A Travellerspoint blog

September 2008

Greece wonderful Greece

Lynette and I are in Greece. We started out in Athens where we visited a lot of ancient ruins, most notably the Acropolis. This was especially exciting to be seeing things in person that we had learned about for so many years in school or on tv. The Parthenon is not the biggest or most complete ancient Greek structure in Athens but for some reason it is the most impactful. There's just something about it. Even with the scaffolding around it, being used for repairs, it is a magnificent sight.

We stayed in a hostel in the area very near to the Acroplis. This was the part of Athens that still retains its old Greek charm with winding stone streets and charming architecture. Its therefore the most tourist busy area with lots of shops and restaurants. But its cool to stroll around, then turn a corner and find some site of ancient ruins, with the hill of the Acroplis always visible in near view.

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View from the Acropolis overlooking the ruins of an ancient theater. We were able to go down and actually sit on the old marble seats that real toga wearing Greek theater goers once sat.

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The Sofie Star has made it to the Acropolis in Greece! -- I'm saying, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm standing in front of the legendary Parthenon!!"
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Some shots around Athens:
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From the temple of Zeus:
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From Athens we headed off to the Greek island of Santorini. Our plane landed on the island around 5:30 AM, still dark. This is the sunrise view that greeted us when we arrived at our hotel near the beach:

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The views on this island have been absolutely breathtaking. Like nothing we've seen in our lives. We highly recommend you consider the location for your next vacation.

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We've had some spectacular food in Greece. There was a local place in Athens that served to-die-for gyros. Lynette has sampled musakas (sp?) and baklava from a variety of places, and loved them all. I had some stuffed tomatoes that brought tears to my eyes they were so delicious. (This at a place called Mama's where a woman called Mama greets you at the door with a hearty hello and a hug like you are family.) And the fried cheese in Greece is unsurpassed.

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There's often massive crowds of tourists (mostly midday from the cruise ships that have docked) filling the streets snapping photos in every direction. Even when its slower in the mornings or evenings there's usually a good number of people milling about, but sometimes if you are lucky you can get some shots that make it seem like you are the only foreigners in town.

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But there were also times when we would walk a bit out of town center and get away from the crowds. Like this one when we hiked down a long rocky path and found this wonderful lonesome church sitting on the side of the cliff overlooking the sea. No one else was around. We sat there for a while and just soaked in the amazing beauty.

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After walking the town one day we stopped for some wine and watched the sunset:

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Tomorrow we take the ferry to the island Paros for a few days, then Mykonos island.

Posted by schuckley 04:02 Comments (4)

Leaving Asia

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This is Dave. We are in Beijing now, but we were not here during the Olympics. However, we found out that they do the Paralympics (the games for people with physical disabilities,) after the regular Olympics and in all the same venues. So we definitely wanted to try and get tickets to an event so that we could share in the Olympic excitement and see the incredible new buildings. You can see them from a distance from outside the Olympic Village but the view is not that great and is obstructed by other buildings, buses, lamp posts etc. So we wanted to get up close and isnide the buildings too if possible. We figured it would be pretty easy to get tickets to the Paralympics, I mean how popular could they be, most people in the US have never even heard of the Paralympics. But once we got to Beijing we learned otherwise. China has made about as big a deal with the Paralympics as they did with the regular Olympics. They are huge. And all the tickets were sold out. (Although, just like with the Olympics, many of the tickets are bought by corporate sponsors who don't even end up going to the events so there are tons of empty seats.) So we decided to take our chances with trying to buy tickets from a scalper. We took the bus down to the complex and walked around in the courtyard hoping someone would try to sell us tickets. We had met some people who had also bought tickets this way, but since then the police had arrested a bunch of scalpers. So we were trying to be on the down-low. But we were having no luck so I thought we might try to go down the street a bit, which ended up working. Immediately a guy approached us with tickets. Of course we were very suspicious that they were fakes, so we were standing there for a bit examining them and trying to feel the RFID tags that we heard were embedded inside the tickets. The guy could tell we were hesitant so he motioned us to follow him and he took us into the huge line of people waiting to get through the security check and into the Olympic grounds. He shuffled along in the crowd with us the whole way until we got to the turnstile. Once we passed through I slipped him the money. We were in!! A very exciting moment. Now I can understand the adrenaline rush thieves must feel when they pull a heist. But don't worry, this will not lead me to a life of crime. Anyway, we high-fived each other and headed for the porta-potties. (We'd been waiting in line for a while.) After that we headed across to the Bird's Nest. What a sight, I have to tell you. It was much bigger than I'd expected. And what an architectural marvel. Across the way was the Water Cube, also a spectacular vision, hard to believe its an actual building. Our tickets were for the track events so after enjoying the structures for a while and snapping some photos we headed into the Bird's nest. The place was packed! Given how little press and importance is given to the Paralympic games in other countries and in past years, the athletes must have been blown away. We were seated way up towards the top of the stadium but had a great view right near the finish line. We watched some running events, some wheel chair relay races, and some discus throwing. All the while the Olympic torch blazing above the stadium. It was a pretty amazing moment.

It would be a hard moment to beat but the very next day it was when we went to hike along the Great Wall. We got up early to catch our 6:00 AM tour up to where we'd start our hike. It was a cramped 3 hour drive with Lynette and I wedged next to two Chinese woman in the back row of the van, a seat built for 3. It was rather uncomfortable and my right butt cheek quickly fell asleep as did the rest of the occupants up front in their comfy seats. (I would make sure I got one of those seats on the way back.) As we got closer and closer to the site the air visibility got worse and worse, like we were driving into a big cloud. You couldn't see very far and I couldn't imagine the view for the wall could be much worse. We started the hike up and onto the wall. For the first 30 minutes or so I just couldn't enjoy the fact that we were actually walking on top of the Great Wall of China because I was too mopey about how bad the views were. I wanted picturesque photos! But after about 30 minutes the fog began to miraculously clear. I quickly snapped off some shots of the wall going into the distance in case this was a fleeting moment of clarity, but the fog just kept on lifting, along with my mood, and soon was completely gone, leaving a spectacular clear view of the wall and distant hills, and majestic blue cloudless sky above. It was like that for the rest of our 4 hour, 7 mile hike. Now I could not imagine a better day to have done the hike, especially after hearing from someone that it had been raining there the day before. The rest of the day was packed with one spectacular view after another and we had a great time. I guess it just goes to show you that you should get really upset and sulk when things don't go your way because it ends up making things turn out alright.

I have 2 Sofie Star photos this time. One in front of one of the oldest structures in China, The Great Wall.......

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And one in front of one of the newest structures in China, The Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest!)

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Lynette's leaping abilities continue to amaze me. Here she is showing her excitement for getting in with our scalped tickets:
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You can find a few empty seats scattered throughout the stadium, but this definitely blows away any other Paralympic game attendance.
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Wheel chair relay race at the finish line:
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I'd like to recommend to any future Olympic/Paralympic games organizers that might be reading this to include more than just one McDonald's restaurant on the grounds. They had just one here which was about a mile away from the stadium. We had to walk really far and then found a huge line out front to get in. This photo shows what it was like once we got through the door - More long lines to get to the counters. Granted, they did have some other food vendor stands scattered around, but they were serving primarily Chinese items, and even in China, McDonald's proves to be most popular.
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Here's some shots from our day on the Great Wall:
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The rest of our time in China has been great as well. It started off rough with that crazy over night bus trip, but since then it has been splendid. A few highlights include our bicycle tour through the Yangshuo countryside, the cruise down the Yangtze River, our visit to see the taracotta soldiers in Xian, a full day of traveling by multiple modes of transportation which was stressfull but we got to experience the kindness of many Chinese people who helped us along the way, meeting a wonderful young Chinese couple on a train, seeing the sci-fi like skyline of Shanghai, and spending a few days in the wonderful ancient walled city of Pingyao.

The Asia chapter of our trip is at an end. Its been a good run. Tomorrow we will be off to Europe and our first stop is Greece. We are very excited! That is someplace I've always wanted to visit since I was a kid, ever since I wrote a report on the Greek gods in the 4th grade.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Dave
dbuck242@yahoo.com
&
Lynette
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 18:50 Comments (2)

China - Picturesque Bike Ride & Yangtze River Cruise

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So there we were in Yangshuo (southern China) after the long 15 hour bus ride. We were standing there on the side of the road, groggy headed and smelling like cigs. We hadn't booked a hotel and didn't know which direction to go to get to the main part of town. A guy came up to us and asked if we had a place to stay. He was supposedly the "manager" of a hotel in town. Its very common for solicitors to approach you at bus stops and stations. We usually just ignore them or tell them we are already booked, because we usually are. Besides we don't like to take offers for hotels from people on the street because there's a good chance it's a shadey deals. But in this case we figured we would take a look at his place and if we didn't like it then at least we would have had a ride into town. So Lynette hopped on the back of his motorcycle and I onto a buddy's bike, and with our bags tightly held, we zoomed off. The place ended up not being that bad so we booked two nights. After that we stayed two nights in another, slightly nicer hotel.

Over the few days we were there we enjoyed the area. The first day we just got our barings and checked out the local shops and restaurants, taking it easy. The next day and the day after we took bike tours through the countryside. There are a lot of women walking through town offering to give bike tours. We found one woman who seemed really nice so we booked with her. We rode out through the farms and small villages, with the huge rock karsts jutting up out of the ground all around. The views were spectacular. Our guide Wendy was awesome, probably the best tour guide we've had on the trip so far - very friendly and real. We had a great time. Along the way we stopped to hike up Moon Hill, a huge karst hill with a gigantic hole through it. At the top you can look through and view the entire magnificent landscape. It was really hot so the hike up was tough, but we had two "volunteer" women following us up fanning us as we went. Half way up we stopped for a rest and they offered us cold water, of course at a hugely marked up rate. But we gladly purchased some to prevent passing out from dehydration. Afterward we ate at a little restaurant at the base of the hill with a great view looking up at the rock formation. Our pork stuffed peppers, tofu, and dumplings were delicious.

Starting our bicycle ride, heading out of town:
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Later, after riding through some picturesque old villages Wendy took us and our bikes on a boat across a river. Once on the other side we then peddled to a local market which was off the beaten path so it was very un-touristy. We didn't see any other westerners there so it was a great rare authentic experience.

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Herbal medicines at the market:

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Lynette enjoying a refreshment back in town after the day's long bike ride.

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Once our time in Yangshuo came to an end we flew to Chongquing to catch our cruise down the famous Yangtze River, which is the third longest river in the world. I was a bit skeptical of the cruise due to the rough 3 day boat trip we took through Halong Bay in Vietnam. But my worries were squelched the moment we walked on board. The cool air-conditioned air hit me in the face and my body immediately went into a relaxed state that it stayed in for the four days on board. The small cruise ship was understated but quite nice and charming. Our room was cozy with a balcony and soft beds. (The Chinese love hard beds, but they are learning that Westerners differ here and they are slowly changing to please their Western customers.)

The Yangtze River has been big news for the past few years because the Chinese government decided to build the massive 3 Gorges Dam (the largest in the world) to improve navigation and generate much needed electricity for the country. This decision is highly controversial however because it would flood the river, therein submerging hundreds of towns as well as archeological sites, and displace millions of people. What this could potentially do to the environment is also a big concern. There are many pros and cons but the dam construction went forward and is now complete. The river level has already risen a great deal but is scheduled to be at full height in 2009. Supposedly the rising river level has detered the grandeur of the surrounding mountains, but not knowing what it was like before we were not disappointed. On the contrary, we were quite taken by the beautiful views.

We met some great people during the cruise, most of which had been to the Beijing Olympics. Its great to meet so many wonderful people from different countries and sometimes our own, all with interesting travel and life stories.

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From a few excursions during the cruise:
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Our last excursion was to view the 3 Gorges Dam:
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We were sad when the cruise was over. We liked being pampered for a few days. But we were off to the airport and took a plane to Shanghai where we are now. We arrived last night and checked into our hotel. We aren't sure what we will do here yet, but we have a few ideas. Once we figure it out we'll be back to share the experience.

Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 18:10 Archived in China Comments (3)

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