Bridging The Gap

Delphi was, sadly, my last stop in Greece this trip. I was moving on to Italy next, and would take a night ferry from Patras, Greece to Bari, Italy. From Delphi, I took the 1000 bus to Nafpaktos. If I wanted to take the bus directly to Patras, I wouldn’t be able to leave until 1400 and I wanted to leave that night on the ferry to Italy. When I got to Nafpaktos, I walked across the street to the square where I boarded a bus that was waiting to take passengers directly to Patras. The trip isn’t that long from Nafpaktos to Patras, and I ended up arriving at 1400. I was really glad I opted for the earlier bus to Nafpaktos at the recommendation of the Sybilla Hotel. Really great information. I took the bus all the way to the port and final stop. This is the old location where ferries departed to Italy, but now there is a new port that you must go to. I got off the bus and took a left uphill to the Superfast Ferries office. There I managed to buy a deck seat for the student price at 44 Euros. I decided to purchase the deck seat based on the excellent recommendation given to me by my friends, Carly and Jessica, who had taken the ferry from Italy to Greece recently. If you purchase an actual seat for 25 Euro more you end up with one of the uncomfortable airplane seats. Whereas, the deck seat means your choice of any of the open large comfy couches in the reception area. I would have been really pissed had I bought the ticket and found out all these other people paid less for a much more comfortable spot. You need to get there early to stake out your couch space as it fills up quickly. Backpackers who have the insider information will get on the ship as early as possible and spread their things all over the couches to stake out their territory. Luckily I was given this same information. I had bought my own food, got to the ferry early, and spread out to claim my space on a couch. A really great Canadian girl, Alex, sat next to me on the couch and we joined forces in order to keep our space and things secure. We pulled chairs around the two tables in front of our couch and spread our things all over them. If you aren’t lucky enough to get a spot on the couch, no worries, there’s space on the floor to lay out on. So if you have a sleeping bag and mat this might be a great option for you. This ferry was probably one of the nicest ferries I had ever been on with a restaurant, casino, and a bathroom with a shower in it. So keep that in mind incase you would like a shower. Alex and I took turns watching our space and things while walking around the ship or using the restrooms because there were vultures out there waiting for us to leave our spot at the opportune moment before swooping in to take our spot. The food didn’t end up being priced too terribly like I had thought. Alex bought a decently sized Greek Salad for 4 Euros. The drinks are where it will hurt you the most in price. I ordered two coffee drinks to keep me awake and motivated to continue writing my blog… : ) … and those cost me about 4 to 5 Euros each. About the same price as Alex’s salad. 

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My lovely slice of sofa

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Pay 25 Euro more and this is where you get to sit… and no the chairs do not recline…

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The seating area where all the sofas are

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The outdoor seating area

The ferry was supposed to only take 12 hours, arriving in Italy around 0830, but we didn’t get there until around noon the next day. I didn’t have a place booked, like usual, leaving me free to decide if I wanted to stay in Bari for the night or head to Naples (Napoli) instead. I walked around with Alex until she could get her ferry sorted for Croatia, then we headed to the train station to check times to Naples for me. We stopped at the McDonalds (I know… very American), which was the only place that seemed to provide WiFi in all of Bari. I find that my biggest issue with getting free WiFi ever since Turkey is that most McDonalds and Starbucks require you to have a cellphone number in order to use the free WiFi. This location was definitely not an exception. Both Alex and I didn’t have cellphones, and after schlepping so far in the heat we decided to take a break in the AC and relax with some fries and drinks. While we sat around, we searched for someone who might help us out, possibly letting us use their cellphone or at least tell us of another place that had free WiFi. I looked over to the guy behind us on his iPad and decided to ask him. He was extremely kind in giving me the password that he was using, so that Alex and I could get on the internet. Then him and his friend came over to sit with us for a chat. Tim and Andrea have pretty amazing stories. Both of them have Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. They met when Tim’s cruise ship stopped in Bari and through a mutual friend found Andrea, another person who shared his same disease. Tim had one of the cruise ship employees help him to send a text message to Andrea, since at that time Tim didn’t know Italian and Andrea didn’t know English. Andrea agreed to meet with Tim and came down to the port so that they could spend the rest of Tim’s time in Bari together. From then a new lifelong friendship was made. They kept in touch and Andrea began learning English so that they could communicate. Now, years later, they are like brothers. Their hope is to be able to start a campaign, filming a documentary along the way and meeting with governments all over the world in order to help spread the word that Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease is very real and needs a cure. Tim is also extremely talented with a great artistic eye. I was so impressed by his pictures and typography. You can check out some of Tim’s travel videos and typography on YouTube and Vimeo. Just Google Tim Oneschkow. I definitely recommend it, very cool stuff. After chatting with Tim and Andrea, they left to continue filming a portion of their documentary.  

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My growing stacks…

After an hour on the internet, the login page prompted us to login again. Since we didn’t write down the password Tim had given us, we left the McDonalds and headed to the train station across the street. When I got to the window to buy my ticket, a woman in line behind me overheard where I was trying to go and stopped me before I bought my ticket. She let me know that it would be cheaper and much more direct to take the bus to Naples. That way I could just hop on the train there to get to wherever I needed. Extremely nice of her. She gave me directions to the bus station which wasn’t far at all. You just have to take the stairs under the train station to the other side, take a right and the ATS bus station will be on your left. I bought a ticket going to Naples at 1730 that evening, giving me 2 hours of time to kill. We went in search of another place with WiFi and ended up finding the VERONERO Caffe. Such an amazing and chic cafe that served the best smoothies and extravagant drinks for such great prices. When we walked in there were people in business suits standing at the counter looking posh while drinking their espressos. I bought a huge Mango Berry smoothie for 4 Euros. The WiFi didn’t work very well in the seating area, so we had to stand up front near the register in order to get internet. Alex and I wrote down a couple of places to stay and once we were done it was time for me to head to the bus station. I had a great time schlepping it with Alex and hopefully will see her next summer. 

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The bus station in Bari, Italy

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Delphi: The Belly Button of the World

Peri, owner of the Summit Zero Hostel, dropped Susan and me off at the Litochoro Train Station on Saturday morning. Susan was taking the train to Thessaloniki, and I was headed to my next great adventure in Delphi, Greece. Getting to and from Delphi is no simple task. I took the train from Litochoro to Larisa, then purchased another ticket for a train to Lamia. You’ll have to change trains in Lianokladi, boarding a smaller train for the short trip to Lamia.  Lamia is a pretty small station, so I went to the ticket office for directions to the bus station. It’s too far from the train station to walk, so I had to take a right exiting the train station, walk to the next street and take a left. About 2 blocks up the hill there are taxis parked in front of a butcher shop (I know, weird location… you’d think they’d be at the train station picking people up arriving… but I guess there must be more business at the butcher shop). You’ll take a taxi for about 4 Euros to the Lamia Bus Station. I had taken the 1015 train from Litochoro and arrived at the Lamia Bus Station around 1400 to find out that there are only two buses running to Delphi a day… one at 1245 and the other at 1900. Except for Sundays, where the bus only runs once at 1900. I was obviously too late for the first bus, so I waited for 5 hours in the bus terminal. Once the bus got there, 30 minutes late… I got on and was able to relax. This was the final leg to Delphi, or so I thought. Turns out you have to change buses one more time before finally getting to Delphi. Be sure to ask the bus driver which stop it is you need to change buses at, otherwise you might be in for a unpleasant surprise when the bus pulls into its last stop. So after 3 trains, walking about a kilometer, a taxi ride, and two buses I had finally made it to Delphi. There is no bus station here, so they will drop you off in front of a sidewalk with a statue and flags lined up behind it. There’s a restaurant across the street that you can buy your departure ticket from. Or I hear you can buy one on the bus as well. 

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I met two awesome girls from Canada on the bus, Carly and Jessica, who happened to be staying at the same place as me, Sibylla. I hadn’t booked ahead, and luckily got the last room. The price was quoted cheaper online, but I ended up paying 20 Euros per night in the end (still not bad; stayed two nights) for my own room and bathroom. My only complaints about the room are… no AC, which didn’t bother me because a fan was provided, but it was on a timer. So after 40 minutes the fan would turn off and I would wake up sweating and have to reset the timer. That and the shower curtain covered two sides of a one inch shower basin lip, so when you weren’t spraying the entire bathroom with water from the shower head… then the shower curtain was sucking in around you. I hate it when the shower curtain, especially public ones, touch me because I never feel clean. I just have this eerie thought that germs or mildew have just sloughed off on me like slime and I have to scrub harder to get it off. Otherwise, this room was excellent. The location was perfectly situated on the edge of town between the town center and the ruins, and a block from the bus stop. The staff is really helpful and they have a list of bus destinations and their departure times from Delphi next to the check in counter.  

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After getting settled in to my room at Sibylla, Carly, Jessica, and I headed over to a restaurant down the street that provided us with a fantastic view overlooking the city lights in the Pleistos Valley below. We sat and ate spinach pies, drank beer and free shots from the really nice waiter serving us until going back and turning in for the night. The next morning, Carly and I headed over to eat breakfast and found an all you can eat hotel buffet for 5 Euro. We dug in and took in the same spectacular views of the valley, but now in the daylight. Once I finished my yogurt and honey, we picked up Jessica and walked down the street to see the famous ruins of Delphi. Carly and Jessica are studying to become Archaeologists, and so it was really interesting to walk through the ruins with them and look at the ruins through completely different eyes. The way they would light up or talk about a piece that, had they not been there, I would have walked past writing off as just another rock. It was really exciting for me and I was incredibly lucky having met these two people and be able to experience these ruins with them. They broadened my knowledge of Delphi and Greece, and made this experience a hundred times better than it would have been otherwise. A few facts that you might be interested to know about Delphi: 

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You can tell in this above, that it’s Greek architecture because it is built into the side of the mountain, whereas Romans build with materials straight up from the ground.

Delphi is known as the center or the “Navel of the World” and there is a rock that actually symbolizes this navel and the center of the world, currently located in the museum, but another rock is set in its place at the actual site. Delphi was decided to be the center of the world because Zeus had released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth, one from the east and one from the west, and the precise spot where they met was in Delphi. This is also the site of Apollo’s temple and his oracles, which I learned were probably high on drugs because they refer to them being on “hallucinating vapors” and chewing laurel leaves. Probably opium and meth… But it was said that the Delphic Oracle, Pythia, predicted that an empire would fall and shortly after the King of Lydia’s kingdom was destroyed. 

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The Navel

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The Greeks originally began creating sculptures stealing the Egyptian style, but the fact that the foot on these ones are a step forward was a big deal at that time and paved the way for future sculptures being modified into a more human form and stance.

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So realistic. Some of my favorite pieces in the museum. 

 

I also learned how to date sculptures by looking at the type of smile that it has. If it’s an Archaic smile, one that makes the sculpture look as though it’s smiling, no matter if it is dying or victorious in pose, it is usually dated before the mid-5th century BCE. 

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Archaic smiles

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There was so much interesting information Jessica and Carly were sharing in such excitement way that it was hard for me not to get excited as well. Way better than any guided tour I’ve been on, because these two were so incredibly passionate about what they do and what they know that instead of just walking through a monotone guided tour by a person who is probably just reciting from a prewritten script and has no actual interest in their surroundings. I hope that you all are blessed enough to find an Archaeologist to enjoy a museum or some ruins with, because you’ll never have another experience like it.  

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Once we had our fill of the ruins, we headed back to town to find something to eat. On a mission to find gyros, the first restaurant we came across on the edge of town was really expensive! 9 Euro for one gyro! Obviously tourists stop at the first place they see from the ruins, and this happens to be it. I don’t recommend eating here, as the prices alone indicate how much they are planning on ripping you off. I couldn’t believe how many places we passed that didn’t serve gyros and instead served high end items like rabbit and fried croquettes. Finally we found a place that served these mouthwatering gyros, and for only 2.50 Euro a gyro!!! Insanely great food for dirt cheap! Jessica and I went back for dinner it was so good. Be sure to get everything on it. They have 4 different sauces, but Jessica saw a local come in and get everything and decided to get the same. It’s a cultural experience, right? I went ahead and got the same and it was uh-maz-ing. Spicy cheese, Tzaikiki Sauce, Ketchup, and I think mayo… not sure, but whatever it all was wrapped up in that delicious pita… it hit the spot, twice. We went back to our rooms for some much needed showers. It’s extremely hot in Delphi, so make sure you bring lots of water with you when walking around the ruins. Keep your water bottle as well because there are water fountains near the entrance/exit of the museum where you can refill it. There was a girl in the museum who fainted. 

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That night we went to watch the Greece vs Czech Republic Futbol match, and after the game was over we walked down near the bus stop, bought some beers and watched the colors of the sunset change over the valley from an orange to red glow until it finally burnt out. 

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Thanks to my new friends, Carly and Jessica, for an amazing time in Delphi.  Hope to see you guys in Greece next summer! Mount Olympus 2013! 

Summit Zero Hostel: My Home Away From Home

After climbing Mount Olympus, Summit Zero Hostel provides the perfect combination of comfort for an excellent price. 

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We slept in the next day, and relaxing in my comfortable bed I listen to the calming yoga music playing outside my window. Summit Zero Hostel and Tribody Yoga Studio were hosting a yoga retreat that weekend. I get up and decide to take a shower, and as soon as I’m undressed and ready to turn on the water, I forget I haven’t told anyone I needed the hot water turned on… luckily I could hear Diego’s voice down the hall and yelled out, asking him to turn it on. Haha. Reminds me of when I would yell upstairs for my brother to bring me down a glass of juice. That’s how comfortable I feel here. Because the employees of Summit Zero are so welcoming and warm that it feels more like a cozy vacation home and I’m with family. 

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I walk downstairs and the feeling doesn’t leave when I greet my fellow backpackers. We swap greetings, stories, watch the futbol game at night while sharing a meal, and during the day walk out the back of the hostel straight onto the beach. Laying around joking and listening to music playing from my iPod, we take in the breathtaking views that Mount Olympus lies out for us and swim in the crisp cool water of the Aegean. But thing is, not only backpackers stay here and enjoy it. I met a really nice older couple from Missouri who were also staying with Summit Zero. They gave Natasa the biggest hug before they left, stating that they were going to write a review on how helpful and wonderful she was. And every word is true, except they left out what an incredible cook she is as well. The greek salad she makes is probably the best I’ve had anywhere. I couldn’t believe that a plate of cooked vegetables could taste so good, and I think my soul left my body when I had the hamburger with tomatoes and tzatkiki sauce. 

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If you are planning on climbing or visiting the Mount Olympus area, I wouldn’t recommend staying anywhere else. Staying at the perfect location between the snow tipped peaks of Mount Olympus and the sparkling blues and turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea while staying with such wonderful, accommodating, and helpful people. I’m not sure where else you’d want to be. 

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I am really blessed that my friend, Bryce Bohne, recommended Mount Olympus to me. Because had he not, I would never have found this slice of paradise that I call my home away from home. I will be coming back July 2013, and to all of you out there interested in coming to Greece to conquer Mount Olympus with me, or just want to lounge on the beach, take in some incredible views, eat amazing Greek food, and visit the surrounding cities. I welcome you all to join, as Peri calls it, the “Jungle Juice Olympus Trekking Team” of 2013. I hope to see my fellow backpackers Frederic and Susan return as well! That is… unless you’ve already moved in Frederic…

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We’ll toast with some Jungle Juice then! 

This is Why the Greek Gods Live on Mount Olympus

Most people come to Mount Olympus with one thought in mind, to climb and conquer the home of the Greek Gods. After talking to my friend, Bryce Bohne, who climbed part of it just a month before, I was convinced I should do it as well. Mount Olympus wasn’t on my original itinerary, but my itinerary is really more of a suggestion anyway. I pulled into Litochoro Square when the sun was starting to go down and a warm orange glow started around Mount Olympus. The bus dropped me off in the center of Litochoro Square and the taxi stand is right there. I grabbed a cab to Summit Zero Hostel, and was glad that the cab driver had heard of it before. Only bad thing was it cost me 11 Euro to get there. I didn’t really see any other options at that time. When I arrived at the Summit Zero Hostel, Peri (the hostel owner) greeted me at the gate. I was really amazed by the location, nestled between the Aegean Sea and Mount Olympus. It provided breathtaking views and a perfect combination of both sea and mountain. I had gotten in pretty late since I had the late start from Halkidiki, and after four buses and a cab, I got in at around 2100. After I was settled in it was too late for me to go to the grocery store and stock up on snacks for the climb, so I postponed my climb a day in order to be better prepared. It worked out better that way anyways since Peri was guiding two people, Susan and Frederic, the next day on a three day climb from the east of the mountain. I was planning on climbing the mountain in two days, and would meet up with them on their second night at Refuge A. The night before climbing to the summit, so I was hoping to join them the last day of the climb.

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Litochoro Square

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The next day Peri was heading into town for a stop to the grocery store and invited Susan and I along with him, which was really nice. I needed to pick up supplies for my early breakfast the next morning and snacks for my hike. Afterwards I asked if he could drop me off in the square. He’d be leaving that day for the climb so he wouldn’t be able to pick me up, but instead told me how to get back on the 1830 bus for only 2 Euro. You have to specifically request the Gritsi/Gritsa stop near the port of Litochoro. I walked around and bought adorable tiny ice creams from a gourmet shop, stopped by an Outdoor Shop to buy some supplies, and walked around the quaint town before heading to the beginning of the trail to Mount Olympus. I decided to hike a portion of the trail in order to get familiar with the direction, and started on the concrete path. I kept on the concrete path and walked around snapping pictures of what seemed like every twig and leaf, it was all so gorgeous how could I possibly document this experience properly? I took the concrete path until it reached a dead end and a pretty waterfall. I was a bit confused, but decided to take some pictures of the waterfall before turning back and figuring out where I went wrong. As I looked through the lens to take my shot, I noticed something moving to the left. When I snapped the picture I realized that I had just took a picture of a naked old man. He had been skinny dipping in the cold waterfall! The movement was him scrambling to get out of the water before I noticed him. A little disturbing… but I am actually quite impressed. I only hope that when I’m that old and saggy I am also able to climb the fence to jump and swim naked in an icy cold waterfall. I would definitely throw a fist pump in the air, if my arthritic bones would let me at that age. I pretended like I didn’t see him and turned back down the concrete path to try to figure out the correct direction, when I saw a wooden railing with E4 spray painted on the rock face beside it. I tried walking up the rocky dirt path to see if it was the right one and ran into more E4 signs confirming that it was. I stopped at an opening at the path and looking around, took in the views of the river directly below me, Mount Olympus above me, and the Aegean Sea down the mountain from me. It was such a surreal experience… until a slightly crazy and quite creepy man sitting on top of a boulder like it was a throne shocked me out of my daydream. He kept trying to get me to come up the mountain of rock with him to take pictures. I definitely didn’t want to go to the top of the rock with him on it, especially with how eager he was to have me climb, and I also didn’t want him to come down off of it toward me either. I quickly snapped my photos, made a mental note of the location so I could take pictures there tomorrow, and started down the path at a speed walk until my skin stopped crawling. I made it back to Litochoro Square, had some lunch, walked around a bit more, and got ice-cream before finally taking the bus back to the Summit Zero Hostel.  

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If you look really closely, you might be able to see the old man behind me dressing

The night before a French guy, Sebastian, had arrived and decided to come with me on my climb the next morning. Which was great for me because then we could split the cost of the cab to Litochoro Square. We used the same cab driver I had used the first day to take me from the square to Summit Zero. He had given me his card, and I had found him to be a really honest cab driver. Natasa from Summit Zero had also given me a list of numbers for cab drivers the night before as well, just incase my cab didn’t answer the phone at the early hour. He, thankfully, did answer and came to pick us up right away even though I could obviously tell he had been woken up and was still at home.  

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The Holy Cave

Climbing Mount Olympus, you can see why this is said to be the home of Greek Gods… It’s breathtaking and awe inspiring in every way. The sparkling blue and turquoise of the river matched with the dark lush greens of the forest surrounding us as we walked the E4 trail through the Enipea Canyon was the stuff of great stories. Walking under the gorgeous canopy of leaves that seem so perfect in shape and color with rays of sunlight peeking through the small spaces creating such an ambiance that you can’t help but give a little part of yourself to this place. As we cross over wooden bridges, listening to the water rushing down waterfalls and over boulders in the river, the leaves rustling in the sweet breeze like nature’s own wind chimes, and the birds chirping their happy song we lose ourselves to Nature in the climb. Time flies by quickly and even as we rise in altitude and become more tired, the beauty eclipses the fatigue in every way. I feel as though I could strip down and cool off with a swim in an icy pool formed by one of the many waterfalls. Sebastian and I took less than 5 hours to walk from the square in Litochoro to the parking lot in Pritonia. Most people start their climb to the summit of Mount Olympus from this point. There is a parking lot here, and some people are able to reach the summit of Mount Olympus from Pritonia and return in one day. There’s only one restaurant and toilets at Pritonia that you can make use of. I had my lunch at the restaurant, and it wasn’t that great… but I couldn’t really complain, watching Sebastian eat his canned fish in some sort of sauce and bread for lunch. I enjoyed my chicken and fries just fine. There’s an adorable puppy living with the restaurant owner and is more than excited to play with you and eat your leftover scraps.

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The second portion of our hike was remarkably harder than the first half. In a span of 4 hours we would climb over 1000 meters in altitude to reach Refuge A. Sebastian being the spry Frenchman he was ended up waiting for me and dragging his feet until halfway through our second leg I told him to go on without me, I didn’t want to rush myself up the mountain just to match his pace and hurt myself in the process. The path we were on wasn’t a treacherous one, just tiring and riddled with disgusting donkey crap swarmed with masses of larger than average flies. There were a few times I stumbled trying to swat away flies following me. The nasty flies really took away from the ambiance I was feeling in the first part of the climb, but are a necessary evil as the donkeys are the mode of transportation needed to bring supplies up to the Refuges. I continued my snail’s pace up to Refuge A and ran into an unfortunate accident. Two very experienced climbers, a mother and daughter, from Austria were climbing Mount Olympus from Pritonia to Mytikas in one day and were on their way back to the parking lot, about a 2 and a half hour walk left. All literally downhill from there, when the mother, who was 70 years old, was handing her daughter a cell phone and accidentally pushed her over the edge of the walking trail. Luckily she only fell a few meters, but it was still bad enough that she needed to be carried up to Refuge A in a stretcher for further medical treatment and to wait for a helicopter to arrive from Athens, the closest helicopter base. Since there was already a big group of people assisting her, I would have just been in the way at this point, I scrambled up a steep portion of the mountain to rejoin the E4 path at a higher point. I arrived to Refuge A at about 1800, after starting that morning from the square at 0800. The Refuge was slightly chaotic when I arrived. It seemed that every person climbing the mountain who was either coming down from the summit or coming up the mountain decided to arrive at that moment, looking for a place to stay while the employees were running around trying to prepare for the injured woman to come into their care. I waited outside talking to Sebastian until everything calmed down. About a half hour after I arrived, Peri, Susan, and Frederic had arrived coming from the far east side of the mountain. This would be the second night on the mountain and they were debating continuing the climb to the summit. I checked in to my room, which was a massive room with mattresses lined up side by side against the walls on a raised platform. I was really glad to see that there were only 4 of us in the room, each of us chose a corner to lay our heads in. I couldn’t imagine climbing during high season. If you turned over too far you might be spooning with a total stranger. Now if I was lying next to Ryan Gosling, I wouldn’t mind this scenario and would actually encourage it… but, sadly, it turns out that most of the mountain climbers do not look like Ryan Gosling… The room cost 12 Euros per night. Once we were all settled in, we sat down to have dinner together. The food at the Refuge was really good, and we all ended up eating the spaghetti bolognese (7 Euro a plate). Once we were done eating, we heard that the injured woman was going to be carried back down the mountain to a clearing for the helicopter to land and pick her up. Peri, being the awesome person he is, volunteered to assist with carrying her down. A few volunteers went with since they would undoubtably need to swap carriers. I was too tired to wait up for the appearance of the helicopter since it was almost 2100, and we had an early start. I was definitely tired enough from the day’s climb and excitement. I heard the helicopter’s blades cutting through the air about 30 minutes later while I laid in bed. It took me a while to get to bed since one of the other guys had the snore of a grizzly bear. I finally managed to get to bed a little before 2300. 

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Carrying the injured woman down to the helicopter

The next morning, Sebastian and I had breakfast and began our climb around 0700. We would be climbing another 1000 meters in altitude in order to reach the summit, Mytikas, for a total of 2917 meters. As we climbed I became more and more jealous of the older people with their hiking poles. Like Susan said later on, “They’re like a whole different species with those poles”. They walked and climbed with such ease it was as if they were gliding over the ground. To me they were these majestical gazelles, and I had to refrain myself from trying to steal some from the unsuspecting climber. I again told Sebastian to go on without me since it was obvious we were traveling at completely different paces. The climb was steep and I was fine with my 80 year old man pace. I managed to make it to Skala, the third highest peak on the mountain and the peak you pass in order to get to Mytikas, in about 3 and a half hours. Resting on Skala and took in the surroundings. The sight of the mountains and landscape surrounding me while the wisps of clouds engulfed me in a current of its refreshing mist was so amazing.

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Looking at Mytikas from the other side of the rocky bridge

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Sitting on the edge of the rocky bridge from Skala to Mytikas

 

After a good rest, I decided I would continue down to Mytikas. In order to get to Mytikas from Skala, you must go to the right of Skala’s summit and down a narrow rocky trail with steep gravely sides which make this crossing an extremely narrow bridge from Skala to Mytikas. Up until the day before, this trail to Mytikas was uncrossable due to the snow and ice covering the path bridging the two mountaintops. There was still a bit of snow and at the very beginning. I was able to climb down to this rocky bridge, but then I took a look at all of the people trying to slide down and off Mytikas. Scooting down on their butts slowly due to the steepness of the climb after the bridge that would take me up to Mytikas… I thought to myself… Do I really want to cross this scary, narrow bridge, climb that steep death trap, to snap a few pictures saying I made it by myself to the summit of Mount Olympus? OH Hell No was I going over there by myself, and it didn’t help that I was the only one headed in the direction of Mytikas at that time. Happy with my decision, since just trying to get back up to Skala from where I climbed down was a great challenge in itself. I couldn’t imagine trying to climb all the way back from Mytikas to Skala. Back on Skala I ran into a Greek dad and son team that I had seen a few times along the trail that day. They had decided not to go to Mytikas too, and instead they were headed to the second highest peak, Skolio. Still kind of shook from Mytikas, I asked if I could join them, and they graciously agreed to let me tag along. The son’s name was Ioannis. His dad didn’t speak much English, but Ioannis told me a bit about him and I was really quite impressed. His father, whom I endearingly refer to as the Mountain Man, has climbed Mount Olympus 3 times before. The first time he didn’t make it to Mytikas but stopped at Skala, which made me feel a bit better about not making it either. His second time he climbing he went with a friend, and made it to Mytikas but his friend didn’t. His third time, he went with the same friend and they both made it to Mytikas. This was his fourth time climbing Mount Olympus at the age of 65. He grew up in a small Mountain Village outside of Delphi and took his two sons climbing around Peloponnese Mountains near their home in Southern Greece when they were young. I was amazed, thinking how my childhood family vacations in the Conversion Van must sound compared to a summer climbing the Peloponnese. Not that I would trade my childhood family vacations for anything, but still. Sounds mundane in comparison, right? We made it to Skolio just in time for me to regain my confidence on the mountain again. At each peak there is a notebook in a metal case that you can write your name, where you’re from, and a short message. I was excited, and made sure to jot down my information. I got my picture taken with my new climbing companions and we took a break before starting our way down the mountain back to Refuge A.

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My climbing companions and me at the summit of Skolio (Mytikas in the background)

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My Refuge

I ran into Frederic sitting on one of the picnic tables at the Refuge. I was a little confused since it had sounded like they weren’t going to be trying for the summit and would be headed back down to Pritonia that morning. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Susan wanted to see how far she could make it to the summit so Peri took her that morning a couple of hours after Sebastian and I left that morning. Go Susan! Since I had taken a different route down than up, we didn’t cross paths. Susan and Peri were still hiking, so I took that opportunity to rest my feet and get something to eat hoping that there would be room for me to ride back to Summit Zero Hostel that day as well so I wouldn’t have to stay at the Refuge for another night. Susan and Peri made it back down with the victory of Skala under their belts, and took a rest. Peri has climbed Mount Olympus quite a few times, and has made it to Mytikas about 40 times. They ended up having space for me in the vehicle, and our was that Peri would run back down to Pritonia, to call back to Summit Zero Hostel for a ride since there was no cell phone reception at the Refuge (Weird since there is really great reception on the mountain. Mountain Man demonstrated that when he called his wife at the top.), while Susan, Frederic, and I walked back down to Pritonia. This way the ride would be waiting for us when we got there. Really considerate. We made it back down to Summit Zero Hostel for some well deserved and much needed showers and celebratory beers before crashing into a coma like sleep. 

Happy to have enjoyed this experience with Sebastian, Susan, Frederic, and Peri of the Summit Zero Hostel, and I am hoping to come back next year to conquer the summit, Mytikas. 

Halkidiki: The Greek Man’s Paradise

Even the Greeks need a place to get away from it all, and that place just happens to be Halkidiki. Rent Rooms Hostel was especially helpful when assisting me in getting the times and exact route to get to Halkidiki as well as recommending places to stay in both Halkidiki and Mount Olympus. In order to get to Halkidiki, specifically the Neo Maramas area where I was heading. You have to take the 45A bus from the Kamara bus stop, right across the street from the Arch of Galerius, to the Halkidiki Bus Station which is the last stop on the line. There you will buy a ticket to Halkidki. I chose Neo Maramas because I was planning diving with the Poseidon Diving Company there. They had a really great website, were advertised through Rent Rooms Hostel, and I was excited to get back into some diving. It had been a few weeks since my last dive in Kas, Turkey and I was itching to get under the water again. 

The bus usually takes about 4 to 5 hours to Neo Maramas depending on how many stops you have to make and how long it takes the people to get off and on. I was lucky and left Halkidiki Bus Station, Thessaloniki at around 1700 and got off in Neo Maramas a little after 2000. The bus drops you off right in front of the taxi stand so you have the option of taking a cab for about 4 Euros to most hostels in the area. I figured I could save the 4 Euros and walk the short distance to Akrotiri Hotel, which was said to be 3 KM away. The reviews were good for Akrotiri, but a lot of them also said the downside of Akrotiri was how hard it is to find. And I have to strongly agree. There are no signs that point to Akrotiri. I was getting really frustrated, and no one seemed to know where Akrotiri was. I walked around for an hour going mostly uphill before finally running into someone who was actually staying there. I almost cried in relief. I followed her back to Akrotiri, and there would have been no way I would have found Akrotiri on my own, the name was written in Greek… I never make a reservation because I don’t want be obligated to stay somewhere in case it doesn’t live up to the reputation. A lot of the hostels I’ve been staying at have been asking for the money up front, so I usually like to see what I’m getting before I officially book my room. This case was the exception, I wish I would have booked early this time because it seems that Halkidiki is an extremely laid back place and hostel/hotel owners don’t wait around at the front counter for walk in customers. Unless they’re expecting you, and even if then at times, they won’t be there. Across the street the Hotel owner for Hotel Maramas was walking out his front door, so I quickly ran to catch him as he was locking up. It seems I was lucky to get a room at this time. Since I was only planning on staying two nights and he took 5 Euro off a night I decided to stay there for 20 Euros a night. I don’t think I would have found anything better at that time of night anyways. The room looked pretty nice at a quick glance, he just told me I might need to buy some bug spray. I agreed to take the room, and after my long day of schlepping, crashed quickly. 

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The next morning I woke up to mosquitos buzzing around my head. Not a huge deal since we’re near the ocean I can understand if there are a couple, but there were a few in the room and I have no idea how they got in! I shooed them away and went to get ready before going for breakfast and starting my search for Poseidon Diving. When I turned on the sink, pure red water shot out from the sink faucet. I was so glad that I didn’t have a mishap with my toothbrush like Andrea did with the black sludge in Gili Trewangan, Indonesia. It was my last toothbrush too! That was too close of a call…note to self, get more toothbrushes ASAP! Having a clean toothbrush is a big deal for me. One of my many quirks, everyone has some. The water began to run clear after a few long minutes before I felt safe to run my toothbrush under the water and splash my face with it. I got into the center of town and stopped for breakfast at the Babea. I recommend the crepes here, they are excellent tasting and priced. You can pick out your own toppings if you’d like or order one off the menu. After breakfast I asked for directions to the Porto Carras Resort, which is where the Poseidon Dive Shop was housed, and I was pointed to the large buildings just across the water from the taxi stand. So I walked along the water, on the beach at times, to the resort. It’s a really nice walk to the resort and not as far as people would like to make it out to be. When I walked up to the resort I didn’t realize that both buildings were part of the resort. I had thought they were separate resorts from across the water, but when I got there and looked at the map I was bowled over by the sheer size of the place, and even more by all of the amenities they provided. Two helicopter pads, a marina, two hotel building with day spas in each, a casino, vineyard with wine tastings, dive shop, beaches, pools with waterslides, futbol (soccer) fields, a golf course, horse stables and trails, and a shuttle to take them to everything. I was so impressed by the list, I was tempted to walk around just to explore the place. But, I was there with a mission in mind. As much as I would have liked to go horse riding or visit the vineyard, I was really pumped for some diving, so I waited for the shuttle out in front of the Sithonia hotel building. I asked the bellhop if the dive shop was within walking distance and he told me no because it was on the other side of the marina, so I waited the half hour until the next shuttle came. I got on and rode the train while it made its way around the marina, and I’ve probably walked three times the distance that morning from Hotel Maramas to Porto Carras, but I guess with the usual clientele that they receive it may have been considered a far distance. But for me, who has been schlepping the Beast for a few months now, that distance was pretty much spitting distance. I got to the Poseidon Dive Shop and found that this side of Porto Carras seems to have been neglected a bit. There was some construction on the way to the shop, which I believe is the new real estate that Porto Carras is selling to guests of the hotel, but this area is down a bit from the construction and had a pile of forgotten chairs and random items that seemed to be left sitting for a while without use. Unless the weeds were overgrown and they specially placed the items just so it looked white trash chic. I hear that rich people have weird tastes… I knocked on the door of the Poseidon Dive shop, but had no answer. I tried to find a dive schedule, anything that should tell me what time I should come back. I waited a bit before walking over to the closer Meliton Hotel building and asking them to call over for me. It seemed that the employees of Porto Carras, with exception of the one Bellhop I spoke to and the spa staff of the Meliton Hotel, were snobbier than the clientele. It’s almost as though they were disgusted with the thought of calling them for me. I was really sorry to bother them in asking them to do their jobs… they are after all the Customer Service desk. I had to be rude before they would even pick up the phone. Since I couldn’t get ahold of them and it was getting a bit late, I had something to eat at the cafe and decided that if I wasn’t going to be able to dive that I’d use the money for a pamper day at the spa instead. I booked a nice hot stone massage, a favorite of mine ever since my friend Candice recommended it to me, and a facial and pedicure. Just because I’m backpacking doesn’t mean I need to look gross and scraggly. It was wonderful and I was more than happy to take some extra travel body wash and shampoos from the bathroom with me. I figured I could call Poseidon with the number given to me. There’s a ferry that takes you from the side of the Meliton Hotel at the marina for 2.50 Euro one way. I decided to take that back to the town center, and was glad I did. The sunset was gorgeous and I got a lot of great pictures. The ferry drops you off right behind the taxi stand, which was perfect walking distance back to Hotel Maramas. 

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I got back to my hotel and ran into the hotel owner. I decided that was an opportune time to ask him when checkout was, he told me around 1200, which was fine with me since I was planning on leaving after my dive the next day. I had bought some insect spray on my way back to the hotel and sprayed my bed generously with it before going to the shower. As soon as I turned on the shower I had the same problem as I did when I turned on the sink that morning. Pure red water shot out of the shower sprayer, and even worse, disgusting black specks. I had to let it run for much longer this time before the water ran clear and the occasional black speck would still come out. I really felt like I needed a shower, so I showered anyways, but when I was done and put the sprayer back in its place a ton more of the black specks (which I don’t want to admit as being mold, but probably was) fell out covering most of the shower basin in black specks. Well, I’m hoping that if something weird happens it’ll be more like a cool superhero power and not a nasty weird growth. 

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The next morning I woke up bright and early to call the Poseidon Dive Shop, and was happy when they answered the phone. That happiness died quickly when they told me they weren’t diving that day. Apparently they don’t dive everyday. Guess the rich people on the resort must be busy dressing up like jockeys and riding around on ponies… super disappointed I took my time packing my things and went downstairs for check out. The owner wasn’t there yet, so I waited. I didn’t want to walk into town then have to come back just to pay and check out. I was getting really hungry though and it was nearing 1300. I tried calling the number on his door, but both numbers were not in service. I went to the hotel’s website and sent an email but received no quick response. Finally a little after 1300 I got frustrated, left my big bag outside and headed to Babea for some breakfast. Then went next door to Bugatsa to pick up some desserts for the road… tiny Boston Cream Cakes…except they were so amazing that I ate them before I got back to the hotel. I might have ate 4 of them… but they were mini. So it’s okay. I headed back to the hotel, sure that the owner would be there… and he still wasn’t! It was almost 1400 and the next bus was coming at 1500 and I was not going to miss it. I left a note on the door telling the owner where I hid the room key and money then headed to the bus station. I was so pissed. I was obviously only paying for the view from the room, which was really great, but with the room’s water, the mosquito problem which he told me to get bug spray on my own for, and being late after agreeing on a time for check out… It was over the top. I would not recommend staying at Hotel Marmaras but instead head across the street to Akrotiri. Just make sure that you make a reservation and get a phone number that works. You can follow the signs Hotel Maramas has set up to get to Akrotiri. 

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I made the 1500 bus back to Thessaloniki. You have to change buses once before arriving to the Halkadiki bus station in Thessaloniki. From the Halkidiki Bus Station you’ll take bus 45 the express line all the way to the end of the line. There I bought a bus ticket to Litochoro Square. It took about an hour for me to get there. Then I took a cab for 11 Euro to the Summit Zero Hostel. If you make it to Litochoro Square before 1830, you can go down the street to the right of the church going downhill arriving at the bus station on the right and buy a ticket to Gritsi/Gritsa. They don’t usually make a stop there so you will have to specifically request the ticket and let the bus driver know that’s where you’re going so they stop. You’ll be dropped off at what looks like the side of a highway. When you get off the bus go to the left as soon as you get off, the head to the next road take a right and you’ll see the port to the left. Summit Zero Hostel is straight down the street. You can also try calling Summit Zero Hostel, and if they aren’t super busy they might be willing to come and pick you up from the square. They’re extremely nice like that.  

Tomorrow I’ll be getting ready for my climb up Mount Olympus!!

Entering the Gates of Greece Through Thessaloniki

I couldn’t be bothered with another night bus, even though it was the cheapest option from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, Greece. I think between Southeast Asia and Turkey I’ve had my fill for a while. So I took a Turkish Airlines flight to Thessaloniki. From Thessaloniki airport took bus 78 for about 2 Euro to the train station. There are a lot of buses leaving from there and it is easier to get the right information about where to go and what bus you need to take. The Greek people are just as nice as the Turkish and were extremely helpful in getting me going in the right direction. I was trying to find Hotel Pella, but after walking around the Tandalidou area for over 30 minutes with the Beast weighing me down I gave up and stopped in Hotel Europa to see if it would be good. I was really glad I asked to see the room… It seemed I would have been the only one staying in the entire building! There was a ton of construction equipment and supplies lying around, hopefully it was under renovation because when I entered the room I was supposed to be staying in I noticed the flooring had been stapled to the ground with a heavy duty stapler, and not well… the flaps of laminate flooring were curling up at the sides. I feigned that the location wasn’t close enough to the port and left. For 20 Euros a night, it definitely was not a place I wanted to stay. I walked up a few blocks to the Elephantas Cafe and took a break. There aren’t many backpackers that visit Thessaloniki, so there were tons of people staring as I walked by with the Beast on my back, a pack on my front, large camera case to the side, and carrying a bag of souvenirs I can’t seem to find time to ship off… It was nice to relax for a bit in the Elephantas Cafe. They made me this amazing iced cappuccino and brought me free water. Probably noticed how red my face was. Really lovely place and people with free WiFi, which I used to do some research for another hostel in the area. I recommend Elephantas for coffee drinks, or alcoholic beverages as they are also a bar at night. I usually take a card from every business worth remembering, and I got a bit of a shock when I picked up a card for this lovely little cafe to find a naked woman on it in a pornographic pose. I chuckle about it now, especially since the same picture was advertised on the back of the Rent Room’s hostel map and brochure I picked up. But my first thought was, is this a lesbian bar? Not that it would have bothered me, but it would have explained a look or two I got from some of the employees… or it could just be my Beast and me. 

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Who thought the combination of Hot Coffee and Hot Dogs were a good idea? Yuck.

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I decided on Rent Rooms for my accommodation. Located right between the University and the Rotunda, they are within perfect walking distance of all the sites. The staff is extremely helpful, the hostel is secure and safe, and there is free breakfast and WiFi. The thing that gives this place two thumbs up in my book is the fact that they had a book on Minnesota travel sitting on their shelf. First place I have seen a book or anything even referencing Minnesota during my entire time traveling. It always makes me happy to see something advertising the home I love so much. Just because I travel a lot doesn’t mean I don’t love and miss the place I come from. I enjoy going home just as much as I do traveling. The only thing I found sketchy were the people wandering around the area. A lot of homeless and drug addicts in the area at night. Just keep your distance, keep to yourself, and walk straight with confidence and you’ll be fine. They really don’t bother anyone, they are more or less ornamental to Thessaloniki than anything else. I haven’t heard of anyone being mugged or injured during my stay. So that is promising. Don’t let this put you off from Rent Rooms as they have a key card entrance to the front of the building, and the accommodations are some of the best I’ve seen here.  

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The next day I decided to take a rest. After the whirlwind of shenanigans I had with the girls in Istanbul and travel following, I needed it. I slept in, took a nice walk around Aristotle’s Square and Tsimiski Street for shopping, got some delicious and decadent desserts from Ble, then went to see Snow White and the Huntsman. Which I loved! Mostly due to the extremely handsome main actor, Chris Hemsworth. Then I headed back to the room to plan the following day and chat with my new roommates, Karolina from Iceland and Isadora from Brazil. 

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I decided to take the hop on hop off bus around the city, recommended by Rent Rooms and Karolina, for 9 Euro. It picks up from the White Tower and takes you to multiple locations around the city. I didn’t end up going to all of them, being a bit tired with all the churches I had seen lately. I stopped by the Archaeological Museum, which happened to be free on the day I visited. Apparently at most public museums and archaeological sites in Greece, every Sunday between November 1st and March 31st are free. However, this does not necessarily apply to private museums. A couple of the exhibits were closed at the museum which was a bit disappointing, but what I saw was pretty amazing. I think that the helmets and coins were my favorite parts of the museum. The gold wreaths were a close second. I went back to the curb to wait only a few minutes until the next hop on hop off bus came. They run two buses that arrive at 40 minute intervals. I had already stopped at the Church of Agia Sofia and Aristotle’s Square on my walk the previous day so I didn’t get off the bus and continued on to the Church of Agios Dimitrios. It is considered one of the most beautiful Christian Churches standing today. It was reconstructed after being looted and destroyed, and now is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I got off at this stop not because of the church, even though it was nice to see, but because it was the closest stop to Ataturk’s House. After visiting Turkey and seeing how huge of an impact he had on the country, and of course after Adam convinced me, I had to go to see where Ataturk was born and lived. I was told by the bus driver that it was not far, just down the street a bit, so I started walking in the direction he pointed until I came to an large intersection. I turned around thinking I may have walked too far and asked a man for directions, but no one seemed to know where Ataturk’s house was. I was getting really frustrated. It couldn’t be that every person on this street didn’t know what I was talking about! I finally ran into a girl who asked me to repeat myself twice, then realized that I pronounced Ataturk differently and that is why no one understood where I was trying to go. Jeeze Louise! She told me to walk back down the street where I came from and it’s right past the police shack. Thinking back, all I remember in that area was a huge fence. So I went back and asked the police in the shack where Ataturk’s house was. Apparently it was behind the fortress I kept passing. Umm okayyy… He told me to go to the gate and hit the button. Which ended up being a buzzer that I had to push, look into the camera, say how many people were with me, and state my business before being allowed past the gate. I was then ushered through a metal detector, had to sign in on a clipboard filling out my full name, nationality, and country of residence. A man escorted me through the house and gave me tidbits of information he knew, but made sure I knew he was not a tour guide. I was so nervous I didn’t want to take a picture until we got to the room that Ataturk was born in, and in later years used as his office where he then held meetings about the future of Turkey’s youth. I felt more comfortable about looking around the house and with my escort, so I asked him why there was so much security for Ataturk’s house. He told me it was because the Turkish Consulate General lives there still and so this is his protection. I think my widened eyes gave my escort a bit of a chuckle. I had no idea! The whole time I’m freaking out to just breathe, and cursing Adam under my breath for leading me down this treacherous path to find out that I’m not only at Ataturk’s house, but at the Turkish Consulate General’s house! We left the house from the second floor and went out into the courtyard where another man was walking the cutest and most playful puppy I’ve seen in a while. I asked if I could pet the him and played with him for a bit before leaving. Once I was outside the gate I realized… I probably just played with the General’s puppy.

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Ataturk’s House

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The room that Ataturk was born in and later held meetings in regards to the future of Turkey’s youth

I walked back to the bus stop and got back on the bus to the Byzantian Walls and the Trigonio Tower. This fortress was used as the city’s last point of defense. When under attack, the civilians were to run to the top of the mountain to seek refuge behind its walls. I took the bus back down the hill to the Arch of Galerius, where Rent Rooms is located closest to, and took some pictures of the Arch and Rotunda before heading back to the hostel and leaving for the sunshine and beaches of Halkidiki. 

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My favorite gyro place! Gets a bit messy when eating so grab extra napkins. 

A lot of people say that they like Thessaloniki and there’s supposed to be a great nightlife, but I can’t confirm that since the only time I really went out at night was to get a chicken gyro at my favorite gyro spot across the street from the Arch of Galerius. I honestly think that the best thing about this city, that I could see, were the few sites and museums they had, which wouldn’t take you more than a day. Especially if you use the hop on and off bus. The Lonely Planet Guide also has a great recommendation for a walking route which includes more, but I think there are a little too many churches on their list for my taste, which with such repetition dulls the awe. But you can pick and chose from the list to create your own route as well. Everything is within walking distance as long as you have the time. I recommend only a day or two for Thessaloniki. 

Ending Where I Began In Istanbul

Coming back to Istanbul, I have completed the loop that it seems most every backpacker choses to do on their first visit to Turkey. Istanbul, Cappadocia, Kas, Fetihye, Pamukkale, Selcuk, then back to Istanbul. Most do the Blue Cruise, stay in the tree houses of Olympus, and party in Antalya as well, but I skipped those due to time. Now in Istanbul for the second time, I’m very comfortable with the kindness of the Turkish people, where I am going, and feel a sense of ease and belonging. Turkey is one of those places that I’m surprised more people don’t know or talk about visiting more often, and especially because I hadn’t heard much about it before coming. It was just per chance that I decided to come to Turkey after Southeast Asia, and It’s a must visit. I ended up spending more time than I planned but less than I would have liked. Just helps concrete my many excuses to come back.

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I met up with my friend, Jo, at Bada Bing and we relaxed at the hostel that night. The next day I finally made my decision to visit a Hamam and have a traditional Turkish Bath. It was a real internal struggle trying to decide if I was willing to go outside of my comfort zone in order to experience what I felt was a part of the Turkish culture. I have heard both bad and good things about them, even though some of the good things I have heard about the Hamams, like from Nat’s which you can read about here (http://globalbios.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/the-infamous-turkish-hamam-bath/) still sounded bad. But there are some things you can’t leave a country without experiencing yourself and I decided that this was one of them. I ended up going with one of my new roommates, Catherine. We headed to the Gedikpasa Hamami Turkish Baths, recommended to us by the Bada Bing Hostel. We walked through the Egyptian Spice Market and down past Sultanahmet towards the University until we finally found the Hamam. I was really glad to see that the sexes were segregated in this Hamam, which would mean that I’d be at bit less freaked out during the experience. Catherine and I came prepared wearing our swimsuits, and I was just happy that we were allowed to keep them on. Once we changed into the cloth towels we were given, we were escorted to a sauna where we met a girl who had just finished her bath. She told us that it wasn’t as creepy as she thought it would be, that is… after she got over the fact she was laying on a marble slab naked… she obviously hadn’t come as prepared as we did. Internal pat on the back. After we were done being roasted in the sauna, we went to find the women who would be bathing us. They were all sitting in front of the TV watching Turkish Soap Operas and regretfully left their places in front of the TV to lead us back to the marble slab. Hopefully we didn’t catch them at a bad time. I’d hate it if Marlena had been kidnapped for the hundredth time and we made them miss it… We were both told to lay our cloth towels down on the slab of marble and lay down on our backs. I was getting a little nervous when my slightly larger than normal lady came in and was wrapped in nothing but a cloth towel. I chose this moment to close my eyes and tell myself that at least she wasn’t a large hairy man. You have to take your wins where you can get them. She came back to me with some soap and a large sponge and when I opened my eyes I saw that she was wearing a black string bikini top and some lacy red underwear. Not great, but MUCH better than naked. When Catherine’s lady came in, she also wore the same outfit, but she looked much cuter in it since it fit her properly. Kind of a weird work uniform. I think I prefer my old red lanyard… but hey. First we were lathered up with soap that made these huge soapy bubbles, then buckets of water were thrown on us to rinse us off. A plastic blade is then used to scrape the dead skin off of your body, which works remarkably well. Laying there being washed by this large woman I decided I felt like a little baby, she even slapped my side to make me turn over so she could wash my back. At this point Catherine and I were told to take our tops off. There is no better way to get close to someone then to get naked in front of them, right? I was just happy I got to keep my bottoms on. Even if she did wedge them up my butt. At the end of washing me, she shampooed my hair too, pulling it straight up into the air like my mom used to do when I was little. While I was completely covered in bubbles, she started giving me a massage. When she got to my calves I guess she hit one of my many ticklish points because I found myself trying really hard to refrain from laughing until I just started shaking on the marble slab and broke out into giggles. Which in turn made us all start laughing. Once my massage was done and I was covered from head to toe in bubbles, she brought me over to a sink and used a bowl to rinse me off before taking Catherine and me to a cool pool. We swam around in it for a bit before finally going back to the changing rooms and getting dressed. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I actually enjoyed my Hamam visit. I’m really glad that I didn’t have any of the horror experiences I had heard about; Large hairy men washing you down in your bikini and trying to tickle your belly to make you laugh… I came out of the Hamam fresh, clean, and in need of lotion. The whole Turkish Bath experience cost us 40TL per person. If you’re curious about the traditional Turkish Bath experience and its history you can read about it at Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_bath.

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Jo, Catherine and I decided to take the rest of the day to relax and shop. I was on a mission to find some Turkish Bowls and possibly a lamp, if reasonably priced. We tried the Egyptian Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is an intense place and you will get weird comments from the shop owners, especially as a female. Although the men get occasional shout outs of “Ay! Tom Cruise!”, the women get much more of a selection. Walking around with Jo and Catherine we got Charlie’s Angels, Shakira, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, and much more. Along with the “Lady Lady Lady Lady come gimme your money!” I was getting pretty annoyed and restless at finding these bowls, but it seemed the more we were harassed by the shop owners the less I wanted to buy the bowls. We did end up finding a pretty good price for the bowls, but I wanted to check a couple more stores before settling on those ones. By the time I decided that the bowls I had placed on hold were the ones I wanted we couldn’t find the store again through the maze of the Grand Bazaar. I could have sworn I knew where the shop was, but it was a Turkish Labyrinth. Eventually I gave up and we headed back to the hostel to get ready to go out.

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As we we got ready, my friends were talking about the last night they’d gone out. The hostel owner had taken them out, which is normal with the hostels in Istanbul. The owner will take you around to the clubs and bars that are popular, which is nice because they can be really hard to find on your own. Most sit up on the 2nd or 3rd floors of buildings in Taxim Square without much advertisement to lead you to them. The owner had brought his friends, which is normal as well, but apparently his friends had then proceeded to hit on them in a way which made me think that the owner was offering up females from his hostel like a rotating buffet. Gross and creepy. They were hoping to avoid them all so we could just go out the three of us and have a good time. It’s never fun feeling like you have to sneak in and out of a place you’re paying to stay at so you can avoid the owner and his sleazy friends. Even though the owner wasn’t the main offender, his friends seemed to just “randomly” hang out at the hostel searching for their pick of new females staying there. This is his place of business, it’s one thing if you are taking your customers out to make them happy and show them a good time, but it’s another to bring your friends with so that they can “have their pick”. I was really missing The Big Apple hostel’s cleanliness, better facilities, free breakfast, delicious and cheap kebab cart available outside the hostel, and excellent, non-creepy staff. All for 4 TL cheaper too. The Big Apple was 21 TL and Bada Bing was costing 25 TL. I guess costs 4 TL for discomfort. We wanted to stay near Taxim Square though, and this place came recommended as a good base to go out to the bars from. They just forgot to mention that the owner and his friends were kind of clingy to the females… Everytime we went somewhere it seemed the owner was always there trying to find out where we were going and expecting an invite every time. That is, when he wasn’t just showing up unannounced. I was sick of it after the first night and chose to ignore him the rest of my stay. I think he got the hint. Not everyone who worked at Bada Bing was bad though. Caroline was an exchange student from America studying in Turkey and working at Bada Bing. She would take us out and we’d have a blast with her. She’s really sweet, fun, and always knew the best places to go. We found out that there was a free Aviici concert playing and she took us there. I’m glad she did too, I think we would have had a really hard time finding it on our own, if we did at all. After going to the Aviici concert there was no way I could wake up and leave Turkey that night, so I ended up sleeping in and staying another night. The longer I travel, the longer I seem to stay at places I really enjoy and cut out other places to save for a future date. My friend, Andrea, had told me at the beginning of my trip that this would happen. That there would come a point in my trip that I would have to accept I can’t see everything I had planned on seeing. So true. After two months I have started to really accept that and be completely fine with it. Now it’s just an excuse to travel more, to be able to stay places and enjoy them more instead of rushing through them. I’m much happier with this mode of travel. As long as I make it to the places I have already purchased tickets for I am good to go. I bought a plane ticket to Thessaloniki for the next day with Turkish airlines, walked a group of people to the Aya Sophia, then went out on a mission to buy the bowls I’ve been searching for my entire trip. I finally found some on my second trip to the Grand Bazaar and headed back to Bada Bing happily with my purchase. That night we took Mattie out for his birthday, and decided to go to a club recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. Caroline had finals that week and couldn’t take us out. When we arrived the building didn’t look like much, but most clubs in Taxim Square don’t. We went up a narrow staircase to arrive at the top floor of the building where lively Turkish music played, and locals danced feverishly alongside the beat. It was such a surprise to find and so amazing to see. I loved it and we all joined in the crazy dancing. I was really glad to have had a traditional Turkish night out, dancing and listening to Turkish music. Toward the end of the night, long after the band had finished and gone, top 40’s and spanish music began to play keeping us dancing and drinking late into the night. It was a great way for me to say goodbye to Turkey. And hopefully a great birthday for Mattie.

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The next day I woke up to the sunshine coming through the window, birds chirping, and as I stretched and opened my eyes I looked over across the room to see that our new male roommate was busy wanking… AHHH! Luckily he didn’t see me because I did not want to have that confrontation. I quickly closed my eyes tightly, and pretended to be asleep. Shortly after he left the room to shower, which is where he should have been doing his business if anywhere!!! Then I woke up and looked over at Jo who had just woken up and told her what happened. She was freaked out since she was closest to him, hahaha! Good thing he had left and I didn’t have to see him again. I don’t think I could have refrained from laughing in his face. I packed up, said my goodbyes, and headed to the airport, sadly leaving my friends, Jo and Catherine behind to enjoy the rest of their nights in Istanbul. I wholeheartedly recommend Turkey to all travelers. It is not a destination to miss out on. It has more than you could possibly think. The nightlife, shopping, ruins, museums, gorgeous beaches and water, wreck diving, and breathtaking landscapes. There is truly something for everyone here. But it now time for me to move on to the next destination.

Turkey I will miss you, but get ready Greece! Here I come! XXX