So as most of you probably know, Kristi came to visit me in June. In memoriam of our Honduras blog, I will be typing up the original day-by-day breakdown of our adventures, and then Kristi will add her bits at the end of each day. (…I don’t remember agreeing to this)
Day 1: Having planned out our first few days in Albania, I set off for Tirana at 6am so I could make it in time to pick Kristi up at the airport at 11:35am. After rushing to the airport shuttle and paying my fare, I got a message from Kristi telling me she wasn’t going to be at the airport, that she’d gotten waylaid in Italy and wouldn’t be in until around 7. Luckily, the airport shuttle hadn’t left yet, so I managed to get off before I took the 45 minute trip to the middle of nowhere for nothing. I puttered around for awhile in Tirana, trying to re-work the plan I’d had in my head that pretty much had depended on us leaving Tirana at 2pm, and eventually ran into Chris (another volunteer living in Tirana). Being the nice guy that he is, Chris offered to let us crash at his house for the night and I gladly accepted. At 6:30 I headed back out to the airport where lo-and-behold Kristi’s plane was listed as DELAYED on the monitor. Lovely. So I waited around, trying to power through Crime and Punishment until she finally arrived. We then did something I try to avoid at all costs. We paid for a taxi to take us into Tirana. Luckily, the guy didn’t try to rip us off, which was nice since the shuttle had stopped running at 7 and he was really our only option. After getting our bags settled at Chris’s we went out to get dinner at an Albanian restaurant where Kristi would have her first Albanian meal. It was delicious, but being exhausted, the food pretty much induced a state of coma, so we headed back and went to bed.
Kristi – I’d like to think that spending 7 hours in Rome counts as me being to Italy…but I never left the airport and only saw the scenery from the window I parked my jetlagged/half asleep/trying-not-to-freak-out self by to read. I had a 55-minute layover in Rome and while I had been assured by airport staff that it would be fine, I ended up having to pick up my bags and needed to recheck them in a super long line. I tried going through security because that’s what I’d been told to do, but that nice gentleman had to explain to me that whoever told me that was mistaken and if I wanted to get through I’d have to leave behind all of my liquids. No deal. I had schlepped food presents for Pattie in my bag and I wasn’t giving those up. Pattie needs her soy sauce. So after several ticket windows and waiting an hour for someone to show up at the last one, I finally bought another ticket to Tirana that left before midnight. Of course, as Pattie said it ended up being delayed an extra hour, but I finally made it to Tirana, accidentally cut in front of some people for the passport line because I was following the crowd and didn’t see the maze of lines separate, and then ran slow-motion lovingly into Pattie’s arms…or just said hi and walked outside to find a ride. The food that night was yummy — how can melty cheese with peppers not be? Food coma + jet lag = wonderfully knocked out sleep.
Day 2: After a decent night’s sleep, we left Tirana in the morning to head to Pogradec for lunch. I had originally planned to spend the previous night here, but that fell through with flight delays. Regardless, Pogradec is beautiful, sitting on a lake on the border with Macedonia, so we stopped in for lunch. We had pizza lakeside with one of the new group volunteers Alex then dropped by her house for awhile. She’d taken over a previous volunteer’s house and had a stash of goodies in her pantry as a result. She laughingly told me that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do anything with any of it, so I reassured her that I would come and take care of that for her. Win.
Kristi – The trip to Pogradec was my first furgon ride! It was definitely an experience, slightly reminiscent of the taxi/mini-bus rides in Honduras except with mountains and windy roads, but there was an awesome pilaf stop on the way. The view driving into Pogradec was gorgeous – the lake is such a pretty color surrounded by mountains. The furgon driver was nice enough to slow down on the hairpin curves to let me take some pictures of the view.
Anyways, after lunch with Alex we headed to Bilisht where Kristi got to see my new apartment. She didn’t know it, but it’s a huge improvement over the old one. She even had a bed to sleep in. ☺ Later that night Laurie and Chris (my new sitemate) came over for dinner (we made stuffed eggplant and pilaf) and then we headed out to a “party” at the local near my old house. The party was fun, we got free wine from the owner and we taught Kristi how to circle dance, and although I later heard that it was actually not a very good party, I had a good time nonetheless.
Kristi – Circle dancing! Albanians sure do love their circle dancing, and I’m sure I broke plenty of rules about not smiling, laughing, stumbling, etc. It was a great time, and I’ll never forget the pitying looks from the small children as they took over being the end of the line from me because apparently I was not doing it right?
Day 3: In the interest of seeing a little more of Albania, Laurie and I took Kristi to Voskopoje, Laurie’s site. Voskopoje is a beautiful small site outside of Korce with a ton of history. It’s one of the few places in Albania that holds an actual draw for tourists with its 18th century churches and beautiful landscaping. We were only there for a night, but we managed to go see a few of the churches and hike around a bit. It was great.
Kristi – Pattie failed to mention that somehow jetlag skipped a day and after being wide awake and dancing the night away the day before I turned into zombie Kristi that day. I was pretty much unconscious and walking around the Korce market, managed to sleep on the extremely bumpy/winding dangerous furgon ride up the mountain, and then passed out for another nap shortly after getting to Laurie’s cute mountain house. One thing that was interesting for me was seeing how houses are set up and the different appliances/wood stoves. Laurie and Pattie were talking about which room would be the warm room for the winter, and after seeing several apartments/houses in Albania I understand now what Pattie was talking about when she said she spent most of her time in the kitchen last year. You stay where the wood stove is, and if you have multiple rooms, you shut off unnecessary rooms and make your warm space as cozy as possible. Laurie’s house had a bedroom, a living room with a twin bed and furniture, and a kitchen. The wood stove was in the living room, so she will shut off the bedroom and move into that room with the twin bed for the winter.
Day 4: After hiking around Voskopoje a bit more with Laurie, we headed back to Bilisht to rest up, pack, and get ready for Greece. I spent the majority of the day working on med-school applications, so this is a rather short entry.
Kristi – We drank out of mountain spring! It was super cold and tasted crisp and clean. There was a little brick wall built around it on 3 sides, and a spigot directed the constant flow out to where you could get to it and drink. It was just out in the middle of a hillside!
Day 5: This is it folks. The day we headed to Greece. We decided to take the morning bus to maximize our day, as well as to try and avoid congestion at customs on the border. It was a good choice, even with only one other bus there it took us at least 40 minutes to get through, the entire time mimicking what everyone else was doing because we didn’t speak Greek and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the Albanian. After getting through customs we started our three hour bus ride to Thessaloniki. Immediately after we passed the border we decided that Greece looked exactly the same as Albania, at least the landscape. I know, that should have been obvious, but I think we just wanted something slightly more spectacular to happen.
After we got off the bus, we weren’t quite sure where to go, so we called the hotel from a nearby travel office. Eventually we found the hotel and got to our room, which was essentially the size of a closet. There were two twin beds with about 2ft of space between them and a small window looking out into a small shaft between buildings. Directly across from us was the window to the next room over, we kept the blinds closed.
Not wanting to stay in the hotel room for more time than was necessary we struck out into the city to find something to eat. Initially, on the bus ride in, Thessaloniki looked dirty and gross. I was not terribly excited about it. But once we started walking towards the coast, things started looking up, and although there was still graffiti EVERYWHERE, the town didn’t look quite so rough. We decided to stop off at this restaurant down a small street that had a bunch of tables outside. For lunch we ordered a half liter of house wine, snails for an appetizer, and a plate of croquettes for the main dish. The wine wasn’t bad, the snails were delicious (Kristi’s first), and the croquettes were…FRIED. There were a variety of them, not half bad in flavor, but So Fried. After we ate they gave us a complementary dish of Greek yogurt, a godsend to combat all the oil I’d just ingested. We decided after that that it would be best for us to walk around a bit. Sitting after all that could only have ill-effects. After strolling the town for awhile we walked down by the boardwalk where there was quite a persistent young man that wanted to talk to us. He was from Nigeria and had come to Greece for work, but work had dried up with the economy so now he was selling bracelets. He told us that he loved America and that he wanted to give us each a bracelet as a gift from his heart. Eventually he ended up getting a red, white, and blue bracelet on each of us and then telling us that if we decided we had a gift for him, that would be nice. Of course I hadn’t wanted to buy a bracelet in the first place, of course I could have just walked away and been done with it, but I felt guilty so I went to buy a bottle of water to break a big bill and then handed him a few euros in exchange for the bracelets. Kristi and I commiserated a bit over the fact that if we had originally bought the bracelets we wouldn’t have chosen the red, white, and blue ones, but they did offer quite a bit in entertainment value as we continually flashed them at each other whilst shouting (in low tones) “Amurikah!” What can I say, we’re just classy like that. Our croquettes stuck with us (literally) for the rest of the night so we chose to have fruit smoothies from Starbucks for dinner. It was delightful. Then spent the rest of the night strolling the boardwalk with hundreds of other people, enjoying the night air.
Kristi – When she says graffiti was everywhere, she means every possible surface – buildings, poles, signs, every angle of stairs including the handrails, etc. I think the leaves of plants would have graffiti if they were large enough to write on with spray paint. Maybe we should send people paint pens.
SNAILS! I ATE SNAILS! They were delicious and buttery, and after struggling with getting the first one out (I swear I was doing it the way Pattie instructed) the others popped out easily and I could have eaten at least 20 more. Walking on the boardwalk that night was great. So many people were just out and about socializing, people-watching, buying roasted corn, and just walking up and down the length of the waterfront.
Day 6: Our second day in Thessaloniki we decided to take the walking tour outlined in Kristi’s Lonely Planet travel guide. The time estimate was 3-4 hours by foot, so we started at about 8 to try and beat the heat. Rather than taking a bus to our starting point, we decided to walk. Totally doable, but uphill, the WHOLE way, and it was HOT. So by the time we reached the viewing platform at the top of the city I looked like a drowned rat, red-faced, and out of breath, while Kristi looked amazing as usual (Pattie lies. I was sweaty and gross.). We definitely got some stares from the other tourists, wondering what on earth had happened to us. So we spent the next SEVEN hours on this walking tour seeing a lot of the things we’d walked by the day before, but acknowledging that they were historical at this point. I’ve decided that the only way you could have done that walking tour in 3-4 hours is if you didn’t stop or go inside any of the sites. Regardless, we saw a lot of churches and ruins, and it was all pretty neat. We ended up at a restaurant called the Kitchen Bar on the pier and ate lunch. The food was tasty, if a little overpriced, and we relished the time to rest our feet. We spent the rest of the evening walking along the boardwalk and then called it an early night since we had an early flight to catch the next day.
Kristi – I think we calculated that day’s distance at around 12 miles based on our walking speed and the hours spent walking. We had actually planned on getting up early that morning to run along the waterfront. Ha. We would have become paralyzed halfway through the walking tour if that had actually happened. Two things that really got me throughout the day were 1) ruins in Greece are OLD. I had the same reaction my first time in England since we don’t really have ruins in the US like other countries, but Greece ruins are on an entirely different level. 2) Ruins are EVERYWHERE. Walking between two apartment buildings, looking at some awesome graffiti, and BAM. Ruins. Nice street of shopping? Ruins take up a block before continuing with more swanky shops. It was just so strange to see these historical ruins in the middle of everything and only blocked off by a short cyclone fence. I don’t know why I was expecting every site of ruins to be a historical attraction, but I guess when they’re everywhere only the truly important ones get the site-seeing designation and protection.Waterfront in Thessaloniki with the White Tower
Day 7: In an interest to make the most of both our time and money, Kristi managed to book us the earliest flights possible throughout our trip. As a result, 3am found us waiting for a bus in front of our hotel to catch our flight to Lesvos. The bus ride was pretty long, and a few times I wondered if we were even on the right bus, but eventually we made it to the airport and to security. At security, I was asked to remove my camera from its case and remove the lens cap. I did as directed. After I removed the lens cap the attendant looked at me and asked “Camera?” …. Uh, yeah, what else would it be? That was weird. I was sleep deprived enough that I just nodded and stumbled through to the gates. All I could think was “You told me to remove my camera from its case, then asked me if it was a camera. Must have been a weird language thing.
After a super speedy flight we landed on the island of Lesvos. Now everything we’d read about this island talked about how great it was for hiking and camping, how great the wineries were, and how beautiful it was. I will be the first to say, Lesvos was not what I expected. Maybe everything was just yellow and dry due to the heat, but I was expecting green, and this was not it. After arriving at the hotel and taking a short nap, we decided to walk around the city of Mytilini to see what it had to offer. There were a few old churches and some interesting looking stores, but mostly it was just hot. So rather than stick it out in the heat we decided to head back to the room and cool down for a little while and go back out in the evening.
When we finally decided to stick our heads back out and get some food we ended up at a restaurant on the bay that had what seemed to be a promising menu. Unfortunately, the food was not at all what we expected. My stuffed “pumpkin flowers” ended up being breaded and fried, reminiscent of the croquettes we had eaten in Thessaloniki, and the “shrimp salad” we ordered was mostly just a plate of mayonnaise with a few stringy pieces of shrimp thrown in. We ended up discreetly feeding a good portion of our food to some stray cats and the fish while the owner wasn’t looking.
Kristi – Oh Lesvos. I had such high hopes. I think we just weren’t able to see all of the great parts of the island I had read about. Without a rental car and staying a night or two in each part of the island it’s hard to get around. The buses only ran at inconvenient times (middle of the day with 2-3 hours before heading back), and it is a large island that people spend at least a week or more exploring.
At the restaurant I decided I wanted some fish (island = fresh fish right?). However, as much as I have fished I didn’t know most of the types listed on the menu. I asked the waiter about a few that sounded promising, and the one I chose was “red fish like salmon and about this big”. Sounded like a good choice. What he meant was “The fish’s scales are red, we fry it whole, and you get 5 of them.” Plate of fried whole fish. I’ll admit I was startled. They were tasty though, and the cats like the tidbits leftover.
Day 8: We had been debating renting a scooter or a car and traveling around to the hot springs and wineries, but as it turned out we didn’t have the correct licenses for either, so the next day found us on a bus to the town of Molyvos to see the cobblestone streets and the castle. It was a nice little day trip in a cute town and this time we knew to avoid the “shrimp salad” at lunch, or in fact, any salad that didn’t explicitly state that it had lettuce. Fortunately, our lunch menu came with photos of the food, so we did better with a platter of different types of meat, potatoes, and cabbage. When we got back to Mytilini we decided to hike around and check out some of the churches and such. We found ourselves on a hiking path up the side of a hill that reinforced my doubts about this island being good for hikers. Once again, maybe it was just the time of year, but it was dusty and prickly, and I was happy when we made it to the top.
Kristi – Who knew so many people in tiny villages on Greek islands had pools? From the castle we saw at least 6 or 7 in the surrounding houses. Walking through the village on the hillside below the castle was more like the picturesque winding cobblestone and stairs we were thinking of, and the view over the water where we ate was nice. The weather was interesting in that it was super bright and sunny and pretty warm when we were walking up to the castle, but if you stopped in the shade, the breeze and actual temperature dropped dramatically.
Day 9: We decided to spend our last day on Lesvos checking out the castle in Mytilini and then heading to the beach. The castle was pretty cool, with the biggest cisterns I’ve ever seen in my life. Not that I can claim to have seen many…but it led to a fun new high five that I’m choosing not to explain. ☺ After seeing everything there was to see, and reading…most of it, and escaping some feral dogs that had made camp in one of the outbuildings, we left the castle, checked out of our hotel, and went to the beach. Although the rocks hurt my feet a bit, the water was beautiful and it was nice to relax there while we waited to board the ferry that would take us to Athens.
This was the second time in my travels that ferry pretty much equated to cruise ship, though, unlike the one from Scotland, this one did not include live entertainment. In the interest of sleeping sometime during the night, Kristi and I booked two beds in a cabin for the night. When we boarded the ferry they took us to our room, where they left us, but did not give us a key to the room. I went back up to the concierge to ask for a key where he told me that he couldn’t give me one because they only had 2 keys. I proceeded to explain to him that Kristi and I were in fact, half of the cabin, so it would be alright for him to give us one of the two keys. He wasn’t having any of that. Eventually we figured out that there were 3 different parties in our room: Kristi and I, an Albanian woman and her small daughter, and another girl about our age. Because there were three parties, he couldn’t give anyone keys, so we would just have to come to the desk and have someone come with us to lock or unlock our door as necessary. Strange. I finally gave in, what else could I do? So we went to one of the large lobbies we had access to as a result of our cabin purchase and ordered some drinks and proceeded to read and chat for the rest of the night until we finally called it quits and headed to the cabin.
Kristi – It was cool to see the cistern and finally figure out how it works. Plus it was huge and there was water collected in the other side of it (I’m guessing from rain) so you could see how the water would fill up the structure. The ferry was interesting as always, and there was more great people-watching.
Day 10: Our ferry docked in Athens at around 6am, at least an hour before we had anticipated waking up. When they started calling over the intercom and knocking on doors I woke up so disoriented I immediately stood up, and walked up three decks to the concierge station to ask where we were. They told me that we were in Piraeus, which I didn’t understand because I thought I was going to Athens. They then told me that if I was going to Athens, this is where I wanted to get off. Not that it mattered anyways since Piraeus was the last stop. Still pretty sleep addled, I walked back to the cabin where Kristi and I gathered our things and then we headed to the Piraeus metro station to get to Athens.
After finding our hotel and taking a short nap, we decided to head up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, and other temples. We took our time walking around and reading the signs, trying to see everything that there was to see, but we realized our mistake by the time we made it up to the top. There were SO many people up there. Tour groups from Athens and from Cruise ships, student groups, etc. We should have headed straight to the top to avoid the crowds in the morning and then seen everything else on our way down. Oh well, it was still neat and we got some good pictures. I just wish there hadn’t been so much construction going on, it ruined the effect somewhat.
Kristi – As with most roads in Texas, it seems most historical sites in Greece are under construction. There were different groups at various sites doing restoration work on the sites (which is great and all, but scaffolding covering the marble pillars doesn’t have the same visual appeal as the Parthenon uncluttered). Side note: it was crazy windy up at the top, and there are chunks of smooth stone where everyone walks. Wind + slippery stone = lots of people getting knocked over. Lots of lost hats too.
Day 11: Our second day in Athens we walked around town to see the sights that weren’t up on the Acropolis. We went by the Olympic Stadium, and Parliament, as well as a variety of other historical sites and monuments. Weird thing about Greece, there are ruins EVERYWHERE. The city has just developed around them. So we’d be walking through a completely innocuous neighborhood when all the sudden we’d come upon another set of ruins cordoned off with a little sign, or sometimes without one. I enjoyed seeing Athens and all the history, but I think I liked Thessaloniki better. I’m just not made for big noisy cities.
Kristi – Ha can you tell I didn’t read ahead before writing my comments? Same thing as Thessaloniki, RUINS. Athens is huge, and I agree with Pattie that I’m more of a small town (well relatively smaller since Thessaloniki is still a large city, but I guess <500,000 people compared to millions is small).
Day 12: Yet another early morning found us on a 5:15am flight from Athens to Santorini. Probably the most looked-forward to part of the trip. (At least for me). We landed at 6:30 and got into a shuttle designated for our hotel. Thankfully, they managed to get us into a room where we could sleep for a bit since we hadn’t gotten much the night before, and eventually we were ready to face the day and explore Santorini. Due to a mix-up with the map we started heading down the back side of the island and I became increasingly confused as to why people liked this island so much. There was not much to see and everything was brown and unimpressive. I was starting to wonder what in the world was going on with this trip when we finally figured out that we had the map backwards and should have headed to the other side.
So, hot, dusty, and tired we headed to the “touristic” side of Santorini and things started to improve from there. The inner side of the island that faces the caldera is beautiful, the part of Santorini that people actually take pictures of. We decided to head down to the Old Port to see what there was to see. There was a gondola, and donkey rides, but we thought we could probably walk down. There actually wasn’t that much to see when we got to the bottom, but we sat and had some drinks in the shade to cool down before heading back up.
On the way back up we chose to take the donkey rides. BEST DECISION EVER. I don’t understand why anyone EVER chooses to take the gondola (unless maybe they’re infirm) when they could take a donkey. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was slightly terrifying. But it was hilarious. And so much fun. Kristi’s donkey decided that it wanted to lead, but that it wasn’t going to take the straight way up, so it kept swerving back and forth across the path. Occasionally, mine or one of the other donkeys would try to pass, but Kristi’s donkey would have none of that and would cut us off every time. Every once in awhile the donkeys would just decide that they wanted to stop for a bit and there was pretty much nothing you could do about it. At one point I decided to start yelling “Ella!” and bouncing up and down (while laughing hysterically) and that got them moving a couple of times. My donkey was also a feisty little thing and tried to bite all the other donkeys when they came close. Haha. And even though I was afraid I was going to lose a leg every time we came too close to the wall, it was so much fun. One of the highlights of my trip.This picture perfectly displays Kristi’s donkey, cutting me off, and then stopping. Kristi is probably saying some variation of “Why?” “I don’t know what to do” etc. Haha
Later we decided to take a bus to the “underground winery” that we had seen advertised. This was also a hit. The whole museum was just a riot. Each exhibit was meant to show the history of the winery and to show how the wine was produced, but the dummies or mannequins they used to represent people were absurd, hilarious, and slightly frightening all at once. After we were done with the museum tour we got to try three of the wines produced by the winery. As proud as they were of their wines, I just didn’t like them that much so we didn’t end up leaving with a bottle.
That night we went to get sushi at a restaurant we had looked up online. We didn’t know what to expect since a lot of people had said that it was pretty expensive, but most people agreed that it was delicious. If we had gotten the pre-made menus it probably would have been pretty expensive, but we just ordered 3 rolls, some wine, and a dessert, and it didn’t end up being any more expensive that sushi in the States. However, it was GOOD. The reviews were correct about that. There was an eggplant tempura recipe that I was pretty much obsessed with and am looking forward to recreating in the future.
Kristi – The hotel in Santorini was one of the best places I’ve stayed, and it was one of the least expensive on the island. In addition to airport transportation at 6:00am both arriving and leaving, they gave us a room to sleep in before even bothering to check us in, freshly laundered beach towels to take with us for the day, great advice on what to do and where to go, and the guy pushed breakfast cake/orange juice/tea/coffee on us every time he saw us. Add to that the fact it was super clean with nice beds/linens/bathroom (OMG hot AND cold water at the same place?!) and we were sad to leave that hotel behind.
The underground winery museum was hilarious and we got some fantastic zombie vineyard children pictures as we walked through. The wine this place is known for is a sweet desert wine where the grapes are left in the sun for 2 weeks before making the wine. So yes, it tasted like raisins. Not bad, just not my cup of…wine. I also try not to spend 30 Euros on a small bottle of wine I only kind of like.
Pattie failed to mention our sad sushi experience in Athens. We’d agreed to try to find her a few restaurants for food she’d been craving/missing, so of course we figured Athens would have to have a good sushi place. Well…they were out of most ingredients needed to make most of the menu. So I ended up with what I swear was a ramen noodle brick with curry powder and oil poured on top, and Pattie’s sushi roll was small, sad, and dry. Santorini’s place was amazing. Who would’ve guessed a small village on an island would have great sushi?
Day 13: This was the day that had pretty much sparked the whole idea of taking this trip. This was “DIVE DAY.” We were all set to take 2 dives in the caldera and were pretty excited about it. We met a car from the dive center that took us to the other side of the island where all our gear was set up with our names on it. I was a little nervous. It had been 2 years since I last dove in Honduras but other than having to remind myself how to maintain neutral buoyancy, I did fine. The first dive was labeled as a “caldera dive” which essentially meant we’d be diving inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. We were supposed to swim around the crater for a bit and then they would take us to a small cave. The crater was pretty cool. Definitely different from Honduras in that it was pretty muted in color with the occasional random patch of bright yellow coral. But it wasn’t a reef, it was a bed of lava rocks, so it was different. The cave was a pretty tiny little thing, only accommodating one diver at a time, so that was a little bit of a letdown, but oh well. The second dive was supposed to be a “wall dive” where we would swim along the sea wall and see all the fish and coral and what not. It was a pleasant dive, but there wasn’t nearly as much to see as there had been in Roatan. I know, they told me when I was there that I was spoiling myself with one of the most beautiful sites in the world, but I guess it took diving somewhere else to realize that they might not be exaggerating. Also, on the wall dive in Santorini the dive master gave us all bread to feed the fish… the whole time I was sitting there thinking “Never feed the wildlife!” Haha
That evening we decided to go to the other side of the island to the town of Oia to catch the sunset since that was reportedly the best place to see it. So we caught a bus and walked around for awhile, then found seats at a café where I ordered a smoothie and Kristi ordered yogurt so that we could sit there. The sunset was really beautiful and I must have taken fifty pictures of it while messing around with the settings on my camera. After which, we pretty much ran back to the buses so as to beat the crowds and not have to wait an hour for another bus.Oia. Would have been better with some light, but it was the wrong time of day.
Kristi – Yay diving! Greece was definitely a different diving experience than Honduras. The water was colder (thank goodness for those hideous full body wetsuits), the bottom was lava rock instead of light colored sand, and as Pattie mentioned, not quite the same level of colorful sealife. I had actually just gotten back from another trip to Roatan about 3 days before flying to Albania, so I had some fresh memories of warm clear water with thousands of brightly colored coral and fish and lobster. Diving is always an awesome relaxing time though, no matter the scenery, so overall it was a great experience for me.
Day 14: Our last day in Santorini we decided that we couldn’t very well come here and not go to the beach, so at the suggestion of our hotel owner we headed down to the black sand beaches near Perissa for the day. The beaches were beautiful and the black sand felt awesome (when it wasn’t burning my feet) and we spent most of the day there on our comfy beach chairs under our large umbrella. I apparently spent too much time under the umbrella because upon returning to Albania everyone kept asking me why I didn’t go to the beach. I must not have gone because I was still white… oh well. It was better than being painfully sunburned! Anyways, between all the topless sunbathing and our waiter in his tiny pink shorts, there was a ton to AVOID looking at, but the beach view was fantastic.
Our last night we decided to head back to the sushi restaurant. It was again, delicious, and this time they gave us a complementary…dessert maybe? It was a shot glass filled with ice, ginger, black pepper, and champagne, and it was super tasty.
Kristi – The beach was fantastic! Laying out and reading in the hot sun with dips in the cool/cold crystal clear water was super relaxing. I got a little more color than Pattie, mostly because I can be exposed to sunlight for more than 5 minutes without burning…but overall I was surprised we didn’t come back with a better tan.Kristi, lying in luxury on the beach in Santorini. Please note the waiter with the pink shorts. He was the one with the LONG shorts…
Day 15: Because Kristi doesn’t believe in sleep, 6:55am found us on yet another early morning flight back to Athens. After landing and spending a frustrating couple of hours trying to make our way to the correct bus station, we finally boarded a bus for Meteora and spent most of our day in travel. When we pulled into Kalabaka (a town below Meteora) we were tired and a little hot, but the cliffs surrounding the town were beautiful and we couldn’t help but take a small hike after dropping our luggage off at the hotel.
Kristi – I lost faith in my travel abilities a bit that day. After checking my Lonely Planet book and as much as I could find online (not much because apparently Greece no longer posts up-to-date information on transportation online), the plan was to take a certain bus from the airport to a certain bus terminal in the city to catch the right bus to Meteora. Well when you barely make it to the bus station in time for the scheduled bus to Meteora and walk into buy tickets and don’t see the city you’re looking for, there’s a moment of confusion, then defeat when you confirm you’re in the wrong place by asking the information desk and they look at you like you’re stupid for not knowing that bus isn’t departing from that location. Sigh. So after 1.5 laps around the bus station to find the bus stop going to the other bus terminal and a 30-45 minute wait for that bus, we finally made it to the right terminal and managed to catch that next bus out to Meteora. Crisis mostly averted…and only 30-45 minutes spent waiting on the feeder road of a major Athens highway. The views coming into Kalambaka were gorgeous, though, and really made the day of travel and miscommunication worthwhile.
Day 16: The next morning found us up and ready to catch the morning bus up to Meteora where we’d see all the monasteries that had been built at the top of the cliffs. Some of them would be closed for the day but we figured we could get to at least 5 or 6 of them, so we got off the bus and headed for the largest of them: The Great Meteora. Approaching the monastery I saw a big blue sign which read: “SHORTS ARE NOT ALLOWED. LADIES IN SLEEVELESS DRESSES, SLACKS OR PANTALOONS WILL NOT BE ADMITTED.” I then proceeded to look down at my own outfit consisting of a tshirt and long shorts and wondered if this whole portion of the trip was about to be ruined because I hadn’t actually packed anything that would allow me into this monastery. We decided to go ahead and walk as far in as possible, which was a good thing because we figured out that at each monastery they provided wraps that could be used as skirts or as shawls for those of us that were unaware of the dress restrictions. They really should advertise that on the big sign that made me feel so unwelcome… Anyways, Kristi and I put on some very lovely skirts and proceeded inside. After walking a few miles between the nunneries and monasteries that we visited I can say that the first one gave us the most “bang for our buck.” Most of the others were pretty small and didn’t have much to see or read, though they were all beautiful. But the Great Meteora had a museum and lots of information etc. Overall though, Meteora was probably one of the more beautiful places I’ve been and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Kristi – This was another day that I was glad I was travelling with Pattie, someone who likes being outside and doesn’t mind/actually enjoys hiking long distances. I think we got a lot more out of the Meteora experience by actually walking between all of the monasteries/nunneries and back down to town. The views were unlike any other place I’ve seen, and we actually got to see it all instead of driving by in a bus and trying to peer out the tinted windows. Plus, I think we planned out the itinerary well to where we broke up places with tons of walking with the islands where we spent more time relaxing.
Days 17 and 18: The next day we finally headed back to Albania, Meteora being our last stop in Greece. It was an awesome vacation and I enjoyed myself, but I was happy to get back to a country where I could communicate with people. (I know, who’d have thought I’d feel that way about Albania.) We made it to the border and then hopped a couple of rides until we ended up in Permet to visit with Maayan. We were pretty much exhausted from our trip, so we didn’t do much, just hung out and watched movies and such, but it was nice. I was happy for Kristi to meet some more Peace Corps volunteers.
Kristi – I’m so glad Pattie could communicate with the furgon/taxi drivers at the border. After walking across from Greece to Albania (a good 10 minute uphill walk), she found us a ride to the next town to catch a furgon for a reasonable price. I’m sure the Canadians that were on the bus to the border with us had a tough time and paid waaay to much to get where they were going. The ride to Permet was unexpected, this part of Albania has tree-covered mountains and light-blue/white rivers and was so pretty. Hanging out with the other Peace Corps volunteers was a great end to the trip – I finally met some of the people Pattie is always talking about, plus they were amazing!
Day 19: Kristi’s last day in Albania, we headed back up to Tirana on a 6 hour bus ride. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we went out to eat Albanian food one last time. The food was delicious, one of my favorite places, though I did manage to eat a super spicy pepper in my last bite and I had no water left. Haha. We called it a pretty early night and slept a bit before getting Kristi in a cab for the airport around 4am. I was sad when she left, but ready to get home. Wish she could come every month!
Kristi – Hahaha, that spicy pepper looked like a bean. Poor Pattie’s mouth :) Of course I had to get up super early for the last flight, why break a pattern? Luckily we found a taxi that early and Pattie made sure I knew what the fare would be before I left. The guy was super nice and tried to communicate with me with his few words of English and my few words of Shqip. It was weird to go to the airport alone and leave Pattie behind. I texted her that I made it to the airport, but apparently she didn’t get it and started to worry that I’d been abducted. I got in touch with her on facebook once I was in Detroit, so only 16 hours or so of worrying.
YAAAAAAY ALBANIA & GREECE!