Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hedonism in Hellas

Ah Greece, a country seeped in history and tradition, ouzo and coke. A land of Spartans and Spiros and two-euro Gyros. Where Zorba dances while plates are smashed. Too clich├ęd? Never.

Well, I am currently in the last leg of my trip through Greece, and it has been a fascinating, informative and eye-opening experience.

We arrived in Athens on the 5th of July, tired from our flight from London and eager to explore a new country. We were booked into a hostel called ‘Easy Access’ which an inebriated travel companion had somehow managed to book the day before. One wrong bus ride and a heavily overpriced cab fare later we found ourselves outside our lodgings, frustrated and slightly short of pocket.

First impressions weren’t fantastic. The streets were busy and dirty, a faint smell of urine hung in the air and a number of street workers had taken up position up on the corner. Where the hell were we?

We quickly ushered ourselves into the hostel, checked in, and headed straight for the air-conditioned bar to discuss the situation that we seemed to have found ourselves in. Luckily, it was a much warmer reception at the bar than outside, where we were greeted with a complimentary shot of ouzo and a smiling face. Neither of which we had seen yet.

As it turned out, we were staying in an area notorious for drug-addicts, pick-pockets and prostitutes, and that we shouldn’t base our judgements of Athens on this area alone. ‘Explore the city, just don’t hang around this part of town’ the bartender told us. How did she know we don’t enjoy being mugged by strumpets high on crack.

Now that we were satisfied that the whole of Athens wasn’t potentially about to mug/drug/perform coitus on us, we set out exploring, slowly making our way towards the looming monolith that attracts so many people to this city – the Acropolis.

We weren’t to be disappointed; The Acropolis is by far the most fascinating ancient monument in the modern world and makes the rest of Athens seem like a slum in comparison. The Parthenon was the main attraction and only photos can do such an iconic place justice.

One of the only faults I can find with the Acropolis is that the Greeks have somehow completely missed the idea of ancient ‘ruins’ being ruins.’ The whole place is covered in more scaffolding than a Grollo project, and it seemed to me that they were trying to return these monuments to their former state. Well I’m sorry, but I didn’t travel halfway across the world to see freshly carved marble on a mountain. I want the real deal, regardless of how it looks. Luckily there is still enough of the original stone left so that one gets some sense of the shear building brilliance of the ancient Greeks.

On our way back to the hostel we stopped off in a small taverna over-looking the city. We bargained the portly restaurant owner into serving us each a three-course meal and some wine for 30€. It was a delicious lunch – olives, dips, crusty bread and chicken kebabs. We finally felt like we were experiencing the real Greece. As we sat in the late afternoon sun, full of food and wine, a joint consensus was made: this is the life.

The next day we headed for the island of Corfu. It was an eight-hour overnight bus ride from Athens, and involved taking at least three sleeping pills if you wanted to get anywhere near the land of nod. We arrived in Corfu at 6am on Wednesday morning, only to be welcomed by an over excited host, another shot of ouzo and accommodation that was painted pink. Bright Pink.

This was the Pink Palace, the summer camp for backpackers and apparent nymphomaniacs. Our host explained the activities that the ‘hostel’ had to offer; these ranged from quad-bike safaris, a 24-hour bar, a booze cruise and even a nude volleyball competition. I’m sorry? You could almost see the collective eyes of every boy in the room light up in excitement. What was thins place?

After the introductions had concluded and the ouzo had been forced down we traversed down the hill to the ‘beach bar’ and enjoyed an 8am breakfast on a balcony overlooking the sea, a disoriented donkey and a crazy lady talking to her cats. Greece is hilarious.

As I munched on some sloppy scrambled eggs and bread I let my eyes wander to the scenery behind me. The island really is breathtaking – apparently it’s meant to be the second most beautiful island in all of Greece. It really is. Lush mountain-sides, tall Fir trees and olive groves covered every square mile. It was especially spectacular this early in the morning as a slight mist was hanging low over everything, adding a hint of mystery to the place.

The following day a few of us hired scooters to explore the island. We set out at a pace, and decided the best idea was to follow the coast, seeing as the only map we had was printed on a beach towel. We let the winding roads lead us through quaint mountain top villages and some incredible scenery. Petrol had cost us a mere 3€ for a full tank and we were relishing in our newfound freedom. Again, only photos can really describe the experience.

We ended up staying 5 nights in Corfu, an experience that was draining yet at the same time very entertaining. Our last night was celebrated at a (pink) toga party that involved a lot of plate smashing and Zorba the Greek. Maybe I wasn’t too far off my description of Greece?

Mykonos was the next stage of our Greek island hopping adventure, and was thankfully the shortest as it was also the most expensive. Beers cost upwards of 12€ ($20) and when you are backpacking on a budget of $100 a day, doing anything on this island was near impossible. The best option seemed to be to hide in my sleeping bag until we reached Ios.

Thankfully I did drag myself away from the comfort of my gratis bed linen as Mykonos really was a fantastic island full of beautiful beaches, late-night parties and hundreds of egg white houses.

Ios was the third and final stop of the island hop and was by far my favourite.

We stayed in a hostel called Francesco’s, which is situated on top of a hill and involved negotiating a network of small streets and alleyways to find it. Prices for food and drink were much more affordable here, and 2.50€ beer and 3€ Gyros became the staple of our diet.

We were lucky enough to meet a few people from Melbourne over here, and by the end of our trip we had a small company of around 20 people. On our last night we all had dinner at a Mexican restaurant called ‘Harmony’ which served the most delicious food with live music as an accompaniment. It was the perfect end to a perfect time in Greece.

We’re off to France next – vive Le Tour.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Doesn't get much better than this.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tesco's, Tube maps and bar mice

Hello London, I'm finally here. 24 hours, seven and a half in-flight movies and four serves of aeroplane food later - London. The city of red buses and a nice bit of crumpet. Jolly good.

So far it has been a satisfying experience. We've been market shopping in Camden, taken a day trip to the beach side town of Brighton and strolled through the leafy streets of Oxford. In fact we've crammed so much in that it feels like we've been here for a month.

Currently London is experiencing a 'heat wave' of such epic proportions that even the Mayor of London is concerned, and in a somewhat paternalistic manner is politely advising all commuters to carry a water bottle with them while they are on the Tube system. Somehow I can't see Connex expressing similar suggestions to its flustered passengers.

Now, being Australian, we are obviously used to hot weather and this so called heat wave is really just a warm day for us. However, since London is usually freezing cold, there is almost no need for them to believe in air-conditioning. Funnily enough, we haven't slept a wink all night as our hostel room (shoebox boiler room) is four floors up and is designed for one person and yet contains four smelly male adults.

Lack of comfortable sleep aside, we actually are having a great time. London is such an amazing city with so much character and charm. One particular pub near our hostel even has its own resident field mouse called Bob, or maybe it was Bill. We've even had a picnic dinner in an locked garden in the middle of town houses in Notting Hill. Bliss.

Our week in London is nearly over, but I hope some of the these photos will help you get an idea of what we've been doing.

Next stop is Greece and I'll try and keep this updated as much as I can.