Paris! J’taime

In all honesty I was afraid of arriving in Paris. So many anxieties were circulating in my mind: would Paris be as wonderful as I remember? Would it be devastatingly expensive? Would Gavin have a meltdown at how expensive everything was and want to stay in our hotel room all day?

We took a regional train from Lyon to Paris which took 5 hours instead of the 2 via high speed train. We didn’t take the high speed train because there was only reservations in first class available and it would cost €110. When we arrived in Paris we took a look at the metro line and were immediately overwhelmed. There were so many stations we could not even begin to guess where our hostel was. We eventually found our destination and headed off to the Perfect Hostel…to our surprise we had a private room! Our room was simple, two beds and a sink. I kind of hated how we shared a single toilette with our entire floor, but there was no sweaty smelly guys so I gladly accepted the sacrifice. We fell asleep to an Italian couple fighting next door.

Gavin woke up at 7:30 for breakfast. Since I still had a cold I slept in a little until we left for the Eiffel Tower. We unfortunately were unable to to go the very top due to over crowding so we declined going up the tower for the day. We did a walking tour of downtown Paris which was pretty good. We saw Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Palais Royal and Musee d’Orsay. We even came across the lovers bridge where couples put a lock with their name on a bridge then throw away the key. As expected the tour guide was not as good as Ozzy ( our tour guide in Munich) but we enjoyed ourselves enough to sign up for the Montmartre tour later that day and the tour of the gardens of Versailles for the following day.

Following the tour, our tour guide invited us for some authentic French food, we thought he invited us to eat with him like Ozzy did. We were sadly mistaken, and paid a lot of money to eat alone. Despite this, Gavin and I enjoyed our authentic French cuisine. He ordered Escargots and I ate French Onion Soup. My French onion soup had a nice base and was so cheesy I choked on the cheese! Gavin’s Escargots were overpriced and required too much work to get at the tiny snail shells.

After our meal we went to Ladurée, the famous macaron patisserie in Paris. I waited in line and bought 16 flavourful macarons. Anyone who knows me knows I love the delicate French pastry and that it has been one of my goals to eat macarons from there!

Following our macaron date we ventured off to meet our tour guide for our Montmartre tour. The tour started in front of Moulin Rouge. Gavin and I had wanted to see Moulin Rouge but due to a strict dress code we were afraid to buy tickets online then get kicked out. The dress code called for no runners ( all Gavin had) and no jeans (all I had). Since we had some time before our tour we stopped by the reservation desk to ask about the dress code. We told them that since we are backpacking we didn’t have anything nice to wear but really wanted to see the show. The man at reception was so kind and told us that our “Jeans and runners would be fine at the late show, and that a lady looks marvellous no matter what she is wearing”. We promptly made a reservation for the 11:30pm show.

After booking our reservation ( which was awesome because if we got kicked out for not dressing well we didn’t have to pay anything) we ran across the street to meet our tour group. Our tour guide showed us where Amelie was filmed ( Cafe des 2 Moulins), Sacré Coeur basilica, the highest point in Paris, the last windmills in Paris, Van Gogh’s house, and Picasso’s studio. By the end of the tour, night had fallen and we made our way back o our hostel which to our surprise was a 15 minute walk from Moulin Rouge.

The next day I woke up feeling great, just in time for our Garden’s of Versailles tour. The tour was particularly pricy, €27 each plus €7 each for a musical fountain show which had every garden open. When we arrived at Versailles it started raining so we bought some cheap (by cheap I mean poor quality) umbrellas for €16.

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Palace of Versailles

We looked at the facade of the palace shamelessly decorated in gold leaf from the palace gates to the window sills, clocks, almost everything! We walked pass the palace to the gardens. Despite the tour lasting 5 hours it did not include the palace. The gardens were the size of 3 foot ball fields, With over 50 fountains, 200,000 trees and a grand canal all of which were in the French style. We took a few steps towards the first garden and suddenly the rain became unruly and unmanageable. Gavin and I tried to ignore the rain but decided to bail on the tour because the rain had turned into a storm. Within minutes Gavin and I were soaked to the bone. The second we left the tour the rain suddenly stopped and we felt sick. We decided to tour the palace and maybe see the gardens on our own. Since we had just seen the Madrid Palace Real,  the inside of Versailles was as expected, another overly extravagant castle with paintings on the ceilings and one more extravagant room after the next. The palace featured a room called the hall of mirrors: the most expensive room in Europe. The most interesting thing about the palace was how after the French Revolution the belongings in the palace were auctioned off and striped away only to be restored a couple hundred years later. The tour was quick, we didn’t see the small chateaus next to the palace (this is where the king ran away to for privacy and Marie Antoinette’s private palace) but we had been exhausted enough already. To our relief (and disappointment) the rain continued, so we didn’t see the garden’s after all. As we left the palace we were thankful to not do the 5 hour tour in the pouring rain.

We took the train back to Paris and noticed that I was sniffling. Gavin wanted to go back to the hostel but I wanted to go shopping on the Champs-Élysées. Gavin relented and we went to Laduree again and got a giant vanilla macaron (which was amazing) and I went shopping for a dress to wear at the Moulin Rouge show. I found a purple dress that would pack well in my backpack and bought some accessories. Afterwards we hurried back to the hotel to nap before our late night show at the Moulin Rouge!

We saw the show Féerie at Moulin Rouge. We were a bit worried because everyone always complained about Moulin Rouge being a tourist trap (which it was) being overpriced (which it is) and the show not being that good anyways (which is a boldfaced lie because the show was fantastic).

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Moulin Rouge

Our ticket came with a full bottle of champagne to enjoy during the show, and our seats were very close to the stage. The inside of the venue was fantastically decorated, with the curtain made entirely of shining sequins that took on whatever colour of light shined upon it. Part of the ceiling was designed to look like the inside of a circus tent, with billowing stripped fabric supported by the columns rising up from the upper balcony. The show was incredible, with 60 dancing girls accompanied by half as many men and dozens of different elaborate costumes, all garnished with abundant feathers, boas and chains of beads. The stage changed as often as the costumes, with one part themed like a gleaming snake temple where one of the dancers was dressed as Medusa. A huge water tank raised up from the floor that she was cast into, containing no less than 6 full sized anacondas that she swam with. The time between costume and set changes was occupied by smaller acts, including a slapstick/tumbler trio, a comedian juggler, and a pair of balancing acrobats.

We really enjoyed the show. We had never seen anything more spectacular. When the show ended we discovered that the metro was closed. If we hadn’t been at the Moulin Rouge the day before we wouldn’t have known that our hostel was a short walking distance away, so we walked through the Paris Red Light District at 1:30 in the morning back to our hostel.

The next morning we had to check out of our hostel and check in to a new hostel across town. We wanted to stay in Paris one more night and our current hostel was all booked up. The new Hostel, Oops! Hostel had a lock out period from 11am to 4pm in which all of the staff, and patrons were kicked out of the hostel. This was kind of weird and extremely inconvenient because I had become really sick and our check out time was at 10am at our current hostel and we had to find something to keep us busy for six hours.

We decided to try and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower again and then go to the Louvre ( it was closed the previous day). We stored our belongings in our hostel then headed over to the Eiffel Tower.  The Eiffel Tower was built when France held the world expo in the late 1800’s. For forty years the tower remained the tallest man made structure in the world. When I visited in 2006 I never went to the top because my friend was too afraid of heights. Since then I had been to the top of the CN Tower  in Toronto and couldn’t live with myself for not going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

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Top of the Eiffel Tower

We arrived at the tower at 10am, 30 minutes later than we hoped. When we got through the line we were able to buy tickets for the top. We jumped into the lineup to the elevator then took the elevator to the second floor, walked a meter then took a second elevator to the top. The top was very small and full of people taking photos of the scenery around. We got a couple photos then saw a height comparison of the tower with other structures. After about twenty minutes at the top we took an elevator down to the second floor. The second floor had a gift shop and a restaurant. The first floor was even less interesting.

Our next stop was the Louvre. Gavin had never been and I recalled enjoying myself when I did. Since we had time to kill we walked from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre. During that walk we got hit up by a bunch of “petitioners”: people who pretend they need the signature of an English speaker for some cause, then rob you blind. We had heard of the ploy in Madrid so we were smart to their scheme. The next set of people we kept meeting would pick up gold rings we did not lose and ask if we had lost them….so they and a partner could rob us blind. We “lost” four gold rings on a single bridge.

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The Louvre

We finally reached the Louvre and decided to use the tricks our tour guide taught us to avoid the line. The first was to use the side door, which was closed. The second was to enter through the carousel shopping centre under the Louvre.  After walking through the very small but decently high end shopping centre we ended up at the line for the Louvre. We noticed that there wasn’t really a line but officials pushing people away. There was a hand written sign saying, ” The Louvre Museum is closed come back tomorrow.” Gavin and I were confused because the Louvre was closed yesterday and was supposed to be open today so why was it closed? We figured maybe there was an incident so we decided to shop around the mall and come back.

Gavin found his perfect Australian Outback hat, a Stetson, at an outdoor/ hippy store. Gavin also found a the best mineral store of his life and stocked up on samples for his mineral collection. We also found a lock for the lovers bridge. We went back to the Louvre and saw that the Museum was still closed. We decided to go to the Lovers Bridge and place our lock then head over to the Musée d’Orsay.

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Our Lock on the Lovers Bridge

The bridge was filled with couples trying to cement their love; sales people selling locks to make a quick buck by selling locks to the couples and pick pockets. The myth was that if the couple wrote both of their names on the locks then locked the lock to the bridge and threw the key into the water that they would be together forever. We put our lock in a careful place and threw the key into the Seine river. Satisfied with our cliche act of love we went to the museum.

The Musée d’Orsay had a huge line ( probably because the Louvre was closed). While the Louvre housed artwork from the beginning of time to 1870’s the Musée d’Orsay was a more contemporary museum with work from 1840 to the present.  We got to see an exhibit called: The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst. It was a lot of really neat gothic art ranging over a large time period, with paintings romanticizing demons, monsters, satan and witches. There were many paintings inspired by Paradise Lost, and others of the apocalypse. There were also short clips of horror films from early cinema, including Hitchcock.

After the museum we went back to the Perfect Hotel to collect our bags and head over to the Oops! Hostel. The Oops Hostel was very nice and modern but very out of the way. The only thing that rubbed us the wrong way was the mandatory lock out, which really didn’t apply to us because we had a train to catch the next morning before the lock out. While staying at the Hostel we shared a room with two British girls. Since Madrid We had very little social contact because for whatever reason the places we stayed people were not social. So when Jen and Emma were social, spunky and cheery we were thankful. They told us about how they visited the Paris Catacombs and we told them about the Louvre’s mysterious closure. Jen said she had read the british news earlier and that it mentioned the closure. Apparently the Louvre was closed  due to the workers striking. The workers striked because of pickpocketing which had gotten so bad that the workers were fearing for the lives from aggressive pickpockets working in teams of up to 30 people. What was worse was that children who could get into the museum for free were pickpocketing from the staff and patrons. The new information made Gavin and I feel frustrated that the Louvre was closed on our last day in Paris but understanding of how the staff felt.

Paris was way better than I remembered. We were so afraid of everyone being rude to us but oddly everyone was really kind (except Japanese Tourists, they were really rude and pushy). We never ran out of things to keep us entertained and educated. It was expensive….but I can’t wait to visit again.

Lyon

Gavin and I had never heard of Lyon before but decided to stop there so that we wouldn’t have to make the 12 hour trek from Barcelona to Paris in one day. We also stopped there so we could take a break from all of the constant traveling we were doing (it also didn’t hurt that it was cheaper than Paris) When we made our reservations in Barcelona we had a bit of a problem. We were able to get reservations from Barcelona to Avignon but from Avignon to Lyon we only had 40 minutes to make a reservation for the high speed train when we arrived in Avignon.

Upon our arrival we raced to the ticket counter only to be told that only first class seats were available and that we would have to pay for the reservation as well as the difference between our 2nd class rail pass and the 1st class train ticket: €100. Or we could take a regional train that was three hours longer for free. We took the regional train.

When we boarded the regional train we were greeted with world famous French manners. Every single seat was taken. By taken I mean that one person would sit down then place their luggage on the seat next to them; even though there was plenty of space on the luggage rack above for their belongings.

Gavin and I travelled three train cars trying to find a seat until we gave up. We settled on sitting in two isle seats, one next to a woman who was occupying the seat next to her with her purse and one next to a man who was occupying the seat next to him with a small pack of cigarettes. We sat on the train for three uneventful hours.

When we arrived in Lyon we were bombarded by the busiest train station I had ever seen in my life. There was no place to even stop and think it was all so overwhelming. We needed to figure out where our hotel was but we were too overwhelmed to think. We finally found a place to sit and we used google maps to get instructions on how to get to our hotel. Unfortunately google didn’t have a proper map of the area (that’s something the city must submit apparently) and we knew how to get 90% of the way and we hoped we could figure out where the hotel was upon arrival. We took the local tram to Perrache and got off under a giant overpass that reeked of urine. We didn’t feel particularly safe under the underpass so we quickly ran out and into the sunlight. We walked two streets then looked up and saw our hotel. We didn’t like that it was by the underpass but it was close to transit so we weren’t going to complain.

After we checked into our hotel we were told the strangest thing: whenever we leave the building we have to surrender our key. A hotel has never asked us to surrender a key before it was definitely unusual. We walked into the elevator and we were shocked to see that it was so tiny there was barely enough room for us and our bags! We suffocated our way to the top floor and ran out of the elevator and into our room. The room was the tiniest hotel room I had ever been in. There was space for the bed and that was it. The bathroom was one meter by one meter and was so cramped that when you used the toilette your feet were in the shower. Despite its shortcomings we were happy to have our own space at least.

We travelled to the old town from our hotel (which was very close but forced us to go through that horrid underpass). We ventured for a short time because we we were starving and ended up at a British fish and chips restaurant. We chatted with the owner who knew english very well from living in South Africa. We watched him dip the cod in batter and fry our fish and fries with tears of joy. This was the first time in weeks that food was being made for us from scratch and not cooked from frozen. We grabbed the fish and chips (and a delicious chocolate brownie) and ran to our hotel. After eating we decided to catch up on sleep.

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European Esspresso

The next day I woke up with a sore throat. Thinking nothing of it Gavin and I wandered off to find breakfast. Our hotel was offering a continental breakfast for €7 a person. We politely declined. Gavin bought an apple pastry and I had a giant raspberry macaron (which are apparently the regular size, the small ones are mini macarons, who knew!). We wandered further and found a cafe that gave us a sandwich, drink, desert and tea for €9. I got Quiche Lorraine instead of a sandwich, Orangina, lemon meringue pie and mint tea. Gavin got a sandwich, Orangina, a strawberry tart and French coffee. All of the food was made in house and we enjoyed every bite of it.

Afterwards we went to the train station and booked our reservation to Paris. Once again we found the high speed reservations a bit expensive so instead of two hours on a high speed train we booked the regional train that took 5 hours and left at 3pm.

By the time it was dinner time I had started to get very sick. I couldn’t breathe in smoke or perfume and I could barely speak. We wandered the old town and found a restaurant. Unfortunately in France the restaurants open at 7pm, not earlier so we had to wait 20 minutes before we could sit down and eat. I ordered tagliatelle in cream sauce with roasted tomatoes and bacon and Gavin had a large goat cheese salad.

After eating, my cold had gotten increasingly worse, so we asked the hotel if we could check out later. They extended our check out until 12pm. The next day after we checked out we had to kill 3 hours in Lyon, and I was still very sick. After getting some snacks for our train ride we went to McDonald’s and bought the McBaguette. I was tempted to buy macarons (because you know in European McDonald’s sells macarons). After two hours in McDonald’s we went to the train station and caught our train to Paris!

Barcelona part 3

After a fantastic two days in Port Aventura we begrudgingly went back to Barcelona. Up until this point Barcelona had been a port city for us. In total we probably spent a week in Barcelona but because we had been using it as a port to other places we never spent more than two days in the city at a time. It wasn’t until our third stay that we realized we hadn’t given the city a real chance and that maybe we had done our visit there all wrong.

We arrived at Barcelona Sound Hostel, a nice little place with an eccentric hostel manager. The hostel was located in kind of a red light district part of Barcelona, which was slightly sketchy but had cheap food so we weren’t too disappointed. The next morning we decided to go to Sagrada Familia and from there do a bus tour.

IMG_2315Sagrada Familia was astounding. We knew the building was so incredibly detailed and elaborate that it was taking 200 years to be built but for some reason we thought this detail only applied to the facade and not the inside of the building. The inside made you feel like you were inside a forest, with so many detailed pillars growing towards the high ceilings and branching off. The stained glass was beautiful and in the Gaudi style. Every single thing inside the cathedral was elaborate from the stair cases to the specially made confessionals. It had taken us only 30 minutes to see the completed portion of the cathedral (we didn’t go on the tower tour because the wait was too long). When we were about to leave we noticed a mini Gaudi museum about the church. The museum highlighted Gaudi’s influences from nature and how he re-designed the cathedral several times before he finally settled on its current facade. My favourite part of the museum was seeing the progress of the cathedral from the 1800’s and to see the future time line of the construction. Sagrada Familia was Gaudi’s masterpiece and I think it’s pretty cool that so many people believe in continuing to build his masterpiece for over 100 years after his death.

After the tour we went to the Sagrada Familia Gift shop where I bought a really cool salt and pepper shaker in 2009. My pepper shaker had broken and I wanted to replace it. Unfortunately the store no longer had the shakers so we wandered around the tourist area to find replacements. I didn’t find perfect replacements but they were close enough.

We then hopped on a bus tour to take us to all of the great architecture and see the sights of Barcelona. We were on the bus for 30 minutes when Gavin got over taken from exhaustion from Port Aventura. We went back to the hostel and got some terrible donairs and took a quick nap before going back on the tour bus.

Personally I enjoyed the bus tour because it was the only way to get around the entire city and see so many sites like where the Olympics were, the Agbar Tower, and the various different Gaudi buildings. I also got to learn about the urban development of Barcelona which I loved. Gavin on the other hand hated listening to a deadpan British woman on headphones as we passively sat on a bus in the pouring rain for five hours. It’s safe to say I don’t see us doing anymore bus tours.

After our bus tour we realized we were starving. We decided we would go to a grocery store to get some food. On the way to the store we stopped by a pub to get a €3  mojito. We ordered some Patate Bravas from the pub. Gavin and I joked that in Spain they tend to cook food from frozen and serve it to you. We laughed about how our Brava sauce was probably from the local market and if we were lucky they would add seasoning and pretend it was their own recipe. Sadly we weren’t far from the truth. When our Patate Bravas arrived they were wedges, not Patates. Then there was no brava sauce, which 3 minutes later was brought to us via No name brand bottle that we had to pour ourselves.
It was at this moment that we kind of missed Athens. The food was always amazing and made in house, served with a fantastic salad. By this point we knew it was time to leave Spain.

Port Aventura

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Gavin went to Disneyland when he was a small child. I went to Disneyland Paris when I was 16. Every year we go to Playland in Vancouver, and sporadically both of us have been to Galaxy Land at the West Edmonton Mall. These experiences did not prepare us for Port Aventura.

Prior to the start of our journey  we knew we wanted to go to an amusement park we just didn’t know of any in Europe. Disneyland in Paris was not very good in my opinion and we wanted to go on world record breakers. We looked up the top 50 roller coasters in the world and 3 of them were in Spain at Port Aventura.

IMG_2277When the train slowly rolled up to Port Aventura and we saw the twisted metal that belonged to  two of the top the roller coasters in the world our hearts started pumping with anticipation. It was the day after a long weekend and there was not a cloud in sight, today was definitely the day to visit! We had decided to spend a night at the resort because we would get a better deal; one night stay included random suite with two day passes for each of us for €70 euros each. With a day pass going at €50 euros a piece and a stay anywhere else averaging €30 euros a piece, we were saving quite a bit.

Port Aventura was like no other amusement park we had been to. There was six separate sections, each themed after a different place: China, Mexico, Far West, Sesame Aventura, Polynesia, and Mediterrania. Each place was immaculately themed with buildings, music, restaurants and stores. All of the sections even had the local plants of the places they were imitating! China had the two biggest attractions Shambhala and Dragon Khan. You could walk along a miniature Great Wall of China to most of the attractions while Chinese music played all around you. The stores sold Chinese style gifts while the restaurants served Chinese styled foods. Mexico had El Diablo, a wooden roller coaster, Serpiente Emplumada, and the Hurakan Condor (the tallest drop tower in Europe). As with China, there was Mexican themed buildings, music and food. The Far West was western themed with American music and gold rush motifs. Strangely it made us think of home, probably because the buildings imitated the historic buildings from Fort Langley and Dawson City. The Far West was home to Stampida, the duelling wooden roller coaster and water rides the Grand Canyon Rapids and Silver River Flume . This section of the park served American food such as hot dogs, steak, ribs and hamburgers. The only music we heard was Bon Jovi’s ” Have a Nice Day” and CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”. It was really interesting to see our culture (or a relatively similar one anyways) commodified and sold back to us. The next section, Sesame Aventura was the kids zone. We did not go there. All I can say is: Elmo, Cookie Monster, Woody Wood Pecker (who seemed to be the park mascot) Grover, Burt and Ernie walked around a lot. Polynesia was cool, it didn’t have many rides outside of Tutiki Splash but it held many shows like Birds of Paradise and the Sea Odyssey 4D Aquaride show. Lastly Mediterrania, this was the entrance to the park with shops, restaurants, and daily parades. Mediterrania featured Furios Baco, the fastest roller coaster in Europe!

After checking in we raced to the two coasters we were dying to try: Dragon Khan and Shambhala. The two roller coasters were located in China, the furthest section in the park. It took us almost thirty minutes to walk there from our hotel. We went in line for Shambhala first. Shambhala was the tallest roller coaster in Europe with downward slope speeds of 135km/h. We waited in line for an hour and watched people with express passes cut the line with jealousy. The ride was not working at full capacity due to harsh winds. Gavin and I didn’t care about wind we wanted to ride Shambhala. When we finally made it to the front of the line we sat down in the ride. The only support on our body was a plastic block that covered our legs like a seatbelt. Our upper bodies Were hanging free as we slowly climbed 80m into the sky. When you reach the top of the coaster there is a quick pause before the quick descent. Unfortunately we were hit by a strong gust of wind as well. The wind made the ride even more terrifying than it needed to be, I could understand why they wanted to shut the ride down. After riding Shambhala I was terrified and did not like the ride, Gavin loved it. I had tears on my face from being so terrified and Gavin screamed so much he lost his breath. When we finished the ride we went to a kiosk where we could see a video of our faces. You could see me pushing myself back against the seat trying to gain some more support, while Gavin looked like he was going to lose his mind from fear or excitement, we can’t be sure.

Immediately after the ride we ran to Dragon Khan. Dragon Khan was considered one of the best roller coasters in the world with 8 inversions (second most in the world). We waited in line for one and a half hours due to poor conditions (it was really windy). Finally we got to the front of the line and sat in our seats. The ride operators were reluctant to start the ride because the wind kept getting crazier. I refused to cut and run because we waited an hour and a half to ride Dragon Khan. Eventually the ride was shut down and I was in a foul mood.

IMG_2257We walked around the park until we saw a giant wooden roller coaster in the Mexico section. We rode El Diablo, unsatisfied that in Vancouver the wooden coaster was much better. We rode a couple small rides like the Chinese Tea Cups and Kontiki (a polynesian pirate ship) because the lines were short. Before long we were able to find out which hotel room we had gotten from the random draw. While at the front desk we discovered that because we were staying at the hotel we got a discount on the gold express passes for the park. Gavin and I had been thinking about the passes all morning but debated whether it was worth the price. But since we got a discount and the pass was good for our entire stay we jumped on it. We had waited almost 3 hours to ride two rides, but with the pass we could skip the lines and enjoy our short time in the park more efficiently.

We threw our luggage into our rooms and quickly ran back to the park to use our pass. Our first stop was Furios Baco. At 135km/h it was the fastest coaster in Europe. We skipped the 30+ minute wait and jumped into our seats. The Ride was so elaborately decorated. It took place above a real vineyard and there was a video about a scientist putting grapes under pressure, something goes wrong and the pressure sends us flying through the park. The force of the ride was so strong it sprained my shoulder. Not to be detoured I immediately wanted to ride more. We had heard that Dragon Khan was now operating so we ran to China. We skipped the line then rode Dragon Khan. It was my new favourite ride! Gavin loved it to but he was sure he preferred Shambhala. Rather than riding the same ride over and over ( we didn’t want the people waiting in line for an hour to notice and get mad because we got priority) we ran to Shambhala. For a while we ran back and forth between Shambhala and Dragon Khan before we went to ride Furios Baco one more time. Since we had the express pass we had time to enjoy the shows in the park so we went and watched the Birds of Paradise. The entire show was in Spanish and we could not understand anything or know where the birds were from  but it was interesting to watch.

We wandered over to the Far West and found another roller coaster, Stampida. We walked into the line up and saw a confusing sign, “Choose wisely” with the colours red and blue painted. We decided on the red path and saw that there were two coasters to the roller coaster: a red coaster and blue coaster. We loaded the coasters at the same time and were launched at the same time. We watched our coasters move in sync with each other, one occasionally going faster than the other. At one point the coasters went opposing ways before the blue coaster won. Gavin and I were shocked, that coaster was way more amazing than the one at home and it was so fun.

We ended our evening going on Serpiente Emplumada as well as every other ride mentioned countless times until the park closed at 8pm. At 7:30 there was a parade through the park that we had missed followed by a song and dance essentially kicking us out of the park. The park had a series of its own songs playing on the PA saying Buenos Noches see you later etc. We went to our hotel room excited to go to sleep in our own private room and wake up in Port Aventura.

IMG_2286The next morning we woke up and checked our luggage away after we checked out of our room. Today we had a plan on how we were going to do all of the rides, this started with Furios Baco, going to the Far West to ride the Stampida, Mexico to ride Hurukan Condor, China to ride Dragon Khan and Shambhala then back to Furios Baco. We would ride any small rides between if we felt like it but the focus was really on the Hurukan Condor because that was the only ride we had to wait in line for. We also planned to ride the water rides at about noon.

Starting off with Furios Baco was like a kick in the face. We were pretty tired and we didn’t realize we were no longer used to the speed. Furios Baco woke us up better than any cup of coffee could.

While riding the important rides we also rode bumper buffaloes; saw a creepy singing vulture; saw a 4D adventure; and went into the most amazing hall of mirrors I had ever been to. Gavin rode Shambhala a few times on his own, once even at the very front. By the end of the day we had rode every ride at least half a dozen times each and sat in the front of all of the major rides. Before we knew it we had to catch our train out of Port Aventura and go back to real life–I mean, Barcelona.

Back to Barcelona

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Font Mágica de Montjuïc, the Magic Fountain

On our first night back in Barcelona we decided to save money by buying food to make dinner. The hostel we were staying in had two kitchens side by side with two large fridges for food. We went to the local grocery store and bought some quick pasta with pesto, fajita mix, and some breakfast foods. We found some bacon that was kind of like home, except that it was in little cubic strips. We picked up the bacon and headed back to the hostel to make dinner. After some yummy fajitas we went to see the Font Mágica de Montjuïc, the Magic Fountain located at the former central pavilion of the World Fair in 1929. Leading to the fountain on both sides of the street there were mini fountains that were lit up for almost 200meters. Once you reached a set of stairs leading to the Fountain and more stairs leading to the former pavilion and current Museum of National Art. Between the steps leading up to the pavilion there was a waterfall of water with lights, it was so pretty and looked like diamonds falling in the water,

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Neomudéjar bullring

The Fountain was quite large, about 15 meters across. When the show started an array of light and different water lit up and danced to music; it astounded us. Look up a YouTube video of it, Magic Fountain Barcelona, it was really cool! Afterwards we walked towards the Arenas de Barcelona which was a shopping mall that used to be a bull fighting arena called the Neomudéjar bullring, the facade of the building was preserved and the inside was gutted and made into the shopping mall. We took an elevator to the top of the building where there was a lookout surrounded by restaurants. The strangest thing about being on the rooftop was that all of restaurants were pretty inexpensive. We looked over the city; all of the important buildings in the city were illuminated: the Sagrada Familia, the Agbar Tower, and the Museum of National Art. We took in the night scenery and headed back to the hostel.

The first hostel we stayed in while we were in Barcelona, Hostel One, was cool but there was not enough space. The hostel we stayed in while we were in Madrid, 360 Hostel, was almost perfect in terms of spaciousness and sociableness. Instead of researching hostels we just went to the 360 hostel in Barcelona. This taught us to always research hostels because the two hostels shared the same name, they did not share the same experience.

Our new hostel was kind of downtown but difficult to get to. It was spacious to the point that it seemed almost wasteful. Our first night was spent in a private room with high ceilings and balcony access. I didn’t get much sleep because there was a restaurant downstairs that was banging and making a lot of noise followed by a bright light shinning through the skylight above the bedroom door. The next morning we switched to a different room. The second I walked into the next room my heart sank. The room reeked of sweat and body odour. There was a window in the room but you could not open it. Suddenly I was exasperated at the idea of having to spend another night sleeping with random people.

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The Barcelonetta

Gavin coaxed me into leaving the hostel and seeing the Arch of Triumph. From the Arch of Triumph we walked down towards a beautiful park. From the park we found ourselves at the Barcelonetta, beach front. We ate crepes, tosta’s and drank Sangria while watching a mime and magic show on the beach in the sunshine. After a long day of wandering we found ourselves back at the hostel. I sadly crawled to bed to share a room with 6 smelly men and to a surround sound chorus of snoring. The only way to make the room not smell awful was to have the air conditioning on which was not pleasant.

The next day I was rudely awoken with bright lights and loud chatter from the men in the other beds, who to my happiness were checking out that morning. After they left the room Gavin and I opened the bedroom door to try and air out the room. After making a yummy breakfast of Spanish bacon bits and eggs we headed off to the Park Güell.

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Park Guell

The Park Güell was an urban park that was originally supposed to be a housing development. The famous architect Antonio Gaudi (he designed Sagrada Familia) had designed a home for the development and he lived there until his passing. The house is now a museum created in his honour. The park features a glorious entryway in Gaudi’s style with his famous dragon greeting you on the steps. We climbed to the top of the park where we could get a fantastic view of Barcelona.

When we returned to our hostel we were greeted by Australians in our hotel room. We were excited because up until this point anytime we met Australians we were greeted with an upbeat attitude and friendliness. This did not happen. Although thankfully the Australians were not smelly they were loud and obnoxious. We told them we were going to bed and they took this as a cue to leave….then come back and party. We were annoyed because we had a 6am wake up call for a train out of Barcelona. When we woke up the next morning we were so worn out from being with people we were excited to be off to Port Aventura.

Magical Madrid

The train ride from Barcelona to Madrid was 3 hours long. The train hit speeds of 300km/h, which was the fastest train we had ever been on. We arrived at our hostel which was at the centre of downtown Madrid, the best location possible. We were at the centre of everything. We wandered around town for a bit before joining our hostel for a tapas tour. The tour took us to three places. The first took us to a place known for the best croquetta’s, deep fried creamy potato ball things. The second tapas place had the best tapas with so many varieties and styles. I had a smoked salmon and gulas (not really sure what gulas is…) Gavin had meat in crispy rolls with egg on top. The last place we went to specialized in seafood tapas. We had a selection of mussels, calamari, octopus, potatoes and Sangria. When the tour was over we went to a nightclub where we paid €10 to have as much sangria or beer as we wanted in an hour. After an hour and a lot of Sangria we went to another bar which was fairly empty. At around 2am we decided to head back to the hostel and get some sleep.

The next day was probably one of the best days we’ve had so far in our trip. The previous night we had made a new friend, Grace. We bargained with her to come see the free walking tour with us and we would go to the Palace Real with her. Our day started off with free Churros from our hostel. These Churros were nothing like the ones at home, they didn’t have any sugar and wrapped up into a closed “U” shape. The Churros came with a thick chocolate dipping sauce. Breakfast Churros are a spanish custom, to help nurse a person back to health after a long night out. Grace had unfortunately missed out on some Churros so she disappeared upstairs while Gavin and I cleaned up our breakfast. Meanwhile our tour group had left without us so Gavin and I ran to find Grace and catch up with our tour.

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Sparkles, The Wonderbeast

We raced to the Plaza Mayor and came to an abrupt stop when we noticed a man in sparkly goat costume. It was very bizarre and we had never seen anything like it before. We reached our walking tour and signed up. Somehow we couldn’t stop watching this magical goat thing. We took pictures with it and laughed as it played its little whistled tune and clapped. Every time we were in Plaza Mayor we made sure to stop by and see Sparkles.

Since the last free walking tour Gavin and I did was in Munich with Ozzy, we had high hopes for the Madrid free walking tour. Before long we realized that the tour we received in Munich was beyond exceptional and no other tour would match it. The walking tour of downtown Madrid was informative, but lacked the magic and the local dishes of Oz Tours.

Our tour started off at the Guiness book of world record holder of the oldest restaurant in the world: Restaurante Botìn, which opened in 1775 and has been operating ever since. We learned some history, saw the ugliest Cathedral in Europe (designed by three architects who all wanted glory, it took 100 years to build). We also went by a convent where nuns who aren’t allowed to see people outside of the convent baked sweets and sell them without being in the presence of the customer. They were out of sweets so we didn’t get a chance to see the nuns not see us.

Later we went to a Granville Island like market and I bought the biggest macaron I have ever seen, it was the size of a mini hamburger. It tasted fantastic but I can see why they don’t make them that large.

Gavin, Grace and I shared some Paella at a restaurant across from the Palace Real. Grace noted that he Paella tasted exactly the same as one she had in another restaurant. I noticed that this restaurant had 5 different menus for some reason, and that was when we noticed a trend. At least 75% of restaurants in Madrid sold the exact same Paella, frozen pre-made crap. Apparently the locals don’t even eat Paella. This revelation was disappointing to say the least.

After waiting for about an hour we finally got to go into Palace Real of Madrid. This was the most extravagant palace I had ever seen, we weren’t allowed photos, but everything was bigger and grander than any other palace I had seen. There was an entire room, floor to ceiling, made of porcelain and gold!

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Gavin, Grace and I at Flamenco Show

Later that night we went to a Flamenco show. None of us had seen Flamenco before so we did not know what to expect. We sat down in a dark room and ordered Sangria and Tapas. Suddenly three men standing behind three women in chairs started clapping. Two guitarists started playing classical Spanish guitar. Everyone on stage started belting out loud passionate Spanish and each of the women and one of the men stood up one by one and dancing to the music. After the song was done, each dancer had their own solo, one more passionate and angrier than the last. The quick movement of their feet dazzled us, we had never seen anything like it before.

 

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Catholic Procession

After the show the three of us wandered back to our hostel to find a large sum of about 5 thousand people had gathered in Plaza Del Sol. It was from what we thought a regular Wednesday night before Easter, and we saw a giant Virgin Mary surrounded by lit candles in altar being carried around the plaza with a band playing. We had remembered seeing some partitions near our hostel and realized that the partitions were for the Easter procession. We decided to run ahead of the Virgin Mary procession by taking a side street to our hostel. Instead we found ourselves faced with an equally elaborate Jesus altar being carried followed by an even bigger band. We were a bit bored of the procession until something caught our eye. Several people dressed in what looked purple and white KKK outfits. We had seen this image during other catholic processions in our travel book. It shocked us to see children and infants in these hooded costumes. The white capes and pointed purple hoods were shocking to us but had a different connotation in Spain. The procession was long and moved slowly, it stopped occasionally so the people carrying the altars could rest. It looked like each altar was carried by about 30 people all hidden beneath the altar. After the altars would pass, spectators joined the procession leaving the street sides empty. When the procession had ended the three of us were exhausted from a long day.

The next day Grace had travelled on to Barcelona and the two of us hung around for a quiet day. We went and had some more Tapas at that amazing place we went to two nights before, we then stopped by the Chocolateria, this famous Churro place that made the best Churros in Europe and was visited by many celebrities. We then went to the Praggo Museum of Art and saw many local paintings. That night we had decided to stay an extra night in our hostel but unfortunately there was not very much space so we ended up in separate rooms on separate floors. My room was shared with two girls from Austria, Gavin shared a room with 9 other people.

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Aquadect in Segovia

We woke up the next day to do a day trip in Segovia, a town 35 minutes away by high speed train. Segovia was home to an aqueduct that was an international historic civil engineering landmark. It was completed in the first century. It started pouring rain and we decided to get down to business; we walked up hill towards an elaborate Catholic Church. We toured the church to get out of the rain, then we jumped back into the pouring rain and walked to the Alcazar castle.

 

 

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Alcazar Castle in Segovia

The castle was one of the most classic fantasy type fortresses we had ever seen. It is said to be one of the castles that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle, with pointed blue slate towers, a plummeting moat protecting the entrance, and a central rectangular keep accented by at least 8 circular towers along the top. It was all built on the edge of a hillside, with the rear protected by steep cliffs. We were able to tour part of the palace, including the old throne room, dining area, sleeping quarters and grand hall, with numerous balconies. Paying a bit extra allowed us to climb a tight winding stone stair up one of the corner towers to the top of the keep, allowing us to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. This fortress served as one of the worlds best artillery academies for about one hundred years from the mid 18th to 19th century, and so also had a museum dedicated to the science and manufacturing of cannons and mortars. It included many preserved weapons, scale models of manufacturing processes, preserved original textbooks and a small mineral collection thanks to the chemistry lab that was dedicated to improving gunpowder.

After touring the castle we caught a train back to Madrid. We spent one last night in Madrid before catching a train back to Barcelona.

Barcelona At Last

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Sagrada Familia

Our flight to Barcelona was routine and uneventful. When we landed we were distraught to see thunder, lightening and rainfall. Happy to be out of Athens we didn’t let the miserable weather get to us. We took the regional train from the airport to Barcelona Sants. We then took the subway to our hostel, Hostel One Sants.

We were greeted by a friendly face and a free vegetarian dinner of chickpeas and something else made from the hostel managers grandmother’s recipe. We ate the amazing Spanish dish then crashed in our hostel bunks.

The next morning we needed to go back to Barcelona Sants and book our reservations for a train to Madrid. We decided to walk to the train station because Gavin and I were too cheap to pay the €2 euros to take the train. As expected we got lost so we ended up taking the train anyway. We eventually made our way to the station and booked our reservation.

La Pedera

La Pedera

We then made our way to the Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral that was taking well over 200 years to build. Gavin had heard of the cathedral, but didn’t think anything of it until he saw it. The church was so elaborately designed and intricately constructed. You could easily see why it took so many years to build it. Sagrada Familia will not be finished construction until 2020. We then walked to the Robson Street of Barcelona, Passing de Gracia. Passing de Gracia had all the pricy stores you would expect except it also had buildings with fantastic architecture like the La Pedrera and the Batiló. We ventured briefly into the Old City where we had Spanish Tapas for the first time.

Before long we had realized that we spent the entire day walking around Barcelona and we were immediately hit by a rush of exhaustion. We took the train back to our hostel, ate some of the free late night dinner (something like scalloped potatoes) and went to bed so we could get a early start on the next day.

Escape From Athens

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This post is mostly a rant but generally a description of how terrible our trip to the Athens Airport was. I have included a map of the Athens Metro so you can kind of see our journey.

Yesterday, March 23 we noticed a sign in the Metro saying the train drivers were on strike, so we had to take a bus to the airport. Which, was fine because we already knew which bus we could take, the x95 at Syntagma Station. Normally a strike wouldn’t phase us, it happens, right?

This morning the  check out time from our hostel was at 10:30. We decided at 11 we would leave for the airport. Even though we didn’t have to be at the airport until 2 and the x95 takes an hour to get us to the airport. We didn’t mind the idea of hanging out at the airport because we just wanted to get out of Athens.

Our hostel was next to the “Akropoli station” on the red line. we needed to get to “Syntagma” on the red and blue line, but we decided we would walk to Syntagma. Gavin had walked to Syntagma earlier that morning and noticed about 50 or so nicely dressed police officers and assumed it was security for something. By the time we arrived to Syntagma to catch our bus to the Airport we saw almost every police officer Athens had lining the streets. Streets were blocked off, officers were wearing gas masks and riot gear. We had reached Syntagma square only to see the entire square was barricaded off and the street where our bus should have been, was filled with armoured police vehicles and and armoured busses.

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A Photo of some tourists in Syntagma Square

Gavin and I were terrified. We didn’t know if there was a riot that was going to happen or if there was something to do with civil unrest. All we knew was that we couldn’t take a train to the airport and that the bus we should be taking was not stopping where we needed it to. We decided that we would walk to the train at Monastiraki station on the blue and green line and ride the blue line as far as we could to the airport then take a bus.

Unfortunately, we got lost trying to find this other train station and after a while of wandering ended up at “Omonia” station on the red line. We hopped a train from Omonia station trying to get to Syntagma Station so we could switch to the blue line And get to the airport. Unfortunately again, we took the wrong train and went to “Larissa Station”. We got off that train hopped onto another train towards Syntagma. As we were on the new train there was an announcement. Completely in Greek of course. We ignore the announcement and waited to get off the train at Syntagma….which unfortunately cannot happen because the train skipped Syntagma Station. Turns out that announcement was saying that not only was Syntagma square closed but the train station below was also closed.

Somehow, after 40 minutes. We ended up at the stop after Syntagma on the red line. Akropoli station. We actually went in an unintentional circle and ended up right where we started. We realized that since Syntagma was closed the only way we could get on the blue line to the airport was to go back to Omonia. Meanwhile Everyone else was having this same problem so the trains were packed with rush hour traffic on a Sunday morning. We rode from Akropoli to Omonia, switched to the green line and got off at Monastiraki (the train station we got lost walking towards). We jumped on a blue line train at Monastiraki to the airport.

Which if you remember, there was a strike. So we couldn’t get all the way to the airport. The PA systems were so kind to remind us in two separate messages that a) the train was on strike and would not take people to the airport, but you could get the x95 bus at Syntagma station instead and b) on a completely unrelated note, Syntagma station would be closed on the same days as the strike.

As we rode the train to the airport we were so stressed out and kept thinking about how the cab driver had stiffed us ten euros when we first arrived in Athens, and here we were pretty sure that we were going to get ripped off again.

We arrived at the last station the train would take us, Doukissis Plakentias. We got off the train and hailed a cab. The driver said the price would go by the meter and not a flat rate so we were a bit relaxed since we knew we were a 15 minute ride from the airport.

Once we arrived at the airport the rate said €14. But the cab driver handed a receipt for €20 saying we had to pay a tariff. But then he asked for €25 because we had luggage. We relented knowing that we were thankful to even be at the airport.

As we walked into the airport we exchanged heavy sighs and noticed that the time was 2pm. We had taken 3 hours to get to the airport. We reasearched what was going on in Syntagma and it turned out it was the Greek independence day parade for students. The police had blocked off the route so people could not see the parade and to prevent protestors. We were shocked to know that a parade was the reason a city centre was closed down. But honestly we shouldn´t have been surprised, It was Athens…

Cruisin in the Aegean Part 3

The next day we woke up in Heraklion (Crete). I was so excited because Crete had so much history, until I remembered that cities with a lot of history tend to be industrialized….so we literally walked up the Main Street by the port. Nothing else happened. There are a total of three pictures.

Santorini

Santorini

Later that day we ended up in Santorini! I was super excited to be in Santorini because it is the what people think of when they think of Greece. It was supposed to be the complete opposite of Athens. Which it was, because everything was clean and every store was closed and we were facing dangerous winds. We tried to make the best of Santorini but it was very difficult. We were supposed to stop by and take photos of the island but it was too foggy…we were supposed to stop by the town of Thera but the wind was so dangerous we ended up going back to the boat as soon as it got dark. Santorini was really disappointing but what can you do?

We went back to the boat and once again we were approached by the cruise director to nominate a gentleman for the Ms. Orient Queen Peagant. Gavin sat down pleased that he had humiliated himself the night before so Adam from South Africa got nominated. He refused to dance like Gavin the night before but he was told that there would be no dancing, which I hope was comforting.

When time came for the Ms. Orient pageant, it turned out that Adam had tricked the cruise director into nominating his older brother Alex into the pageant. Adam and the rest of the Contiki tour sat back and watched Alex, a man from Colombia, a man from Argentina and our +1 try to win the title of Ms. Orient Queen.

The first part required the men to show off their muscles. Alex was embarrassed, our +1 of course took it too far and made things awkward…especially when they had to show their abs. The second part required the contestants to run across the lounge and kiss as many women on the cheek in the audience as possible in 30 seconds. When it was Alex’s turn the cruise director encouraged the Contiki girls to help him out so the 9 of us lined up so that Alex could kiss the 9 of us on the cheek. Alex won the kissing competition!

The next competition required the contestants to grab a woman from the audience and then run to her cabin and get dressed in her clothes. When the men came back they were given make up and were told to walk the runway. After a gorgeous strut Alex walked away with the crown and a bottle of champagne. We went to the Disco Disco bar to celebrate his win. We all sat down and after ordering glasses we were joined by our +1 who brought a bottle of his own champagne to share with us. Everyone felt obliged to return his kindness and we all sat quietly sipping champagne with him while the boat tipped back and forth. Our + 1 as expected kept making awkward comments the point where most of the girls slowly left the bar. The boys on the other hand thought he was hilarious and stuck around to see what other strange things he would do. This was when he ordered a special margarita that had the words, “I Love You” for Courtney, our tour manager. Courtney kindly accepted the lovely drink, which was followed by our +1 telling her he loved her, making the situation once again very awkward for everyone.

After the exciting afternoon everyone went to go pack our bags because we docked in Athens the next morning. Later we decided to spend one last night together at the Disco Disco bar, it was pretty uneventful until our +1 declared his intentions to marry our tour manager with a 3,000 year old ring, despite their “recent rough patch”  a patch that Courtney did not know exist.

The next morning the entire Contiki group had breakfast together before we went our separate ways. After the cruise ship docked we got on our coach and Courtney passed on last remarks and played “Summer of 69” one last time. Most of us got out at Syntagma square and hugged eachother good bye. Gavin and I grabbed our bags and headed to our hostel to spend another two days in Athens….AUGH!

Gavin and I reached our new destination, a hostel that had a 96% score on hostelworld.com. When we arrived with our heavy bags in tow we were shocked to learn that our booking for a 3 bed hostel for €23 each had been moved to another hostel that was “around the corner”. More like, around the corner up, the street, to the left, and down a block… When we arrived at the new hostel we got rebooked into a 4 bed hostel for the same price. Gavin and I were dumbfounded, we had booked a completely different hostel online with a smaller room and then they decided to change our booking to a different place and charge us the same for a room with more people in it!? We were frustrated and asked for the room that we had booked, a 3 bed hostel. Unfortunately the only room with three beds was a private room for €34 a night each…we were paying €30 each a private hotel room a week previously and they wanted us to pay more to stay in a hostel!? Gavin talked the hotel manager into giving us the 3 bed hostel room for €23 each, the bonus was that we didn’t have to pay for the third bed which was nice.

Gavin and I settled into our hostel room. Gavin took a shower and noticed a dirty towel had been left in the room. When we were about to sleep I noticed a small bed bug crawling on my pillow. We jumped out of bed and looked for more bugs. We didn’t see any but we did however notice that the sheets on the mattress were filthy. Gavin and I went to the Hotel manager and demanded cleaner sheets and placed the cleaner sheets on the plastic wrapped mattress. We then pulled out our private sheets from home and placed them on top of the bed and slept in them. The next morning we woke up to eat the “free” breakfast that we got from the hostel.

At the President Hotel we got hot eggs and sausage and cakes and spinach pies and Milk pies and salad and fruit and so much amazing stuff. At the hostel we got a roll and a boiled egg. Everything else we had to pay for. At this point we just did not care anymore and desperately wanted to get out of Athens, but we had to wait until the next day for any such luck.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

We decided we would spend our last day checking out the Olympic Stadium. Every surface was covered in Graffiti, glass walkways were destroyed and had cones directing people away. An artificial pond was brown and filled with Garbage. When we reached the train station we were informed that the Greek Train workers were on strike, and refused to drive the trains to the airport on the day we had to leave. Gavin and I sighed with frustration, It was just another day in Athens.

Island Hopping in the Aegean Part 2

When I posted my last blog article I neglected to mention that we were in Patmos that afternoon after leaving Kusadasi. I also for lack of remembering names did not list any of the people on our Contiki tour:

Left to right: Lollie, me, Essy, Aliesha, Gavin, Elysia, Adam, Alex, Lauren, Sean, Victoria, Alyssa

Left to right: Lollie, me, Essy, Aliesha, Gavin, Elysia, Adam, Alex, Lauren, Sean, Victoria, Alyssa

 

Courtney, our Contiki tour manager from Australia (not pictured)
Adam & Alex, Brothers from South Africa
Sean, from London
Alyssa, from Toronto
Victoria from Calgary
Alicia from Terrace
Elysia and Lauren, cousins from Tasmania Australia
Lollie and Essy, friends from South Africa

 

 

 

Patmos was regrettably not as exciting as our previous islands so we decided to not do an excursion. Patmos held a religious importance to many in Greece. It is said that Patmos was where Saint John was sent into exile in a grotto. While he was there he wrote the Book of Revelation. At the highest point on the island is Saint John’s Monastery. We took a bus to the top of the mountain to see The Monastery then took a 40 minute hike down the mountain, past Saint John’s Grotto and back down to the Town.

Back on the boat we had a toga Karaoke party. Things got a little awkward when a guy ( who shall hence forth be referred to as our “+1″ ) sang a song dedicated to us Canadians, ” All by myself”  by Celine Dion. For some back reference, our +1 had been around since day one but his presence in the blog up until this point was unnecessary. +1 was really just a weird guy who tried to tag onto our Contiki group and eaves drop on any information our tour manager gave us. It was awkward because clearly all the members of our group didn’t appreciate him taking advantage of the tour insights we all paid for, never mind he always made sure to make every moment he spent with us awkward and uncomfortable. Not to mention he spoke in the most monotonous serial killer voice this side of Hannibal Lector!

Anyways, I guess he was feeling neglected and decided to send us some passive aggressive message about how abandoned he felt by us….which you know was weird because we did not know this person and he was not a part of our Contiki group. Everyone always tried to be nice but then he would ALWAYS make things awkward…

Toga Party

Toga Party

Despite the awkward moment, our toga party went on without skipping a beat. The group divided into two groups and we had a karaoke battle! The other group sang Blink 182s ” all the small things” and we killed it with “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Then the entire group sang the theme song for our trip, “Summer of 69”, which we all got the magical score of 69 on! Later Gavin got roped into a traditional Greek dance and I sat back and laughed.

The next day we woke up in Rhodes. Gavin and I decided to not do the Rhodes Acropolis excursion because we had seen quite a bit of ruins at this point and preferred to sleep past the 6am departure time. Rhodes is considered a world heritage site, it has classic Hellenic ruins, medieval castles and a mosque. This was the only island where we spent the entire day at the dock.

Gavin and I wandered the town and found ourselves at a medieval castle. We hadn’t seen any castles on our trip yet so we decided we would check it out. Since it was early tourist season in Rhodes. The entire castle was empty so Gavin and I ran around having photo shoots and enjoying the freedom of wandering an entire castle on our own.

After touring the castle we walked from the old city to the new city, went to the part of the island where people could jump into the water and swim and saw a lone diving board about 300 meters into the ocean.

Later we saw the place where the “Colossus of Rhodes” once stood. The colossus was a giant statue that stood at the opening of the Rhodes bay. It is no longer there but ancient texts around the world talk about how massive this statue once was.

Later that night on the boat we had a fancy meet and greet with the captain of the cruise. We had to dress very well, I unfortunately had nothing nice to wear and neither did Gavin. We took a photo with the captain (which cost €10 so we did not buy it). Afterwards we sat for dinner and were approached By the cruise director. She needed a couple to take part in a ” rock and roll couples contest” Gavin and I were the only couple in the group so we were voluntold to do this mysterious contest after dinner at 9pm.

It turns out it was a Grease (yes the movie not the country) themed contest. Gavin and I were forced to dress up with two other couples! I was put into a crepe paper poodle skirt with pigtails and rouge, Gavin wore an Afro wig with drawn on moustache and side burns and a soul patch. We had to do the choreography to the song, “You’re The One That I Want”, Some crazy jumping dance moves with the help of the staff and do a huge random dance number where we ran across the lounge. It was embarrassing and exhausting to say the least…We did not win but we won a shot glass and a crappy hat.