September - October 2017
  • Day26

    Athens - Not just ruins

    October 14, 2017 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    As we left the fun and beauty of Santorini we were a bit uncertain about Athens. A bit poor and seedy? Lots of beggars and ATM's without cash?

    Well, actually no. From start to finish we enjoyed every aspect of Athens, from the archaeological sites to the shopping to the restaurants to the gardens.

    We stayed at the La Strada Hotel, special enough to get a couple of photos below, one for its great rooftop bar with an Acropolis view, and one for the room, apparently designed by a guy who owns a glass factory!

    We visited all the ancient sites, plus the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. These latter two were great to help make sense of the ruins, some of them not more than piles of rock to our untrained eyes.

    How the restorers can reinstate a piece of pottery broken into twenty pieces, then strewn all over the ground, then buried for a couple of thousand years is incredible.

    Monastiraki and its stalls and bars and restaurants was great fun too. We quite enjoyed having a drink and a wander around in the evening, when the hordes of cruise passengers had all retreated back to the buffet.

    Well, by the time anyone reads this we will be back in Arncliffe, recovering and unpacking and ready to go again. What a great holiday!
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  • Day21

    Santorini - rather nice

    October 9, 2017 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    We left a wet and miserable Malta and two short flights later arrived in paradise!

    Well, paradise for a few days, that is. We stayed in Fira at the slightly retro (but I don't think they mean to be) Hotel Atlantis, where the exact same breakfast is served everyday by a waiter who diligently recites the name of every dish as he puts it down on the table. On the plus side, though, the pool is very nice - although it was a bit cool when we were there - and the views are stunning.

    We were happy to kick back after three weeks of crazy busy sightseeing in Italy and Malta, but we did manage to see a few things.

    We walked down to the old port, dodging donkeys and their faeces and lots of cruise ship passengers, and had a delicious but simple lunch sitting right on the very edge of the wharf.

    We walked the ten or so kilometres to Oia, a more ambitious adventure but great fun also. It was a great mix of scenery, from the various luxury accommodations of Imerovigli and Oia to the barren and spectacular views over the caldera to the occasional whitewashed church. It was quite a lot of trudging up and down hills to get there, though.

    The weather has also been a bit iffy, quite windy and not as hot as we expected even allowing that it is late in the season.

    We've also had some terrific meals and have loved the atmosphere of this relaxed town with its incredible location.

    Well, R and R over, we've watched our last caldera sunset and are now en route to Athens to resume exploring. One more destination and this year's holiday comes to a close.
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  • Day17

    Malta - The Another Bloody Fort Tour

    October 5, 2017 in Malta ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    Malta - so many superlatives, so few paragraphs!

    We have stayed for a week in Haz-Zebbug, a village in the interior of the island well known for... well, not its tourism industry. We would walk through town on the way to the bus stop each morning and be stared at as if the Martians had landed, although maybe that was due to the number of slabs of beer we bought from the local convenience store (the owner has now retired and is living in Monaco).

    Our villa, though, accommodating all thirteen of us, was excellent, a labyrinth of bedrooms, sitting rooms, kitchens and stone spiral staircases leading up to the roof and down to basements unknown. All in all it was a good fun base from which to terrorise the locals and explore the island.

    Valletta has a beautiful setting on a peninsula with a harbour on each side, incredible fortifications all round, attractive buildings and enough souvenir shops to drive the economy of a small city. It also has so much history it just about oozes out of the stonework, from the bloodthirsty knights of the 16th century to the incredible hardships of World War 2.

    We got out of the capital a bit too, visiting the old capital of Mdina (yet another fortress), the 200 metre high Dingli Cliffs, the Island of Gozo (yet another fortress) among others.

    Probably the best thing about Malta, though, was the chance to share this adventure, and the odd Cisk beer and Aperol Spritz, with such good, warm and funny friends.
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  • Day11

    Catania

    September 29, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We arrived here by train from a very thundery Siracusa and had a nice walk from the station dodging around piles of what seems to be the region's main product - dog shit.

    Catania itself was not much chop, but the following day we did a great trip up 3,000 metres of Mount Etna.

    It would be good to say how spectacular the view was, but in fact it was completely foggy, blowing a gale and with the wind chill would have been well under zero. Rather incredibly, though, there were people in shorts, runners and even a few suicidal cyclists making their way up and down the muddy volcanic trails.

    Strangely enough we enjoyed our trip around one of the craters, wind burning our faces, fingers and toes numb and unable to see much in any case. It was quite surreal and - once we were back inside the bus - exhilarating.

    Then for a change we spent our last day in Taormina, an hour north by bus.

    We thought it was a one-attraction town, but what an attraction! The Greek Theatre, perched off to the side of a most touristic town, is well preserved, substantial and in a stunning setting overlooking the Mediterranean. We climbed over, up and through it, all along with a ship load of cruise passengers clogging every street, gelateria, and souvenir shop in town.

    In all, there were plenty of superlatives from our few days in Catania, our last Sicilian destination.
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  • Day6

    To Siracusa by pizza prosecco and Peroni

    September 24, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We drove to Siracusa via numerous rough back roads and a quick detour to the hill town of Ragusa.

    Happy to return our Smart Car (a product of the Notso Company?), we found our digs on the island of Ortigia, closely attached by bridge to Siracusa proper, and the heart of the old town.

    Ortigia has a famous cathedral, a fortress, a small swimming beach and oodles of atmosphere in its narrow cobbled streets, and reminded us a little of Trogir (of which we have very fond memories). We enjoyed wandering around, climbed up and through the Fortress Maniace on the outermost tip of the island, and generally became part of the tourist population.

    Being in Sicily, there are naturally some Greek ruins as well, so we walked up the hill for a look at the amphitheatre.

    We enjoyed being out and about in the evening for dinner, too, and were lucky our hotel had a small terrace overlooking the sea that was perfect for a pre-dinner drink or four.

    Sad to be leaving Siracusa, our next stop will be Catania.
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  • Day3

    To Agrigento by car - and bad navigation

    September 21, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    We are currently enjoying our second night in Agriturismo Baglio San Nicola, which despite its funny name is a very nice farm stay on top of a hill overlooking some pretty crappy looking farming country. The place itself though is just great, with typical and delicious Sicilian food for dinner each night and very attentive hosts. But enough of the domestic detail.

    We hired a car in Palermo, and extensively explored the city's freeway system, mainly from the roads next to the freeway while we searched vainly for the entrance!

    Then we hit the road proper and found our way to Segesta for a quick stop to look at some Greek temples before braving the Italian traffic again as we ventured south to Naro. As the Sicilian driver regards speed limits, marked lanes and imminent death from oncoming traffic as merely advisory this was a bigger adventure than it might seem!

    We are now back from a day at the Valley of the Temples, a huge site near Agrigento containing Ancient Greek and Roman structures in various states of repair and reconstruction. It was all very scenic, and as some of the buildings date back almost two and a half thousand years we should pardon a bit of wear and tear.

    Tomorrow we are on the road again, but for now a cold glass of beer awaits next to the pool!
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  • Day1

    To Palermo by plane train and ferry

    September 19, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    So here we are in Palermo at the start of our long-awaited trip. And a most fascinating place it is too!

    We arrived by way of Rome for a night, then Naples (approached with caution but enjoyed very much), then an overnight ferry that brought us here yesterday morning.

    In Naples we can't fail to mention the Museo Capella San Severo, with its famous statue of the Veiled Christ, among others. A fishing net - carved out of marble! Sadly there were no photos allowed, but google it and you'll get the idea.

    Yesterday, among other explorations, we went up to Monreale, about ten kilometres out of town and with a hilltop location and a 900 year old Arab-Norman cathedral that are both magnificent.

    Today, we wandered extensively around Palermo, through the markets and the old town, past the garbage and the washing, the street sellers and the tourists. It is a fascinating mix of history, filth, exuberant people, beggars and some incredible architecture. A bit like Naples only slightly less manic, in fact.

    Tomorrow we take to the highway (provided we survive the crazy Palermo traffic) and head on down to the south. More photos to come shortly, too.
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