EuroTravels 2008

So I’m on holidays at the moment having a break in Eurostan; didn’t really get to explore much of Leipzig or Halle outside of the Games Convention, but after that I went to Dresden for a couple days. Dresden was neat – always wanted to go there as it is mentioned a lot in the WW2 histories. The tour was a bit depressing – all these beautiful old buildings that are there are basically reconstructions, almost all of them having an amazing history of being build hundreds of years ago, then their story ends with sentences like “burned down in 1945” or “was bombed in 1945”.

Then it was off to Greece for a few days exploring Athens. I was pretty stoked about finally going to Greece; I was an Ancient History nerd in high school and have always enjoyed Greek history so was looking forward to checking out the Acropolis and some of the other bits and pieces of history.

I arrived at night and was greeted with a pretty spectacular view from the roof of my hotel – there was a bar up the top that overlooked the Acropolis, which is nicely illuminated at night. Went wandering up there the next morning – the rest of Athens is, sadly, a bit of a shithole. It was hot as balls in the middle of summer, there’s people everywhere, roads appear to exist solely to a) make drivers miserable and b) give miserable drivers a chance to take out frustration trying to nail pedestrians. So that was disappointing.

The Acropolis though is amazing; its pretty much the highest thing for miles around so you get a great view looking down on the rest of the mismatched bizarre-ville that is Athens. The Parthenon and everything else up there is pretty spectacular and it’s awesome to reflect upon the history of the place – although sort of depressing reading a lot of the things about it (“…was destroyed when the Persians invaded, then was rebuilt, then was destroyed 20 years later when some other jerks invaded, then was rebuilt again, etc..”).

After that I was looking at my map and saw this epic hill that I thought might be fun to check out – the map sort of implied that there was a cable car or something but it was lies and I ended up walking up the thing – good fun but shit it was hot. Great view at the end of it though.

Also checked out the TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS which has to be written in caps because it’s such a cool name for a place.

After Athens I met up with a bunch of mates – we’d rented a sail boat for a week to go sailing around the islands. I was sort of expecting this to be a nice, relaxing tranquil affair sailing around lush tropical islands and golden sandy beaches, but that’s not how the Greek Islands work. Unfortunately we arrived just in time for shitty weather for sailing – it was wayyyy too windy.

I’d never been sailing before so was surprised that too much wind is actually bad for sailing! We had a massive big night before we left and I was hungover as hell and had 3 hours sleep – then spent about 5 hours in massive rolling seas, the end of which had me puking my guts out over the side of the boat wishing I was dead and wondering why the hell I thought this would be a good idea.

Fortunately after that point it calmed down a bit and we never had any trips as bad as that (plus I was hitting the motion sickness pills before every trip). We sailed around a bunch of the islands – I need to check the order and names but we spent a couple nights in Kythnos because of the bad weather (which was nice, but a bit on the small/quiet side), then hit up Serifos, then Mykonos (the party island, which was crazy), then Naxos, then Paros. Occasionally we’d stop and find a cool place to swim.

Aside from the wind the weather was fucking spectacular; we had nice hot days with heaps of sun, much to the enjoyment of everyone I was traveling with – they’re all Aussies now living in Europe so seeing the sun is something that happens a few times a year for them now. As a Queenslander I was a bit blase about the sun though; everyone else was diving for the decks to try and get their bronze on and I was cowering under my giant hat and layers of sunscreen.

The sailing part of it was surprisingly complicated – even though we had our own skipper, a hilarious Kiwi bloke called Alan who did most of the hard work and corrected all the mistakes made by us useless landlubbers (definitely including me). I’d actually never been on a boat before (aside from ferry things) until a couple weeks earlier for a fishing trip for a mate’s bucks party and it was on a motor boat dealie. The regular process of finding a free berth in a marina and docking is surprisingly tricky – not to mention dangerous and risky when you’re dealing with a boat worth half a million euro. No wonder everyone moved to cars.

By the end of it when we were back on land, almost all of us had amazing boat-induced motion weirdness going on – sitting down you’d feel like you were constantly bobbing up and down. The last night in Athens after I’d been off the boat for like 16 hours, I woke up in the middle of the night, got up to hit the loo and almost fell over the room was swinging around so crazily. Alcohol may have contributed here, but it was a very weird effect. I guess you get used to it if you’re sailing regularly…(?)

After Greece it was on to Italy. I arrived early afternoon and spent most of the first day just recovering from Greece. Next day did some of the usual tourist things like Trevi fountain and Colusseum (which was probably the highlight of Rome for me). No photos available yet! That night I met some Aussie girls in a random bar and we got shitfaced and I lost track of the next day.

Then it was on to Pompei! I was pretty stoked about this, having heard good things from all sorts of people. Got up at some bullshit hour of the morning to get the fast train down there and arrived pretty soon after 9am. It was another scorcher and I spent about 3 hours walking around these amazing ruins of this whole ancient Roman town before getting absolutely exhausted and having to call it quits. There were a lot of other tourists wandering around but every now and then you’d hit up some section of the city and you’d be totally alone, in this weird ghost town that is thousands of years old. Very cool.

I debated going up Vesuvius – but decided I didn’t have enough time for the tour. While it was a hot sunny day it was also very hazy so I figured the view would be average – could barely even see the mountain. So I decided to head back a little early, which turned out to be a terrible idea – my train was late getting to Naples, I missed my connecting train to Rome, and was stuck in the shitty Naples train station for hours. All I’d heard for weeks before was ‘be careful in Naples train station because of all the felons’, but I didn’t have any problems or really even see too many sketchy people. I DID however see this rail worker dude that was the spitting image of Vin Deisel. I would have taken a photo of him but he was terrifyingly huge and carrying heavy blunt objects whilst scurrying around underneath trains, so I didn’t think it would be a good idea.

Bummed around Rome a bit more then headed off to Geneva, Switzerland (where I am now). Had a bit of a poke around here for the weekend; its a nice place but nothing really amazing to see – the weather sucked for the first couple days, rainy and cold – beautiful today though a bit on the chilly side.

Spent almost all day today inside at the PC trying to plan my next chunks of trip and just generally having a day off. Tomorrow looks like I’m off to Nice in the south of France to check out some more of the laughable European beaches at the tail end of their summer, then its on to Paris a few days later which I’m really looking forward to. 2 weeks later I’m off to Munich for Oktoberfest which should be a little on the fun side too.

Anyway, hope all is well back on the other side of the world. Will try and update again when I have some more downtime but I’ll be back on hand in a couple weeks anyway, although still from this side of the planet.

Germany: Dresden with a Touch of Berlin

This is a thoroughly boring report, but this was what I hope will be the most boring part of the trip – so just a few notes.

Just finished up in Germany; a week working out of Leipzig (staying in Halle, which is a bit of a hike away but the shuttlebus made it utterly painless getting back and forth) at the Games Convention and then a couple nights checking out Dresden and then a single night in Berlin.

I didn’t see any of Leipzig or Halle outside of work commitments but postcards I saw of Halle looked nice.

I’ve wanted to go to Dresden for ages, mostly out of the same World War 2-inspired curiosity that drove me to places like Normandy and Hiroshima. It was almost completely destroyed in 1945; fire raged through it for 3 days destroying many classic old buildings. I did a quick bus tour; the most common phrase I heard was “destroyed in 1945” or “burnt down in 1945” – most of the buildings in the city centre are reconstructions of the originals. They still look fantastic, of course.

The city reminded me a lot of Prague; it has a similar sort of look and feel to it. I only had one full day there and spent most of the time just wandering around the inner city looking at all the various buildings. I also found an Australian-themed restaurant called Ayers Rock which served Bundaberg Rum, so I finished up both nights I was there having a couple of drinks there (I know, I should be drinking German beer, but I was jonesing).

After that I ducked up to Berlin, from where I would fly out to Athens. I’d already been to Berlin a couple years ago for the World Cup so really it was just a night there killing time. I was impressed with my memory – I stayed in the same hotel I did last time and managed to walk to it pretty much unaided and everything was where I thought.

Then I decided to walk to the Brandenburg Gate – last time I was there it was all weird because they’d take up a lot of that area with World Cup stuff. Unfortunately my memory failed me here and I took off in the wrong direction – I’d walked almost a kilometre before I realised and then had to walk back. Shit.

Spent the rest of the time relaxing and trying a local Indian restaurant (which was very average and very expensive). Went out to the airport which I was expecting to be huge, but it was a tiny dive that was really cramped. I screwed up and got there about 1.5 hours too early as well – flying is so lame once you’ve become used to the awesomeness that is the German Rail system.

I am now in Athens, Greece – wandering the Acropolis and the narrow streets while I wait for our boat trip around the islands to kick off.