Flashback Friday: Halloween

Last week, we posted our very last Fast Forward Friday. So, this week will start our new Friday series. This one will be called Flashback Friday. It will be a pictures series for us to share photos from our travels or from home.

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. We are pretty bummed to be missing out this year. For our first Flashback Friday, we are remembering some great Halloweens! What are your costumes this year??

 

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Fifty Shades of Grey: 2012

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Thrift Shop: 2013

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The Tea Party: 2010

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A Death Panel: 2009

 

Moments of Misery: Bed Bugs…?

Most of our posts on this blog will be happy recollections of some moments of our trip. But life on the road won’t always be fun. We feel like we’d like to share some of these moments of misery too. (OK, and vent a little about them too…)

Good night, don’t let the bed bugs bite! Normally you think this is just a cute little rhyme. It’s a lot less cute when, suddenly, the bed bugs do bite. During our first stay in Greece, we woke up in the morning with some unexplained bites on our arms and heads. We weren’t really sure what they were. It seemed possible that they were mosquito bites… but they seemed to be a little bit too grouped for that. We didn’t see any evidence of bed bugs, so we didn’t worry too much… yet. We slept a second night at the same location. Eric woke up with bites again, this time it looked like some bug had marched up his back and around his neck… though Della had none. We met another couple who talked about their experience with bed bugs and it had some similarities to what we were experiencing. Again, we found no evidence of actual bugs though.

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We moved to our second place in Greece, feeling incredibly guilty if we were bringing bugs along with us. Though, we took many precautions to keep the place safe. Another night and Eric had a few more bites, though now they seemed random and Della still had none. Bed bugs or not?!? We just couldn’t be sure. All of our research said we had to actually see the bugs! We took our bags apart and scoured everything. Della found nothing, but Eric found 2 things that might have maybe been bugs? Too small to tell. At this point we had a decision to make, continue our plans to head to the Peloponnese, staying in more small towns, or head to Athens where we could find a laundromat and try to kill the maybe bugs once and for all. We used some info from this site and our new travel friends who talked about how they got rid of them. Oh… did I mention that this was happening on our 10 year anniversary???

We decided to head to Athens where we found a laundromat and promptly washed and/or dried every piece of clothing or bags we have. This included all of our packing cubes, our toiletry kits, our day bags, and even our large bags themselves, as well as our clothes of course. This was not super easy as we had to take everything apart and somehow figure out how to get the bags in small dryers.

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Holding the dryer shut… because our bags kept pushing it open…

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Laundromat

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Everything came out of our bags… Can you believe we carry that much stuff around? Most of it is in the washer or dryer even!

A couple hours and almost 15 euro later we were done. We headed to our AirBnB feeling pretty confident that it would be just us for the night.

Connections: Rick Steves, Wheel of Time, and Wine!

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

We were leaving Meteora, a little unsure what the day would hold. We were hoping to make it all the way to Delphi, not very far by distance, but at least 4 bus rides… we were told. We hadn’t even made a hotel reservation because we were slightly unsure that we would even make it all in one day. The first bus left at 8 AM, which is quite early for us. We were sitting at the bus stop, still trying to wake up, while waiting for the bus when we saw a welcome sight. Two more backpackers, heading our direction! As soon as they sat down, they said hello and we quickly found out that we were both planning this long confusing day of travel.

We found out over the course of our loong travel day that they were a couple also from the USA, who we really enjoyed chatting with. When we arrived in Delphi they graciously shared where they were staying. It had been on our list from when we were looking so we were pleased when we also were able to stay there.

The next day, we all left the hotel together and headed off towards the ancient site of the Oracle of Delphi. Here we were even more impressed with our new travel companions. Not only did they really know a lot about ancient Greece (we learned a lot!) but they were equally interested in hearing from our Rick Steves’ guidebook and even reading informational signs. Let me say that again: they wanted to hear from the guidebook AND take the time to read the signs. We were thrilled! There just aren’t that many people out there who can go as slow through museums and sites as we can (and wish to). We enjoyed a lovely day with them. It was so much fun we decided to hang out again the next day.

This time we decided to take a day long walk down from the mountain all the way to the coast. It was a long, lovely walk and we found that enjoyed them even more! They were into all the same TV shows and book series that we were. I mean, let’s be honest, there are not that many people out there who are super excited about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series (OK, there probably are… we just haven’t met them!) Another great day.

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We all decided that we were having so much fun in Delphi that we wanted to stay another night. So, we had another fun evening of drinking wine in our hotel.

There was a little wine involved...

There was a little wine involved…

From there, we were all heading to Athens so we took another long journey together. We were fortunate to be able to meet one more time for dinner in amazing Athens, eating dinner practically in the shadow of the Acropolis. Another great connection with some amazing people! We were sorry to have to say goodbye!

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Our last dinner in Athens

Delphi, Greece

Our second stop in Greece was the town and archaeological site of Delphi. The Ancient Greeks considered this area to be the center of the world, and the best place to worship Apollo. Dignitaries would come to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to get advice on big decisions from the priestesses located here. We weren’t planning on getting any advice, but we hoped to see the plethora of structures left over from when Delphi was such a prime destination.

Getting There

We knew that it was possible to get from Meteora to Delphi by bus from Lonely Planet, but the instructions were vague so we were a little nervous. We talked with the bus office the day before, and they said we needed to start early to make it all the way. Luckily, on the day of the journey two fellow travelers were intending to make the exact same journey, so we all did it together, which made it go more smoothly and quickly. (Look for a Connections post coming soon…)

The sequence of buses ended up being:

  1. Buy a ticket in Kalabaka to Lamia
  2. Catch the 8:00 AM bus from Kalabaka to Trikala
  3. In Trikala, transfer to a bus bound for Lamia at 9:00 (using the same ticket from 2)
  4. In Lamia, buy a ticket to Delphi
  5. Catch the 12:45 bus from Lamia to Amphissa
  6. In Amphissa, transfer to a bus bound for Delphi at 3:30 (using the same ticket from 5)

We didn’t end up getting to Delphi until about 4:30 PM, so definitely a long day of travel!

Where We Slept

We hadn’t pre-booked anything before arriving in Delphi because we weren’t positive we would make it in one day. So, we arrived without a plan, but our travel friends were headed to a place that sounded good so we tagged along and got a room at Hotel Athina. The room was nice, but we had a shared bathroom that was a little rustic, so after two nights we switched (along with our travel friends) to the Sibylla Hotel, where we had our own bathroom. Our favorite feature of both rooms was a nice balcony with a great view over the valley below.

Enjoying some local tsipouro (a type of brandy) from the balcony at Sibylla

Enjoying some local tsipouro (a type of brandy) from the balcony at Sibylla

What We Did

The Delphi Archaeological Site and Museum – This is the main attraction in town, so we tackled this the first day. We bought a combination ticket to both the outdoor site with the ruins and the museum which houses a lot of the sculptures found at the site. We toured the site first.

The biggest part of the site is the sanctuary of Apollo, the big destination for those coming to consult the Oracle. Delphi was an active site from at least the 8th century BC up until the 4th century AD (meaning even the Romans kept the site active). Since it was such a popular site, many of the different Greek city states built “treasuries” containing offerings to Apollo to thank the oracle for her advice. The most well-preserved of the treasuries is the Athenian Treasury, built by the Athenians to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Marathon.

The main attraction in the sanctuary was the Temple of Apollo. The oracle would sit in the middle of the temple over a natural fissure in the rock and speak in tongues. Priests would interpret the words for those who came to ask a question. (Some say that there were hallucinatory vapors coming from the fissure). There isn’t much left of the temple but it is still fun to imagine walking up the ramp and waiting to ask your big question.

Delphi was also the host site of the Pythian Games. Similar to the Olympic Games, these were gatherings of all the Greek peoples every four year to compete in various contests. The stadium where the athletic events took place is at the top of the hill. The Pythian Games also included artistic competitions; a large theater used for these can be found at the site as well.

The theater from the top row of seats

The theater from the top row of seats

The remains of the stadium from the Pythian Games

The remains of the stadium from the Pythian Games

Apollo was the main god being worshiped at Delphi, but there was also a smaller area with structures dedicated to Athena. This is just a few minutes walk further down the road from the main site. The most iconic ruin here is the Tholos, with its three reconstructed columns. They haven’t actually figured out what its purpose was.

In front of the Tholos

In front of the Tholos

The Tholos and the Sanctuary of Athena with the Santuary of Apollo on Mount Parnassas in the background

The Tholos and the Sanctuary of Athena with the Santuary of Apollo on Mount Parnassas in the background

After we finished visiting the ruins, we headed into the museum where we got to see many of the actual statues. Here are some of the highlights:

Hike Down to Itea – Most people only spend a day in Delphi, but the natural setting on the side of the mountain was great, and the weather was perfect. We had read about a hike in the Lonely Planet, and decided to spend a day doing it along with our travel friends. The hike goes from Delphi all the way down the to the Gulf of Corinth at a town called Kirra. This retraces (in reverse) the route that pilgrims coming to Delphi via sea would take once they had landed their boats.

The scenery for the hike was quite pretty.The first half descending down the slopes of the mountains and through the town of Chrissos provided great views over the valley and out to the Gulf. Then, the second half of the hike along the valley floor went through a giant olive grove -according to Lonely Plant the largest continuous olive grove in Greece.

The trail was supposed to end in Kirra, but somewhere in the olive grove we took a wrong turn and ended up closer to the neighboring town of Itea. This wasn’t too bad though, because our main goal was just to find a beach, and Itea is also on the coast! We found a spot on the pebbly beach (not too hard since it is starting to be low season) and had a nice relaxing afternoon. The water was a little chilly, so we didn’t swim for too long.

The Gulf of Corinth

The Gulf of Corinth

The town of Itea

The town of Itea

Luckily, we didn’t have to backtrack and hike our way back up the mountain! Instead, we just took one of the local buses that whisked us back up there for a small fee.

Where We Ate

Our Rick Steves guidebook recommended a few different tavernas in town. The first night we came across one and decided to give it a try. The food was pretty good, but the best part was the view of the great sunset from our table.

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Two of the nights we spent in town, we found a cheap pita place on the upper street in town. Not as fancy of an ambiance, but definitely a good amount of food for the money!

Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed our time in Delphi. We knew that we would appreciate the archaelogical importance, but we weren’t expecting to be as drawn in by the natural surroundings as we were. The great weather every day helped as well. And to top it off, it made it even more fun to be able to share with new friends!IMG_2441_edt

 

Meteora, Greece

Our first stop in Greece was the Meteora region. This area’s claim to fame is a large number of Orthodox monasteries that have been built on top of rock pillars. We were excited to spend a couple of days exploring the different monasteries and the natural surroundings.

Getting There

Our hostel host in Saranda helped us catch a bus from Albania into Greece. The border crossing took a while but was ultimately fine. We had to get off that bus in the town of Ioninna, where we needed to find another bus to the town of Kalabaka (the closest town to Meteora). We went in the station in Ioninna not knowing what to expect (but excited that there was such a thing as a station!) and discovered that the next bus passing through Kalabaka was leaving in just 10 minutes! We bought our ticket and hopped on that bus.

Goodbye Albania!

Goodbye Albania!

Approaching the pillars of Meteora

Approaching the pillars of Meteora

Where We Stayed

When visiting Meteora, you have the choice of staying in the main town of Kalabaka or in the smaller village of Kastraki. We eventually chose Kalabaka because that was where the bus would drop us off. There are no hostels in Kalabaka, so instead we found a hotel on booking.com for not too bad of a rate. We stayed at the Hotel King on the main business road. The room wasn’t large, but we were pretty excited to have a big bed and our very own bathroom. The hotel manager gave us lots of very useful information about visiting Meteora as well.

Our room

Our room

Our room did come with a balcony - only with a view over town though

Our room did come with a balcony – only with a view over town though

What We Did

Hiked to The Monastery of the Holy Trinity – We had assumed that our first evening in Meteora would just involve relaxing after the long bus journey. However, the hotel manager informed us that one of the monasteries, Holy Trinity, would be closed the next day, so he recommended that we try to visit it right then. You can drive up to the monastery, but we didn’t want to pay for a taxi. Instead, the hotel manager showed us a nice hiking trail that would take us straight to Holy Trinity.

As we hiked out of the town of Kalabaka and headed up, we really enjoyed the views looking up at the pillars. The trail was quite steep though, and then to get to the monastery itself you have to hike up more stairs carved into the pillar it sits on top of. So were pretty out of breath by the time we made it to the top!

The interior of the monastery was pretty with a couple of different chapels, but there were no interpretive signs so we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at. Outside, there was a great view looking back down over Kalabaka and out towards the other monasteries.

A nice garden outside the monastery

A nice garden outside the monastery

The view from the edge of the garden looking back over town

The view from the edge of the garden looking back over town

Walked Around Meteora – The next day we wanted to see some of the remaining monasteries as well. We decided not to see all of them, mainly because the admission fee is actually quite steep – 3 euros (4 US dollars) per person per monastery. We didn’t feel like doing the steep hike up again, so this time we decided to get driven up. The public bus company actually offers a bus three times a day that drives from Kalabaka up to Meteora. We were amazed to discover that we were the only people doing this! It was much cheaper than a cab and quite convenient.

We got off the bus at the farthest east end of the circuit. The monastery there was overrun with tourists (just dodging tour buses in the parking lot was a challenge) and didn’t sound like it had anything inside of particular interest either, so we skipped it. We walked along the mostly level road back in the direction of the other monasteries. We were a little frustrated by the weather – it was cloudy and grey. It did not make for very impressive pictures, however, it did keep us from getting too hot and sweaty, which is a benefit, we suppose.

We did stop at the Rousseau Monastery in the center of the circuit. We only saw nuns here so we think it may technically be a nunnery. Again there were some interesting works of art, but with limited interpretation, so we didn’t linger for very long. There were some other overlook points in this general area that did provide for a good place to take pictures in either directions.

We made our way to the western end of the circuit and visited the biggest of them all – The Great Meteoron Monastery. This one turned out to have three different levels that could be visited. Not only did it have the biggest chapel we had seen so far, but it also had a few different small museums that showed some items from both Greek and Orthodox history. We’d recommend for future visitors to start here (or only go here if you only want to pay one admission), because it definitely does the best job providing a context for what you are looking at.

To get back down to Kalabaka, we found a trail that left from just below the Great Meteoron. It was steep, but not as exhausting since we were going down this time!

Walked Around Kastraki – We had originally planned to spend three nights in Meteora since we figured we would need two full days to really see everything. However, since we had already seen everything up with the monasteries that we wanted to see, we didn’t have much we felt like we needed to do on our final day. We ended up just walking over near Kastraki (the small village nearby). We wanted to explore some of the old hermitages, which were wooden structures built in some of the caves in the pillars which were used by religious hermits. Unfortunately, the road to get closer to these was gated off, so we only admired them from a distance. We did find a nice shaded gazebo nearby where we could relax and admire the views, both of the monasteries and of a group of goats that were nimbly climbing over one of the pillars.

Met Up With Travel Friends – We were able to meet up again with the couple that we connected with back in Berat. Our schedules synchronized so that we were both in the area, so we were able to spend another lovely evening hanging out with them.

Where We Ate

After being able to eat out for very cheap in Albania, our first stop in Greece was naturally a bit of a letdown. Compared to American prices, it actually isn’t that expensive, but it still carried a bit of sticker shock for us. So, on two of the three nights we actually just ended up getting something cheap to go, like a gyros pita or some tzatziki from the grocery store.

A gyros pita and the cheapest beer we could find

A gyros pita and the cheapest beer we could find

Tzatziki and retsina (Greek wine_

Tzatziki and retsina (Greek wine)

Final Thoughts

The natural setting of Meteora is very beautiful, and seeing the monasteries on top of the pillars is definitely awe-inspiring. Visiting the monasteries themselves was actually a little bit of a letdown, with the steep admission fee, lack of interpretation and lots of crowds. We’d definitely recommend going, but don’t feel bad about just limiting yourself to the Great Meteoron unless you really are into Greek Othodox art.

Connections: Belgian Bikers!

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

We really enjoyed our time in Berat, Albania. We were able to meet and enjoy a lot of people from around the world. Not only did we meet an amazing Albanian tour guide/hostel worker, but we met another amazing traveling couple. This Belgian couple is traveling from Europe to Asia on bikes! Yes, that is correct, they are biking across the world! Amazing, right? Let’s just say that our trip felt positively cushy when thinking about theirs.

We met them during our tour of Berat and found we had a lot of similarities relating to our trip, age, and interests. We particularly enjoyed chatting about teaching (he works at a university to train teachers) and the differences between Belgium and the U.S. especially related to voting, politics, and other governmental systems.

One of the really fun things about meeting people on the road is being able to share experiences like this. We spent a wonderful day and fun evening with them in Albania. One of the really sad things about meeting people on the road is having to say goodbye knowing that it is unlikely that you will meet again. One of the slightly unusual things about this connection was that we didn’t have to say that goodbye right away. We knew that we were traveling the same directions, from Berat to Gjirokaster, and then on to Greece. They would be leaving ahead of us, though arriving behind us (they’re on bikes remember??) but we discovered we would be in Gjirokaster at the same time. We exchanged contact info and planned to meet up again. Unfortunately, our plans in Gjirokaster fell through. What a bummer! However, that made it all that much more fun when we realized a few days down the road that we would be in Meteora, Greece at the same time! We enjoyed another excellent evening with this excellent couple!

Now, it is hard to expect more than that, so we were especially thrilled when we saw the same couple (ever so) briefly in Delphi, Greece as well. After all of that, I hope we do manage to meet again some day!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us... Boo!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us… Boo!