Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pragurkreece: The Praguean List

We flew from Athens back to Prague (via Budapest, where there were once again free booze samples in the airport), and Prague was a balmy 18 degrees when we arrived.  Leah put on a cardigan.  It was a giddy moment.

Remember that list we made the first day in Prague?  That was pretty much the end game of our final four days. 

Visit the Mucha Museum?  Check.  And worth it.  Photos not allowed, so just have a gander at this instead.

Paddleboats and beer?  Foiled.  It had apparently been raining the entire time we'd been gone and the river was too high for anyone to risk their paddleboats with us.

See a live soccer game?  Almost foiled, because Team Sparta was out of town.  Team Slavia, however, was present and accounted for.  Like a bunch of tourists, Joel and I bought team gear.

An errant ball flew into the stands, and Joel punched it back onto the field.

The fans to our right were the opposing team's fans, and they were kept in a gated region so we couldn't beat them up or vice versa.

The fans immediately across from us were the bad-ass-core fans, with their coordinated cheers and dances and this business:

The beers, instead of being Canadian-sporting-event-eleven-dollars, were two-for-one (so, two for two-fifty).

'Get caught in a thunder storm' wasn't on the list, but we headed up Mount Letna after the game to see the view and found ourselves in a lightning storm.  On a mountain.  The lightning was incessant and awesome.

Once the rain started we headed home, and it wasn't drizzle or a good, heavy Vancouver rain that'll soak your pants to the knee in half an hour, but the bathroom-shower-like rain that you figure'll have to let up within ten minutes.  It kept up for hours.

Go to the zoo?  Check once again, although as though the rain wasn't content with ruining our paddle-boats-and-beer plans, it also drowned out the water-taxi to the zoo so we had to take two buses and a metro to get there instead.

Well worth it, though.  SO! MANY! GIRAFFES!

Also, we saw the hippo feeding, and I fed some goat-corn-pops to a goat.

Castle tour?  Easily the single most expensive activity on our trip, but very nearly worth it for the Window of Defenestration alone.  If it wouldn't immediately result in their death, I'd love to defenestrate someone some day.  It is the dirtiest-sounding way to murder someone without getting blood on your hands.

Get picture taken by the astrological clock so I can put it up next to our painting of same at home?  Check.

Buy that pop-up book for boo that I saw on the first day?  Almost foiled again, but Mike was committed to the list.  I had already given up on the book, because we'd been in every book store in the part of town we were in, and the only place I knew it was was across town where I'd first seen it, and it was our last day in Prague.  While I was off somewhere buying shoes, Mike popped into one last book shop which became two last book shops, the latter of which had the book.  So...check.

Flaming absinthe shots?  Check!  No photos of this, because you're trying to wangle a spoonful of flaming, melting sugar without setting yourself on fire.

Carve initials into a lock and then lock that lock to Love-Lock Bridge?  Check!

Eat a trdelnik?  That word needs more vowels, but check.

Paddleboats and beer after all?  Check!!  On our way to dinner the final night, we saw two lone paddleboats on the river so we checked the rental places, both of which were still closed.  Further searching uncovered the Paddleboat Pirate, for whom safety is not an issue.  Paddleboats and beer!!!

And then we had dinner and rolled home and Leah made brownies and Mike burned all their photos to a disc while Joel and I packed and then we got up at 5 to take the bus to the airport and were there so early that the duty-free wasn't even open and then we were awake for 25 hours and flying with the sun is bizarre because by your body-clock it's closing on evening but it's midday the entire way there and then we came home and crashed into our beds and it was so good to sleep.

Thanks to Leah for arranging everything and booking all the hostels and letting me comandeer your strapless bra and then sweat into it heavily; thanks to Mike for being so committed to The List and for not letting me die on the Perilous Stairwell of Death; thanks to Joel for holding my hand in the dodgy bits of Athens and making me eat when I was too hot to know I was hungry.  This was the best trip.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pragurkreece: In Which We Cannot Put Our Heads To The Use We Would Like To Put Our Heads To

And then, because it was cheaper and more time-expedient than taking a ferry and a bus, we flew to Athens.

Guys?  We were definitely in the east-Hastings of Athens.  Lonely Planet called it the 'sleaziest area' of town, and there were cops on literally every corner.  Also?  Our hostel room had no garbage can, so we just gave it a Greater Garbage Regional District under the side table.  After the beauty and general friendliness of Turkey, and a relaxed, glorious few days on Samos, I spent the first day or so in Athens being all, Ick.  This place is dirty. 

And it was less dirty than random (sketchy alley becomes open square with upscale shopping becomes park full of hobos becomes the restaurant we were looking for), and I feel like it has stopped trying.  Turkey knows it would never occur to you to go to Turkey, so it needs to woo you and charm you and dazzle you with sights so that you'll tell your friends.  Athens knows you have to come to it because it has the Parthenon.  So.

We did a walking tour of Athens (in 40-degree weather, in the middle of the day, for six hours.  I've never been so happy to be in a sack dress) and were immediately dismayed not to be able to clamber all over the Temple of Olympic Zeus the way we'd clambered all over Ephesus.

Even from a roped-off distance, though, one can still have one's fun with ruins.

We stopped by the Parliament building to watch the changing of the guard, and a woman passing by paused her cell phone conversation so she could harangue the building in vociferous Greek.

Re: the guard...I'm not one to make fun of any country's special forces, for fear they'll track my IP address and aerate me with a bayonet, so I'm just going to do this:

Hem.  We visited the Olympic stadium, and Leah and I ran a faux-marathon (I lost):

And then Leah and Joel had an impromptu triple-jump competition.

We visited an ancient stola, full of headless statues.

Obviously the first thing Leah and I do is get behind the statues to give them our heads.  A stern Greek woman stops us and says, Do not go behind the statues.  Which, that is a perfectly acceptable rule.  Except later, when I try to give my upper torso to a pair of statue-legs placed in the middle of an open area, she tells us again not to get behind the statues.  And ok, technichally EVERYTHING is behind this statue, depending on where you're standing.  Further stern conversation clarified that the rule is not 'Do not go behind the statues' but 'Do not give the statues your heads' because it's disrespectful.  Which, again, TOTALLY an acceptable rule.  But if the rule is 'Do not give the statues your heads' then you should say 'Do not give the statues your heads' when tourists try to give the statues their heads.  This can't be the first time this has happened.

And then we hiked to the Acropolis and the Parthenon and this was the hottest I was the whole trip.  Also, the most cranky, and the least hike-to-the-Acropolis-and-wander-aroundy.  It didn't help that the Parthenon was all roped off, and half of the thing was under scaffolding.  Most of the next hour is lost on me, because I was just so damned hot, but I seem to have been having fun.

On the way out we stopped by the ancient wishing well. 

I wished for air conditioning (we found some in the lobby of the museum [the actual museum was too expensive to bother with]) and Mike wished for beer (which was sort of a given) and Leah wished for ice cream, but she missed the well and so we got no ice cream that day.  Alas.

We spent our last morning in Athens at the flea market because Greece is expensive and we are poor and also very, deep-seatedly Mennonite.  Our various omas would have been proud.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pragurkreece: In Which I Do Not A Lot And It Is Excellent

And then we took a ferry to Samos.

Until now we'd been traveling pretty hard, but always with the knowledge that we were going to Samos and then we were going to do nothing.  Doing nothing evolved into doing all the things we didn't have time to do, like shave or wash our underwear in the sink, and 'I'll get that done in Samos' became the mantra.

I did shave, and I did wash my underwear in the sink, but mostly I did this:

You could spit on the beach from our hostel's patio.  We literally spent the entire first two days napping on the beach or napping in our rooms, with intermittent trips half a block to the store for salty snacks or wine.  Sometimes we watched this guy set his traps:

The third day, we ventured half-heartedly into town before being beaten down by the heat and slinking back to our beach.

When it cooled down we meandered towards the wine festival, where 3 euro will get you a ceramic cup and that ceramic cup will get you wine for the night.  Photographic evidence suggests I bought a ceramic cup.

And that I ate a fried dough product covered in hot honey, cinnamon sugar, and sesame seeds.

And that I turned around immediately and got in line again for another box of fried dough product.

I also may have photo-bombed a rack of cooking meats.

And that's...that's kind of Samos, guys.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pragurkreece: In Which I See Some Things Older Yet (And Maybe Climb On Them)

We took a 3-hour bus from Pamukkale to Kuşadasi, which does not change the overall look of our trip map that much.

Also, our Bus On Which We Did Not Spend An Entire Night actually was balling, with free ice cream treats and the Sea Creatures Eating Other Sea Creatures episode of National Geographic on a loop. This was the sixth bus we'd taken in just over 12 hours.

The reason people go to Kuşadasi is so they can take a day-trip to Ephesus.  Ephesus is old, y'all.  Also, old?  The Temple of Artemis.  Of which this is a pillar.

We are, you may note, standing on the pillar.  I mean, as on the pillar as one can get.  It's quite high.  This was one of the more excellent things about Turkey: They let you climb on their ruins!  I mean, this is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and I am on it.  This turned out to be less true of places that were not Turkey.

Y'anyways, then we spend a lousy two hours at the House of the Virgin Mary, which is interesting but not two-hours interesting and that is the shitty thing about group tours.  But then we went to the actual ruins of Ephesus, and it was well worth it.

This is where our camera died for real and for good, and all our pictures look like this.

Our shutter could not close at speed to save its life, so everything is horribly over-exposed.  This is where Mike and Leah step in, with their awesome, functioning camera, which is why I am currently in possession of pictures like this.  Ruins!

Ancient toilets!

The Library of Celcius!  Yes, that Celcius.

Climbing on still more ruins!

And then, because all guided tours end somewhere random where they try to get you to buy stuff, we wound up at a leather fashion show.  I did not buy this $1100 leather pimpette jacket.

And thats...about all we did in Kuşadasi.  I mean, we had drinks on the water with a pair of Australians we'd collected on the way, but there are few places we didn't have drinks on the water, with or without Australians, so that hardly feels like news.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pragurkreece: In Which I Am NOT Internally Slain By A Night-Bus, Because I Am Awesome At Night-Bussing Now. Also Awesome: Pamukkale

We had one glorious night in Cappadocia to sleep in the cave before we were back on a night-bus.  Fortunatemente, we assumed that 'We have a toilet' meant 'We secretly do not have a toilet' and stopped drinking water about three hours before boarding, and took a whole Gravol instead of a half.  The night passed in a drug-induced stupor.  Maybe a gendarme passed through the bus to check our ID in the wee hours?  I might have dreamed that.

Also, there were a thousand children in the back of the bus when we left, and then a thousand children sleeping on the floor of the bus when we arrived.  When Leah bent to get her purse, six tiny feet peeked out from under her chair.

Anyways, we got on a night-bus in Cappadocia and woke up in Pamukkale, which is sort of here.

We'd had zero intentions of visiting Pamukkale because we didn't know it was there (the world is full of crazy shit you do not know is there), but the insanely helpful Tourism Guy at our Istanbul hostel showed us pictures and then we needed to go to there.  Pamukkale looks like this.

And like this.

They look like ice pools, but are in fact hot springs.  Ultra-psyche. 

We did a lot of this.

And some this.

And at some point I was a Swamp Monster?

I am sort of getting ahead of myself.  So we roll in at 5 am, but we're in a stinking bus station and not at the terraces.  Also, we have no hostel to go to, because we are bussing out in the evening, so we're stuck with our bags for the day.  Also, it's 5 am.

We find a bus to take us to the terraces on the cheap, but it turns out to be a sort of public transit and we putt along at 30 k/h with one of the doors open until we're full of people.  This guy takes us to the gates of some ruins, where another bus takes us to the gates of the terraces, where we drag our bags until we collapse in a pool.

And then we're just, you know, in those pools for the day.  Because it's 47 degrees outside of the pools.  It's sort of boring to talk about, but awesome to do.

And then we took the shuttle back to the bus back to the bus station, again with our bags.  It was altogether the worst day to be hauling your bags from bus to bus, on account of the many degrees hot it was.  But for most of the day we were in a naturally-occuring pool, or beside a naturally-occuring pool, or walking from naturally-occuring pool to naturally-occuring pool.  It very not horrible.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pragurkreece: In Which I Am Internally Slain By A Night-Bus But Revived By Cappadoccia

In the interests of being super-frugal Mennonites, we took a night-bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia, which is about from here to here.

In theory it's brilliant, because you catch the bus at 7 pm and then you get to where you're going at 7 am and you haven't wasted a day traveling AND you aren't paying for accomodations that night.  This is us on the night bus when we first got on and thought it was balling because it had tv's.

This is before we realized that the movies were all in Turkish, and that of the advertised AC, wi-fi and toilet, only the AC was present and accounted for.  We didn't realize the lack of toilet until two hours into the trip, and several shouted conversations with the driver only brought the next scheduled bathroom stop up from 1 am to 12:30 am.

A long day of walking PLUS a long night-bus left my feet incredibly swollen so that I could hardly scrape my flip-flops on, and wherever I put them they felt like they were going to burst.  Exploding feet ≠ sleeping despite half a Gravol, and while everyone nodded off I sat there, frustrated and tired, knowing that I was going to be a wreck the next day but not knowing how to help myself.  This is the part of the trip where I am a crabby child and I have a little weep into my head scarf.

I drifted off from about 5 until we got to Cappadocia at 7, and then a bunch of stuff happened where our hostel had over-booked and sent us to a different hostel?  I don't remember, because I was sleeping in a corner.  Somehow I ended up taking a 4-hour nap in a cave, which is what one does in Cappadocia because it is MADE OF CAVES!

Everyone lives in caves, guys.  Like, as though they were houses.

It. Is. Crazy.  I did not know this place existed in the world, and here it is, all full of fairy chimneys and underground cities and shit.

We spent the first day (after cave-napping) poking around and exploring the open air museum, which is basically a bunch of cave-churches

and where the only photo I really wanted to take was of an angry beetle on a mural in a cave-church guarded by the no-photo police.  Alas.  Also, there were camels. 

I asked the camel guy if I could pet a camel, and he's all, Sure!  And then I'm petting the camel and then the camel guy picks me up and puts me on the camel, and then tries to charge me for a picture on the camel despite my not voluntarily being on the camel.  On the one hand, being hoisted by strangers is not my idea of a good time.  On the other hand, I got a free (albeit brief) camel ride.

The day was long and sweaty and full of dust and awesome.  We had been chastized for bringing outside beer into the common room of our Istanbul hostel, so we were surprised when we asked our cave hostel if we could drink beers on their terrace and they were like, Yes, if you have.

Have we did.

The next day we took a tour, which sounds lame and touristy but which was completely rad and encouraged much tour-taking later in the trip.  There are so many things to see in the area, and almost no public transit, and renting a car definitely = getting lost and shouting at each other.  Tours are air-conditioned buses and other people to chat with and someone telling you what the hell you're looking at.

We toured an underground city that goes down six floors.  Underground.  There was a wine press and traps for the enemy and all the couples furtively hugged each other in the coolness of the caves. 

The stairs and passageways were made for smaller people than me, and MUCH smaller people than Joel.

We took an hour 'hike' in Ihlara Valley, where we stopped to drink imaginary tea in the stream.

We clambered all over the Selime Cathedral, where another group's guide warned them about a particularly Perilous Stairwell and advised them not to go up it.  Our guide said nothing re: not going up the stairwell, which we took as permission, but which I second-guessed once the wall dropped away to my right into a yawning abyss and my feet shifted in my sweaty flip-flops.

A note on sleeping in caves: they smell like caves and are full of moths but there is no AC necessary because it is a cave.  I slept under a blanket, you guys.  I don't think I've adequately conveyed how hot it was, but the temperature never dropped below 40 while the sun was out, and we were never not sweating.  It spat rain for, like, eight seconds, and they were the happiest eight seconds of the day.  Our rain dance failed to bring more rain.