A Travellerspoint blog

The Land of the Gods - Greece Part 2 - Ios

IOS

Ios was our next stop and after an hour-ish ferry ride we stepped off the boat to an unexpected sleepy little island. We had heard that this was THE party island in the summer and were looking forward to some late nights out but what we didn’t realize is this island almost completely shuts down once summer is over. Hotels and restaurants were closed, buses ran less frequently and even the “locals” left their businesses to return to their home towns, usually on different islands, until the next summer season arrived. What a difference from Santorini! We welcomed the rest and relaxation immediately, hanging out by the pool and moseying around the port.

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The town of Chora was super cute with zig-zagging cobblestone pathways and beautiful flowered trees overhanging the shops and restaurants. Even though it was a steep climb from our hotel, we explored as much of it as possible and eventually found some amazing old wooden wind mills and the Odysseas Elytis, an open air theatre that overlooks the sea.

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After hanging out in the town and some nearby beaches for a few days, we decided to rent a jeep and toured the island. It was so nice to get out and discover the secrets of this incredible island. While we were driving, it felt like there was no one else in the world but us. Like we could do whatever we wanted and no one would know. We stumbled upon some secluded beaches that we made our own for a few hours and we found the Tomb of Homer, which was quite disheveled and missing pieces but was still very interesting to see.

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On another part of the island, some extremely old wooden windmills attempted to blow in the wind and an old castle, perched high on top of the cliff with trees and shrubs growing through the old stone walls and footpaths. The ruins still had some distinguishable rooms and even a church in the middle that is still used by the locals today. Standing on top of the island like that, feeling isolated from the world and taking in the sights that were only meant for us that day was just so surreal. It was the perfect end to our day and island trip.

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Though this island was not as busy as Santorini, Ios was a pleasant surprise and we truly enjoyed the sights and relaxation. We would have loved to spend more time on some other Greek Islands, but with reservations and plans calling our names, we had to leave the beautiful Cyclades. We will be back for some more exploring and incredible sightseeing, but for now the city of Athens awaits!

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 16:20 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

The Land of the Gods - Greece Part 1 - Santorini

Santorini

As long as I (Sean) can remember, I have had a fascination with Israel. I cannot for the life of me remember when it started or why, but I have always felt a need to visit. Combine that with Lindsay’s desire to visit Jordan, we had quite the finale to our adventure. The months leading up to the trip we had heard it from all sides. Everyone who we knew had an opinion on whether or not it was a good idea to visit such a volatile region. Some people thought it would be absolutely insane to go to Israel, even leading to the question “why in the hell would you want to go THERE?” Every time I was asked that question or anything similar, I never really had a good answer. My answer always seemed to revert back to “because I have always wanted to”. That answer never seemed to be adequate for people. Most people simply accepted it because they had no choice, but it didn’t always mean they liked the decision. As more and more people created a negative environment for our plans (even though we understood it was because they loved us and didn’t want us to get hurt), it slipped to the backburner for a while. But, as we drew closer to our departure, I met with a couple of people who we both work with. One is from Israel and visits there frequently and another had just returned from the region. After talking with both of these individuals, it renewed our interest in the region again. They both had a type of energy when speaking about Israel and all it has to offer, even with the “security threats” that exist there. It was great to hear the different perspective on countries who receive mostly negative news coverage. As the trip progressed we followed the Israeli news like hawks. It seemed as the trip went on that everybody in the region had settled a bit and it seemed as though things were going to work out. Unfortunately the day we were supposed to purchase our flights to Tel Aviv, a fighter jet was shot down and the tensions in the region sparked once again. We unfortunately had to make the decision to delay our Israel/Jordan trip for another year. Even though we were both very disappointed (our parents were probably ecstatic), we promised each other that we will get there, even if it takes years. So with the weather turning frigid in Germany, we decided to jump ship to the lovely land of the God’s…Greece!

Santorini lived up to the hype, it was stunning! We were so blown away when we arrived to this little gem in the Cyclades of Greece. However with the beauty came a little bit of a disaster on arrival as our taxi driver dropped us off at the completely wrong hotel. And for those of you who know me, I (Sean) am usually a pretty organized guy. I figured “how hard could it be to find this hotel, it’s a small island and we are staying in a little beach town, no problem”. That attitude along with having no map and a non-functioning phone mixed in with a slight language barrier led us on quite the adventure. 45mins later and a shirt that looked like I had just jumped in the pool, we arrived at our hotel. We debated for days on whether or not to stay on the beach side or the cliff side of Santorini, but after spending one day at this hotel we knew we made the right choice. I rarely advertise hotels/hostels that we stay at, but I must make a mention of the Santa Elena B&B in Kamari. The staff at this hotel were absolutely fantastic. It was like we were staying with a Greek family at their own home. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome and the homemade breakfast was the icing on the cake.

This amazing little island is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological archipelago. The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which occurred some 3600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left volcanic ash deposits hundreds of metres deep and which according to our volcano guide may have led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, through a tsunami that was created post eruption.

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One side has lovely black rock, red rock or white rock beaches depending on which section of the geologic volcanic layers have been exposed, while the other more famous side boasts stunning cliff edges with beautiful white buildings topped with blue roofs and views of the ocean as far as the eye can see. Lying on the beach was perfect, though swimming was a bit difficult. The waves were pretty big and the slimy large rocks in the water, which were old, now smoothed lava from previous eruptions, were quite hard to stand up on. There was a lot of falling and splashing!

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Fira

Our first night took us to the other side of the island to the hustle and bustle of Fira, one of the more well-known towns in Santorini. Perched on top of and even built into the towering cliffs are shimmering white hotels, restaurants, boutique shops and the occasional house, surrounded by zig-zagging cobblestone pathways. With beautiful views and hundreds of tourists, it was quite easy to wander and perhaps get lost for a moment or two. We found a restaurant with a rooftop patio we decided would be the best place to watch the sunset, and that’s where we parked ourselves for the rest of the night. Our first Greek sunset had us hooked. I (sean) have been to Greece twice before (never to Santorini), but I had forgotten how delicious the food is in Greece. Whether it was the REAL Greek Salad, the Saganaki, the seafood or simply the fresh ingredients that we in North America sometimes lack, Greek food is some of the best in the world.

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Ancient Thira

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We did two breathtaking hikes; one that took us to the windiest place in Greece (and to one of the oldest settlements from the Minoan era, Ancient Thira) and the other took us along the cliff side from the town of Fira to the town of Oia, which is home to the most photographed spot in Santorini due to its stunning sunsets. We climbed the mountain/cliff/volcano edge to the ruins of Ancient Thira, which is thought to be one of the oldest settlements from the Minoan Era. Although it mostly looks like crumbled stone and the occasional formation of a house, it was neat to see the remains of how advanced this civilization actually was. They had sewage systems, pipes that carried cold AND hot water, roadways, a theatre and some buildings that stood 3 stories tall.

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The highlight of this hike though, other than the amazing views and ruins, was the wind. We found out later that it is the windiest place in Greece and we would both definitely agree with that fact. It was so gusty and strong that it almost knocked us off the side of the cliff, rivalling the hurricane winds we felt in New York for Hurricane Sandy only a few years ago. Crazy!

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Fira to Oia

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Our next hike was another incredible adventure. A cobblestone, dirt and pumas pathway lead us from Fira to a town called Oia, on the north-west side of the island. The views from that cliff side were some of the most stunning we have ever seen. To look out onto an everlasting sea with small islands popping up every now and then and seeing the sun setting slowly in the distance with colours you wouldn't believe existed in nature. The hike takes approximately 4 hours, but as you can see, very few people actually do the hike and it is a wonderful way to see the rest of the island. It was a very calming experience once you leave the town of Fira. The sunset at the end of the hike, overlooking the large church and town of Oia was breathtaking. It’s the most photographed sight in Greece and the pictures will never do it justice. Even though we were hot, sweaty and tired, it was completely worth it.

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Volcano Tour

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We also did a sail boat tour that took us to the active volcano, the hot springs and the island of Therasia, which was once attached to the rest of the island. Being able to walk on an active volcano (last eruption in 1950) and see the smoke expelled from the ground was riveting. This volcano caused so much damage in the past, destroying cities and civilizations and here we were meandering along its’ paths, carelessly taking pictures and enjoying the sunshine.

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We spent a full week in Santorini but it went by way to fast. We could have easily spent another week there as we still missed some of the things that we wanted to accomplish. I guess that is just another excuse to come back. We are now off to the island of Ios.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 13:49 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Nuremberg

We have now parted ways with Neil and Amanda, as they head towards Belgium and onwards to home. We would love to see and do more of Germany but didn’t realize that the whole country would be so expensive and fully booked during Oktoberfest! Instead of heading to Berlin, we decided to spend a few days in Nuremberg and then most likely head to Greece for some warmth because it’s starting to become significantly cooler here. Nuremberg is a beautiful little city that we unfortunately only had two days to explore.

Nazi Party Rally Grounds

The first place we explored was the Nazi Party Rally grounds. This 11km area is filled with massive buildings, lakes and pathways and is known for some of the most iconic pictures from WWII. The complex, whose grandeur and style were inspired by classical Roman architecture, served as the site for the ritualistic Nazi party rallies between 1933 and 1938. Constructed by ‘Hitler’s favorite architect’ and Nazi minister Albert Speer, it formed the backdrop to the synchronized marching and showmanship captured in so many pictures and films. Large parts of Speer’s intended complex, such as the world’s biggest stadium, were never completed after the outbreak of World War II. Much of the architecture was defaced by advancing Allied soldiers at the end of the war and have since fallen into disrepair. The city of Nuremberg recently announced 90 million Euros are to be used to restore the entire grounds area. We have read that many people who live in Germany and Nuremberg disagree with this action, even though it is part of our history, many feel that the cost is to high. What do you think??

the Congress Hall

The first building we came upon was the Congress Hall, which is the biggest preserved National Socialist Party Monumental building in Germany. The building was designed to look exactly like the Coliseum in Rome. Even though it was so large there was an incredible amount of thought and detail put into it. On the inside, the bricks from the walls were crumbling away, plants were growing in and around walls and fences, and some old “rooms” were being used for storage. The outside however is made up of clinker with a facade of granite panels.

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The Great Road & The Zeppelinfeld

Next, we walked the pathways along the Dutzendteich Lake to the Great Road, which is 2km long and 40m wide. It was intended to be the central axis of the site and a parade road for the Wehrmacht (The unified armed forces of Germany). In its northwestern prolongation the road points towards Nuremberg Castle. This was to create a relation between the role of Nuremberg during the Third Reich and its role during medieval times. Now, a parking lot for festivals and football matches and once used as a runway for the U.S. army, it’s hard to imagine the amount of people that were involved in these massive parades and rallies. Continuing along some paths, we at last found the Zeppelinfeld, where Hitler used to make his propaganda speeches. Looking out from his podium, Hitler could watch thousands of soldiers marching by, professing their loyalty with the familiar Nazi salute to their Fuhrer. We both had the chance to stand on this perch and to see the enormity of this field and stadium. It was an experience like no other in the sense that we have visited so many places where WWII was fought, but this was the first time we had experienced a place that was used prior to the wars beginning. To think that this was exactly where Hitler stood and exactly where he made his hateful speeches that eventually allowed for the atrocities that occurred many years later, made us speechless. It will remain one of the most humbling experiences of our lives. We have included some old pictures to give everyone some perspective on what it used to look like.

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Old Town

Once we made it back from the rally grounds, we decided to wander around the old city in Nuremberg. We passed through the old city walls, which are still “protecting” the castle inside. Inside we found lots of new shops and restaurants, but also extremely old churches, bridges market spaces and of course, the castle. The city was built in medieval times around the 10th century, so the architecture was breathtaking. Enormous churches towered above us with gargoyles and solemn statues staring down. Cobblestone roads and bridges were leading us up the hill until finally we saw the stunning castle. It really was quite the climb to get to the gates, but it was so worth it once we got inside. We could see the whole city from up there! There were these perfect German wooden beams that cover the walls, with pink flowers flowing over the railings of windows and walls that were made of stone over 1m thick surrounded by gorgeous manicured gardens. Sigh….oh to be royalty ;)

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It was definitely a packed 2 days, but it opened our eyes to the enormity of what the Nazis were trying to accomplish prior the start of WWII. Germany you have been good to us and we look forward to seeing the rest of you very soon. Until next time.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 14:05 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Oktoberfest

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Well, there isn’t much to say about this crazy endeavour we partook in. Oktoberfest in Munich, where the original celebration of the marriage between Princess Therese and Prince Ludwig took place in 1810, was an experience unto any other. We would describe it to Canadians by saying it is like the Calgary Stampede; except there is lederhosen and dirndls instead of cowboy boots and jeans, baked salty pretzels instead of mini donuts and the largest beer tents we have ever witnessed and probably the biggest in the world. They stood tall along the grounds; everywhere we looked along the main street, 14 to be exact. It was an experience like no other. Beer, Beer and more Beer, may have led to a couple of rough mornings, but it was very much worth it. We feel bad saying this but, we feel that Oktoberfest might actually be the greatest outdoor show on earth (sorry Calgary). Just like in Ibiza, we feel that the pictures can tell enough of a story and tell it better than our words could ever do, but finally we want to say thank you to all of the locals who made us feel welcome and made attempts to teach us the ways and the history of Oktoberfest and thank you to the many others who we met along the way, who made our experience that much better. Enjoy!

Day 1

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Day 2

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Beer Tents

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Its funny how half way across the world.... you can run into your old ringette coach. Small World

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 11:11 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Germany - The Highs and Lows of Bavaria

Munich

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We took the train from Prague to Munich which, after we slept for the first part, turned in to a beautiful countryside trip. We knew we had finally entered Germany as soon as we saw solar panels on top of every single house (even barns!) and wind turbines every which way. Amanda was in heaven! It was so relieving that some countries in this world are truly trying to make a difference. Our first night in Munich, Sean took us to the Augusteiner Brewhouse where we had our first German meal and beer out of real steins! Let’s just say, the steins led us to an interesting night filled with outdoor beer gardens, intense discussions and a slightly rougher than usual morning ;)

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Dachau

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The next day took us to the Dachau Concentration Camp. This was the first concentration camp Hitler constructed. He used it to show the Red Cross that it was for housing political prisoners, even though it eventually became a place of forced labour and torture of Jewish people, gypsies, emigrants, homosexuals, etc. Many times the Red Cross came through to this camp and each time, they states it was fit to continue its practice. If only they had seen what was really happening to these poor people. As we entered the infamous iron gates that read, “Arbeit Macht Frie”, or “Work will set you free” (which has recently been stolen from the camp), we were overcome with emotion.

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It is truly hard to explain the feelings that envelop you when you’re standing in a place of such horror, a place where humans literally destroyed other humans. To walk the grounds where thousands of people were treated with such brutality was truly an eye opening experience. We were able to walk through the original buildings that the prisoners would have walked (Most are now part of a museum and exhibition). Where the prisoners would have met the guards, where all their belongings were stripped from them and taken away, sent to the bath houses where they were shaved and “cleaning” solution was used to wash the filth from their impure bodies and finally through old torture rooms where some prisoners were unfortunate enough to undergo medical testing.

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We are so glad that this camp has become a memorial site. Though it is still difficult to know that something so appalling happened and that no apology will ever be enough for the millions of people who died and the families who were torn apart and lost, we as a society hopefully can learn from these atrocities so not to repeat them in the future.

Berchtesgaden

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Continuing with our WWII journey, the next day we decided to rent a car and drive to Berchtesgaden, where Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” has been maintained. This was a bit of a lighter day than the Dachau Concentration Camp and I really think the group needed it. Because we rented a car, we were able to experience what it was like to drive on the Autobahn and boy were the guys excited! I think they made it to 170km/hr in a Kia hatchback. We blasted some music and made an Autobahn chant where only the lucky few will get to hear it! ;) We also rented the car because we knew we’d be able to enjoy the outstanding views and scenery of the Bavarian countryside. For those of you who have seen the Sound of Music, It looked identical to scene where they are escaping at the end of the movie and end up climbing the mountains (yep, movie reference number two!). There were massive mountains shooting up all around us, luscious green valley’s with gorgeous farms and animals everywhere we looked. Trees that looked so fluffy and bushy on the rolling hills and of course the clearest of blue skies to make it one of the most magnificent places we have ever been.
After a few stops and some amazing photo ops, we ended up in the parking lot where we had to take a bus up the steepest, most windy road I think we’ve ever been on. Not a road for the faint of heart, or those who were scared of heights, aka…all of us! When we reached the top, we found ourselves entering this cool, wet, brick cave that led us to the brass elevator which would take us up to the Eagle’s Nest.

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We later found out that the building of this elevator, tunnel and retreat was an architectural masterpiece. The people working on this project did an incredible job, which is one of the reasons it still stands today. After a quick ride up, the doors opened to reveal….a restaurant! I (Lindsay) apparently didn’t do my homework and had no idea that this famous building where Hitler once ruled had been turned into a tourist restaurant. I (Sean) feel that Hitler would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what his retreat in the mountains has become. We left the restaurant, walked outside and up the mountain, enjoying the spectacular views from on top of the world. Hopefully our pictures can do justice!

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Neuschwanstein

On our last day before Oktoberfest, we thought we’d take in some more sights. So, into the Kia and on to the Autobahn we went again, this time reaching 190km/hr. The boys were giggling in the front seat at their accomplishment, not knowing the girls were in the back having just as much fun! We exited off the highway and onto the Romantic Road and enjoyed the countryside views until Amanda shouted, “I think that’s it!” And there it was, Schloss Neuschwanstein, or as it’s more famously known, The Disney Castle. This castle is perched high on a hill with mountains encompassing it.

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This castle has been on my (Lindsay’s) bucket list for years and years and it was so exciting when we finally made it. Its’ white stone walls were shining in the sun and the pointed towers were so tall, protecting those who lived there. Surrounded by a magical forest that hid a magnificent waterfall and a swinging bridge, we were truly in a fantasy land and did not want to leave.

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We even started singing songs in a Disney-like manner for our hike down the hill, well, the girls did at least! We made it down the hill to a cute little town with a large lake and another castle, Schloss Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig II actually spent most of his time. We only admired it from afar, but the entire place was absolutely beautiful.

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It was a perfect day and a perfect fairy tale ending to southern Germany. Onto Oktoberfest!

Posted by BlondeandCurly 11:12 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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