Streets in Barcelona

I didn’t really like Barcelona when I first arrived, and neither did my sister who had left with her Contiki tour the day I arrived. If you spend just a day in Barcelona, you probably wouldn’t either, as all you would see are the dirty ghettos, the legless beggers and the shady juveniles with rat tails, eyeing you out. Barcelona is a city you need to feel to appreciate, in which you need time to realise. Its nightlife, relaxed pace of life, and general atmosphere: Put simply, Barcelona is a cool city, and it definitely ranks as one of my favourite places so far.

As my deadline to Greece approached (to meet my friends on the islands), it was time for me to move on. Our wallets and livers couldn’t handle any more, either. My plans with Max changed a bit: I wanted to see some of Rome before I hit Greece, and Max had a bit of thing with one of the girls we met. So Max went west with Dominique for Madrid and beyond for the following month, as I headed east for Rome. Although all roads lead to Rome, I was not arsed going by bus, and these two girls I had met heading the same direction actually found a flight that was cheaper than the ferry (and the bus). However my arrival in Rome wasn’t as smooth as you would expect. Basically, I nearly missed my flight, smashed a glass table at a cafe, and witnessed a gay-sex orgy in a toilet cubicle in Rome. It was the craziest 12 hours of my life. If I wasn’t so doped up on antibiotics, I might have the temperament to tell you the story. But I don’t.

Hilarious day

I spent close to a week in Rome, of which I spent only a few of those days sightseeing, as I had to do some trip planning for my Eastern Europe trip (visas, et cetera). Did all the main sites, and really enjoyed Rome. Rome is like London an imperial city, rather than a cultural city like Paris. Went snap happy with my camera there.

The colloseum at night

From Rome, I caught an overnight train to Brindisi. I made sure my booth lights were off, so that people would walk past, and I could have the booth to myself and the other guy I shared it with. Later, that guy, turned on the lights. Three minutes later, a family consisting of a nagging mother, a grandmother who stretched her feet right out, a hyperactive little girl who kept stepping on my feet as she ran in and out, and another little boy in the carriage whose presence just annoyed me, took over our carriage. Oh, and the little yapping dog, right at my feet. I wanted to squash that little shit. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

A friend was in Lecce, about an hour from Brindisi. I went down south with Enza and friends in what is the heal of the boot of Italy, having an awesome few days. My first day, at the beach we experienced an Italian airshow, with helicopter drops and race boats. Absolutely amazing. The next day, we went to this place that has an underwater hot-spring, which Enza and I managed to get a photo of (not easy!).

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I ended up missing my bus. As the next bus left in three hours, it also meant I missed my ferry.

And so, for therapy, I jumped off a cliff.

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We even managed to get Enza to jump off.

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Whilst Emmanuel and I kept trying to find higher and higher cliffs to jump off.

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The next day, I didn’t miss my ferry, and finally reached Athens. Reminiscent of the train journey, I had found myself a nice piece of carpet upstairs from the main lounge area. Rolling out my sleeping bag, with the other 50 people there, we started to sleep. And then, the disco music started – the lounge had a hidden disco floor. And it lasted until one in the morning. All the women on the boat, walked pass, peeking enthusiastically. Eventually, a bunch of 14 year old American girls hit the dance floor, which made me realise that girls learn to dance by imitating Britney Spears and Christina Aguilira, until the develop their own style. I hope they develop their own style, because they suck at imitating. The boys of the group tried to pathetically break dance, but that was at least funny. Not so funny, was this guy metres away from me taking pictures of the girls, and with a dirty paedophile grin on his face.

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My stop in Athens was a quick pit stop, before I was to hit the Greek islands of Mykonos and Ios with some school mates of mine. My partners in crime where Andy Perkes, Matt Butcher, and a friend of theirs that has become a mate of mine now as well: Dave Fraser. After about five days, we did it again in Ios, meeting up with a group of Monte and Riverview friends of Perkes and Butcher. That first night, there was absolutely no accommodation, and the only thing available was a patch of dirt ground, at Far Out camping. There wasn’t even an awning to cover everyone! Lucky for me, my little sisters Contiki tour had another two days here, and so I crashed in her room.

All the girls and some of the guys (we became a group of 12 now) reasoned they would rather go to Santorini, and book a place at Ios, ready for them as there was nothing available on the island. Well, anything acceptable by their standards. We didn’t agree, and stayed behind, and so a group of us six boys, rented out dog kennels (that is what they call them, and that is exactly what they are- human dog kennels). Had an amazing time.
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I left the guys on the 13th, as I had to be at my mum’s villages for the August 15 celebrations. Her village is deep in the middle of the Peloponnese – the highest inhabited village in the Peloponnese, and the fifth highest in Greece – and the August 15 celebrations is a huge church-related festival around Greece. This year was even bigger for my family, because my parents, as well as my brother and his wife and baby daughter, had flown up, to be with me and my little sister, along with all my cousins and aunties. There were 17 of us!
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After that, we went to the Greek island of Zakinthos. I was sick now for a little while. The doctor there abused me for letting it get out of control, whilst in the meantime, nearly everyone on the trip caught my virus, including my baby niece. We didn’t enjoy Zakinthos because it was so windy and busy, but we had a nice time nevertheless. We are now back in Athens, and I am recovering, with everyone slowly getting better as well. Went to another doctor, and was diagnosed with a minor bout of pneumonia, so my sickness is being treated a little more seriosly. I think I could strangle my mother and aunty is their mothering.

So where to next? Well basically, it is entirely dependent on my health. The doctor said I was not to move my arse for 15 days, as well as giving me medication, of which I have experienced every single side effect. I have been planning a trip around Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but now I have to do some replanning. Either way, hopefully the next time you hear from me, it won’t be in Greece!

So as I get back to the world of haemaphrodites (“Middlesex”, by Jeffrey Eugenides – worth reading), hope you are all well, and as soon as the doctor says “go”, I will begin my adventure.

Mykonos

Damn, I had a good time.

I just got back from a few days in Mykonos, which I suppose is the Greek island that defines “Greek islands”. During the summer, it is known as a party Mecca and gay Mecca. However in May of each year, all the university students from Greece come down and let loose, before the main tourist season starts. I went with one of my cousin’s boyfriends and his mates, getting all the student discounts as well – although it still cost an arm and a leg. Not that I cared though, because we just happened to pick the weekend that all the philosophy, theology and arts students came down – courses with 80 per cent women. After four nights there and five days, I have got a migraine from the sensory overload. Looking at beautiful women all day is tiring! I must say it has been the best practice I have had in speaking Greek and building my fluency!

Space Club
Greece is unrivalled with their nightlife, and I suppose the Greek islands give non-Greeks a taste of that culture. On Saturday night, I was forcefully dragged out of one of the clubs we went to by my group of friends at 8 in the morning. And it was still packed. On Monday night, the night before we left, we found a club to sit down and kick back at about 3 in the morning. At 4am, it was wall-to-wall people. Even though the club was forced to shut down at 4 (or was it 5?), I reckon the people there would have carried on well into the late hours of the morning, because it felt like things had only just started. Having said that though, they were clubs filled with Greeks and not tourists. The picture is of Space Club, which is huge. That was 4 in the morning on Sunday night, whilst the Scandanavian club was quiet at about 2am

Mykonos is a great island because it is only 88 square kilometres – meaning the people are centralised either in the ‘hora’ (the capital) or Super Paradise beach (amazing). However the advantage of Mykonos is also its most annoying aspect – how well organised they are for tourism. To get anywhere, you need to catch a bus which costs one Euro. To get to super-paradise beach, you need to get a boat that costs five euros (bus can’t go down the road). You don’t think about it, but in one day, you’ve already spent 10-15 Euros on transport alone. That’s about 20 AUD. Now let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s add food, accommodation and alcohol, and you can understand why it can be so expensive, if you don’t watch yourself.

However we discovered something very interesting. The place we were staying at normally cost 35 Euros, and 55 Euros in peak season per room. However the landlord probably only sees about ten of those Euros, with the rest going to agency fees! Because she can’t be bothered hanging around the port haggling people, she does it through the agency. I think there are a few lessons in what I just said.

An interesting aspect of Mykonos is how is caters for all the different types of tourists. Opposite the shop selling 10 Euro necklaces, was a 16,000 Euro watch. Accommodation can cost 2000 Euros a night – or the 10 I will be paying in August when I go again. There are beaches – both the kind you party on, and the kind you have peace of mind on – as well as wine shops, all different kinds of food outlets, and the like. I was impressed. It was a bit like you walking into a shop to buy a present, and the person says “how much do you want to spend?”. The difference being, the present you are buying is for you, and it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s an experience you won’t forget.

In other news, Greece won Eurovision. Are people congratulating her? Nope, the poor girl is being condemned. I think the quote that sums it all up, is the grandpa wannabe who said she shouldn’t be wearing such a short skirt next to a raised Greek flag, because the only thing that should raise in those situations are men’s penises. It is quite pathetic actually, and I just think its talk-show hosts who have nothing else to talk about. If they are outraged with her skirt, head to Mykonos and have a look what some of the women wore ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú or didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t wear. And as for mixing sex with Greek identity, why doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t grandpa head to tourist central Plaka in Athens, and buy the most popular tourist item there ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú karma sutra ancient Greek playing cards, or my favourite, an ancient statue of some guy with an erect penis. Classy.

I am frantically running around now trying to get myself organised. Okay, I am taking it easy to recover, but I do have a lot of things to do. After two months of “vacation”, I am now going to do some genuine “travelling”. My sister Victoria gave birth to a big little boy, and my little sister Dora is going Contiki in July – both are in London. So I have to get there as soon as possible, but I figure why not do it overland via the Balkans. Next destination: Albania.

Athens

Since my last post, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve done three things: sleep, eat, and talk about going back to sleep or what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s to eat. The day I got back from Istanbul, I left for the mountains in the Peloponnese, for Greek Easter – which is a huge event here in Greece. About half the Greek population moved to Athens 30 years ago, but their parents all come from villages, and so there is a mass-migration for a weekend every year. My mothers village, which has a permanent population of about 50 (49 as of yesterday), swells to a few hundred during Easter and the August 15 celebrations. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s certainly a fun time, especially considering it’s predominantly a young crowd now.

Since the Easter celebrations, I stayed in the village with my uncle?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family that is based up there (and in the regional capital, Tripoli). The idea was that I take it easy because I was still trying to get over my jet lag ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú let alone the Anzac trip which just made me more tired. Unfortunately, I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t get to relax as much as I hoped. This was due to my little cousins ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú one is ten, the other eight ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú who expected me to play games with them all day. And when afternoon siesta time came, or the later night-time sleep, they would snore. Actually one night when I shared the bed with the elder Theodore, he karate-chopped me. It was on the neck as well, which kind of hurt (they are both Tae-Kwon-Doe students). It was also at about 4am, just before the neighbours pack of eight dogs started barking at five in the morning. Sorry, I meant those eight fucking piss-stained shit-coloured imbred dogs started barking, at five in the morning (and every morning thereafter). Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t get me started on the rooster.

I spent my week doing that, before I returned to my other Uncle?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family home, in Athens and where I am basing my entire trip from. The day I returned, we went out for one of my (Athenian) cousin?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s birthday (all three girls are aged 20-25). In Greece, the person who is celebrating has to shout drinks for the people that are there. i’m lovin it. Having spent a week doing animal noises to entertain the kids, it was time to have a few drinks and kick-back. I thought I only had a few drinks, but my cousins swear they saw me pouring myself a few extra drinks, and a few more on top of that. Either way, whatever I drank, it was a hangover that lasted well into the next night.

One week on, I have been sleeping, eating, and talking about going back to sleep or what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s to eat. I am sleeping 10-12 hours a day, and if it wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t for food, I would sleep more. So I hope you don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t mind, but I am going back to sleep now. Good bye.

Istanbul

Sleep has been a very important concept for me in the last week. Very important. Just as my body had adjusted to American time, it then had to adjust for Greek time. And to make things more fun, I caught a 6pm bus from Athens that arrived 1.30pm the next day in Istanbul. The smelly illegal immigrant from a Black Sea state next to me, felt my pain, and spent 18 hours sleeping and hugging me whenever the bus turned. Four hours later in Istanbul, I was on another bus, to Gallipoli. At 12am I arrived, only to spend the next five hours trying to keep my body from freezing until the start of the Dawn Service (you can read a less whiny post on my Anzac experience here).

The bus trip back to Istanbul was the sweetest sleep ever. Somehow, I sleptwalked my way from the bus to a hostel. And then I was happy.

Istanbul is a great city, and it is completely over run by Aussies and the odd kiwi fruit. The Turks love Australians, and we are being treated like a bit of a novelty. I had a day in the city because the next 19 hour flight (bus drivers in this part of the world seem to think buses are a perfect way to practice for pilot school) doesn’t leave until tommorow, which was great: I finally had the chance to spit on Doge Enrico Dandolos grave (don’t worry, I did an extra one for you as well).

Next destination is the “village” in motherland Greece, deep in the footholds of the Peloponnese, to celebrate Greek Easter.

Athens to Istanbul

Amused myself by trying to throw things in this guy’s mouth

Athens to Istanbul

These guys did not know each other. I could not wait for when they woke up and found out they had been sleeping on each other.

New York, New York

I’ve been in New York city since Saturday, and I fly out for Europe this Wednesday (tomorrow). You honestly need a full week to really appreciate this city, so I am a little disappointed. But I also know I’ll be back, so it doesn’t phase me too much.

My cousins in Boston drove me down and stayed for a night. We shared a room that cost $US200, overlooking a lovely cemetery. The average rooms in the city were $500! Accommodation is a real bitch here. The last few nights I have been staying with my other cousin Pete. He lives in Greenwich village, down on 11th St. It’s a bit like Sydney’s Paddington – young, trendy, gay-friendly, yuppie-ish. Such a nice area though, compared to the dirt in NY’s touristy regions like Canal St (China Town) and Mulberry St (Little Italy).

I stood atop the Empire State Building, visited Wall St, Ground zero, and dropped by Battery park which is where the statue of liberty ferry takes off (they ran out of tickets when I went). I also walked through some of Central Park, and visited the American Museum of Natural History which was awesome. I’ve been extremely lucky with my family connections here in the States, and in the case of NY, Pete has taken me to some good food joints. We also went to a Comedy club (Gotham) which was really high quality. We were sitting at the centre-front seats. And yes, yours truly was the butt of all five comedian’s jokes – everything from my watch, my shirt, my mobile on the table, and my nationality. Almost as bad as my experience at the r-rated hypnotist show in Boston (don’t ask).

New Yorkers are in such a hurry. They are like a trail of lemmings, running into each other and whatever is in their way. The city itself is impressive – Manhattan is organised in a grid system, which is very handy. The city is so dense, that every avenue (roads going South-North; “Streets” go east-west) are main roads, crowded with people at all hours. There are about 12 avenues, and 150 streets – to give you an idea of the size of Manhattan. Whilst there are tall skyscrapers, it’s also the average buildings that amazes me. You’d be pressed to find anything smaller than four-storeys – meaning you have these valleys of buildings all around you. And because of the grid system, you’re looking quite literally looking down a valley of buildings.

The subway system is very good, however this is more because of the grid system rather than the actual subway that makes it so good. All the subway lines do is go up and down in straight lines, directly underneath avenues, looping when they get to the end. The result is that you have several of these lines running parallel, enabling you to get to any part of Manhattan very quickly. Having said that though, the trains run quick, and I found them reasonably clean.

Cars are abundant as well, and clogged up roads are the norm. It’s interesting though that when looking at parked cars, apart from tourists, all the cars appear very upmarket – implying that driving is a rich persons luxury. Although with such a good subway system, I can’t see why you need a car.

Plenty more to say – however all I will say is do yourself a favour and visit New York at least once in your life because it really is the capital of the world. Next destination is Athens, but really it is Gallipoli, as I spend two days in Athens, waiting for my bus trip to Istanbul.