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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #1366  
Old 10 Feb 2017
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It's our last day on Santorini and we're trying to see as much of it as we can. Having spent time in the south, we're going to head up to the north where all the tourists hang out. Part of me is not looking forward to fighting the crowds, but another part wants to see what all the fuss is about, and whether the views are as good as everyone's Instagram pictures make it out to be...


Setting out for the north in the late afternoon

We've heard the best time to visit the towns of Fira and Oia are in the late afternoon and evening. Since the towns are western-facing, they get a fabulous view of the setting sun as it dips below the Aegean Sea. Since this is actually the longest day of the year, the sun is due to set at 8:40PM. So to avoid having to wait around a long time, we head out in the late afternoon.

Also, we leave late because we are lazy. Which is why we wasted the whole of yesterday and this morning lazing at the pool instead of exploring. Well, I don't think it was wasted...


Lazing around the hotel pool is a popular activity, even in Fira

Our first stop is in Fira, right in the middle of the island on the western coast. It's Santorini's commercial capital and is where most of the touristy shops, restaurants and bars are.


And blue-domed churches as well
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  #1367  
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Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist in the background


These pyramids of church bells are a popular sight around Santorini, as seen through this street vendor's awning


The narrow streets are packed with stalls selling souvenirs and trinkets


A glimpse at some of the older un-renovated buildings
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  #1368  
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More pyramided church bells in front of an impossibly blue sky


This is all you see when you look up in Fira.


We walk to the edge of town and peer over the cliff's edge


And see a flotilla of gigantic cruise ships in the Aegian waters

These cruise ships remind me of Imperial Destroyers, with Tie Fighters buzzing around them, taking Imperial Tourists to and from the islands on nefarious business. Step off the cruise ships. Join the Rebellion!

If you look at a picture of Santorini, the fetus shape is actually the eastern part of a caldera of a volcano that erupted 3600 years ago, roughly the Bronze Age of human history. It is the largest known volcanic eruption in recorded history. More Greek mythology trivia: The people that inhabited the islands at the time were called the Minoans, after King Minos, the name of which later spawned the myths of Theseus, the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Minos... Minotaur...

Well, *I* found that interesting...
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  #1369  
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Anyway, that little island off the coast of Fira is actually another dormant volcano called Nea Kameni, right in the middle of the Santorini caldera. It's erupted 8 times in the last 2000 years, the last time as late as the 1950s. Tourists from Santorini and the cruise ships take boats over to hike around the lip of the volcano. It's dormant, people. Not inactive!


Stunning views of the inside curve of the Santorini caldera from the cliffs of Fira


There's a hiking trail that goes from Fira down to the bottom of the cliff.
Or you can take a horse if you're as lazy as I am...



Different kind of horse


I saw this guy walking around Fira. It's like he had a camera glued to his face.
He just couldn't stop taking pictures of everything
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  #1370  
Old 10 Feb 2017
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Church with a view


Hard to see where the sky meets the sea. Everything is the same exact colour as the blue domes of the churches.


I slipped my camera though the gates to take a picture of this swanky hotel

Fira is the place you go to if you want to live large. Any vacation resort advertising "Caldera Views" automatically triple the price of other similar accommodations that were on our side of the island - the ones only offering "Sea Views".


These "Caldera View" resorts started at €700/night!

I don't know if it's worth €700/night, but that view though! Santorini has no other industry other than tourism. They make almost all their money during high season and everything basically shuts down during low season. The prices on the island are probably slashed by half or more during shoulder season.
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  #1371  
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We had fun exploring all the narrow staircases that led to Fira's balconies and restaurants lining the top of the cliffs


Some of the swanky places had fancy faux-doors


Glimpse of Darth Vader's cruise ship in one of the stairways leading down


Amazing! The blue on the domes lines up with the sea and sky perfectly! Very aesthetic.
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  #1372  
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The sun was getting lower in the sky and it was time to head out to our final destination for the evening. Oia is on the northern tip of the crescent that is Santorini. This is the Instagram capital of Europe. Any serious hash-tagger must take a selfie in front of a blue dome in Oia at sunset. It's actually in the terms and conditions when you sign up for Instagram.


A race against the clock. Unfortunately for us, the GPS takes us along the back way from Fira to Oia

It takes me a while to realize we are going the long way. The sun is quickly sinking and we have to get to Oia to get our perfect sunset picture! Where the heck is this road taking us? They will delete our Instagram account if we don't get this picture! Pressure!!!

We get to Oia with a little less than an hour before sunset. Finding parking is a nightmare and when we walk into town, we run smack dab into a wall of people. It seems like half of Europe had the same idea we did. There is barely any room to breathe, let alone try to make our way through town to the edge of the cliff. Instead of a pretty sunset, all we're going to be seeing is the back of thousands of tourists' heads.

I wish I had a selfie stick so I could beat a path through the crowd with it.


Slowly making our way to the end of town at the cliff's edge

Oia is a very pretty town, less commercial than Fira. It seems much smaller, with not as many souvenir shops and blue-pool-covered resorts. It has a lot more bohemian cafes and art galleries. It's the perfect place for granola backpackers and hipster tourists to catch a romantic sunset. All twenty-thousand-million of them...

Eventually we get to a spot where we can at least catch a glimpse of the sea. The crowd is the most dense right at the very tip of Oia. These people must have been sitting there for hours before sunset to reserve their spot. We get to a certain point and then it was impossible for us to move any further.

This sucks! I really hate crowds. I hate being here during high season. Even though the weather is kinda perfect.


This is what all those lovely Santorini instagram photos don't show... wall-to-wall tourists!
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  #1373  
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Bah. We get our Santorini picture for Instagram. Hopefully they do not delete our accounts because of no blue dome behind us.

We figure it's the exact same sunset no matter where you are sitting anywhere in the island. So we throw our butts in reverse gear out of the sea of people, back into the centre of Oia, to find somewhere with more breathing room. Fed up of crowds.


Bye bye, professional Instagrammers. You win this time! We'll be back during low season...


Back in town, here's a blue dome. We'll photoshop ourselves and a sunset in later

We just want to flee the crowds and find a quiet place to enjoy the sunset all by ourselves. We wander the streets of Oia as the sun makes it way to the horizon. There is no unoccupied quarter in the city, so we just sit on a rooftop with a whole bunch of other people and slowly watch the sun go down.
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  #1374  
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It is a beautiful sunset, regardless of the throng of tourists surrounding us




As (very) slow overland travelers, we rarely move in tandem with that sweet spot of ideal weather as it migrates from the northern hemisphere, over the equator to the south and then back north again. Instead, we only catch high season wherever we are perhaps once or twice a year as it slowly approaches us from behind and then quickly blows past us.

Most of the time, we find ourselves traveling in the shoulder season or low season for tourists. We don't mind that much. We're not reliant on the availability and frequency of public transportation, it's way easier on our budget and best of all, we don't have to fight our way through the hordes.

So it's entirely by happenstance that we're in one of the most touristy places in Europe at the peak of its high season. The conditions are just perfect. There's not a cloud in the sky and the hot, sunny weather just begs for you to spend a day at the beach. But the crowds though...


Good evening, Oia. Hope to see you again when there's less people around...
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  #1375  
Old 14 Feb 2017
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We are leaving Santorini with great reluctance. It's so pretty here and the weather has been amazing. Although we are taking our time through Eastern Europe, there is still an appointment we have to keep coming up on the calendar.


Riding back on the switchbacks to the main port at the base of the west cliffs of Santorini


One last look at the cerulean blue Aegian sea and sky

The ferry dock is crowded with tourists coming to and from the mainland and the other islands. Our ferry is slightly delayed, and we find a shady spot to people-watch while we munch on the pastries we had bought from our filo shop on the way down.

Mmmm... filo...


The strongest man in Greece is employed by the ferry company to haul the boats onto the dock by rope


Another 8 hour transit by ferry is made bearable by cross-stitching and a bit of blogging.

We've been on the road non-stop for many months now and I haven't been able to keep up with my documentation. The blog is many months behind, but the weather is just so good that we don't want to pause our travels, for fear that the rains will somehow find us in this corner of the world. All our friends in Western Europe have been PMing us constantly the last couple of months: "Are you in Belgium/Germany/Switzerland/UK? It's been raining for weeks now. Is this your fault?!?"

Nope. Not us this time. It's been sunny and awesome wherever we are. I feel like we've broken a curse or something!
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  #1376  
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We check back into the same AirBnB that we stayed in before leaving for Santorini. The owner is delighted at the gift of rocks from the Red Beach. Neda kept most of them for herself though. Because when you are traveling light, riding motorcycles around the world, you want to be carrying a tankbag full of rocks...


Do you want some help carrying that tankbag inside, Neda?

The next morning, we woke up to shocking news: Britain had just voted to leave the European Union.

The looming Brexit vote has been background noise in the news for the last few months now. It was a thing that was mildly interesting, but something everyone knew would just pass after the majority inevitably voted to Bremain.

It reminds me of the separatists in Quebec. Every 15 years like clockwork, they have a referendum about whether to stay or split from Canada. Then, a slim majority votes to stay. Everyone feels like their issues have been aired and it's business as usual for another 15 years...

Apparently not so, this time.

There's a lot of confusion and many unanswered questions - not just for me, a UK citizen traveling in the EU, but for many EU nationals currently living in the UK.

I've been in the Schengen Zone for over a couple of months now. Do I have to leave the zone once I hit 90 days? Or does the clock start today? We are planning to visit England later on this season. Will Neda now need a visa? How long will she be able to stay?

But more importantly, this has greater impact on our future. Europe has become a second home to us. We have so many friends and family here. It's one of the places we've thought about settling down in after our trip is over. But now we're a divided family. I don't know what my rights are to settle down in Europe. If we wanted to live in the UK, what are Neda's rights? I can't find any information on-line. This whole Brexit vote seems so ill-thought-out.

The news is full of people in the streets of UK hurling insults at minorities, telling them that because Brexit won, they had to leave the country immediately. Some of these minorities are UK citizens. Like me.

My wife, who was born behind the Iron Curtain shakes her head. "It seems like just yesterday we were tearing down walls in Europe. Now we're putting them back up." Neda is so smart, hard-working, socially conscious, always thinking of the greater good. She's the best of what Europe has to offer. Britain would be lucky to have her living there, contributing positively to that society.

I hope more information comes out in the following days. We may have to give the UK a wide berth. Scotland is now talking about separating and joining the EU. We may go there instead.
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  #1377  
Old 14 Feb 2017
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Fantastic shots - yoga on an 800 - love it!
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  #1378  
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We're very excited because we are finally visiting the Acropolis today! This is pretty much the main reason we are even in Greece! I know a lot of people head straight towards the islands for their vacations, but if you are into Greek temples and ruins, this is the grand-daddy of all Greek ruins.

Instead of riding, our AirBnB host recommended we take the subway into the city. The weather is sweltering... still over 40C. I was more than happy to be sitting in an air-conditioned subway car for the half-hour ride to the ruins.


The Acropolis is a temple that was built on top of a flat piece of rock that rises about 150m above the city

The name is actually quite descriptive. Acro means Edge and Polis means City. I'm a huge fan of etymology (which is the study of bugs). So Acrophobia, which is the fear of falling off heights is quite literally the fear of the edge.


Acrophobia
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  #1379  
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The one thing we *were* prepared for... crowds. A million people visit the Acropolis every year!

Everyone's photos of Santorini always show an idyllic, peaceful place, free of crowds; those lone blue-domed buildings gleaming in the orange sunset. Those Instagram pictures never show the tens of thousands of people *behind* the camera, beating each other with selfie-sticks while jostling for elbow room on that tiny island.

But the Acropolis... We knew this was the main attraction in Athens. So it wasn't a shock when there was a line up to actually climb the stairs to see the main ruins. I think we queued up for 45 minutes before we reached the top. It felt like we were lining up for a popular amusement park ride, except there wasn't any entertaining sideshows playing along the sides of the lineup...

One thing we weren't prepared for: That same hastily bubble-jet printed-up sign that we last saw in Delphi at the admission booth with the "new" prices listed. €20 for just the Acropolis. All the literature we found on the Internet said it should be €12, and I'm sure if I had pulled off the temporary piece of paper, the sign would still read €12 underneath it. It felt so unofficial and scammy. It just screamed, "Sorry we need the money, and we can't afford to print real signs. Also, we might need to raise the price again next month..."

The only way it could have been more sketchier is if the sign were to have been written in crayon... with €15 crossed out in red...


So obviously we paid. Doing our bit to prop up the Greek economy...

This isn't my first time at the Acropolis. My parents took us on a family vacation here, but I was only a small child when I visited. I do remember the ruins, but I also remember that the most interesting part were the rocks strewn at the base of the ruins. I remember playing at these rocks while my parents walked around. It would be a few more years before I started reading any Greek mythology and would probably have better appreciated these structures then.


The main temple at the Acropolis is dedicated to the goddess Athena.

And then the lightbulb went off... Athena... Athens... *duh* Never made that connection...

Neda says, "Really, you didn't know that Athens came from Athena?!?"

no i r dum neda
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This smaller building is called the Temple of Athena Nike

If you look closely, you can see kids in the back of the temple assembling Air Jordans... Whew! So hot here, I'm sweating...!


The heads of state would gather at the Acropolis for important meetings. Meanwhile, their bodies stayed behind in Athens.


"So is this one better than the Pula amphitheater, Neda?"
"I'm hot. Can we sit down?"



Taking a break from the heat

Neda is in no mood to be comparing amphitheaters right now. It's too bad, because this next one I think could have given the one in Pula a run for its money...


The Odeon of Herodes Atticus - they still hold performances here

Elton John played here recently, in 2010. Also Sting in 1996.

Neda pipes up, "Sting also played at the Pula Amphitheater!" Ah, there she is!
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