It is hard to believe but true. Very shortly Dave and I will have been travelling for 9 months. We have had an incredible time and are full of new experiences and inspirations and are looking forward to more in Europe. My Mom asked me the other day when I spoke to her, if we felt it was worth it and to that I would say there is no doubt even without having officially completed the trip yet. We had been right in thinking that we would not regret this decision once we were on the road. The magnitude of what we have accomplished has really become clear as we spend time vacationing in the easy and laid back country of Greece. We feel as though travelling independently through Asia was the challenge of a lifetime. We had to use all of our patience, quick thinking, and instincts to make our way through those foreign countries. We also could not have done it without the help of - too numerous to mention - local people. I should also send props to the Lonely Planet people whose guide books were a major source of help as well.
Greece has been like something out of a dream for Dave and I. We had just come from China which was the biggest challenge of all of the Asian countries we visited but also the one we both will remember very fondly. It is where we took that "a bit too adventurous" overnight bus where they smoked and played loud Chinese music on the radio. It is where a little boy of about 8 years old asked us if he could help us when we were stopped at midnight at some rural restaurant where there was a pig stable next to the toilets and Dave and I obviously looked a bit out of it.
The most challenging in China had to be when we decided to go to the rural village of Pingyao. This was supposed to be the most well preserved walled village in China. The day started with a mad dash to the airport on a airport bus that we almost missed due to a story for another time. Our flight went fine but the airport we landed at was small and there was no information desk and we didn't see any bus station or taxi stand. We eventually found a group of people standing outside and realized that this was the makeshift taxi stand and got in line. We realized quickly since we had been travelling in Asia a lot that people were cutting in line. This is totally a standard practice in China. You can not let your guard down for an instant or someone will try and cut the line. The weird thing is that no one seems to get mad about it. It is just the way it is. Dave manuevered his way in front of a guy who was trying to cut us off and scored us a taxi! Go Dave! He actually has gotten really good at cutting and blocking, etc. We showed the taxi driver the chinese symbol for train station in our chinese phrase book and off we went. Our driver dropped us off in front of the train station although it took us awhile to actually find it since it isn't like it had a sign that said "Train Station" in English on it. We felt uncomfortable immediately since the town of Taiyuan is not a tourist destination and we have never felt more different in our entire lives since everyone stopped and stared at us. We had gotten used to some stares since this is extremely common in China. Little kids pointing us out to their parents. Teenagers elbowing each other and then knodding in our direction. But in Taiyuan, a dusty town where we were only in to catch a train out of, obviously really was not used to foreigners. After roaming around aimlessly for awhile I see a sign that has a question mark on it. We go up to the booth and we say "Pingyao." The person was very nice and wrote something down in Chinese and pointed us in the right direction.
Again with the help of some locals who could guess at where we wanted to go, we found our way to the ticket booths which were mobbed with people. Dave asks a guard for help and he proceeds to cut to the front of a huge line to help us. No one batted an eye. He helps us get our train tickets to Pingyao. Again, without his help I'm not sure where we would have ended up. We then are directed to the actual train station where we wait for our train. It felt as though everyone in the massive waiting room just stopped when we entered. It didn't take long after we set our bags down to draw a crowd. Groups of people were standing around us and one man had me take a picture with his young daughter several times. Most people just stood and stared at us. It got to be so bad that security had to intervene and break it up and we were moved to the VIP waiting room even though we just had regular ol' tickets. Pretty crazy experience.
We ended up on a crowded train sitting across from two extremely nice students. One of which knew a little English. We were so grateful to be sitting next to them instead of some old man who would have just sat and stared at us the whole time. They helped me buy water from the vendor and made sure we got off on the right stop and gave us some handy advice such as Pingyao was known for their beef. This turned out to be great advice because we tried it and Pingyao did indeed have really good beef. We arrived in rainy Pingyao exhausted with our nerves shot after a really trying day. We still had to make our way to our hotel and it was raining and dark. As soon as we left the train station there was a rickshaw driver that knew where our hotel was and took us there (for an extremely overpriced amount) but we just wanted to get there. We whizzed through the darkness and rain and at first the town was like any other dusty town in China but then the rickshaw pulled into the walled city portion and all that changed. It was incredible, like going back in time, and when he pulled in front of our hotel we were welcomed by the warm and incredibly hospitable owner. Dave and I were beyond thrilled. The hotel was an old fashioned Chinese courtyard house that had been converted into a guest house. The rooms had traditional Chinese beds and was full of character. It was like a little oasis and we immediately relaxed. We had made it through one of the most challenging and difficult travelling experiences we have had.
But now we are in Greece and all that is in the past. Greece is like a little heaven on earth I think. We are on the island of Mykonos right now. This is the most popular of the Greek islands and the most busy. It gets 1 million visitors a year and half of them come in August! We are visiting the Greek islands at a perfect time since visitors are few and prices have been slashed (but still expensive.) The Greek islands have been a great treat. We have loved every minute. We have stayed on three islands and each one is different than the next. But all have those adorable white washed houses and churches. We have spent a fair amount of time hanging out on the beaches and the beaches are also different island to island. On Santorini there was a beach with black sand and one with red sand due to the volcanic rock. Paros had beautiful beaches with clear calm waters with huge wind carved rocks jutting from the shore(my favorite beaches). Mykonos beaches are busy with bustling bars and restaurants and the most people we have seen. All of the beaches do have one thing in common however, you are likely to see someone either nude or without their top. It is not uncommon to see a Mom and Dad with their kids next to a couple completely in the buff next to people in normal swimming wear next to several topless sunbathers. Everyone just gets along fabulously. Those crazy Europeans (young and old) just do not care if you see all their bits and pieces, nor do they care if they may be a bit too plump for those speedos or that g-string bikini. We love their seemingly lack of body conciousness but being Americans it still does not stop Dave from pointing out every nude or topless sunbather and me going "where?" and looking.
Yep, life in Greece has been awesome and I am willing to say that there is not a soul alive who would not find something to love about Greece. Although, we do know that that something will NOT be Greek showers since they are small squares that leave water all over the bathroom floor and are not large enough to bend over and pick up the soap without sticking your rear out of the offical "square" that is the shower stall. But that aside it is incredible. Please, buy your plane tickets now. Book your hotel. Go to Greece. Go to Greece.
We have a few more days in this lovely place before we move on to Italy. We fly to Rome on October 8th and I would say that we are equally excited about going to Italy.
This is Dave here. Just thought I'd throw in a few photos.
Here is Lynette at the beach. Those fleshy objects in the background to the right of her are two of those nude sun bathers she mentioned. But in case you can't tell Lynette decided to stay clothed.
And this is me at the beach. The water was absolutely freezing, (my arms were frozen in this up position) but I mean come on, this was the Aegean Sea, I had to.
Most of the churches in the towns are pretty small, the ones with the white walls and blue domed roofs like I showed in the last blog. But we visited this large and very old one in Paros that was beautiful.
This is a smaller room off to the side of the main cathedral. There's a creepy skull and cross bones carved on the floor toward the bottom, I'm guessing to mark someone's tomb. I've never been to a church before where there was a dead dude buried inside, at least not that I'm aware of. - Pretty eerie.
One of the things you see a lot of in the churches here are these tin artworks where the faces are cut out and painted.
Some of them look really strange because the faces are small and so dark from their age and a bit pushed in so it just looks like a bunch of holes where the heads should be.
Here's one of the many absolutely extraordinary sunsets we've had the pleasure of seeing here in Greece.
There are tons of cats on the islands. They are everywhere. Here's a tiny kitten that I heard squeeking softly from the bushes.
Here's one looking for lunch:
This one is into the art scene:
And this one greeted us at our guesthouse in the mornings:
Another animal you can catch strolling the streets here in Mykonos are pelicans:
Yes, I'm sorry, this is just a photograph of a bicycle but I loved the patterns of the stones in the wall and walkway.
Lynette at our regular breakfast spot here on Mykonos:
Me feeling stoic during our visit to the ancient ruins on the island of Delos:
Below is a shot from the dock on Paros. Our guesthouse was only a block from the water and since the air was cool and no mosquitos we left the balcony doors open at night to hear the wonderful faint sound of the waves washing in all night.
And here is Lynette just after being surprised by a big wave in the face as she tried to walk the rocks at the shore:
Okay, that's finally it. I know its been a long one. You can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing. Take care.