Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hello Turkey! Kuşadasi

Well, there is no doubt we have made it to Turkey. The people are incredibly charming (and also very persuasive). We are getting a little more for our money, like breakfast with our room and way better service. And, we are awoken at sunrise with the Islamic call for prayer blasting over loudspeakers. Oh yeah, and the bread is delicious and plentiful (and free wıth every meal!).

We landed in Kuşadasi and enjoyed the evening wandering the town and hearing person after person ask us "Where are you from?" and ''May i ask you one questıon?'' and "Do you want to sit down and have the 2 for 1 drink special?" and ''Maybe you are ınterested ın a rug?'' We also got to enjoy another futbol celebration, as the local team won the Turkish championships. There were fıreworks (not really that impressive given that the cocktails came with sparklers on them) and a motorcade of people cheering and waving flags. It was fun and reminded me of the celebrations ın North Beach after Italy won the world cup. It is so strange that Americans only care about the sport once every 4 years and the rest of the world is obsessed with it.


Samos is very different from the islands in the Cyclades. Much less touristy and way more verdant, with cypress and pines and flowers blanketing the mountains and hills. Supposedly it was a fairly popular tourist destination in the 80s and 90s, but the industry has never fully recovered following fıres that destroyed nearly 50% of the forests in the last 10-15 years.

We found a place with a great roof deck for 25 e per night and took the opportunity to do our laundry. Then we took a long 12 km walk (made extra long by the fact that we had just finished a half bottle of wine and could not find a place to buy a water for the first half of the trip...) to a monastery perched up on a mountain. In fact, this had become a regular thing for us to do - look around to find the highest point and head up. Invariably there would be a monastery or church of some sort there - we have hypothesized this as an attempt to get closer to God.

It was a beautiful trek with sweeping views of Vathy and the satellite islands and Turkey on the other side. We rounded our time in Samos wandering around the town visiting the great archeology museum and chilling in cafes - it was really nice to be in a town not entirely dependent on taking our money. Bye Greece!!!!

8 Hours ın Mykonos

It was a real pain to figure out how to get from Santorini to Turkey. We were expecting to go to Rhodes, but the ferry was almost 24 hours long! So we shifted plans to go to Kos, until we realized the Thursday service we had been quoted actually did not start until June. Then we decided to go through Naxos to Samos, but again, we had been given bad info and had to recalibrate our plans. Finally, we figured out that we could make it to Samos via Mykonos, so we headed off...

Mykonos seemed like a very fun (and expensive) place to party, but we only had the afternoon there and had our bags with us the whole tıme (long story...). So, instead we spent the day sitting around and watching the folks from 5 (yes, 5!) cruise ships overrun the city. Maybe we will have more time to dance the night away wıth the beautiful people next time around...

Move over Virginia, Santorini is for Lovers

Our final day in Santorini we trekked down and then back up the side of the Caldera - through the heat and smelly donkeys - to take a boat out to the volcano and nearby hot springs. The volcano was a black mass of lava built up over a series of eruptions and was pretty neat to walk around, but probably the best part was the 360 degree view of the surrounding islands. The hot springs were not as luxurious as we had hoped - it was more of a lukewarm sulfurous bay colored red by rust. But being out on the boat for the afternoon was worth the trip.

That evening we watched our last sunset on the caldera, sipping Santorini wine and eating chocolate and cherries. We finished with a great traditional dinner at a local restaurant near our hotel, cheering with the Greeks as Milan took the Champions League finals over Liverpool. Santorini ıs one place we would definitely come back to. İt really ıs as beautiful and romantic as ıt seems.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Caldera

Our next stop on our tour of the Cyclades was Santorni. It's really the most stunning thing we've seen yet - a ring of islands with shear rock face formed around a volcano in the center. The cities and towns are perched precariously on the top of the cliffs and look like they might tumble into the sea at any moment. I would venture to guess that there is no place else like this on earth.

We spent our first day wandering the streets of Fira, the main town, and having a romantic sunset dinner overlooking the caldera (which is what they call the circle where the islands collapsed into the sea around the center of the volcano). It would have been perfect except for what felt like 50 mile an hour winds gusting through the restaurant that evening...

The next day we rented another moto to cruise the island - at 10 Euro a day, it's definitely the easiest way to see everything in a short period of time. We started at Red Beach, which is an amazing beach with bright red rock formations jutting up from the sea. We also visited several black sand beaches, which were also really beautiful. We've seen pictures in the high season, and these beaches are covered with umbrellas as far as the eye can see, but aas with Paros, there were places where we had the beach all to ourselves. Definitely a great time to be here.

Santorini has a big wine industry, so there are vines everywhere. They actually cultivate all sorts of crops here - compared to the dry and rocky hills of Paros and Ios, Santorini is incredibly lush and it seemed like every acre was planted with something.

We took the moto up this insane hill and although the ride up and down was a little scary, we were rewarded with great views of the entire island. We ended the day in Ia, a really beautiful town on the northern tip of the island. The place is famous for its sunsets and it is hilarious to see everyone crowded around to watch the sun go down, which pretty much looks exactly the same as it does from Fira. Great marketing on that one!

The next day the weather was colder and cloudier, so we took a short moto ride and then relaxed for most of the day. It was nice to have a little down time. The day ended with beers and another beautiful sunset. We're starting to get used to this...

Rainy Ios

Ios island is very popular with backpackers, so we had to check it out. Unfortunately, it rained pretty much the whole time we were there, but at least we stayed in a pension right in the town of Hora, which is where all of the action is. There are more clubs and bars than restaurants, and our timing was pretty much perfect, as a lot of places were opening for the season the weekend we arrived.

We did some hiking around the city when the rain let up and then hit the town for the night - Orange, Shooters, Blue Note, and Barmacy - clearly not traditional Greek barikia! But, we had a fun time and discovered a drink featured on every single menu named after our beloved city of San Francisco. It has vodka, banana liquour, grenadine and OJ and I am pretty sure I have never seen anyone in the Bay Area order anything thing of the sort.

The day we shipped off for Santorini, the sun finally came out and we got to enjoy the a few minutes watching people try to learn to windsurf. It's apparently harder than it looks...

Pireaus to Paros

From Athens we caught the ferry to the island of Paros in the Cyclades. It was a last minute decision and a great one - we really loved it! The island was very sleepy this time of year, so at times it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

We stayed in the town of Parikia, which was filled with meandering streets that we got lost in more than once - an intentional maze meant to confuse attacking pirates. The sunsets were breathtaking, made even more memorable by the chanting of monks that we could hear from the monastery across the bay.

One day we rented a moto and did a full circuit of the island. Our first stop was the beach at Monastiri for our first dip in the Aegean! The water is so clear and the blue and green colors are really amazing. We then hit the town of Naoussa, another beautiful town with white buildings and lovely dock were we relaxed and had Greek coffees (not so good, but we had to try). We then headed down the east coast to see the kite surfers at Golden Beach. We finally made our way back down the tip of the island and back up to Parikia, stopping at a few other beaches and towns along the way. It was a ridiculously lovely way to spend the day.

Our final day wasn't quite as memorable - we spent the whole afternoon trekking around town with our backpacks, avoiding the rain and waiting for the next ferry, which was several hours late! But, I suppose they can't all be perfect...

Athens by Night

On our last night in Athens, we hiked up to the top of the hill of Lykovitos. We didn't make in in time for the sunset, but we did get to watch the city and the Acropolis (the hill in the background) light up. The view was amazing.
Afterwords we took a stroll through town to take in the scenery one last time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Broken Rocks and Coffee Shops

Our first international stop was Athens. We heard it was a trashy city, but it doesn't seem so bad to us. Lots of cafes to relax in and lots of ruins to see (surprise, surprise). We are a little mystified by the dining rules, and in particular, how to order an ice coffee that's not instant Nescafe with cream or a milkshake, but I am sure we'll figure it all out soon. One thing that we can't get over is that a coffee costs more than a beer. Clearly we'll be drinking more beer here in Greece...

The ruins are amazing. It's hard to believe many of them are over 2,000 years old. We've spent the last 2 days wandering around the city and everywhere we turn we come across more ruins. It must be a real pain to get a building permit in this city...

Today everything shut down early for "the strike". What the strike is about is not exactly clear - someone said the people are protesting government making poor investments. Maybe all of you back in the States should consider taking the afternoon off as well?


Thank you to everyone who helped send us off on our trip. Andy, Megan, Michelle, Rego, and Greg on Friday night; and, Joe, Steph, Liam, Julia, Andy, Christina, Tom, Eric, Jimmy, Jennie, and Nikki Saturday. Special thanks to Julie for letting us stay at your place, sorry about the broken towel rack, hopefully the glue worked.

Next up is an 8hr flight to Greece, and a year of adventures!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Come visit us!

Here's the tentative itinerary for your vacation planning purposes:

May: Greece
June: Turkey
July: Israel and Egypt (yes, we are crazy, it will be 110 degrees...)
July - September: East Africa & South Africa
October: Nepal
Nov- Dec: India
Dec - March: South East Asia (New Years in Thailand, anyone????)
April - New Zealand
May - Australia

Upstate NY

On our way from San Diego to Syracuse, we encountered our first travel crisis when we learned that our plane was delayed and might not be in in time to fly out before the 11:30 curfew at the SD airport. Seeing as though we needed to be to Munnsville the next day for my parent's surprise anniversary party (40 years!), we had to switch to another airline. Luckily, it wasn't a problem, so I figure that's a good omen for the rest of the trip....

The anniversary party was great. I got the chance to catch up with family and friends I haven't seen in years and Gil got to meet everyone. We were also fortunate to see our friend's Melissa and Chris and their family in Munnsville, because Melissa's grandmother's surprise 80th birthday party the same day!

The weather was beautiful, so we spent a lot of time outdoors - hiking to the local waterfalls, biking around the valley, kayaking in the Adirondacks and chilling and listening to the wildlife on the new porch swing Gil helped build.

We also got to visit my uncle's hops-and-miniature-animal farm. He has reindeer, a zebu, a miniature pony and pygmy goats.
We had a wonderful time - hard to believe I won't be back here for at least a year...

Gil and Jen OR Jen and Gil?

After much discussion, we decided to move our blog from travelpod to blogspot. This should make it easier for you, lucky reader, to follow our journey, but it was not such a lucky move for Gil because we had to change our profile from "gilandjen" to "jenandgil" due to a certain "gilandjen" in Chattenoga, Tenessee.

We are obviously way cooler than they are and our world adventures will be much more thrilling to read about, so we're sure you won't confuse the two blogs....

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sunny San Diego

Our first stop was San Diego to visit my family. We trekked to every shopping center in the greater Carlsbad/Encinatas area getting all of our last minute essentials (thanks, mom, for all of your help!).

We visited the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, which was pretty cool, and got to rock out with the drums, bass guitar and turntables in the interactive area. We also went to see a play about Greek mythology staring my niece, Rebecca, which gave us some good background for our first international stop.

Goodbye California - you will be missed!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

We Left Our Hearts In San Francisco

After months of saving and planning and talking up our trip, we've finally packed up and hauled out of San Francisco! (To Jason Milam's relief, who the last time I saw him asked, "You're STILL here?")

It was a hectic week finishing up projects at work, selling our worldly possessions to our neighbors and piling everything into the moving truck. I learned a few things during the process. First, the recycled clothing shops on Haight street don't think any of your clothes are cool (or at least mine...), so don't waste your time. Second, you really need to dust more than twice a year. Third, it's impossible to find anything even remotely appetizing to eat off of highway 5 at 1 am in the morning. The first of many valuable lessons to come, I am sure....

Hello sunny San Diego!