A Travellerspoint blog

No man is an Island

Greece in all its historical glory beginning in Athens

sunny 30 °C

Eat olives in Greece... olives, tzatziki, Gyros, yogurt and lots of meat on a stick. We visited Greece during the European summer of 2012. I was still licking my wounds after my dreams of wedded bliss were derailed and Vee, she was an intern at a rural hospital on the Natal in desperate need of an escape from the monotony of 24 hour calls and dealing with multiple stab wound patients.

We flew out of O.R Tambo airport, this time however there was less apprehension amongst our set of parents. The aircraft was parked in one of those bays away from the terminal building, that requires you to take a bus and climb a set of mobile stairs. I just remember standing on the landing and hearing exasperated fumbling next to me, some where between the bottom and top of the staircase Vee had dropped her boarding pass. Off to a phenomenal start I chuckled to myself and so it began.

After settling ourselves into our seats... the middle isle four seater Sigh! the most uncomfortable section of the plane. As soon as we were seated we were less disgruntled by the sight of the cabin crew. Not bad! not bad at all. Let's just say there are worse things to look at for 10 hours and the Turkish folk are beautiful. We had a five hour layover at Ataturk international airport. The excitement of reaching a destination always rules out the schlep of layovers and waiting along the way. Ataturk is constantly busy, flights leaving to all parts of the world every five minutes. Nothing makes my heart sing quite like the sight of a Starbucks after a long journey, some may think this mainstream of me but I don't care. It was a skinny latte and a bench patiently waiting for our flight to Athens.

We had arranged a transfer to pick us up from the airport, no luggage drama this time around. As we left the arrivals lounge, there stood a man with our names on a board. I would say he was in his mid to late sixties, white hair shaved close and large spectacles that took up more than a third of his face. Aki was his name. As far as airport transfers go this was pretty run of the mill initially. Moderate conversation about Africa and ofcourse Nelson Mandela. Then he proceeded to tell us about his Athens and more about his Greece. The food, the places the things that we should look out for. Sussing me out as the "responsible" -one this would soon change over the course of this trip- he handed me our ferry tickets and explained the plan of action for the next seven days.

Athens gives you a sense of history, you can feel the culture of hundreds of years ago. The city resonates with stadiums, sculptures and tales of the Olympic games. Atop a hill overlooking the city and central to all parts is the Acropolis. Just as you would imagine the mythological gods overlooking the city below, so it stands today. At night time embellished in light, you are always aware of it's presence in a dark black sky.

The oldest neighborhood in Athens is Plaka, the cobble stones give it a quaint old town feel. It rings with charm as it sits on the slopes of the Acropolis, sit at a cafe and indulge in the Greek staples, frappe i.e really strong Greek coffee, tzatziki and pitas. Lets not forget the infamous Gyros.

Athens is brimming with grunge... from little bars on street corners to roof top bars that over look the city. Step inside and take in the atmosphere. It is a culture of loud, bubbly people that know how to have a good time. Bars often offer popcorn and snacks with a drink, play music which often leads to dancing. We were advised by locals to take the underground till Keramikos square, as we stepped out onto the square we began to understand why. It was alive with people, every where you looked there was something going on. The roads were lined with bars, people and restaurants. Every one out to have a good time.

Our standard pattern of high culture travelers took a turn during this trip. We woke early one morning to visit the Acropolis, in the blistering sun we climbed and climbed... it was breath taking indeed. The acropolis and the heat. We chose to guide ourselves, lonely planet in hand we discovered the sneaky joy of tailgating tour groups. You'll be suprised by how much you can absorb by just listening to those around you. After baking in the heat for about an hour, we chose to retire. Back down the hill, we stumbled upon the shopping district of Athens, Vee took it as a sign from above and so the shopping spree began.

Stopping for a sundae at the Hard Rock Cafe, which has become somewhat of a tradition on our trips. We got to experience the Athens pride march through the city. English is not so widely spoken in Athens, but we got by with a guide book and plenty of hand gestures. After trying to purchase some cherries and apricots from a street vendor, we ended up walking away with 2 kilos of fruits between the two of us. # foreignproblems indeed.

The next morning we would board a ferry off to Mykonos...

foreignproblems continue

Posted by ForeignProblems 05:40 Archived in Greece Tagged art buildings skylines architecture culture history ruins monuments adventure athens archeology dust shambles besties Comments (0)

Mary's quick Italian guide

Just a few tips and tricks

Mary’s guide to roaming rome☺

Firstly get yourself a guide book, even if you just borrow one from the library, make sure that it divides Rome into areas or neighborhoods… this will make it easier to see everything. I would recommend the Lonely planet series which you can order online at www.lonelyplanet.com.

What you do is decide on an area per day and then you spend each day wandering around that area… you will get to see just about everything. Also make sure that it has a few phrases in it… this will help when you’re outside the police headquarters and really need the toilet. "Mi scusi per favore, dov'e il bagno?" That one I will never forget.

Watch out in the rail stations for a variety of creeps that will offer their services at the self serve ticket machines… rather brave the queue and get help at a counter.

Things to book before hand- this will save you time wasted in said queue.

Tour of the Vatican, Sistine chapel & St Peters- you can even pre-book an audience with the pope
Colosseum and Ancient Rome tour
Acadamia museum in Florence, you can even book your ticket to Florence online.

I would say that a guided tour for the above is advised… else you end up wandering around dusty ruins and not knowing what is what and inside the Vatican there is so much art, sculptures and paintings to see, and they follow a pattern in order for it to make sense. Check www.viator.com

Other tours…. Pompeii, Capri, Naples- have to eat margerita pizza here as it was founded here- and Florence

With Florence I would say that a tour is not necessary- you can book a ticket on the slow train that takes maybe 3 hours- you go through Tuscany, see sunflower fields that go on for ages- that would cost you about 16 euro… the euro star train that takes maybe half an hour- is about 44 euro.
Things to see in Florence
- Acadamia museum- you’ll see Michael Angelo’s David
- Duomo- you can’t miss this one, climbing the four hundred stairs up to the top of the dome is totally worth it. You will see the terracotta roof tops of the whole of Florence and if you look into the horizon- the hills of Tuscany
- Shopping is cheaper in Florence and there is one street running parallel from the Duomo that has a street market- LEATHER☺☺☺☺☺☺ bags and shoes☺☺☺
- Florence is very small you need a day- go early so you get to spend all day there and you can pretty much walk everywhere or if you’re feeling fit hire a bicycle and get lost☺

Ok back to Rome☺

Getting to your hotel from the airport: you can use the train, a shuttle or a taxi- rather avoid taxis- people at the information tourist centre inside the arrivals terminal will assist with this.

Get yourselves a week ticket for public transportation- it’s very easy to walk everywhere however this allows you to jump on any bus, tram or use the metro- costs about 16 euro and you get unlimited transport for a week. Fill in your details on the card and the date that you bought it, The metro works like the London underground and on the busses simply validate ticket in the yellow machine when you get on.

All night busses are marked on the bus stops, which there are plenty of, and the all go to and from termini- the main station.

WALK- everywhere it is the best way to see everything- you can get a complimentary map from any one of the hotels – or stores- for more detail you can buy one from the news stand.

That sorts transport out☺
Things to see, do and eat☺

1: Trastavere area: this is where all the artists reside, narrow cobble stone lanes, little stores, churches, the Jewish area and porta-portese market- you can get there using a bus- check the stop for which number bus to take. It crosses the river. See S. Maria in Trastavere- there is a small quaint piazza there, Fonte Acqua paolo, River island Isola.

2. Santa Maria in Cosmedin which is just over the river from Trastavere. Here you will find the Bocca Della Verita: mouth of truth, made famous in Roman Holiday- stand in line to take a picture☺ in this area you will find Ancient Rome, Colosseum, Santi Giovanni e Paolo,

3: Piazza Campidoglio- this is where the night life is.
Campo de Fiori night life area as well

4: Close by you will find Monumento vittorio emanuelle, palazzo venezia.

5: Take the metro to Piazze del Popolo- if you stand facing the fountain with the two twin building ahead of you. Behind you should be the church that was featured in the movie Angels and Demons. To the left up the stairs is the garden- villa borghese.

From here walk down Via del Corso- this is the shopping street- all sorts of commercial stores on both sides of this very wide street☺

6: Metro stop Spagna- which is just of Via del Corso- will bring you out o the Spanish steps: also famous from Roman holiday- on the right hand side of the steps, is the Keats Shelly museum where it is said he died of a broken heart, and in front of the steps- is a fountain- drink from it and touch the water it is good luck… up the Spanish steps you will find Trinita die monti. Along the streets surrounding the Spanish steps you will find- louis Vuitton, Cartier, Jimmy Choo, Givenchy etc…. so heaven in other words☺

7: Use your map to wander through back streets till you here the sound of people and gushing water… you will be most pleasantly surprised when you stumble upon the wonder that is the Trevi fountain☺ Popolo, spagna and Fontana de trevi form a triangle.

8: Piazza Republic- huge circle and fountain, walk down from here another shopping street, just of Via Nazionale, you will find via delle Quattro fontane- brave the hill to find Francesco Boromini’s church with its oval shapes and four fountains tha brought Rome into the Baroque and Rococco periods.

  • *Bernini and Boromini were responsible for most of the fountains found all over Rome, of which the water is all Drinkable so fill your bottles and save your $:) alt… stop at a spar(supermarket) to stock up on water where you will pay from 25 cents a bottle as apposed to 2.50 euro.

If there is a sign that says- non potabile: don’t drink☺ I never saw one though.

Piazza Navona- artists, street perfomers and a mixture of people doing random stuff can be found here, have your cards read by the gypsies or simply sit and take in the atmosphere.

A short walk away you will find the Pantheon- what used to be a temple for ancient roman gods, the only reason that it was not destroyed by the Christians is that it was converted to a church… entrance is free. See how the only light in the entire pantheon is provided by a single oculus at the top. Raphael’s grave is now in here. The pantheon is also situated in a little piazza surrounded by restaurants and café’s. Caffe della rotunda- in the vicinity of the pantheon- Romes oldest coffee shop.

Eat at restaurants on the back streets rather then the ones on the streets of the attractions, they all mark up their prices. Must have variety of pizzas pastas, gelato, Sicilian canollis, find a bakery to sample little Italian treats, fruit stalls on the street. Coffees are strong so be prepared… ☺ Trattoria- this is a family establishment where you will get treated like you’re in an Italian home☺

When in Rome…. you have to go to the Opera, spend time around fountains- piazza Barberini, Trevi, Spagna, Popolo, Navona, Trastavere, walk along and you will find random piazzas aswell

Eat a good breakfast that will get you through the day and Do yourself a favour- pack a little bag with snacks that you can nibble along the way, this will save time and money trust me I rolled my eyes when I was advised to do it… but it really came in handy especially when on the tours.

Hotel staff should be able to help with directions, and tickets also visit a tourist box to find out about music concerts happening… there’s always a chance to see someone that may not come to SA.

Wear comfortable shoes that you have walked miles in…. you will walk a lot and whilst cobble stone streets are charming and quaint after a day walking along them you won’t be so impressed by them.

Its pretty safe there, two of us would be walking around lost at 2am and nobody would really bother us, but stick to the well lit areas.

Don’t take pictures with the “gladiators” they will hassle you for ridiculous amounts of money.
If you’re having drinks… ask for snacks, these are free but they don’t give it unless you ask.
English is accepted but keep the phrases handy just incase:0

Drink the water from the Trevi fountain…. said to be the purest, must see the fountain in day light and at night… you may find yourself going back here quite a bit.

Also…. becareful at the money change counters it is better to get a bidvest travel passport card and load it calling home is easy and cheap… just visit phone shop:0

Take lots of picture, Think of me and make memories☺☺☺

Posted by ForeignProblems 08:09 Archived in Italy Tagged art trains architecture ruins adventure guide rome busses sunflowers peoples Comments (0)

I heart Shambles

Embracing the shambles and owning it.

Sometimes you accept things for what they are and you become settled in your thoughts, in your ideas and even in your personality. Sometimes the person you are at 26 is the person you resolve to be for the rest of your life, because by now you decided to settle into the complacency of knowing what you want, or what you're are doing and who you plan to spend the rest of your life doing it with. Change is inevitable and when change hits you... all you think you know... you can just as well forget.

Life is just that, a constant change, nothing is certain and nothing is set in stone and the sooner you embrace it the happier you will be. My change started very early in the year and I went through the motions and emotions like any soul searching individual would. I've always lived by a saying that I read at a rather young age " if we don't find something pleasant, atleast we shall find something new"Voltaire. That's life really, if it isn't what we expect it to be, it doesn't neccessarily mean that it isn't the right way, or that we still can't get the most out of each situation that we are faced with

With some sense of healing in place I set of on the greatest adventure of my life, not just because I discovered new places, people and ideas, all of this contributed without a doubt. But because I opened up my mind, and let the idea of who I thought was... who at 26 years of age I was supposed to be... I just let it all go, and I discovered my spirit!

I opened myself to the adventure of knowing that it's ok to not have a plan, It is perfectly fine to not have any clue where all your belongings are all of the time, and that if you just smile and smile i did... the world smiles back at you. Alot:)

I went with the intention of seeing sights and learning new things, I did learn new things... but mostly I learned about myself. I learned the true meaning of freedom, and the liberation of knowing that you are who you are so be happy and live. Life is happening right now, if you make a resolution... stick to it, if you want adventure... go for it and don't stop... and just make sure you have a good soundtrack as you go along.

After a few days, I began to notice a change in the way people were responding to me, a change in the way I interacted with people, exuding confidence and happiness... that just couldn't be shielded. " am i more fun now?" I asked one morning at the Breakfast table, after a perfectly sleepless night. "No" she said " you have always been fun, but now you no longer emit hostile vibes and thats a good thing"

Hostile vibes... you should never emit hostile vibes, even if it is for the sake of someones insecurities... you run the risk of becoming or settling into the hostility that you've created. Don't do it... don't. Trust me!!! Don't. Other peoples insecurities are not yours to mend! My mistake... Was that for a good number of years I had to shelter my spirit and dumb it down to appease the company that I was keeping, to make them feel more important and vibrant and alive, I killed myself... little by little. BIg Mistake

At the start of this journey I was responsible and together, and quite boring... In the end...I found my spirit, I found a sense of adventure, and I lost all my control... I lost the need to know that everything is in place all of the time. I found my shambles and I embraced it, and I hold onto it Dearly 2012 is my Yes year... so ask me a question and the answer will most likely be a yes, especially if it something that I haven't done before.

" God has a different plan for you Mary" She said to me one night, whilst we sat in the light of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul... and sometimes you just have to live with the peace and harmony in knowing that.

Athens, Mykonos, Santorini and Istanbul, The people We met along the way and the laughter and Joy that came along with it, I treasure each and every moment.

I thank my Friend, confidant and soul sister... for it would not have been possible without you and I am eternally grateful for your presence in my life:)

Stay tuned for the #foreignproblems of our trip to Greece and Turkey

Posted by ForeignProblems 08:01 Archived in Greece Tagged beaches islands culture religion volcanoes history mosques adventure summer love sunshine bikinis healing heartbreak shambles besties Comments (0)

Roaming through Rome

Italy in all its glory

sunny 36 °C

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.

Giotto di Bondone

This was to be our first solo trip together. We had both travelled previously but it was always within the comforts of pre-packaged tour holidays and parental guidance. This time however we needed to do it by ourselves. Eat pizza in Italy, eat olives in Greece, paella in Spain, sushi in Japan etc etc etc. That's basically the way that we dreamt of experiencing the world and how we planned out our trip. Starting with the all pizza and pasta that the boot of the Mediterranean could kick our way.

It was July of 2010 and the cold of a South african winter was upon us. We left behind a set of angst ridden parents-Vee's- who were comforted by the fact that she would be in my all to responsible care. A depressed boyfriend-mine-whose separation anxiety was overwhelming and in retrospect should have sent of warning bells. With our bags packed, tickets, money and passports in hand we started our little adventure.

As we stood in the queue of the OR Tambo international airport in Johannesburg, waiting to board, nervous and excited at the same time. Guide books in hand, we swopped stories of what we had to see, do and eat on our trip. We shared our interests in what we had researched separately. Then we were off to Rome, via Frankfurt.

I am a collector of airport behaviour. I file them and recall them whenever I find myself longing for travel, longing for something that makes me feel alive and a part of this world. There is something comforting about seeing people saying their good byes outside departure gates and something even more overwhelming about the reunions of an arrivals lounge. So I don't mind stop overs I actually welcome them. I enjoy the taste of a country from the inside of a transit lounge, you get to experience tit bits of culture, it's almost as though they try to compound their essence to present it to the passing world in small bite size portions. Something as simple as a local delicacy or some local news. You are also exposed to diversity, in a single transit lounge there could be a mix people from all parts of the world, occupying the same space, just like you for that period of time just waiting.

We arrive in Rome. Being out first solo trip, we both had a sense of expectancy regarding travel problems. However we were so clued up in terms of guide books, research and planning that all in all the shambles were kept to a minimum. We had established what the best way to get from the Airport into Rome is, so that there would be no confusion or delay. Alas we would soon become well known for our ability to attract minor amounts of disaster and shambles on our trips. This affiliation or reputation should I say, had to begin somewhere. This is where it started, upon arriving in Rome almost 24 hours after leaving South Africa we found ourself seated on our small pieces of hand luggage next to the conveyor belt at the Rome international airport, waiting over an hour for our baggage to surface. Whilst sitting on the floor, sweaty and tired Vee was consoled by the fact that she had packed a set of extra clothes in her hand luggage, I on the other hand had shoes which fyi I would never wear on this trip and thus never pack again for any other trip and a GHD. Which was not going to be much help if my bag never surfaced. On future adventures we would become quite accustomed to the prolonged anxiety filled baggage wait.

After successfully finding a shuttle and getting into Rome, we checked in at the Best Western Universo, delightfully close to the Termini station. Which was such a blessing, anywhere in Rome or Italy for that matter was just a walk away. Booked on the www.viator.com site, we sorted out our tours... we would visit the Colosseum, and The Vatican city under the safety net of a guided tour. I feel like this was a good idea at the time, the Vatican is so dense with art and history that it is sometimes a little cumbersome to get through it all and to still focus on what you are looking at. We navigated around the city by foot mostly and public transportation. Two things... cobble stones are so cute, they fill the streets of Rome. However on day three of walking around... your feet will hate you! Wear comfortable shoes with good soles. Secondly, buy a 5 day public metro pass, it's valid on all tubes, trams and busses.

The colosseum was monumental and breath taking, included in the tour was a visit to Ancient Rome, once again I recommend a guided tour for this one, it can become quite overwhelming and you may find yourself looking at a mound of dust wondering what it could be. The glorious Italian sun beat down on us, tanned and delighted we often sat on benches with some gelato.

Roman holiday... one of my favourite moves, had to be played out. We had to sit on the Spanish steps and eat gelato. Buy flowers or fruits from a local vendor. Light candles in churches. Walk for miles and miles to find Bocca Della Verita- the mouth of truth. Take in the Architecture... that each building has a back story and each corner a church. We visited the Pantheon, just outside was a busker paying the violin, we sat on the piazza listening and absorbing the spirit of the italian life.

We were scheduled to leave for Pompei and Versuvius on one morning... #shambles, it would become the defining point, that moment two caterpillars become butterflies. We would from that point on call ourselves travelers. Sleeping through our alarm clock that morning, resulted in us jumping out of bed and grabbing what ever we could find, this included two croissants and two bottles of water off the breakfast buffet. We rushed out the hotel, caught the first train to the meeting point of our tour group, Piazza Navona. We had made it just in time... off to Pompei with a little stop in Napoli. Enchanted by the stories of Napoli and the birth place of the margerita pizza, we dined on the most delicious and simplest pizza I have had, thin based tomato, basil and cheese to represent the colours of Italy. Pompeii birthed a whole new series of emotion, walking in the blistering heat through the remains of an entire city was somewhat chilling. We had learned about it in history class, we've all seen the pictures, seeing it in person just made it even more real. I found it quite fascinating that after all these years they are still working on uncovering more and more of the city. Archeologists hard at work. All around Versuvious life goes on. People have rebuilt their world at the foot of the Volcano.

Climbing volcanoes... not that fun for me. I find myself sitting on a bench about one eighth of the way up. Usually accompanied by British grandmothers, or strange volcanic lizzards. I'm not so fascinated by climbing in an increasing temperate environment only to look into a hole that smells strongly of Sulphur or eggs. Vee on the other hand, loves it. Vulcanologist at heart, maybe missed her calling but is doing mighty well in climbing volcanoes of the world...wearing pumps I might add.

Rome, filled with history and art. Gorgeous architecture and a fountain around every corner telling a different story. Piazzas and people, this city is alive with a buzzing energy. The most perfect and wonderful way to feast your eyes on the beauty that is the Trevi fountain, is to find the closest metro station i.e Spagna, fold your map up and put it in your pocket. Just wander around the area and get lost, the Spanish steps, the boutique stores . You will soon hear a bustle...people talking, see the flicker of camera flashes and hear massive amounts of water gushing, as you take a corner the fountain takes your breath away.

Meals usually consisted of a pizza or pasta dish split between the two of us. There is a fruit stall on pretty much every corner... nothing like a juicy peach, your best friend and a fountain on a balmy summers night. We found ourselves back at the Trevi fountain almost every night, with a bag of cherries and our hopes and dreams.

On our day trip to Florence we opted for the slow train through Tuscany, fields upon fields of sunflowers and breathtaking landscapes. I would recommend this option. To my delight, just outside the Duomo there is a Ben and Jerry's, being diabetic with a nazi medic best friend, my sweet indulgence always has to be earned, usually by massive amount of cardiac exertion so we climbed the three hundred odd steps up to the top of the Duomo, dark, narrow, steep and very warm. Worth every spoon of Chunky monkey and even more gratifying was the incredible view from the top. You can see the terracotta rooftops of all of Florence and just over head... the hills of Tuscany. I complained but I climbed and it was worth it. We spent the rest of our day meandering through street markets, buying cute leather items. A Speed train brought us back to Rome with in an hour.

At night time we wandered through the city, everything comes alive under the lights of the city. Shambles number two happened one night when we were too lazy to walk all the way back to our hotel, so we jumped on a night bus that we believed would end up back at Termini. That was the night we got to see how the other half lives, uncertain and anxious we sat on the bus in near silence as we drove, and drove, and drove. We were in the suburbs of Rome, when the bus driver stopped, turned off the bus and got out to have some fruit at a vendor on the side of the road. He ate... we waited with bated breath. What now?? We each contemplated what our best move would be... in terms of getting back. Twenty minutes later, crisis averted and we were on route to termini.

On our last night we ventured to the opera, followed by a meal on Piazza Navona which is bustling at night time, with street performers, artists and fortune tellers. We found ourselves back at the Treve, gelato and cherries in hand
All in all it was a successful trip.

Check out Mary's guide to Rome for my top picks:)

Shamble on my fellow travelers:)


Mary or Maria (as i am know in Europe)

Posted by ForeignProblems 02:30 Archived in Italy Tagged me landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises bridges churches art buildings skylines night architecture fountains travel ruins monuments adventure trips archeology dust sporr Comments (0)

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