Thursday, May 20, 2004

Slovakia - Tatras

We took a train from Budapest (after much difficulty finding theright one) to Poprad in the foothills of the Carpathian mountians.The train went through Eger in Hungary, and Kosice in Slovakia.

People were right about the Slovakian wilderness... a lot of it isstill forested.. and very pretty too.. This was the first glimpse wegot of the Tatras (highest part of the mountain range) as we were headed to Poprad.

Once we got to Poprad, it was a simple matter to take the new electrictrain to Stary Smokovic, one of the bigger towns at the base of the mountains.Accomodation was a problem, but Lucky finally managed to find a placecalled Penzion Vesna, which was a very nice place. Very highly recommended.The owner and his niece (?) was very helpful, and gave us plenty of info onwhere to go hiking and stuff.

The first day there we took a easy hike up the mountain to the first (lowest)Chata.. it was at about 1500m. The way up was pretty easy, and quite scenic too.

Even though it was mid spring, there was a sudden snowfall, which was quitenice.. lucky for us it didn't get too heavy.

There were some pretty good views of the valley and the plains below froma point just above the chata

And since the snow was melting there were streams and waterfalls EVERYWHERE.

The following day we decided to do a more challening hike.. to Teryho Chata, atthe top of the valley, at about 2050m. Paul decided to sit this one out becauseof his bad ankle.. so Lucky and I decided to tacle it ourselves.

The first 2 hours or so was pretty easy. The snowline had moved further upfrom the previous day, and it was melting in fornt of our eyes.. below thesnowline we were walking through a lot of slush.. kind of like a chocolate slurpy.

But once we hit the snow things got interesting.. the path was quite clearfor most of the climb, but it was iced over and quite slippery. So we had thechoice of walking on the ice-slicked path and risk slipping, or walkingon the snow on the side of the path and risk getting stuck in the deep snow.. :)

Lucky for us, we had a pretty decent view to look at while resting..

The last vertical 150m was probably the toughest.. there was a 70 degree climb up the mountain side, and the path was completely snowed over.. probably 5m+ ofsnow in places.. so we had to carefully scramble our way up the incline onour hands and knees. Lets just say it wasn't the easiest.. :)

At the top of the valley there was another 30m climb to the Chata.. thatwas the real killer.. but we finally got there..

One up there, we had some hot food (how the hell do they get supplies up there) andrelaxed for a while before attempting the trip down. There were about 10 otherpeople there who had done the climb too..

We decided to go for a walk to find a lake that was supposed to be aroundthe top of the valley... things are aweful big up there.. that little speckin the middle is Lu.

I finally managed to find the lake.. but only a small frozen section was visible, the rest of it was snowed over.

After some more sitting around, we had a look at the climb down. Lu doesn'tlook too happy at the prospect.

And this is what he was seeing. Our base was all the way down the bottom of the valley,past the trees.

Things were melting even more on our way down.. the snow over the rockswas starting to develop dangerous holes, and the slushy snow didn'thelp either.. the top 200m was probably the toughest, but it flattened outafter that.. There were even some flowers popping up through the snow.

And more flowers.

The streams were flowing faster as well.. though there was still quite a bit of snow around.. this was at about 1700m.

We finally made it back home safely.. very tired though.. Of course after we come back,our host tells us that some 13 people died in the high Tatras last year.. Nice to know. :)

Hungary - Visegrad and Esztergom

I think that's how you spell them, anyway.

The last two days in Hungary we spent doing trips to the Danube bend.. The original plan was to go to Eger in the east, but we just missed thetrain.. that's what you get for winging it, I guess.

We were always going to Visegrad, because it had a 13th century castle..We took a local bus from Budapest up to Visegrad, most of the locals werequite surprised to see three tourists on the bus, I think.. since mostpeople seem to be taking organised tours..

Visegrad is a small town, so we actually missed our stop, it wasonly when Lu saw the castle out of the corner of his eye that wegot off the bus and walked to the town..

Like everywhere else in Europe it seemed that all the school kidswere on excursions, and the town was crawling with them.. along withpeople from the local "medieval society" or whatever, doing demonstrationsof sword fights and shooting longbows and stuff... Alll the weaponslying around would have been an insurance nightmare in Aus, butI don't think they have stupid public liability laws in Hungary...

Like every castle we had climbed before, we discovered that there wasa road and BUSES to the top of the hill AFTER we climbed the Visegrad castle hill. This one was particularly hard because it was muddy, andraining too.. scrambling up a muddy hillside on hands and knees is notthe best fun.. anyways, the view from the top was pretty good. Therewas a nice museum at the top too.

We went to Esztergom to see the cathedral there.. the largest inHungary.. it was also full of school kids and tourists, but wemanaged to climb to the top of the dome.. very nice views.. and theinside of the church was amazing.. though not as detailed as ItalianBascillicas..No pics of this one..

Pictures from Greece and Budapest

Just catching up on some pictures from the last few weeks.

This one was taken in the town square of Napflio.. the floor was polishedmarble, and made for a very cool effect as light reflected off it..

This was the view of the town and harbour from our hotel in Nafplio

The view of the castle from town.. there are apparently 1000 steps to the top.I think we climbed up all of em.

The view of the harbour from the castle.. after climbing the said 1000 odd steps.

Lu and Paul were enjoying the scenary, on our trip from Nafplio to Tripoli.

Some of the scenary they were seeing..

Athens, what a pretty city... Really. This was the view from out of our hostel.Easily the ugliest city I've seen in Europe.

St. Stepen's Bascillica in Budapest.. A piece of Reneissance Italy in the centre of Budapest

The courtyard of Budapest Palace.. the President's residence, I think.

The "liberty" statue on the hill overlooking Budapest. One of the onlypieces of socialist realism to survive the communist downfall. It'sdefinately my favourite work of S.R.

Another SR statue, at the Statue Park in Budapest.

Yet another SR statue, at the Statue Park in Budapest.

Budapest casle at night. Need to clean up the picture and remove the crap fromthe foreground, but pretty good, still, IMHO.

The Chain Bridge, which crosses the Danube.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Hungary - Budapest

After antother night in Athens (only coz we had to) we got on a plane to Budapest.. two hours later we were there... Getting from the airport to the city was a problem, but we finally worked out the bus / metro system and got to the hostel.. which was located right next to Deak ter, which is the central railway system.

The following day we took a walking tour of the city to get familar with it.. the guide took us to a number of the famous buildings and monuments and explained some of Hungary's history.. Budapest looks a lot like Prague, actually.. comeplete with a big castle on the other side of the river...

The next day we headed up to the castle and explored for a couple of hours.. Very impressive castle, and the grounds were just amazing, covered in spring flowers.. We also climed to the top of the hill on the south soide of the castle, to look at the huge communist era statue.. it was called "liberation" or something to that effect. Very impressive, whatever it's name was..

Lucky and Mach then headed to some thermal baths while I headed out of the city to go to the "Statue Park" where many of the old Communist era statues and sculptures were being stored... Lets just say I got my fill of Socialist Realism there.. there were a couple of standout statues.. huge and imposing.. very impressive..

That nigh we went and saw Kill Bill Volume 2.. The theatre was just amazing.. it was an old theater converted to a cinema.. the old lobbey and the decorations in the actual cinema was still there.. just gorgeous... KB2 was pretty good.. I like it more than the first.. Gotta watch it on DVD when I get home..

For the third day in Hungary we took a trip up north to Visegrad.. a small town on the Danube which also happens to be home to a huge ass castle dating from the 13th century.. we spent the best part of the afternoon climbing up to the top of the hill (it was muddy and quite steep, not a pretty sight).. the castle itself was amazing... really big and still in quite good shape.. there are a numebr of museum type exhibitions as well, which is quite nice.

Again, sorry about the lack of pics.. will post em ASAP.

Greece - Gythio

Aaah, fair Gythio.. the final stop on our very strange tour of the Peleponnese. A busy little seaside town with lots of hotels and resteraunts.. most of them with smoked octapus hanging on wires outside... Still not quite sure what the point of that was. Most of them had a layer of grime from the road dust, so I didn't try any "smoked octapus" dishes..

So we get to Gythio and call up a place called Xania which is listed in the LP as a good place to stay.. and it was.. right across from Mani Island (where Paris apparently seduced Hellen) and run by a family.. they are basically letting out rooms in the their (very big) house.

We were planning on just sitting on our asses for a while in Gythio.. until we found out that there was a cave system with a river running through it... so we took a bus to the spot the next day, and took a ride through the caves.. Yup, it was a boat ride coz the caves are completely flooded.. but it was amazing either way.. the caves aren't big, but its absolutely covered in stactites and stalagmites.. in some places they look like a forest.. with thousands of tiny stalactites.. there aren't many stalgmites - due to the cave floor being a river..

After that, we pretty much stuck to our plans in Gythio.. which was a whole lot of doing not much.. well, a lot of eating.. but that was about it.. so it was a good few days to wind down after Athens..

Greece - Road to Gythio

So we take a bus from Nafplio to Olympia via Tripoli.. how bad could it be, right? We end up at a bus terminal in Tripoli (very nice bus terminal, very crappy city) with 5 hours to wait for the bus to Olympia.

Deciding that a 5 hour wait wasn't worth it (we didn't even have accom in Olympia) to turning up late in the night wasn't a good idea) we decide to head to Sparta.... only to find out that busses to Sparta go from another "terminal" (and I use that word kindly) some "500 metres" away - accoprding to the dude there..

So we trek to the next terminal - with our packs - which turns out to be quite a bit further than 500m. And it's not even a terminal! We were looking for some bus stop looking structure, until FINALLY a dude from the corner store says "you looking for bus tickets? This is bus terminal." It was a frikking CORNER STORE for crying out loud!

So anyways, we finally get on a bus to Sparta.. you know, the home of legendary warriors.. The ride the is pretty enough, lots of hills, mountians (badly constructed mountain roads - but thats another story) and olive plantations. Lots of olive plantations. And fields and fields of wildflowers. There were wildflowers of every colour just everywhere.. very pretty.

Then we get to Sparta. Not Pretty. In fact, it was probably the ugliest city we'd seen in Greece. And that was saying something. So disguested were we that we pretty much took the next bus out of there, to the seaside town of Gythio.

Greece - Nafplio

So as soon as Jem left, they guys put thing "winging it" plan into action.. or inaction, I guess, since there was no plan.

The same afternoon that Jem left, we packed our stuff, boarded a bus (which we found with great difficulty) and headed to the little town of Nafplio.. based only on the recommendation of Lonely Planet and the fact that there was an old Ventian Fortress built on a hill above the town.

We found two nights lodgings at a place recommended by LP, with a very cool owner, who we ended up calling "the 10% guy". This was because his english was good enough to understand 90% of what he was saying, but there was always a CRITIAL 10% we had no idea about.. so after each conversation with him (and BOY, did he like to talk) we'd walk away scratching our heads and saying "..or maybe he meant... do you think?... nah, what if..." Either way, he was a top bloke and the hostel in in a great location, at the base of the hill, right next to the Catholic Church (not so good if you don't like being woken up by Church bells tho).

The old town of Nafplio - which is build around the harbour - is very pretty. Almost Italian (coz of the Venitian influences). It's really touristy, tho.. lucky for us we were there early enough in the season, so the place was relatively quiet.

Of course the main reason we went to Nafplio was the fort. And what a fort is is.. Built on a big hill overlooking the town it covers pretty much the entire top of the hill.. it's bloody huuge! It's in decent condition too, for something 450 odd years old. The only problem of course was the 1000+ steps to get to the top of the damnned fort.. took us a good 1/2 hour to climb.. when we got (almost) to the top we find out that there is a bus that goes around the back of the hill!!! Arrgh!

After seeing all the sights in Nafplio in two days, we decided to head to Sparta.. but then our host (10% guy) convinced us that we HAD to see Olympia if we're in the Peleponnese, so we decided to take a bus to Olympia first..

And there started our Peleponnesian oddesey...

Friday, May 7, 2004

Athens Explosions

Just in case people are wondering, the first I found out about this was when a friend got an SMS from home asking how we were doing...

It seems that things blowing up is par for the course here and people aren't even a little concerned.. there doesn't seem to be any more security on the streets than before.. so all seems normal..

We're leaving Athens tomorrow anyway.. Went to the Acropolis today.. and I've had about as much of Athens as I can take..

Greece - Santorini

aaah, fabled Santorini, most dramatic of islands. Words cannot describe this place.. everyone knows that it is the resutls of a huge volcano blowing up and leaving a rim crater thingy, right? With sea in the middle, and the circular islands on top of sheer 500m cliffs?

Anyways, we tooka "ferry" from Iraklio (capital of Crete) to Fira, the big town in Santorini. Our Ferry arrived late at night, and the sight of vehicles climbing up the cliff was just amazing (sorry, no pics.. too tired at that stage).

Our hotel in Santorini was just faboulous. It was a few hundred metres from teh town of Firastephani, perched just on the edje of the cliff. No cheapo hostels for us here.. Pics of hotel coming soon, this net cafe is pretty sucky.

We pretty much spent our time in Santorini perfecting our adaptation of the now "Santorini Lifestyle" which was more relaxed than the one we had seen in Crete. The only thing we did was to take a tour of the volcano crater (the istland in the middle). Snapped this picture of Ia (the northen tip of the main Island) from the volcano crater.. with wildflowers growing on old lava floes.

After we stopped off on at the port on the North island (can't remember it's name) Lucky decided to go for a dip.. water was pretty cold, but he managed to look like a pansy of great renown.

We stayed in the town of Ia to see the sunset (nothing to write home about, IMHO, though others would beg to differ. This is one of the views of the nh island from Ia.

When we tried to leave Santorini by Ferry, it steamed for about 1 hour from the harbour, decided to have engine trouble and turned back. Since this was the overnight Ferry to Athens, the Ferry company put us up in a hotel for that night, and put us on a plane to Athens the next mornig.. so everything worked out even better. Moral of the story : Santorini is pretty darn good! :)

Greece - Chania

This entry goes between the last one in Czech Rep and the one for Samaria Gorge.. Iit got lost..

From Prague, we took a night flight to Athens.. arriving there at about 1am.. Our connecting flight to Chania was at 6am in the morning, so we tried to sleep as best as we could in the terminal.. whic wasn't very well at all.. but we finally got the flight.. and arrived in Chania.

Chania is a town on the western end of crete, with the sea on one side and snow capped mountains on the other. Very pretty. We were very lucky to have found a hotel in the old Venitian Port area.. in fact our room overlooked the harbou itself.. the lightouse was directly opposite from us..

Most of the time in Chania we spent getting used to the Greek lifestyle, which involved waking up pretty late, having breakfast, walking around for a bit, having lunch.. having a siesta for a few hours.. walking around for a bit, having dinner, sitting roud and chatting for a while, and then sleeping. Very hard stuff.

The old town of Chania was pretty nice, with lots of little olf cafes and bakeries and streets about 1.5m wide. This was the only nice pic I managed to nab in Chania.. the ones I took in the port have mysteriously vanished..

Greece - Samaria Gorge

We went to Samaria as part of a tour, though it was basically just a bus + ferry transfer. The guide doesn't go with you through the gorge..

So anyways, we set off early, at about 6am from Chania and drove through the still snow capped mountains of Crete to the start of the trail. It was at an altitude of 1200m, so still quite cold..

The initial climb down into the gorge is pretty steep, with a rough zig-zag path.. the view is pretty distracting too.. with massive cliffs towering on both sides of you.. After a few KMs of the initial descent, you hit the bottom, with the river.. and rocks. Lots of rocks.

The rest of the trip is basically climbing over lots of rocks.. not too easy on the feet and knees, but not really that hard. We had 6 hours to cross the 16km of gorge, so we took it pretty slow and enjoyed the sights..

There are pretty regular rest stops on the way... but the little ancient village at the half way point is just spectacular. Lucky decided that he would come and stay here if he ever decided to go bush.. Since it was spring wildflowers were everywhere too.

The others are heading off now, so just a few more pictures for now.. I'll finish the write-up later.

This is where the gorge gets really narrow. It is 3m wide at the narrowest point, and a few hundred meters wide at the widest. You can see Jem and Lucky on the bridge.

Near the end. Jem and Lucky - Lucky is showing off his walking stick / club that he picked up on the way.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Czech Republic

In our last few days in Czech we basically walked around Prague a lot and did a day trip down to a place called Cesky Krumlov which is a nice little town in the south of the country, dominated by a big palace on top of the hill.

The guys finally worked up the energy to go for a walk about town one night after dinner (trust me, you'd understand if you saw the dinners we were having!) It was a really nice night, and Prague looks fantastic by night. Very dramatically lit. We made it to the river, near the National Theatre building, and I took this picture of the castle.. pretty nice, IMHO.

The next day we were off to Cesky Krumalov.. Our tour guide was not the most helpful.. treated everyone like misbehaving children.. it was pretty much "meet me at blah blah at 3pm. Don't be late or you will have to make your own way to Prague." But anyways, the town was really nice.. I could see that it was pretty touristy, but we were there early enough in the season that there were very few others about.. Onto the pics.

The big tower in the castle. We didn't get the chance to climb up to the top, but the view was pretty good, either way.

The other part of the castle, and the river that runs through the town. Same river that goes through Prague, IIRC. But a lot smaller.

So after our eventful time in Czech we got to the airport and had a late night flight to Athens. To be continued.