A Travellerspoint blog

Kamakura, Japan

Temples galore

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We arrived at a small station near to Fujisawa (close to Mount Fuji and Kamakura) at night and hoped that our Air BnB host would be true to his word. Punctuality is pretty important in Japan, so 20 mins after we were due to meet, we were getting a little concerned... At last Kyota arrived and showed us to our apartment, 30seconds from the station. It was good to have our own place for a couple of days.

We had been to a fair few temples in Nikko and so another day of it in Kamakura was nothing to get too excited about. In the end though, we loved it there.

Kamakura is a former capital and as such has some pretty grand temples, but quite different to the slightly garish examples in Nikko. They are set amongst immaculate gardens; incredibly peaceful places for quiet walks and meditation rather than tourist attractions. It was quite strange to see roses in flower, blossom on some trees, orange leaves falling to the ground from others and completely bare branches of trees apparently in the depths of winter. All four seasons within a small garden...

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Feeling pretty relaxed we left the temples and headed along streets with tasteful shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants. A team of 6 gardners pulled inch high weeds out of the moss at the base of trees. Others cut grass with scissors. I guess places dont look this pristince without attention to detail!

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By the time we reached the centre of town things were a lot more commercialised and hectic, but there was still a nice feel about it. We finally got off the mark with our Xmas shopping and fit in seeing the grand Buddha before heading home for some Chinese food recommended by Kyota. We pointed at pictures and the beaming chef flapped his arms like a bird - yes chicken will be great...

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P.S. Green Tea flavoured KitKats are pretty disgusting, even free ones...

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Posted by bloorsontour 17:44 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Nikko

Nikko is Nippon

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Signs on the train say "Nikko is Nippon (Japan)" and the guidebook tells us it will be everything we think of when we imagine Japan...

Our trains from Sendai run exactly on time, we arrive at night and everywhere is quiet. We forgot to get directions to the hostel when we last had internet and so sought out a friendly station employee to point us in the right direction - it was a minute walk, perfect. An unassuming little guesthouse would be our home for the next 2 nights. £40 a night for a futon on straw mats in a room with paper walls... it was actually pretty cozy, friendly and good value for accommodation in Japan!

The owner gave us a few eating options and we headed for a Japanese place that was sold as good and cheap, forcing ourselves to walk past 2 Indian restaurants (the only other places that seemed to be open). The restaurant was really good and had 4 people in, which was the biggest group we'd seen so far in Nikko. Pork with garlic and leaks was amazing and a pretty good bowl of steaming ramen (noodles). We finished up and the restaurant was shut up behind us. It looked like Nikko wasn't going to be the place for late night drinking...

We had a full day of templing the next day. Enormous vermilion (red) temples surrounded by huge green cedars, bright reds and yellows from the Japanese maples and moss covered stones spread for miles. We paid to visit most of them and there was enough variety to make it worth it. Having to constantly remove our walking boots to look around was the only difficulty, until we had to decide where to eat lunch that is...

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After an hour of walking up and down the same street, we returned to the first place we'd found that had been recommended to us... Sophie had decided that the portions were too small, but then it emerged she wasn't that hungry, so I felt her argument didn't hold water and we went in... Now there was a wait... To try and fend off my grouchiness we headed to a a mochi stall (really sticky rice based things) and I went for the sesame and soy sauce glazed ball things (they are better than they sound and look). Back at the restaurant we were served many small portions that ended up being enough food (I was glad I'd had my mochi though). Some of it was amazing, other bits; not so much...
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Before sunset, we wondered along the river, saw many stone men with bibs and little hats (no idea why) and more tree colours. The koyo (autumn colour change) is as popular in Japan as the cherry blossom in spring. This seemed to explain our problems finding somewhere to stay...
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After a good day of sightseeing, we planned to do a bit of onsening (having a bath with other people). It seems a bit strange to me but the Japanese seem to love it, so I thought we better see what it was about. This plan was hijacked when we got back to the guesthouse and found that a group meal was available. About a dozen of us were sent to the supermarket, each with an item that we were required to buy... Then we were all to cook together... I befriended a German guy and we decided too-many-cooks and all that, so drank beer and secured the best seats at the table. We ate nabe which is essentially a stew that you cook in the middle of the table and keep adding greens, been sprouts, mushrooms and meat to. The group was fairly eclectic - Taiwanese, Canadian, German, Irish and Japanese. A crazy Japanese girl arrived, introduced herself and gave a bit of her life story and we were to reciprocate. She then started handing out nuts and playing some bells... It was a good evening with some interesting people (and one crazy Japanese girl).
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Felix, the German, gave us his bus ticket so we headed up to a lake in the mountains the next day so we took a sushi breakfast and sat in the crisp air for a while, took a little stroll to a waterfall and generally pottered around a bit. The shops were all weird selling various bean based souvenir cake things. They don't taste unpleasant, but they definitely don't taste good. Other than that, if you don't want plastic samurai swords and tea sets, you're struggling... Our Xmas shopping was not going well.
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It was almost time to head off on another train, just time to try as many free samples as possible. Every tourist place seems to have a honey shop. We had as many hot honey based drink samples as we dared and bought a honey ice cream for the journey...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:29 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Matsushima, Japan

One of Japans top 3 views...really?!

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It took a lot time just organising what we were doing in such a big city as Tokyo each day, but it took even more patience and time to work out the next stage of our travel plans in Japan. It would seem that the majority of affordable accommodation for us, in any decent location, gets booked up way in advance for the weekends. By process of elimination we headed for a night in Sendai, it was about the only dorm place we could get in our budget for a weekend.

We'd paid for a 3 week Japanese rail pass, which we acti==Your heading here...==vated on our trip to Sendai. Its turned out to be really handy as we get to travel on most JR trains across the country; including bullet trains; working out at £15 per day. The Shinkansen bullet trains are so fast, clean and efficient. We arrived in Sendai within a couple of hours.

I can't remember the name of where we were staying, but I had the worst nights sleep... not enjoyable. We'd booked into a dormitory room, which turned out to be me and Jason sharing a room with the weird, snoring owner. It was also our first experience of sleeping on the traditional Japanese futons on the floor (some of which are really comfortable and others, like this one, were solid and the room was freezing). Everywhere was clean and tidy, but the owner and hard floor made me glad we'd only booked it for one night.

There's not a lot to do in Sendai itself, but we used it as a base to get to Matsushima, which is supposed to be one of the top 3 Japanese landscape views. It's a town right by the sea with views out to sea of a series of smaller islands. You can do a boat trip there, but we decided not to as it was busy with tourists and rainy. Instead we walked around, looked in numerous souvenir shops and stopped for a bite to eat. The local specialty was grilled oysters (but I couldn't sit and eat in the oyster room restaurant, the smell of grilled oysters is not pleasant). But Jason was desperate to try them so we agreed to sit in a restaurant where he ordered tempura oysters instead. We walked up to a park on the top of a hill to try and catch a view out to sea; it was quite pleasant with the autumn leaves turning, but due to the weather it was a rather misty scene. Jason asked me to rate Matsushima and I'm afraid to say I gave it a disappointing 3/10 (Jason gave it 6/10). As it was sold as being a 'must-visit' I suppose I had high expectations, whether the dreary weather had anything to do with my low score I don't know, or maybe it just didn't compare to all the other fabulous scenes we've seen so far on our trip...Jason thought it was worth a visit.

We had a few hours in Sendai before we caught the train to Nikko (which gave me just enough time to get a little Christmassy). In the big department stores there were decorations, lights and Christmas carols playing everywhere. It made me realise how different Christmas is going to be this year.

Posted by bloorsontour 02:12 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo, Japan

We love Tokyo!

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Sorry its taken so long for this next blog. Japan has been hectic and a lot of our time has been trying to catch up on planning and booking accommodation more in advance than we're used to (its proven more difficult than we'd thought it would be). Plus, Tokyo was so busy that I've struggled to know where to start with this blog.

Tokyo is not the place to be with jet lag; for some reason we both really struggled here and found the first 3 days extremely tiring. We were staying in Nippori, a quiet area of Tokyo with easy access to all major sites and on the handy Yamanote train line. When we first arrived at Nippori station it felt really weird; quiet, efficient, really clean, we likened it to being in a computer game like Sim City. Everybody was smiley and helpful. The area has plenty going on with nice restaurants, shops, convenience stores and bars. We made this our base for the next 5 nights.

Day 1: We caught the train to Shinjuku and wandered around soaking up the Japanese way of life (which mostly includes being very polite, bowing a lot and eating delicious food on the go). We spent a fair bit of time trying to navigate around Shinjuku station which was huge and is its very own underground village. Desperate to try some Japanese food we got a bento box of rice goodies and ate it on the street next to all the other local people who must eat their lunch there everyday. From here we went to the government building and went up to the observatory area for free and got a real birds eye view of the city. On a clear day you can see Mount Fuji, but unfortunately we couldn't on this day. You could easily spend a few days alone in this area of Tokyo, we merely scraped the surface, walked miles around busy commercial areas; including huge electronic shops (where jason is still weighing up whether to have a GoPro or not) and Japanese department stores (where we tried as many free samples of food and wine as we could). Our next stop was Shibuya, which is known for its massive illuminated crossroads filled with tonnes of people (one of the opening scenes in the film Lost in Translation). This place was so overwhelming; noisy, busy, bright, futuristic. There were fashion forward teenagers on every corner, anime icons everywhere, loud Japanese computer arcades, pet hotels, people in fancy dress, bars and restaurants galore, film crews, love hotels...everything I expected Tokyo to be. We walked around, grabbed a bite to eat and went back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep. I was still feeling so tired at this point, so don't feel like we made the most of Shibuya and all of its weird and wonderful Japanese entertainment. We have since spoken to other backpackers who really did experience Tokyo night life here; including maid cafes (when girls dress as dolls to serve you drinks), sake & yakatori (meat BBQ and drunk salary men) and entertainment arcades (which can include men dressing up as girls for a photo booth photo shoot or slot machines with prizes of women's underwear in them)...very strange!

We tried to have a bit of a lie in so as to avoid being so tired again and had a late brunch. Mine was a pretty standard stir fry dish where as Jason went for a huge selection of seafood sashimi (raw). We went to Ueno park, specifically to the Tokyo National Museum. The museum is huge,and like most other national museums has lots of art, sculptures, pottery, fashion through different eras, sword collections, and much more. We also took part in a Mongolian fortune telling game; Jason is going to have amazing luck in his life, whereas mine is all bad (I even tried the game repeated times, but still just bad fortune). Luckily it was a rainy day so didn't mind that it took us hours to get around the different exhibitions, but ordinarily think we would have preferred to be outside exploring a bit more on foot. Ueno park is a day activity too; with lots of other museums, sculptures, temples, ponds and people watching opportunities. Next to Ueno station there's a busy outdoor market area with lots of souvenir shops and street food stalls (we couldn't resist the chicken pesto sandwiches...not very Japanese I know). The day went so quickly...after the museum, park and market there was just enough time to grab a tasty tempura treat before bed. Near our hotel there was a fab (and cheap) tempura restaurant; we loved the squid, prawn and mushroom tempura the best.

OK, so on our third day in Tokyo we started to feel a bit more like ourselves and actually got up relatively early and walked to Asakusa for brunch. Our first stop was the Senso-ji temple, still very impressive despite it being a new construction after the original was bombed during World War Two. I gather they reconstructed it to replicate the original anyway. It's bright red with beautiful bold colourful motifs, there's a smell of incense in the air and local people come here to pray in traditional Japanese dress (kimonos). It's worth wandering around but it does get busy with tourists. Two young girls approached us and asked us some questions in English; " Where are you from? What is your name?"; and in return we got some free Japanese tea from them...winner. There's plenty of food stalls around the temple and Jason tried mochi, a rice flour chewy ball usually served with red bean paste. Not my cup of tea but Jason quite liked them and has since had them again. I was ready for a proper sit down and loved our Japanese brunch in a ramen shop. Ramen shops are everywhere and are a perfect fast food fix for us; cheap, filling & tasty. I had spicy leek and miso noodles and J had roast pork noodles with dumplings on the side (we've had plenty of ramen since this first visit). Despite the rain we went on a river cruise from Asakusa to Hamarikyu-teien gardens; twas quite pleasant, not loads to see, but made a change from getting around the city on the trains. There was an unusual Superdry building with a gold coloured sperm-shaped object attached to it along the river... very odd. We also couldn't understand a word the Japanese guide was describing on the cruise, but her enthusiasm was entertainment enough. The Hamarikyu-teien gardens are lovely, very serene and Japanese in style, but with huge modern skyrise buildings surrounding it... it's just a shame we dashed around it because we were getting soaked by the rain. By this point it was getting dark and more rainy, so we wandered around Tokyo centre area where there's lots of nice department stores, illuminated skyscrapers and businessmen dashing around in the rush hour commute. After all that walking around it was time to retire for the evening as we'd got an early morning for the fish market the next day.

All the guide books say you should make the effort and go to the Tsujiki fish market in the morning. Fellow backpackers had said that we should get up at 3.30am and try to get one of the limited entry tickets to the tuna auction..."did we do that?" you ask...no! We deliberated for hours the night before, set our alarm for 3am, then 7am, then 3am...before finally deciding that we'd be gutted if we got there and didn't manage to get a ticket and that we would be quite happy with just experiencing the normal wholesale market instead. I had a really good morning; it was bustling with activity, people buying and selling all kinds of seafood, dodging out the way of fork lift trucks, watching the huge pieces of tuna being sawn into pieces...it's definitely a working port market than a tourist attraction, if you get in the way it's your own fault. After all the mayhem of the market it was time to grab a fish brunch. There are loads of sushi and sashimi cafes surrounding the market and the ones in the guidebooks have huge queues for them, so instead of waiting for hours we went to one with a medium-sized queue instead and had a bowl of sashimi each. The main fish in my bowl was yellow fin tuna, along with prawn, caviar, lobster, minced tuna, fish omelette. Jason's was quite similar but he had sea urchins... I thought they were horrible but J liked them.

After the fish market we caught a train to central Tokyo and strolled around the outskirts of the Imperial Palace. You can't go in the palace, but there are nice gardens to walk around (alongside the many joggers that use the palace as a jogging circuit). The palace is home to the Imperial family and Japan's Emperor, but only open to the public on two days a year. Luckily the weather was really sunny and warm and we enjoyed walking around, seeing the manicured lawns with gardeners cutting the grass with scissors, and stopped to have a drink outside in the sun. Before going back to the hotel for an afternoon nap we had time to browse around the nearby Pokemon shop for some Christmas present ideas...I wonder who for?!

We'd read on a blog that Ebisu was a good alternative area to go out in Tokyo, hopefully a bit cheaper than Shibuya or Shinjuku. We actually found it pretty quiet, but none the less had a great night out together. We found a pizza place (Japanese love Italian food) that made wood fired pizzas right in front of you for about £3 each. They were delicious and we managed to eat our way through four of them... oh dear. I also discovered that I like tequila tonic as a drink...lovely! We propped ourselves up at the pizza bar all night, it was a great last night in Tokyo.

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The weirdest thing happened the next morning. We thought we'd grab a quick curry lunch in a little cafe at Ueno station in Tokyo before catching our train to Sendai. As I was ordering the food Jason started talking to a man that was sitting at one of the 10 tables in the cafe. It was one of Jason's colleagues from work, Ian...such a small world. Of all the places we've been, we certainly didn't expect to see someone we knew in one of the busiest cities in the world. A lovely lunch and catch up was had, it was nice seeing a friendly face.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:52 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Istanbul!

Meet up with Findler-Bloor-Gormans...

We were pretty excited to see Istanbul, get resupplied with a few essentials and, of course have a lot of quality time with the 'rents!

The 2 Debs had been meeting to make plans for a few months and Rob had read his rough guide from "front to back". We'd booked accommodation months ago, so it was nice for us to have some time without having anything to plan. We had envisaged an emotional reunion at the airport, but it turned out we were arriving to airports at opposite ends of the city. Instead we rendezvoused at Frida suites, our home for the next 4 nights.

The Findler-Bloor-Gormans were chauffeured from the airport, while we took the bus and a short walk, but it sounds like our journey was easier... We arrived to find a locked door, no bell, note or anything, so I nipped into a local cafe to use a phone. A few minutes later, the characterful Ozzy arrived to show us in. It turned out that the others had to wait for 30 mins outside and a helpful passerby had berated Ozzy for his poor service, so we weren't far behind them. Ozzy found my mum on the stairs and informed her that we wouldn't be arriving until tomorrow, a hilarious rouse, which we kept up for a few seconds before having the wind squeezed out of us by a Mantis hug! Next was the Findlers where there were more hugs and a few tears...

Dinner for the evening was to be nibbles from the local supermarket, a couple of bottles of champagne, effes beer and a nice single malt. The food-drink balance was about right... We spent the night in Mum and Phil's room, which became the social area for the week, catching up, receiving my birthday cards and the odd gift (thanks everyone, you shouldn't have!), and generally having a laugh.

The next day was an 8am breakfast followed by a guided tour stating at 9am. We found a local breakfast place with fresh baked goods, a friendly owner and a menu with items such as "roasted with toasted" for us to try and decipher. It was all good so it didn't matter too much what we pointed to. Our private tour guide for the day was Urzu (apologies for any misspelling). Soph and I are usually too tight to pay for a guide and often like getting lost and finding things on our own, but for a group of 6, a guide was a good decision. It turned out particularly well as this was to be our only day of sunshine, so a great time to tick off all the main places. Urzu took us at a nice pace from our apartments, to sultanahmet, the Topkapi Palace, the hippodrome, a nice lunch stop, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and finally an underground cistern... No wonder we were all tired after! There is plenty in all the guide books about these places so I think the pictures show enough for the purposes of this blog. Needless to say, Istanbul is pretty incredible to look at and understand some of the history of.

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A few things that we can remember from Urzu:
Tulips originated from Turkey and bulbs were stolen by the Dutch.
No images of people or animals are allowed in a mosque.
Hagia Sophia was made a museum to prevent warring over whether it should be mosque or a church.

We felt lazy after all that, so took the funicular up to Taksim Square to avoid the steep walk. It was fairly busy, with what we assumed to be preparations for independence day celebrations. There was to be huge firework and light show over the Bosphorus that evening, however, a second mining disaster in a month lead to a last minute cancellation. It was a shame to miss it, but the chance to have a more relaxed evening wasn't so bad given the days exersions. The little fish restaurant round the corner was reasonable and the fish was very tasty. Rob's plate of dry mini burgers and chips was not so good. We all agreed that not ordering fish in a fish restaurant is a bit like ordering an English meal in a Chinese restaurant and had only a little simpathy as we tucked in!

Day 2 and we were on our own. We tried a different place for breakfast. It was a highly confusing ordering process... A well presented English menu, stylish interior, plenty of staff and no one else in - seemed simple... First the waiter decided to take our order without writing it down. Then he went away part way through to fetch a pencil, but no paper. We repeated the order. Then another man joined him and the first man explained what we wanted, getting about 60% of it right, which was more than expected. Finally it was decided to write down the order, but rather than start again, we were to correct the order that the first waiter had decided we wanted... drinks took 20 mins to arrive, but surprisingly we got everything we ordered, I think...

So after a rather trying breakfast, we hit the grand bazaar where Sophie and I planned to buy all of our Xmas presents to send back. This plan did not work out. The architecture is impressive, a warren of archways, pillars, domes, semidomes and quarter domes, but the shops... Not so impressive. We had visions of chaotic scenes of trading, locals buying all sorts of weird and wonderful things, handmade crafts, etc. We also expected to get lost. The Marrakech souks it is not. Instead, it's a grid of expensive souvenir shops, very easy to keep your bearing, but not so easy to find decent presents, so sorry everyone... The Findlers did however manage to keep up their tradition of buying xmas decorations from around the world. Debra was chief barterer and used all the techniques: the walk away, the "we've found it cheaper round the corner" and finally the fluttered eyelashes... Nice work Debra. Mum got in on the action too after Deb had beaten them down!

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Next we had a quick soup and coffee stop in a run down but friendly and tasty cafe, whilst sheltering from the rain, before heading through the backstreets surrounding the bazaar in the general direction of the spice market. The same tea sets, shisha pipes, etc were on display, but still we failed to find anything to purchase. The spice market was similar, though had a few better quality shops and a bit more atmosphere.

We had heard Kadakoy on the Asian side was worth a trip and a bit more of an authentic shopping experience, so we caught the ferry from the golden horn, across the Bosphorus. This incredibly exotic sounding trip costs less than £1 and gave us a nice perspective of the city, a welcome sit down, a bit of traditional music on the way and a warming cup of tea on the way back. An excellent way to travel. Kadakoy's highlight was the market street with fish, veg, spices, chocolate shops, a great yoghurt and honey shop and, at the end, a few bars where we could sit under cover with some nice warm heaters... Rob was a little disappointed he didn't have time to sample the fish fillet butties on our way back to the ferry though (they did look good and very cheap).

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Soph did a bit of research and found us a nice restaurant, Babel, for the evening. Plenty of mezze, wine and margaritas... all pretty delicious and a nice evening. On the way out we were given a caramel vodka shot which proved to be a bit of a hit with a normally fairly teetotal Debra Findler...

Day 3: more rain, seaside town of Ortakoy, the Bosphorus bridge, a photography exhibition and Friday night out... We had a pleasant day pottering around and seeing another side to Istanbul. We called it a day to head back and grab an afternoon tea (at last Yorkshire tea) and to get ready for a night out...

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We started at 360 bar, which had stunning views over the city and pretty good cocktails and then headed to another Sophie selected restaurant called Nineteen. Rather than make any decisions, we ordered everything and it was all good, washed down with a few carrafes of the house wine. Having stuffed ourselves, Debra felt the pull of the caramel vodka shots and dragged us into the place we visited the previous night (that's broadly what happened anyway)...

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Our time with the parents had come to an end and after much too short a sleep, we breakfasted and saw them off in their taxi. Seeing everyone had been great and being treated to everything while they were with us made it nice for us to not have to constantly check whether things were in budget. We had a lot of fun, thank you!

We returned to bed to sleep off some of our hangover, before heading to our more budget accommodation for the evening. Our parents had worn us out, so a walk and a meal was just about all we could manage with the rest of our day before getting in bed by 7pm!

Next stop, Tokyo...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:43 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

Athens

A great ending to our 3 weeks in Greece...

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Our ferry arrived into Athens, Piraeus, quite late so rather than traveling into Athens centre at night we grabbed a basic simple room near the port and hunted out an Indian curry house to settle our travel hunger. It was just an average curry, but it hit the spot and we were raring to get out and explore the next day.

Jason had used some of his hotel points again to get us two free nights in Athens; it turned out to be a really well located Best Western hotel and there was a huge buffet breakfast included in the stay too. We filled our stomachs every morning with cereal, toast, pastries, cake, bacon, sausage, eggs, fruit, yogurt...we have to make the most of good free food!

At the end of our hotel road there was one of those sight seeing bus company stops that do bus tours around European cities. You can hop on and off whenever you like and the ticket covers you for two days. It's not something we would normally go for but we only had two days in Athens and wanted to make sure we didn't miss any of the key tourist sites. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a good way of visiting the city.

Every Sunday there's a huge antique and flea market at Monastiraki. We could have spent a fortune there finding lovely one pieces for our house (if we still owned a house!); we loved an old antique gramophone and I liked all the antique chandelier light fittings. The area was packed with people, loads of shops and stalls, a nice square that's under the eye of the Parthenon and cafes that were perfect for people watching. We had a bite to eat and mint tea whilst watching the mayhem unfold.

We hopped straight onto the bus again after the flea market and headed to the acropolis. The entrance ticket for the acropolis covers you for quite a few historical sites (sorry I can't remember them all as we didn't visit them). I've visited the Parthenon before and found myself a little underwhelmed this time, but jason on the other hand liked it and said it was especially worth the visit to take in the mounted position of it in the middle of a modern city. We went on a bright sunny day and so the views were really good, but the ruins were covered in scaffolding for restoration work. (I soon changed my opinion once we visited the acropolis museum the next day). It's a nice area to walk around and at the bottom there's a busy area of shops and cafes called the Plaka, and it's always nice to have a drinks stop. Here you can also see the temple of Zeus...again good, but I preferred the other temple ruins we saw in Jaresh, Jordan.

Our next bus stop was the Archeological Museum, apparently it has the world's best collection of Roman artefacts and sculptures. It's really quite an impressive museum, it was renovated for their hosting of the Olympic games and is nice and modern. If you really want to see it all and take it all in you need a good 3-4 hours there. We were there for 2 and a half hours and it was tiring and felt we rushed through some of it. The best piece I think they have there is a bronze statue of Zeus...I don't think our photos do it justice.

After a jam packed day sightseeing we thought we deserved a good drink and time to watch the big Athens football derby, Panathenikos V Olympiakos...how wrong we were. We found a really busy bar, after walking for about 45 minutes trying to find somewhere that was showing Greek football rather than Spanish or the Premier League, however were refused a drink there. I was so annoyed! We asked for two beers, but one man refused to speak to us and the other girl said she wasn't gonna get us a beer unless we had a seat. I got two seats by the bar but she said "not those ones" and they were only helping the locals to find a seat. I've never felt so unwelcome. We were both really looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere, but by now were really annoyed. So instead we caught the last 40 minutes of the Manchester derby in a different bar and saw an exciting van Persie equaliser in extra time.

Day two...more bussing around. I don't know what it is about local markets, but I could spend hours wandering around them. There's an area with fresh meat and fish stalls, fruit and veg, bread and olives, and tonnes more. It's nice taking in the local atmosphere. The only thing that we brought was some dried peppermint for Jason to have in his new filter flask. After wandering a little we stumbled across our very own changing of the guard. Most tourists watch it happening every hour outside the parliament, however they also have to change over at other smaller locations too. We were just on time to watch the guard's change routine outside a government building; we were stood on the same pavement as them, so close, I tried not to laugh and put them off but it's this weird leg flinging and balancing on one leg very awkwardly routine...funny. Glad we saw it. Just a short walk down from the guards was the old stadium, Panathenian. We didn't pay to go in, but got an idea of its size and grandeur from standing outside.

The weather was a little cold and damp by the afternoon so we went into the new Acropolis museum, and so glad we did. It's really good, very interesting. There's a good video explanation of the Acropolis's history... did you know it had been a mosque in its past and had been blown up by the Turks?! See, I am learning on this trip too. When it was in its prime, the Parthenon must have been so impressive. The detail of its sculptures were breathtaking. On the top level of the museum there's a viewing gallery to the exact dimensions of the Parthenon where you can walk around it and appreciate what it must have looked liked and what pieces of the structure have been rescued to date. Apparently a lot of the sculptures were damaged or stolen by the numerous invaders they had in Greece over the centuries. I would very much recommend this museum to people, it completely changed my opinion of the acropolis and made me appreciate its rich history.

After another busy day on our final day in Greece it was time to treat ourselves to a Greek feast at a local taverna. We had wine, bread, olives, tatziki, humus, grilled meats and vegetables. A lovely three weeks spent in Greece and now to see the parents... yippee!!!!

Posted by bloorsontour 07:39 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

Syros, Greece

An apartment to relax in

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I'm afraid this is quite a short blog entry because we got lazy on this island, Syros.

We stayed in a beautiful apartment; full kitchen, breakfast bar, two balconies with sea views and sofa to chill out on. Although we were paying a little more for this place (25 Euros) we decided we would save money and cook for ourselves everyday. I loved it; we made a full chicken roast dinner with roast potatoes and veg, then this was enough for a further nights meal and chicken orzo pasta on another day. We then went down to the local market and got ourselves a fresh fish (we're not sure what it was) and served it with baked leeks, tomatoes and feta. Delicious! I even made homemade cherry bread and butter pudding to satisfy Jason's sweet tooth. It was a nice apartment to chill in, write some blogs, edit photographs and plan our next stint in Japan, especially as the weather was a mix of sun and showers. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn't explore a lot of the island.

Syros is completely different to the other islands we'd visited. It is the most populated of the Cyclades, and yet one of the smallest islands. It's got a major port that is central to industrial distribution around the Greek islands and the old town is steeped in history and culture. There are none of those cute, small white painted houses, instead they're grand mansions with ornate balconies and ceilings. For such a small area there are plenty of museums to visit (we only visited the archeological museum), grand town hall and beautiful main square. The square, Plateia Miaouli, feels more Italian than Greek, lined with trees and cafes. As you climb the many steps to the top of the hill, entering a town area called Ano Syros, there's a large church Agios Giorgio's that dominates the town and has views out to sea.

The only other thing we did on our 5 night stay on the island was head down to the rocky, man made bathing area on the edge of the town. Although it wasn't the prettiest of beaches, it did have perfect swimming conditions and a view of the coast line with those huge mansions lining it, most of which are now luxury hotels with posh terraces.

Sorry we couldn't tell you much more about this island, but we do now feel a little more planned for Japan and well rested to meet our parents in Istanbul in a few days time...can't wait!

Posted by bloorsontour 13:00 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

Naxos

Our favourite restaurant so far

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We'd already spent one night in Naxos when we were getting a morning ferry to Amorgos and knew that it was somewhere we wanted to explore more of. It's one of the biggest Cyclades islands and most mountainous so we were hoping to have another different island experience.

We were staying in a nice little room with our own small kitchenette, cheap enough and right in the middle of the old town walls. Naxos old town is quite cute, but I imagine in peak tourist season it gets very busy as there are lots of restaurants, cafes and hotels. For us, yet again, it was lovely and quiet. I really enjoyed wandering around the old town; there were plenty of cafes, jewellery shops and pretty hidden alleyways to keep me occupied. Our room was right at the top of the old town and next door to the castle ruins. The castle has a little exhibition room and hosts musical events in the evening (we didn't need to buy tickets to the concerts because we could hear the traditional music from our room). You also get a panoramic view from the terrace at the top too.

We decided to hire a scooter for two days. To be honest, on the first day we only drove to a secluded beach and back, but the beach itself was so worth it. It was backed by sand dunes and had crystal clear water for snorkelling (it was also a nuudist beach too, but I chose to keep my clothes on). So we didn't get up to much else but sunbathe... Oh, I did get to practice riding the scooter for the first time because Jason says I need to learn before Malaysia so that he can have his mum on the back of his scooter when she's backpacking with us (so Debbie, I hope you're ready for some scooter time?!). I actually quite liked it and think I could get the hang of it. Other than this pretty beach to spend a few hours on, we only really saw a couple of large beach resort areas that were shut for the winter period.

The next day we set out early and drove straight to the central village area of the island. We got to appreciate the vast mountains that make up the island, it was a beautiful drive. The weather had turned a little, although it was sunny it also had a bitterly cold wind so we were really wrapped up for our scooter ride. We called in at Halki village, which was really quaint with outdoor cafes, art gallery, local photography exhibition and a lemon liquor distillery. We had a little tour around the distillery, called Kipton, that makes Naxos liquor from the leaves of a lemon tree...a very nice tipple! By the time we'd reached the next village, Moni, we were in need of a hot drink to warm us up and the only place open was a little Greek cafe filled with old men playing card games and most probably putting the world to rights.

Our plan was to drive around the north coast of the island as it's supposed to have a scenic coastal road, but that trip was abandoned because our scooter broke down. Bummer! The thing was, we both had a feeling something was going to go wrong with the scooter because it was the third scooter that this Greek guy was trying to give us, the other ones had all got dodgy brake lights. We were kicking ourselves... why did we take the third scooter knowing that it was obviously a dodgy company?! Anyway, we think the bike's engine overheated on inclines...we left it 15 minutes and tried to start the engine on numerous occasions, but the bike was having none of it. So we free wheeled back down the hill and pushed it to the nearest village where a lady in a local cafe rang the motorbike man to come and rescue us. We sat outside this cafe for about an hour when an old Greek man walked past and started messing with the bike and through perseverance got it started again. By this point we were cold and worried about it breaking down again and us not getting home, so our day exploring was cut short and we headed back to the old town. Nevermind, we'd still had a good day.

We took George's advice, the wine man on Santorini, and visited Maros taverna for our evening meal...we went there three times in total. The food was proper homemade and the portions massive. We sampled slow cooked lamb, beef in lemon, beef in tomatoes, pork stuffed with feta, mousaka, zucchini balls and spinach pies. It was all amazing! We liked it here too because at the end of your meal you got a complimentary 0.5 litre of wine and desert. The slow cooked beef in lemons was to die for!

To draw comparisons to the other islands we've visited, I'd say that this one has the potential to be very touristy in peak season and that we got it at its best. It's had the best food of all the islands. The scenery is very different to the others; it's not volcanic like Santorini and is more mountainous than Amorgos with a lusher green landscape. It's a lot bigger than the other islands and so there's probably enough to keep you busy for a long summer holiday. Yet again, felt very different to the other islands we'd visited and had its own unique feel.

Posted by bloorsontour 10:14 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Amorgos

Traditional Greek island life

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We really didn't know what other islands we wanted to visit... maybe Crete, maybe Karpathos, but those islands meant that we would have to go back on ourselves and the ferries didn't run everyday because it was the end of the season. So instead we caught a ferry to Naxos and had a very brief one night stay there so that we could catch an early ferry to Amorgos.

We'd done our research and knew that the campsite at Aegiali was still open until the end of October. There are two ferry stops for such a small island; Katapola is the main one and Aegiali is the smaller one in the north of the island. When we got off the ferry there was a mini bus waiting to take us directly to the campsite. We were the only ones camping, but there were other guests staying in the Askas Family's pension attached to the site. The camp was well suited for us; a short walk from the beach, kitchen so that we could cook for ourselves, tent in a shaded area amongst olive and orange trees, hot water and clean showers. It was good to know we could make use of the tent again and that Jason wasn't just carrying it around for nothing.

The island basically has one main road for cars that runs from north to south, and then numerous donkey footpaths that wind through the mountains so that farmers can tend to their goats. These also make great walking paths too. So on our first day there we decided to walk 17km around the northern spur, which takes you through a beautiful village called Lagarda, then onto a path that takes you to the top of a small mountain so that you get a view of Aegiali Bay and then through olive trees and herding goats. Jason was desperate to get back to doing some proper hiking, I suppose we had been having a lot of beach time. As a reward after the walk we sat at a beach side cafe and had a Greek feast; white wine, fish, Greek salad, zucchini balls and tomato balls.

Like I've mentioned in previous blog entries, we have been impressed with the local house wines, and especially their price. My favourite time here was spending the evening on the beach, watching the sunset, working our way through 1.5 litres of red wine for the cost of 4 Euros (£3). Not just from an alcohol point of view, but because of the setting too.

Jason's Birthday!!! He woke up in his tent to open his one and only card from my brother and Nicola (it was a great idea you two, to pack those few cards for us to open on special days we're missing at home). J decided he wanted to spend the day exploring the island on a motorbike... he is desperate to do his motorbike licence now that he has had so much practice since we've been away. The weather was perfect, bright blue skies with a slight breeze. First stop was Katapola, which was really cute. Quite a few harbour cafes and restaurants within a beautiful bay, which we later returned to to have lunch and cake (Jason's birthday cake was a cherry cheesecake). We stopped to have a little stroll around and give my bottom a rest from the bike. After this stop we went to the main village of Hora where there's a monastery built into the cliffs edge. You have to go just outside of Hora itself to reach it and there are a lot of steps that lead you up to the main door, but it looks pretty impressive, white washed with nothing but dark cliffs around it. Jason was a bit put out at first, he was asked to wear a thick denim pair of jeans, which after the steep climb and then narrow doorways proved extremely hot. But he was soon won over when after you visit the main monastery alter you get led to a reception area where the priests offer you complimentary honey raki and Turkish delight. You certainly don't get that offering in other religious buildings we've visited. The final part of his birthday exploring was finding a perfect secluded beach; it was a small pebbled cove with refreshing clear blue water. We managed to pass away most of the afternoon here, it was perfect! Jason reckoned the only thing missing from his day was going out for a few beverages. So...we spent the evening sitting in a bar by the sea near our tent, learning how to play gin rummy, whilst working our way through Greek beer, Fix. I'm sure he'd say he had had a good birthday.

We really enjoyed our stay on Amorgos, for us it gave us a sense of traditional Greek island life. There's no airport on the island and we went at the end of the season when there were hardly any foreign guests on the island, so it made our visit extra special. The scenery is beautiful, there's tonnes of walking routes to do, loads of hidden gem beaches, quaint villages, stunning harbour side, amazing food and it gets the best of the Greek sunshine. As much as I love Santorini, it is undeniably a Greek tourist destination, whereas Amorgos is a local island unspoilt by tourists. I love them both for different reasons (Jason preferred Amorgos).

Posted by bloorsontour 08:41 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

Santorini

Sunsets, wine and the best bakery

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We had no idea where to head to next, so when Jenna and James dropped us off near the airport we went straight to the nearest ticket desk and asked what ferries were leaving that evening. There happened to be a ferry to Santorini in two hours time, so we quickly bought them and dashed for the nearest bus into town where the port was.

It was quite a long ferry, taking 8 hours to get there and so we didn't arrive at Santorini until 1am. We had no accommodation booked, but luckily there was a local travel company that gave us a lift to a cheap room for the night. We were absolutely shattered; what with a fun packed week, late night from the wedding and a fair bit of alcohol consumption, we needed our bed.

We had planned to camp as much as possible around the Greek islands, however it seemed that the camp site on Santorini, Perissa Beach, had mostly shut for the season. It was deserted, with a little sign requesting any other customers to ring a number to book into the site...but it was going to be 17 Euros for us to camp or 20 Euros for a clean and basic ensuite room. I managed to persuade Jason to go for the room option. The lady that looked after the few rooms in the complex we were staying in was lovely, one morning she even made us complimentary coffee and tea with traditional rice pudding and cinnamon. It was delicious! This room also happened to be near the best bakery we found. To Jason's joy it was also open 24 hours a day. In 3 days he managed to sample numerous spinach & feta pies, ham and cheese pie, orange cake, baklava, pizzas, olive bread, and that's just the stuff I know about...I'm sure there was more.

I've been to Santorini before, 4 years ago with my friend Rach Suttorini, but it was Jason's first time. I'd raved on about my holiday with Rach so much that he had high hopes. We rented a scooter for a couple of days so that we could explore the island at our own leisure. We called in at a couple of vineyards and did some wine tasting, which was nice, but didn't buy any because we've found that the cheap house wine has been delicious so far and for half the price... we are on a backpackers budget after all. We got chatting to a really nice guy, George, that was doing our wine tasting at Bulvari Vineyards and he has recommended a few things for us to do when island hopping. He's recommended we visit Amorgos Island and a restaurant on Naxos for a good cheap eat...we will see if we can fit them in.

On the whole Santorini was quiet; beaches empty, hotels shut and restaurants to ourselves. We quite like it this way, but we had been told that in peak season a population of 12,000 increases to 750,000...it must be packed! When exploring we stopped at quiet little bays to top up our tans and swim, wandered around village lanes to take in the scenery and called in at cafes for wine and cake...perfect sunny holiday days. The only place on the whole of the island that felt remotely busy was Oia at sunset. This is what the island is famed for; spectacular sunsets over the caldera of an erupted volcano. It's the place that is on all of the postcards, white painted houses in cave type structure with blue dome roofs. There's some seriously expensive and luxury accommodation here, where you can watch the sun go down everyday from your private terrace away from the crowds of tourists. We, on the otherhand, had a Greek kebab, grabbed some beer and sat on a wall to watch the sun go down. It had really been a fab few days exploring the island again... I love it here. The only downside was the breezey cold drive home on our scooter in the dark once the sun had gone down to the other end of the island...freezing!

You know me by now and I must end with a food update...unfortunately it wasn't a Greek type of food that got my attention on this island...it was a Mexican salad. George, the wine man, told us to visit Tempranillos Restaurant near our accommodation in Perissa and order a salad. We ordered one salad between the two of us...massive doesn't cover it, the plate was bigger than our heads put together. It was filled with chicken, beans, parmesan, onions, sweetcorn, peppers, tortilla chips and a gorgeous dressing. We only discovered this place on our last day and wish we could have sampled more of their salads.

The ferry leaving the island sails straight through the caldera, where you get a completely different view of the island's volcanic formations and white houses lining the top of the orange rocks. I'd definitely recommend a boat trip from the island because the view is amazing (you can also visit the hot springs from there too).

Taking more of George's advise, our next island is Amorgos.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:50 Archived in Greece Tagged santorini Comments (0)

Lindos, Rhodes, Greece

The Wedding

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For those of you reading this blog for travel information about Rhodes or Lindos, I'm afraid my entry is more about a group of friends getting back together for a Greek wedding. It's been a fab week with plenty of laughter, sun galore and loads of catching up.

We were greeted by Rachael screaming and running across the carpark as we got off the ferry in Rhodes old town. I was so excited, I hadn't seen her in months and couldn't wait to see her get married. We were the first of our friends to arrive at the villa and me and Rach were itching for everybody else to arrive. It did mean that we got to pick the best room in the villa; and after 3 weeks in a tent it was bliss! Our room had two balconies, huge bed with a seaview room.

We only really got to scratch the surface of what Lindos had to offer because I'm afraid most of the week was spent chilling around the pool, chatting with friends, the odd drink or two and general wedding planning. I was dead chuffed that the girls were impressed with my tan when I got there, I was defo the most tanned bridesmaid (it'd only taken me 4 months to do). Everyone in our villa got to see what I have to contend with travelling with J for the last 4 months...they couldn't believe how much Jason does in a day. He can't keep still. While most people were relaxing and drinking, Jason had itchy feet and went out on numerous runs and swims at the beach. On one occasion he went for a run with Sam, a professional boxer who trains everyday at home...Sam arrived back from their run without J...I think he'd been put through his paces. I have to say that Jason's continued swimming practice is going well, in fact I'm now worried he's better than me. He's a much more confident sea swimmer than me... I get panicked by what's beneath me. Our villa was a short walk from Navrone Bay, a beautiful quite beach with turquoise water and perfect snorkeling & swimming for us. We tended to head down to this beach at some point in our day, making a change from our villa pool.

Lindos is really pretty. Whitewashed houses and narrow alleyways wind their way up to the acropolis that sits magnificently perched at the top of it all. Lots of tourists visit in the day and take a donkey ride up to the acropolis, but at night time it's really peaceful with pretty rooftop terrace restaurants to spend your evening. We went out a couple of times... I love Greek food! Mezze, feta, fish, souvlaki, salads, baklava, wine...delicious!

Amongst all this fun in the sun there was a hen and stag party to organise. The best man, Hilly, arranged a day of what most boys love best...football, beer and dressing the groom in a pink mankini & tutu. The girls had a toga party, cocktail making class, quiz night, Greek meal and dancing. We all donned our bed sheets and hit Lindos town...I don't think people knew what to make of us all. Me and Jason had spent the last couple of weeks writing a poem for me and Jenna to read out on the hen party about Rachael (there's a sneaky peak of this at the end). It was a brilliant night! Hope you enjoyed it Rachael?!

For the last two nights of our week we moved out of our villa and checked into Hotel Melenos, the wedding venue. It was just beautiful; a small boutique hotel that looked out over Lindos Bay, each room was slightly different, bubbly on arrival, fresh fruit in everybody's room,the most comfy mattress I've ever slept on and the view from our room terrace was amazing. Breakfast was an absolute feast; pastries, cereal, homemade cakes, eggs any way you liked, cooked meats, cheese and ham platter, fruits, yougurts, salads, you name it and they had it. We definitely made the most of our stay there.

The wedding day!!!!!!!!! It was a red hot day, described by locals as being unusual for October. The boys headed down to the beach for a refreshing morning dip in the sea that included being towed around in a rubber ring by a speedboat. The girls opted out and instead beautified themselves. It's always nice getting ready together the morning of a wedding; there was bubbly, tears, reminiscing...I loved it! Rach's sister, Charlottte, helped her into her dress and we were all gobsmacked...Rachael looked stunning! The perfect bride. With a deep breathe we left the hotel and negotiated our way down the cobbled alleyways, being careful not to drop the dress into the donkey poo and to shade Rach under the parasol. Loads of people wished her well and took photographs of us all wandering down the streets to Lindos square. We were all excited now!

The ceremony took place at a chapel by the side of a beautiful bay. I held onto Jenna for dear life as we were wearing heels and attempting to walk down a steep cobbled path to the aisle whilst being accompanied by a violinist. Terry's mum and Laura, bridesmaid, both read beautiful readings at the ceremony. But I have to say that the best readings were done by the bride and groom; their vows had been written themselves and they had totally summed up what they mean to each other. After the ceremony and photographs, most people were surprised by the champagne boat ride along the coast back to Lindos Bay (a few of us knew and had been keeping it a secret from the rest of the wedding party all week). Luckily our friend, James, survived the boat trip and his sea sickness medication worked! Unfortunately we didn't take our camera to the ceremony or boat ride, but Rach has let me put a few of the official wedding pics onto the blog so you can see.

Rach must have spent ages making all of the crafty DIY bits to decorate the wedding venue; there were glass vases, bunting on each persons chair, wooden alphabet favours, pearl beads, crafty table numbers, and much more. The venue looked gorgeous. We all sat down to a banquet meal; ouzo aperitif, mixed mezze plate, orange & parmesan salad, lamb chops and sorbet. Despite all the apprehension and worry, everybody's speech went down really well... I love a good speech! And we all danced the night away on the roof top terrace. An absolutely beautiful day!

The end of the wedding day meant one thing... goodbyes :-( Jenna and Rach always get emotional at goodbyes, whereas me and Laura take it in our stride and are the shoulders to cry on. I'm not sure when I'll see those girls next...but I know for sure that we'll be friends forever.

A Poem for Rachael Green

We are here to celebrate the wonderful Rachael Green.
Recently absent and little seen.
Our friend, we feel closer than ever
and staying in touch is never an endeavour.

Rach, you're our best friend, a friendship to treasure
and one which we know will last forever.
But enough of the soppiness and sentiment,
Let's talk about the hilarity and amusement.

6 physio girls, a house at Hallam University,
Many personalities but mostly without adversity.
That said, deadlines loomed and there would be tears,
But look now Rach, we all have careers.

To all of Eccy Road there was her skeleton in view,
And a hallway cluttered full of Rach's shoes too.
Sharing stories, clothes and house dinners,
Rach's fajitas were always winners.

Rach took the prize for messiest housemate,
Me, with my OCD, found it a little hard to relate.
Our mugs migrated to Rach's lair,
And over time they cultivated mould in there.

Rach is definitely a blond at heart,
Let's talk about my hen do for a start.
Onto her bag went some sparkling wine,
Unknown to us she'd thought "into the oven it'll be fine".

As the room filled with smoke,
We realised it was no joke.
Rach's bag had melted down,
And she still took the bag out on the town.

Uni had ended, but before we were parted,
Off on our trip to Thailand we departed.
Shock to the system, the chilli's were a trial,
But the charity work was totally worthwhile.

Time on the islands, buckets of Sangsom, glug glug,
I guess this is what gave Rachael Green the travel bug.
Twas not only drinking, but plenty of adventure too,
Like Rachael peeing on a python...good job it wasn't a number two.

Rach's demeanour changed, becoming extremely merry,
You can probably guess, this is when she'd met Terry.
A hunky lifeguard, Mr Wood,
A similar stature together they stood.

They had a lot...each other, a house, friends, but maybe there's more,
With all their stuff sold they were off to explore.
Mixed emotions, but stop her I would not,
For who shall help me now paint my next teapot.

Seeing the pictures, the stories, all of the places,
I'm chuffed that through it all you've got smiles on your faces.
You did the right thing, that is clear,
And it makes it all the more sweet to be with you here.

They've seen Everest, The Great Wall, pagodas and temples galore,
They've seen Uluru, Halong Bay, the Ganges, could there be much more?!
It's a mountain, it's special, it's Kinabalu,
It's only where they went and got engaged... Woohoo!

So here we are; Greens, Woods; friends and family of the two,
Guess it means a lot that so many are here for you.
That said, it's little hardship for us to be here in Greece,
We all want to wish you a lifetime of harmony and peace.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:31 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

Turkey's Mediterranean Coast

Stunning walks, great beaches and friendly people

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I (jason here) had been reading about walking and getting away from the touristy areas, which are renowned for being a bit unpleasant and came upon the Lycian Way. A walk of nearly 600km between Ovacik and Antalya (across the south Mediterranean coast). The plan was to use dolmus' (local buses) and our legs to cover part of it, camping along the way. I loved the idea of camping in the wild with a stunning view for company. It sounded romantic and cheap... Sophie disagreed and we were limited to places with hot water, a restaurant and a toilet that you didn't have to dig for yourself - that was probably for the best really!

Having ditched Sophie's bag and as much stuff as we could, we were down to one big bag and a small one: you can guess who carried what. We arrived in Oludeniz, which was to be our first base before starting the walk. We had seen a couple of camp sites in the Lonely Planet so after a 10 minute walk in the heat, we were a little put out to be told there were no longer any campsites in town. Back in town, it was little Britain with strong regional accents, tattoos, sunburn, lager and English breakfasts. It was quite cool seeing the paragliders landing on the beach following a 2000m decent, but we decided to get out asap... The dolmus would be nearly an hour, but just as it was due to arrive, I had an extremely urgent call of nature (my 4th during our 50min wait). Having answered the call I ran to a pharmacy to get something - being in a tent, away from civilisation for the coming week, it seemed like an imperative... So we missed the bus despite Sophie's best efforts to make them wait and we had a short "disagreement", but in the end it was decided that it was best I went on the toilet rather than the bus and that neither of us wanted to wait another hour... (Please note: Sophie's view on this may differ).

It was all up from here, both literally and metaphorically. Faralya stands at the top of a huge valley a few hundred metres from the sea and is STUNNING. We headed to a guest house camp site that Sophie had found (George House) and it was perfect. For £10 each we had dinner, breakfast, pool and an incredible view. The place was really communal and relaxed. Having erected our tent, we negotiated the 40 minute climb down to Butterfly Valley and the sea. It was fairly hard going as we'd taken all of our valuables, water, snorkels etc and parts involved lowering yourself down on a rope. There was a pretty cool music festival on at the bottom and we persuaded the organiser that we would not be paying to sit on the beach. The festival was fairly chilled and featured some interesting characters to people watch that almost made up for the lack of tranquility that the beach would otherwise have had...

After the climb back and a nice shower, we watched the sun set from hammocks by our tent with the obligatory glass of red. The moment the sun sank below the horizon, a bell rang; dinner was served! It was really tasty, especially the unlimited quantities of local honey, yoghurt and cakes. After food we crashed out, exhausted from barely sleeping after our overnight bus from Cappadocia and our day's exertions...

Fighting fit from a good night's sleep and hearty breakfast (unlimited honey and yoghurt again) and with the pills from the pharmacy taking effect, we set off to do the first day of the Lycian Way, but in reverse. The walk was amazing with views over the med, backed by mountains, forest and little villages. There were thousands of bee hives along the way and the bees were pretty friendly. At one point they were down my back and stuck on my bag, camera and head. It was enough to distract us and we lost our way slightly, but not a single sting. We asked directions from a bee keeper who offered us a lift in his bee filled car (he and his son were in full bee keeping getup); we politely declined. We were soon back on track and filled our water bottles in Kirme, which was a sleepy little village with friendly locals. At the top of the walk we met an English bloke who'd hung back so we could get a photo with a view down to the blue lagoon and Oludeniz (one of the best views we've ever seen). I was a little worried that he was one of the Little Britain lot, but it quickly became clear that he wasnt. He had broken his hip and could no longer run and also informed us that he'd forgotten travel insurance. This made his slipping and sliding on the way down a little more "exciting". He had run many of the races that Sophie's dad had done as well as running 100km distance races for GB! We walked the rest of the way together without conversation drying up. Back in Oludeniz, we resisted the urge to have a cold beer and bought a bottle of red for another evening of sunset watching back at the tent instead...

After a good 20km walk in the heat the day before, I allowed Sophie a day by the pool! I spent a good few hours reading by the pool before getting itchy feet and heading off for a walk along the valley ridge- an incredible walk considering it only took an hour. after another stint at the pool, I still felt energetic so decided to run to Kabak and back. It was only a bit over 10km, I think, but 10% gradients all the way and baking sun made it hard work. Over dinner, we got chatting to a couple of American lads, one of which had been working in Turkey for a while. They were good company and were really interested in our motives for upping and leaving. Sophie spent most of the meal trying to convince Joe to do the same. We also had a semi-retired couple (Sue and Mike) on our table who were great! Sue had been everywhere we had been or wanted to go and they now spent time looking after people's homes and pets while they are away. Staying in multi million pound mansions for free and taking the family cocker spaniel for a walk each day definitely appealed, so we'll be looking into it!

Next we took the coastal path to Kabak from Faralya. This time we had to carry the tent and all. I thought it was great, but Soph wasn't so sure... There were many complaints about the weight of the bag, which given that I was carrying the tent, sleeping gear, clothes and all of Sophie's "essential" toiletries, I found it hard to sympathise with... The walk was beautiful and we had a midway dip to cool off in the crystal clear water. We also had a packed lunch that George House allowed us to make from breakfast.

Once in Kabak we headed to Touran camping, which had been highly recommended by a polish chap we'd met. Unfortunately his price guide was a bit off and it was beyond our budget. Next to Sultan camping, which was cheaper, nice but with rather cold staff and a poor evening meal. We were paying more for a much worse setup than we had at George house and thought about heading back...

The next day we sought out a new place to stay. Everywhere is half board and we managed to get the same £10 each a night deal with a place run by a guy called Touran... We realised the issue! This place was great and worthy of the recommendation - Kabak Valley camping! Food was delicious and the men running it literally ran around to make sure we had everything we needed. The beach at Kabak was great and I managed to get in some more swimming practice - it's coming on!

After another rest day, it was time to get Sophie walking again, so we did the next leg of the Lycian way to Alinca, but as a loop back. The walk didn't disappoint again, though it was pretty tough with over 700m of climb (at a guess) and well over 20km in distance. The guide we'd picked up in Oludeniz was deceiving, unhelpful and heavy so we got rid of it! We got some pretty good food with an awesome view in Alinca and I wished we'd carried the tent so that we could have spent the night. Another night in Kabak was no hardship though...

Reluctant to move on, we decided to head to Kas further east along the coast. Kas was a pretty little town that clearly would have been full of visitors the month or so previous. We had our pick of restaurants and felt very relaxed there. Can Mocamp was Sophie's choice campsite here and she did good again! Just opposite the marina was a colourful place with a cool bar and a great character as the owner. Can managed a blend of chilled-out attentiveness, never seeming in a rush or forceful, but making sure that everything worked well. One night Can persuaded me to play the guitar in his bar, with him accompaining on his flute. It went quite well. We had great food, our first introduction to scuba and a great time thanks to his efforts. We both really enjoyed our scuba experience and are discussing where we can do our PADI course...maybe Malaysia or the Phillipines. We did a 20 minute taster dive, 1:1 with a dive guide, and the water was so clear. There were a few fish and a bit of coral, not the best diving in the world, but still enough to get us hooked. The advanced dive group had seen the resident giant turtles. We did spot one of the turtles bathing on top of the water as we were sunbathing on the top deck. We met a Russian couple, Alex and Evgeniya, when diving and they were also staying at Can Mocamp. We all had lunch and evening meal together. Its rare to meet independent Russian travellers and it was interesting to get their take on the world! It's often the case that people you feel must be very different to us actually have very similar lives and outlooks. Best not to judge tour groups as a good representation of the general populous. They were great company and Sophie spent plenty of time persuading them to quit their jobs to go travelling.

The campsite had lost it's beach thanks to the new marina, but we managed to use the swanky resort for free so had no complaints! There was a huge, calm area for swimming, a nice pool and good food - a great place to spend the day!

The countdown to the Green-Wood wedding was now on and Ginge was getting pretty excited. We'd been able to see Rhodes on the skyline for much of the last 2 weeks and it was time to head over. We stayed overnight in Fethiye, which was a nice port town. We watched boys fishing while the sun went down and then headed for a cheap kebab. The place we stayed (Ideal pension) was awful and inspired us to leave a trip advisor review!

Sophie jumped out of bed the morning of the ferry, I think desperate for some company other than mine... We boarded the flying poseiden. Goodbye Turkey, for now...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:45 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

Turkey - Ankara and Cappadocia

5 star luxury to a tent

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I tell you what was needed after that journey...a 5* Marriott Hotel. Jason had used some of his points again for a one night stay and it was POSH! We arrived to a reception with chandeliers, grand piano and helpful concierge who helped us with our backpacks. Unfortunately they didn't have the room we booked so we got upgraded to a suite...amazing! It was huge; desk, sofa, massive bathroom, enormous bed. We'd arrived really late, midnight, so we ordered room service and snuggled into our free bathrobes. Relax! We didn't leave the hotel until the afternoon so that we could really make the most of our 5* luxuries. Jason went to the gym, swimming pool, breakfast in bed. It was definitely the nicest hotel we've ever stayed in.

We had to move to a cheap and cheerful hostel the next day. We didn't do that much in Ankara because we spent most of our time debating our next travel plans. We were a bit baffled about what to do. We were surprised by how much accommodation was in comparison to Asia and the Middle East, so we bit the bullet and bought a tent, roll mats and sleeping bags. A tent would be our new home for the next 6 weeks.

The only thing that we really did in Ankara was experience our first traditional Turkish kebab. There were tonnes of kebab cafes near where we were staying, in fact there was no other food options really. We had a kofte and chicken kebab to share, relatively cheap and filling.

After a brief stay in Ankara we caught a bus to Goreme, Cappadocia. The bus was great, loads of room,TV, movies, WiFi, drinks and nibbles. Jason found the name of the bus company particularly funny: kamilcoc (camel-cock). We set up our tent at Kaya Camping; swimming pool, kitchen, hot showers, sunset views...what more could we need.

We visited the open air museum that showcases some of the best fairy chimneys and colourful frescoes of the Byzantine period. The rock chimneys make up the landscape of Cappadocia and are formed from rainfall and sandstone movement years ago. A lot of the naturally formed rock tombs were made into churches, chapels, homes and graves. They make a spectacular view, especially at sunset. We spent an afternoon walking over and through some of the rock formations at Sunset Point and Meskendir Valley; a lovely afternoon and a picnic with a view. On one of our days we hired a bike and visited some of the surrounding towns; Uchisar, Urgup, Avanos and Ortahisar. We sampled some wine at a Cappadocian vineyard, stopped for Turkish coffee and wandered around cute little villages. Jason also said he had an amazing run at sunset through the valleys surrounding Goreme one evening.

Unfortunately we do have one big regret from our time in Cappadocia... not going on a hot air balloon ride and not seeing the balloons either. Everybody says it's a MUST...the sky is filled with 100 balloons for sunrise. We were on a waiting list for three days running and were unsuccessful. We then approached a different company who said that the balloons were probably not going to fly on our last morning there due to weather conditions. We therefore didn't get up in the morning to see the sky at sunrise, only to find out that they did fly after all. So sorry everyone, but we have no photographs of this spectacular sight. I think this is yet another place to come back to.

You will be surprised to hear that I took to the tent quite well...Jason didn't have to put up with any moaning. We even enjoyed cooking for ourselves in the campsite's kitchen; Jason made delicious veg and halloumi wraps. We ate out also and sampled the local cuisine, chicken hotpot served in a claypot that is smashed at your table. Overall camping was working out great and I'm looking forward to camping near the sea next.

Posted by bloorsontour 08:13 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Jerusalem, Israel

A city of contrasts

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The Israel/Jordan border, Aqaba/Eilat, was a breeze; quiet and straight forward. The only thing is that you have to use their taxi service from the border if you have a lot of luggage because its a fair walk to the main road to try and hitchhike otherwise; these taxis are expensive! WeWe headed straight to the local bus station and caught a direct bus up to Jerusalem. We had arranged our accommodation through Air BnB, which is when local people rent out rooms or apartments and you get the local knowledge of the area too. We'd found that the cheapest hostel accommodation was £40 for two of us, whereas we got a central location, double room and balcony for £14 a night instead. Perfect. We hope to use Air BnB again.

It was late afternoon when we got there and so just had a leisurely stroll into the old town and grabbed some food at an Italian Cafe (food was so expensive here, much more than back in the Uk). Considering Jordan was so close, it felt like a world away from it. It was really interesting to wander around and see the mix of cultures; Jewish, Muslim and Christianity. We found it particularly strange seeing young people, lots of them, carrying huge guns. We knew Israel had national service, but I didn't realise that guns would be so common. When we were sat in a cafe a young couple were having a meal together (in normal clothes) and he had a massive gun by his side throughout the whole time. A very interesting place. We were really looking forward to our full day exploring the next day.

There's plenty to keep you busy in the Old City; the usual sights of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus' tomb), the Western Wall, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Mary Magdoline, The Old City Gates. It's an amazingly preserved old town. People must save their whole lives to pilgrimage here...there were people crying when they were at the Western Wall and Jesus' resting place, lots of praying and displays of emotion. We both felt quite uncomfortable when entering Jesus' tomb because we don't go to Church, we're not religious and everybody around us knew what to do to pay their respects...we just kneeled and stayed quiet. There are also lots of nice cafes, boutique shops and tonnes of opportunities for people watching...so plenty to keep us busy.

Our flat host had recommended we visit Ein Karem. We caught the bus successfully but then got off a stop by the hospital, which appeared to have no access to the old village area. We walked for ages trying to work out how to reach the pretty alleyways of cafes and shops, but then in the end we gave up...it was too hot and instead an ice cold beer was calling.

It'd been the first time we'd had a kitchen to use, and the food was expensive, so we decided to cook ourselves. There's a great food market area called Mahane Yehud. It gave us the perfect chance to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, sample some food and buy our ingredients for our tea. We ended up buying pesto, olives, tomatoes, fancy bread, loads of pastries for breakfast, fruit and wine. We had to make sure we were stocked up because nowhere really opens on a Friday evening or Saturday daytime because of the Jewish Shabbat. We found a small bar with a really friendly owner and enjoyed a few beers; it was also the bars opening day and so we enjoyed free shots and this delicious, spiced, fish filled pitta. It turned out to be a great find.

Jason cooked a lovely evening meal and we sat out and enjoyed it on our balcony. After we had meal one of the flat mates told us what area to go to for a drink in the evening (as most places are closed) and we enjoyed a German beer sat outside the Old City gates. It was weird seeing a very modern city completely closed down on what is usually a busy friday night out.

As everywhere is shut on a Saturday, we had a quiet morning in the flat getting ready for our flight to Turkey. We were just about to breakfast on our balcony when the drain pipe fell off and gathered waste went everywhere. It was a good job it didnt happen the night before as J was sat directly under it. It proved expensive arranging transport to the airport as none of the buses run either, so instead we arranged a taxi pickup. The taxi arrived on time...let's catch a flight to Turkey.

Posted by bloorsontour 10:56 Archived in Israel Comments (3)

Wadi Rum and Aqaba

Camping under the stars

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From Petra we took a taxi to Wadi Rum. We arrived at 4ish, just in time for a 2 hour Jeep tour and view of the sunset. The Jeep tour took us from the Bedouin village, around Wadi Rum desert, to the sand dune, to a natural gorge with ancient writing on the rocks and finally arrived at our campsite. Jason decided to take the opportunity to get fit and run up the dune, and instead I leisurely (but with difficulty) walked up it to take in the amazing landscape of Wadi Rum. The views are spectacular.

Our camp was positioned in the shade of a huge rock, a stunning location! It was with Bedouin Lifestyle and the new facilities had only been open one week. We had lovely brand new showers with hot water and cozy double bedded tents. A short walk from our camp there was a rocky outcrop that was the perfect viewing spot for sunset. We were the only ones there and we sat and watched the sun go down over the desert. Breathtaking!

After sunset we arrived back at the camp and joined a few others to sit around a fire, drink tea and listen to traditional Jordanian music on the lute. The Bedouins had cooked up a real treat for our evening meal. They'd placed chicken, onions and tomatoes in a big metal drum and buried it in the sand over some burning embers for hours. They then dug it up in front of us and there we had our feast for the evening. It was really tasty. After the meal we sat outside, smoked a shisha pipe, listened to more music and took in the sky above us. We were lucky to have a full moon and so the desert was really bright all night, you didn't need a torch. Jason had a star gazing app on his phone and we struggled to work out the constellations. I saw my first shooting star...another amazing day in Jordan.

The next day we woke to a beautiful bright morning in the desert, a feast for breakfast and a camel ride. Ha...the camel ride was a bumpy and smelly experience. I'm glad we only chose to pay to go on it for a short while, whereas there was a couple of girls in our camp that were going on a two day trek across the desert on one...not the comfiest mode of transport. There were plenty of tour options you could have done in Wadi Rum, unfortunately they were out of our price range (I.e. sand boarding, more Jeep tours, trekking sleeping under the stars). Maybe next time...

We moved on to our last stop in Jordan, Aqaba. It's a beach side resort area in the Red Sea. We booked into a cracking little hotel, called Cedar Hotel. They gave us complimentary drinks on arrive, a fruit basket in our room and were really helpful. Unfortunately Jason picked up a stomach bug so we just sat by a pool and relaxed for a couple of days. The Red Sea has a good coral reef and so we invested in a snorkel set each. The fish were really bright and clear, its a shame we didn't have an underwater camera...but I think I know what's on Jason's wish list.

The reason we chose to go to Aqaba was because there's a quiet border crossing into Israel from here...so next stop is a whistle stop tour of Jerusalem.

Posted by bloorsontour 05:44 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

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