Sunday, March 25, 2007

Greece overview (part 2)

Wednesday:

Athens: visited the Parthenon on the Acropolis and the ancient agora (central park of Socrates' day). There are a ton of dogs and cats that seem to have free reign of the city - it's like the scene in 12 Monkeys.

Thursday:
Took the ferry to Santorini. The weather was so bad that it took 3 landing attempts and 2+ hours to make one of the island stop-overs. Eventually arrived in Santorini. Took the bus up to the top of the mountain to the capital Fira and hoped for the best. Met a very friendly local with a room to rent. Problem solved.

Friday:
Hiked along the caldera (volcanic rim) from Fira to Oia (we were told it has the best sunsets in the world). 3 hours into the 6 hours hike, we came across a friendly stray dog. When we tried to "shoo" him away, we learned that he seems to respond to the name "shoo". Hiked the rest of the way and he actually led us to the best place to watch the sunset.

Saturday:
Hiked down to the Agean Sea on the east side of the island. Olga was trying to get a feel for it and she fell in. I got a great photo :) Took the ferry to Naxos. A very high-pressure room owner convinced us to stay at his place. He is a VERY proud lifelong Naxos resident. He keeps getting us to try his Naxos local wine, cheese, raqi liquor, coffee, etc. I could imagine retiring here :)

Sunday:
Greek national independence day (from Turkey). Walked all around Naxos to visit the historical sites, wade in the Agean (not on purpose), and hiked mountains. Greeks are super friendly and, unlike when we were in Spain in January, they keep giving us freebies and long-changing (opposite of short-changing?) us. It's tough to find good Gyros in the islands, though.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Greece overview (part 1)

Friday was my last day of work at the old job. We decided (basically last minute) to take a 1 week trip to Greece (plus 3 days of travel w/ nights in Chicago, London, and New York). It's certainly not the most direct way to Greece, but I have 2 weeks off between jobs and it's a fun way to get from SFO to Athens.

Sunday night:
Chicago was fun. We stayed at a place near the airport, walked over to White Castle for late-night burgers - see picture on Olga's blog: http://calisto239.livejournal.com/38970.html When we stayed up almost all night searching for things to do in London all of the next night. Success!

Monday night:
One of the most enjoyable site-seeings we have ever had. Walked all around the SOHO neighborhoods in London from midnight to 5am. Hopped between a few late-night cafes and restaurants. I have a couple pictures and Olga has the details from some characters we ran into (Olga will probably post them to her blog).

Tuesday:
Arrived in Athens in the early afternoon. Ran into two American tourists on their way out and they gave us their extra tickets to see the Acropolis and ancient Dionisys theatre. On the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, I suddenly became extremely sleepy and couldn't keep my eyes open. Finally found the hotel (it seemed like it took forever to find the right street) and took a siesta until 9pm. Wandered the streets and found a great local restaurant with no tourists inside (until we arrived). Went back to the hotel and passed out again.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

January 2007 in Spain: Barcelona, Bilbao, Toledo

Barcelona was great fun - the Ramblas were cool for people-watching and there are some locally-famous cafes, shops, and even museums for chocoholics. Olga's friend Ana guided us around to all of the architectural highlights, to the delight of Olga's mom and brother. We took a day trip to Figueres to see the museum Dali built for (and even more so - as) his greatest work. We had a night in the gothic quarter of Barcelona sampling the real best tapas ever and drinking strange cider that evokes the images of "mead" and something called leche de pantera (panther's milk?). Then the last night in Barcelona, we discovered the ultimate best tapas ever in a little cellar bar full of locals.
In Bilbao, we had a funny experience on our first night. We walked all around the city in circles for and hour trying to find a nice place for dinner. We gave up and were on our way to the subway to head to the ancient part of town when we found a bar with great good and surprisingly good asparagus. After dinner, we exited the restaurant and walked a few meters down the block while we argued how to uncircle the city back to the hotel -- when all of a sudden we found ourselves standing directly in front of the hotel -- it was two doors down from the restaurant!

We spent most of the day Wednesday at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao viewing its fascinating installations. Bilbao is a perfectly-sized, fun town as guided by Olga's friend Maria. We had the ultimate best tapas ever - the Basque country wins this contest hands-down. Note: it's not that these establishment claimed to have the best tapas - we just kept finding better and less touristy places. Also note that I have not conquered by fear of calamari, but I have put it on hold while in Spain because it's so fresh here.

Today we visited Toledo. It's a wonderful medievel city, preserved from the 16th century. It had been built, inhabited, and rules at various times by Jews, Moors, and Christians - with the last era being the best preserved. We toured the reconstructed synagogue (and a museum of Sephardic history) and roamed the labyrinth of alleys. Surprisingly, the streets feel more open and roomy than those in Venice or Gothic Barcelona, even through the design of Toledo is much older. Tomorrow is our last day in Madrid before heading back home.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

January 2007 in Spain: Madrid

We arrived in Spain without incident. Olga's family was on flights through Paris and we were on flights through Frankfurt. They had a 4 hours layover, which was just enough time because somebody left a bag in a cafe in the airport and security had to clear out the terminal and detonate the bag. Olga and I had only 1 hour layover in Frankfurt, which also was exactly perfect - we walked through security and straight onto the plane. We all arrived in Madrid at about the same time and traveled together to the hotel. Walked around Madrid a bit this evening and had the best tapas ever :)

Thursday is shaping up to be great - first a walk to the Prado museum and then a walk around the city - all of the major sites seem to be walking distance from our hotel. My high school Spanish is coming back to me and I am making sure everybody in our party knows how impressive it is :)