August 30, 2009

The first stop on our island hop

After a whirlwind 12 hours in Athens (we bought a magnet, picked up our ferry tickets, did a lap around the Acropolis and ate some Greek cuisine), it was off to Mykonos for some serious sand time.

On arrival, we followed the hordes of backpackers to Paradise Beach – where we would eat, sleep and party for the next few days.

With everything right on our doorstep – restaurants, bars and beach chairs, we only ventured out of the complex once to go and explore the stunning white-washed town.

With Mykonos being the most expensive Greek island, we counteracted the costs by sleeping in the 'sleeping bag area' for our first two nights. What we didn't realise was, a) the 'sleeping bag area' was just a patch of dirt where people pitched tents, and b) the entire time we were there, we were subjected to gale-force winds – both these factors contributed to two very painful nights.

Sleeping issues aside (we eventually moved into a basic cabin where we experienced best sleep of our lives!), our time in Mykonos rocked. It was sunbeds by day and partying by night – one such night included a set by world-famous DJ Fedde le Grand (Put Your Hands Up For Detroit), who didn't come on until 3am, but was well worth the wait.

Then there was the gyros. Oh, the gyros... Succulent pork pieces, tzaziki sauce, onion, tomato and hot chips, all wrapped up in a greasy pita. At just €2.50 a pop, Craig had a minimum quota of three a day – the perfect snack/meal/hangover cure all in one!

Our only real problem in Mykonos was getting off the damn island. With our ferry cancelled at the last nimute, and no more ferries that day, we found ourselves sleeping on a metal bench at the port (we're starting to make a habit of this 'sleeping rough' thing).

We managed to escape the island the next morning on a high-speed ferry set for Santorini, where we were set to swap beaches and gyros for, er, beaches and gyros.

August 27, 2009

Getting from Croatia to Greece

It took three days, two ferries, one bus ride and a whole lotta moolah to get from Dubrovnik to Athens.

First there was an eight-hour ferry from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Bari, Italy, where we planned on sleeping at the port to save ourselves a night's accommodation. On arrival, we discovered two things: firstly, you can't sleep at the port as they lock the gates between 1am and 6am, and secondly, the town's hostel was fully booked. Not wanted to fork out €100 for a hotel room, we teamed up with a couple from Portugal who we met out the front of the full hostel and slept under a tree in a nearby park (yeah, we are totally hardcore, I know).

The next evening it was an 18-hour ferry to Patras in Greece – we scored ourselves a comfy sleeping possie on a couch. Once in Patras it was another three-hour bus ride to Athens.

Guess you're not so jealous now, huh?

RIP brown Etnies (2009-2009)

Craig's brown Etnies lived a short and unfulfilled life (so short we didn't even get a decent picture of them). Craig's foot grooves had barely made a mark in the rubber soles when they literally plunged to their untimely death.

After a night of drinking in Korcula, Croatia, Craig was climbing between the boats to get to ours when, plonk, his left thong dropped into the sea. After some half-hearted attempts to retrieve the unseeable thong in the dead of the night, the search was abandoned.

They were replaced with some blue no-names from Hvar (the only pair in town in Craig's size) – let's see how long these ones last!

NOTE: Photo is actually of brown Havs and used for demonstrational purposes only.

August 23, 2009

Sailing Croatia is where it's at!

Swim, sleep, eat, drink, then repeat.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to heaven...

Our week of total bliss started on a sunny Sunday in the Croatian town of Dubrovnik. Dubbed the 'jewel of the Adriatic', it was the starting point of our eight-day/seven-night trip sailing around the stunning coast of Croatia.

After climbing aboard our boat and checking out our room for the week, it was straight into town to take in the amazing views from the Dubrovnik city walls. Running two kilometres around the city, these 25-metre high walls provide the perfect vantage point to check out the pretty city and sea views.

With the 'touristy' thing under our belts (oh how we've mastered the art of looking at old buildings), it was back to the boat to meet our fellow shipmates for the week over a delicious crumbed-fish dinner. Having booked too late to get on an 18 to 35-year-old boat, we were a little worried that we would be stuck on a boat full of retirement-home residents, but our boat had the perfect mix of ages, nationalities and personalities.

The best part of the entire trip was the swimming, and our first dip in the beautiful blue waters of the Adriatic came the next morning, when we moored in a secluded bay, and all jumped, flopped or cautiously climbed off the boat, inflatable beds and toys in tow, and into the clear sea.

Despite being terrified of heights – climbing up stairs with gaps in them freaks him out – Craig crumbled under peer pressure and jumped from the very top deck of our boat with a couple of other Aussie blokes. Some very feminine screams echoed around the bay when they finally took the plunge, and it became something of a ritual at every swimming stop.

After spending the day eating, swimming, reading and napping, we headed to our first overnight stop – Korcula. We ate a way-over-our-budget seafood dinner with fellow Aussie couple Renee and Ange, then moved on to a tower-top cocktail bar where we sipped on way-over-our-budget Sex on the Beaches, then we hopped from pub to pub on a never-ending quest to find the cheapest litre of red wine we could find (it ended up being 60 kunas, which is about $AU14). In typical Lisa Paddison fashion, I couldn't keep up with the rest of them and had to head back to the boat early after a very glamorous and dignified vomit in a bush on the side of the road.

It'll come as no surprise that the next day involved more swimming, more eating and more sleeping. This time, we docked at the town of Hvar, where we climbed to the castle to take in some pretty spesh views and ate a gigantic take-away pizza.

For night three, it was a stop in the refreshingly tourist-free Trstenik. We tasted wine in this tiny town and swam at its crystal clear beach. That night, it was the captain's dinner, with sea bass on the menu (my seafood-eating prowess has not yet extended to whole fish staring at me on my plate) and at €20 a pop, Craig and I opted for another enormous pizza and a 40 kuna ($AU9.50) litre of wine on the beach.

After devouring the pizza we could hear some serious music pumping from across the bay. 'Is that coming from our boat?' we asked each other in disbelief. On further investigation, we found our entire boat busting some serious moves on the back deck. We quickly joined in and 'got down' to the likes of Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson, with the oldies giving us a serious run for our booty-shaking money.

Sinuses struck me down the next day, I slept through the entire day, waking only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the rest of our boat enjoyed the lakes of Mljet National Park.

I was back in holiday action by the next day, when, you guessed it, we swam and ate by day, and docked by night. This time it was the sleepy town of Sipan, where the over-priced restaurants had us turning to the local mini-mart for tomato on tostadas washed down with beer.

It was sadness and despair the next day, when we realised we were heading back to Dubrovnik for one last night on the boat. Having baulked at jumping from the top deck all week, I finally took the plunge, as we all made the most of our last dip in the Adriatic sea.

Seriously, jot sailing Croatia on your do-before-I-die list – it honestly doesn't get any better.

August 17, 2009

Beers and bicycles – the sequel

It was a case of deja vue in Budapest, where we spent our time pedalling and putting away pints – much like our time in Prague.

Having discovered the fun and simplicity of exploring a city on two wheels, we decided to take in Hungary's capital on bicycles. With rain threatening, we took the punt and showed up to the meeting place, where we were the only people raring to go.

Happy to have our own private tour, we jumped on our bikes and started following our quirky-but-nice guide around the sights of the city. There was the huge Heroes' Square, lots of pretty buildings (of course), a ride through the park, a pit-stop in a beer garden for some much-needed refreshments of the frothy kind and then it was on to the castle and the old town.

After six hours of riding and drinking (we had some very sore bums, indeed), we finished the tour with some traditional Hungarian grub – a paprika-laden soup and homemade lemonade.

Not satisfied with just one sample of Hungary's gourmet offerings, we took ourselves out the next night to try the best Budapest had to offer. Craig's plate was piled high with crumbed treats – cheese, chicken, sausage – while I opted for fried chicken pieces in a creamy cheese sauce!

As usual, it was the culinary scene that dominated our time in Hungary.

Bon appetit!

August 06, 2009

A harrowing reality check

The main reason we headed over to Krakow was to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp, but when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pretty Prague-esque town, minus the million and one tourists.

There were the usual medieval treats – a castle, a big square and cobbled lanes – and culinary ones, too, namely giant pork knuckle and lard smothered on bread.

Though compared to the experience of visiting the now-famous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, these things seem rather trivial.

Physically being in the buildings and walking the grounds of the place where over 1.1 million people died in the Second World War really puts things into perspective. There I was losing sleep over petty problems like how to get to Greece from Croatia, when these people were taken from their homes, stripped of all their possessions, forced to live in horrific conditions and faced certain death, whether it was from exhaustion, starvation, firing squad or gas chamber.

We opted to do a three-hour tour of the camp, starting with a 15-minute video showing footage of the survivors being liberated, many of whom were in such poor physical condition they had to be carried out. We were then taken through the gate of Auschwitz, which bears the motto, 'work brings freedom'. We were shown cells, photos of the prisoners, prisoner's possessions (thousands of shoes, suitcases, brushes), a gas chamber and, perhaps the most shocking, a gigantic pile of human hair which the Nazis took from the dead to turn into products like blankets.

Over at nearby Birkenau, we saw the wooden horse stables which were used to house thousands of prisoners at a time (five to a bed), and the remains of the gas chambers that the Nazis destroyed in a bid to hide the evidence.

It is incomprensible to us how human beings could have possibly treated fellow people in such a disgusting, immoral, cruel way, and even more shocking to think these crimes took place only 65 years ago.

At the end of the tour, our guide left us with a poignant quote/poem, which I am going to leave you with now:

'First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

'Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

'Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

'Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.' – Martin Niemöller

August 04, 2009

Beers and bicycles

In the past 16 months, we've been to more than our fair share of tourist hot spots – places like Amsterdam, Oktoberfest, Rio, Machu Picchu, Barcelona, Cinque Terre... – but we've never been to a place more saturated with tourists than Prague (OK, there was Rome. But hey, it's Rome).

Walking through the narrow streets of the old town, it was almost like we were drowning in lairy-clothes-wearing, map-deciphering, ice-cream-eating, loud-speaking tourists.

Yes, I agree it's pretty hypocritical to be bagging out tourists when we are, by definition, tourists ourselves (minus the visors and bumbags), but I don't care. Trillions of tourists trying to cross the Charles Bridge at the same moment you are is just plain annoying.

But who can blame them? Prague is cheap (by European standards), stunning, and boasts some of the best beers in the world – it's no wonder every man and his guidebook is flocking there!

Preferring to watch the crowds rather than navigate our way through them, we found an overpriced bar near Charles Bridge and watched the world go by as we tried Budweiser Budvar (not to be confused with the cheap American Budweiser).

Once we downed a few pints, we decided to hike our way up to the castle, which, while providing some spectacular views, wasn't as fabulous as the guide books make out.

With only one full day left in Prague, we decided to pack in as much as we could by doing a bicycle tour of the city. It was bums on seats for over two hours as we zoomed past the Charles Bridge, John Lennon wall, a billion beautiful buildings and a gazillion statues.

All that cycling makes you thirsty! So it was off to a cheap, local pub for some beer and traditional grub – er, I think we ate pig brain, not sure.

In typical tourist fashion we only spent two full days enjoying Prague. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

RIP silver Havaianas (2007-2009)

Craig's silver Havaianas lived a long and fulfilling life (in Havaiana terms that is). Born in Sydney, their early days were spent at cricket ovals, pubs and, in winter, the bottom of our bedroom closet. In April 2008, their life took a dramatic turn, and rather than frequenting the streets of Balmain and surrounds, they found themselves pounding the pavements in the likes of Paris, Rio, Buenos Aires, San Sebastian and Rome, and taking daily showers in numerous hostels.

Loose and worn down completely, the trusty Havs* fought hard until the very end. Finally, after a good two years, it was time to say goodbye – the middle 'plug' broke off, rendering them useless.

We tried everything we could to save them – a safety pin was used for two days – but in the end, it was a lost cause.

While they were swiftly replaced with a brown pair of Etnies (no Havs in Prague, boo!), they will never be forgotten.

* I was once told to stop calling them Havs as 'no one calls them Havs'. Is this true? Am I the only person to abbreviate the brand in this fashion?