Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Postcard From Atrani, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Getting a bit behind here, but we're actually on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. Specifically a little town called Atrani. Since the last post we've been to Corfu and Naples, or Napoli. The shot above is one of our Group Shot series, this one being Group Shot With Mt Vesuvius. We're in Pompeii in the pic, which was pretty damned amazing. Napoli was less amazing, but unfortunately we have to go back there for at least a day to fly out to Madrid next week... not the least because The Dreaded One left her phone there.

There is so much to write about that I feel I'm drowning in unwritten... erm... writing. I want to write reviews of hotels and restaurants we've been to - this hotel we're in now, Hotel L'Argine Fiorito is going to be such a fun review... they have the weirdest rules and are quite Nazi about them... and it was a fucker to get to. Wasn't a good feeling finally making it here to find no fridge, The Dreaded One had left her phone and the adaptor for the lappy in Napoli (say that three times quickly) and there appeared to be no internet connection anyway. All good though. Bought an adaptor, we can have a fridge for a small fee and the internet connection is fine if we move the desk and chair out onto the balcony... it's actually pretty damned nice writing out here beneath these massive cliffs with a stunning view and to the sound of birdsong, church bells and waterfall. Pictures of the Amalfi Coast will no doubt be posted when we're in Madrid, or maybe towards the end of our week on the coast. It's a bit stunning here.

Today is a designated Lazy Day. It really was a trek getting here. So many people, the usual language problems, a bus ride on the edge of a cliff, cab drivers who are clueless about the true delicate art of ripping off tourists... God, so many details that I'm worried that I'm going to forget, and I have Grumpy columns to write. Think we're going to visit a very cool looking grotto today then laze on the beach, and I'm going to make loads of notes, reminders for when I have time to write properly. We've also got some serious walking to do (it's famous for its walking tracks here), a day trip to The Isle Of Capri, and of course some serious lunching.

For photos of Corfu, click here. 

For photos of Naples and Pompeii, click here.  (And make sure you click on the first photo and use the arrows to go through the photos because I've captioned most of them and you might get a smile out of some of them).There are more of Pompeii than Naples because Naples didn't really inspire us. Kind of cool in that any big city is kind of cool, but it felt quiet on the weekend for such a big city, and it's possible that we just didn't find the cool bits, no matter how lost we got or how much we walked. We even went to the most legendary pizzeria in Napoli - Da Michelle, and quite frankly it was disappointing. It's really old and Julia Roberts ate there (it might have been written about in Eat, Prey, Love), but the pizza was okay, the experience ordinary. Massive queue to get in - well over an hour - two choices of pizza, beer only and not bottles of wine because they want you out of there as soon as possible to herd fresh cattle in. Anyway, ticked off the list, will write a detailed review for Tripadvisor as soon as I can.

For now, got to get out there in the amazing Amalfi sunshine. The town of Amalfi itself is a 15 or 20 minute walk along the coast, so going to head in and see about Grotta dello Smeraldo, or The Emerald Grotto.

Hopefully later I can come back and do links to these places. Just don't got no time.

Update - here are the first batch of photos from the Amalfi Coast. Capri tomorrow, I'm sure there will be more photos.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Postcard From Santorini

Yes, Santorini really is this beautiful. I took a shot of an old boat on a rooftop, and this yacht was a speck in the background. A few steps along I took another rooftop shot still with this speck in the background. Then I zoomed in a bit to make the yacht the focus of the photo. Think it turned out quite nicely. Check out more Santorini photos here.

Gotta make this quick because it's yet another stunning day out there. Ranty first draft and I'm not checking it so ignore any typos, will fix them later. But. Santorini is gorgeous and I want to stay here longer. Yesterday we took a boat to an active volcano (Nea Kameni). Never been to a volcano before and it was, well, very volcanoey. There was even a weird hole in one part at the walking path where steam was coming out and I couldn't decided whether it was volcano steam or they just rigged up a pipe attached to a tank and they turned it on for the benefit of the tourists.

Kidding. It really is an active volcano. Apparently when it went off 3,600 years ago it was 40 times greater than Krakatoa. And here we were climbing on the bloody thing AND swimming in hot springs at its base. Everyone looked at me kinda weird when I started telling them, "Guys - do you know why the water is hot? Do you know what's happening right under our feet? Don't you think we should be running for our lives?"

Main thing that has stayed with me about that tour was the tour guide, Zoe, or Mama Zoe, as she called herself, and the way she railroaded the whole boatload of us into a taverna that had clearly paid her or was somehow related to the boat company. I know that's what these tours do and it's one of the reasons I don't like them, but they serve a purpose when you're on limited time. Thing is I had read somewhere about the taverna, Captain John on the island of Thirassia, so I thought it probably was the one to go to. In hindsight, we really should have done what we usually do and explored  for ourselves.

You have to walk through the first taverna to get to Captian John, and the little guy there was doing his damndest to get people to stay in his place. But Mama Zoe had drummed it into everyone that the best place was Captain John. She explained time and time again that you have to keep walking through the first one to get to Captain John. She even told us that the first taverna had been serving the same octopus for a week, basically implying that it was a health hazard to eat there.

Is this not slander? His food looked as fresh as the food in Captain John. I felt for the guy but it all happened quickly and was too late. Captain John was twice the size of his place and it filled as tour boat after tour boat arrived, and his stayed empty. Not only that, there were other tavernas further along, as we would later find, that were clearly getting very little business. Two of them were Kamapa and taverna Tonia. Again, they were meticulously clean in front of house with open kitchens that appeared to be spotless, the food looked fresh, but no one made it past Captain John. We stopped in for a glass of wine in one of them and that's when it properly sunk in. Whoever owns Captain John probably paid for a mention in whatever guide I had read about it in and there is clearly something going on with the tour boat company and Captain John - and the thing is, the food there was as nice but ordinary as anywhere else in Greece. Greek food is the same everywhere for Godsake. It's just grilled seafood or meat, Greek salad, tzatziki, moussaka etc (although they do some really nice tomato fritters here that I haven't experienced before).

The reason I got so angry about all of this is that some restaurant down the stretch had already been abandoned. There was a small market stretch from the boat that ended at Captain John, and these other little places are run by locals who are clearly suffering. It's their fucking livelihood and because of shrewd business dealings and greed, Captain Fucking John is choking them. Soon they will go under and there will be nothing there but Captain John. How short-sighted. What the hell is wrong with people. Why can't they see that it's a community that needs to work together. It's a gorgeous part of the world and it could really be something special if all the tavernas did well and the market stretched all the way along the waterfront... but no, Ship's Joint Venture and Captain John are screwing the place.

End rant. This is largely for me to try to follow up and write in detail about after doing some research.

After this (and it was a lovely day otherwise), we went to Ia and rode donkeys up the hundreds of steps to one of the prettiest towns I have ever been in. Had some wine, stared in wonder at that magnificent panorama for ages until we caught the local bus home to Fera Stefani and our gorgeous little hotel Reverie with its own stunning panorama. Totally recommend this hotel. Reasonable rates, very clean and run by really friendly family members. Love it. Check the photos link to see it for yourself.

Right then. That's probably all from here until we get to Corfu tomorrow.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Postcard From Athens

Hello from Athens. What a trek it was getting here. Our flight from Singapore to Athens had been cancelled so we had to go from Singapore to Zurich and then on to Athens. I think we were in transit for well over 30 hours. Grumpy? Hell yeah.

Anyway, made it with no dramas. Have a little hotel room with a view of The Acropolis and there's a rooftop bar with a jacuzzi in the deck also with a view of The Acropolis, which looks especially pretty at night when they light it up.

We've spent the last two days seeing things like The Acropolis, the Acropolis museum, The Temple Of Zeus, the original Olympic Stadium (perhaps my favourite old thing so far), as well as getting lost... these old cities and their bendy roads... what were the ancients thinking? I was reassured to see many other tourists standing on street corners turning their maps at various angles, waving their arms in all directions and enjoying intense discussions.

We've walked lots and learned lots. The history of The Acropolis is amazing and in the museum there was a video that in one part showed the complete history in a short time and it's really powerful and sad to see what a great building/set of buildings/monument it was treated with such contempt in relatively modern times. I kinda wish Goddess Athena would come down and smite everyone who played a roll in its destruction. But that's humans, innit; destructive bunch that we are.

The Panathinaikon Stadium was great. You get to go into the stadium, onto the track, into the seats and into the tunnel where all the athletes came onto the track, and the gladiators before them. That bit was totally cool because the tunnel is an old, old cave used for pagan rituals, in particular, the local chicks nuding up and dancing about a fire to bring their perfect partner into their lives. A very cool place indeed and very cool to have been inside.

And naturally we've been eating well. I wasn't sure what to expect from Athens and guess I didn't have high expectations. We only booked three nights because many people said that was all you need, but many people were wrong. There are day tours we could have done as well as all the other stuff to see in the city, as well as just hanging out and enjoying the place. We're staying in Plaka district which is a mixture of tacky tourism and sophistication, and we also wandered down to Psiri which is where a lot of the locals seem to go to hang out in the many eateries, and both were really pleasant experiences.

I know Greece is in the shit economically, but you wouldn't know it looking around. Well maybe looking around at some of the buildings that have fallen into a state of disrepair (not just The Acropolis), but it also feels like a vibrant, bustling city that knows how to enjoy itself. It has passed expectations and we could easily stay longer.

For now, though, we have one final night before catching a 7am fast ferry to Santorini, which means getting up at about 5am. Not that time means a hell of a lot after all those time zones and lack of sleep getting here.

Funny shit has happened, so there will be funny stories coming up. But that's all for now.

Lots of love, Grumpy & The Dreaded One.

PS, check out the first trip photos here.