A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Julie's blog

Hong Kong

semi-overcast 33 °C
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I had to catch the airport express train from the Airport to Kowloon, then catch a shuttle bus to my hotel. I was quite worried about doing it, particularly with my big and now very heavy bag, but it was a relative breeze. Hong Kong Airport had information 'directors' placed everywhere, and they were really helpful. The train ran every few minutes and there was plenty of room for my luggage (unlike the train in Italy). The shuttle bus took me right to the door of my hotel, so that worked out really well.

The Hotel (Eaton) was huge, and I had to request a room change (a first for me). The first room I was allocated had a strong cigarette smoke smell, and without any opening windows I just couldn't bear it. I was given a new room without any problems, so I really do have to give the hotel credit for that.

They had a really helpful lady on their tour information desk - and from the choices she gave me I picked a half day Lantau Island tour for HK$680. It was great - I loved the 5 hours or so we spent travelling to and exploring Lantau Island - it was really interesting and different, I loved the Buddhist influence there. I got to ride the Ngong Ping 360 cable car - it takes 25 minutes to travel the 5.7 kilometres to Ngong Ping Village - it's quite a ride and you get amazing views of Tung Chung Bay and Hong Kong Island's skyscrapers.

I got up close to the Tian Tan Buddha (The Big Buddha) - which was great as it was something I had on my wish list of things I wanted to see. The buddha was completed in 1993 and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.

I saw the Po Lin Buddhist Monastery, it was a beautiful example of Chinese architecture, with heaps of colourful Buddhist elements. It's a very sacred place to the Hong Kong people, so no photos were allowed inside. In the piazza in front of the Monastery there was a lot of incense being burned and some very content cows roaming around freely grazing on anything they could find (including trash from the rubbish bins!).

As we drove from Ngong Ping to the Tai O Village we passed (and had to stop for) many more free roaming cows. There were very few cars on the road on Lantau Island, our local guide explained that the government is working on keeping the island a 'rural' area - and in keeping with that principal, you have to have a special licence to be able to drive on the Lantau Island roads. It's very difficult to get one - I believe they are usually only given out to local residents and tour companies.

The fishing village we visited was Tai O (meaning Big Bay). It was a traditional fishing village and hosted a fish market (which stank can I say!). The living conditions in the village looked to be very basic, the stilt houses seemed to be only just holding up, and they all had drying racks under them where the fish were processed for market. Some of the houses were in unlivable condition due to damage caused in previous typhoons. The village was a little like Venice in that the only access to the houses was by boat. I've never seen anything like this village before, so it was certainly an experience for me.

I caught the subway a few times in Hong Kong - a very different deal to Singapore. Hong Kong subways are very crowded, it's standing room only, and you have to push your way in to fit onto the train - not something I found comfortable doing at all, but it was either do that or be left standing on the platform like a ninny....

I found the Ladies Market - the hawkers there are fierce - I had them chasing after me abusing me when I said no to buying something from their stall... it didn't worry me too much - I was feeling pretty street wise by this time. Hong Kong is definitely a great place to shop, with an abundance of electronic stores - they are very big on technology there I noticed.

One of my purchases in Hong Kong was a sun umbrella - I found it dual purpose, not only did it protect me from the suns UV rays, but it caught the drips from all the air conditioning units that had been plopping water (or something that seemed watery???) on my head as I was walking along the street - awesome!

Posted by Julie's blog 21:30 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Santorini

sunny 25 °C
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I arrived by ferry at Santorini, not really sure what to expect... and it wasn't Roberto that's for sure. He wouldn't have been out of place on a movie set - he was so handsome!! He was my local travel agent's representative, and he was great, even giving me his private cell phone number to use if I got lost (hmmmm - I wonder how he could tell that might be an issue with me!)

My hotel was again in the traditional style - and of course no elevator. The thing about Santorini is there is no flat - it's stairs all the way. I had thirty to go up to get to my room. Actually 'rooms' plural - somehow I ended up with a nice 'suite' consisting of a living room as well as a bedroom and two balconies.

The guy manning reception was very helpful and offered to lug my big bag up to my room for me and back down again when I checked out.

My hotel was in Fira, and it was just a short walk to get to where the amazing Caldera Views are. Santorini like Mykonos was a photographers dream. I really couldn't get enough of the amazing scenery. The taverna's on the cliff top were an incredible place to take the weight off and have a refreshing Greek beer (which is actually quite nice I've discovered).

Oia (pronounced 'ee' as in 'feet' then 'a' as in 'car' is world renowned for it's sunsets and traditional architecture. It's 11 kms up the road from Fira and it's possible to hike there, but it was so hot, and my camera bag so heavy I decided to bus it. From Oia you get amazing views of the Palia volcano and Thirassia Island. I saw some gorgeous blue domed churches when I was there too.

I had a go at getting a good sunset photo from Oia - but the crowds of people everywhere made it virtually impossible. I didn't have my tripod either, so decided not to get too hung up about it. There was a kind of a festival going on the evening I was there too - there's a particular 'sport' going on in Santorini - I think they call it extreme jumping or something along those lines. The festival involved a whole lot of these 'jumpers' getting together and putting on displays of their skills for us tourists. They leap up off the top of buildings doing flips and they jump from one cliff top building to the next doing somersaults as they go. I couldn't watch it - it was really scary, if they fell it would be nasty. There didn't seem to be any safety nets, helmets or protective gear being worn or first aid people nearby.

It was after 8pm by the time I got back to the bus stop - and I felt a bit freaked out about finding my way back to Fira and my hotel in the dark. When the bus came it was a mad rush to get on - there were too many of us to fit. I'm getting a bit over all the pushing in I have to say. Anyhow, I managed to get on and although the bus was way overcrowded, stuffy and I was tired, I made it home in one piece.

One day I caught the bus, I noticed the lady (a local) sitting beside me cross herself as we set off, and again when we arrived (in one piece) at her bus stop. That gave me something to think about!

I decided to spend my last day at Santorini at the Beach. I had three beaches to choose from, black beach, white beach or red beach (true!). I chose Red Beach even though it was a mission to get there, I thought it sounded the most interesting. After I got off the bus there was a rocky walk to navigate around the bay and then quite a steep rock climb down to the beach itself. (or you could catch a water taxi). The 'beach' was really unusual, it sits at the bottom of a cliff and the cliff is red rock - it gives a really interesting perspective. The absolute best part was the water. OMG the Mediterranean. It's so pretty, and it's the BEST to swim in. I was in and out of the water all day - I loved loved loved it! There were quite a few people snorkeling, and it wasn't too crowded on the day I was there - it was really lovely.

Santorini Airport was a dog of a place. A real nightmare to get through. Far far too small for the amount of travellers using it, There was no signage and the customer service was extremely poor. It was mandatory to have your boarding pass with you when you presented at the check in counter (they wouldn't give you one there). The only way you could get your boarding pass was to use the airports one and only machine (you can imagine the queues) and how frustrated everyone got being sent away from the check in counter to queue up for that one machine. I got it wrong, but heaps of other people did too, they didn't have signage to clearly instruct us on their system. After our bags got weighted we had to take them to the conveyerbelt at the other side of the room and load it onto the conveyetbelt ourselves. Then - we had to go back outside the terminal (in the heat) and queue up again to go through customs - it was pretty terrible I have to say. Oh - and the boarding waiting area was far too small for the amount of us waiting to board the plane, it was dirty - the doors to the toilets were open and there was a terrible stink coming out... it was yuk! Bad airport that one :-(

The final thing that comes to mind about Santorini (and it applies to Mykonos too) is that cats abound in the shops. I think they live in the shops they make themselves so at home - even sleeping on the merchandise. No-body shoos them away - and they all look pretty well fed and cared for. Luckily I'm a cat person and found it cute. It wouldn't be so great if you were allergic to cats though.

Posted by Julie's blog 10:28 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Mykonos

sunny 25 °C
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My first thought when Mykonos came into view from the ferry was 'oh wow! this is what I've been waiting for'. I couldn't wait to get out and explore, the architecture is just so different to anything I've seen before, and I loved it....a photographer's dream ☺

I was thrilled with my hotel too, it's built in the traditional style, and totally unique on the inside and out. It's family owned and the hospitality I was shown was hands down the best I've had at any hotel on this trip to date.

Mykonos is windy, maybe even windier than Wellington, but it's a warm wind, and it didn't bother me, I got used to it quickly, and actually found it quite refreshing.

The food is to die for, exceptionally fresh and really tasty, I've been trying some of the local specialties ....olives taste really different here, they are much stronger than the ones we get in NZ.

I got lost on my first excursion on foot from the hotel..... nothing new with that. ...I felt a bit stupid as Mykonos isn't exactly big, but in my defence there are no street signs and the houses do look similar to one another!

The architecture in Mykonos is mainly influenced by the Cyclades region. Buildings on Mykonos need to be able to cope with intense and extended sun exposure, strong winds, high humidity levels, and long periods without rain. This is where the Cycladic architecture of cubic shapes and flat roofs for protection from the strong winds comes in. The northern sides of the houses all have small openings for ventilation and the stone walls help with cooling, and the white-washed walls minimise the absorption of heat. All very effective and pretty at the same time. The windmills and domed chapels were just too pretty for words.

I took the boat trip out to Delos Island - it's an archaeological site, and also according to Greek mythology the birthplace of Apollo. I joined a walking tour with a local guide, and was really glad I did, the history of the island is really interesting. The boat trip itself was really nice too, a half hour each way from Mykonos. It cost E$20 for the boat, E$12 for entry onto the island due to it's museum status and E$10 for the local guide. I found it well worth it.

I have to catch local buses from time to time. That's an experience in itself. There are so many scooters and quad bikes on the roads in Mykonos, it really is quite crazy. I couldn't get over how many people ride without helmets too. Anyway - the bus - they like to cram them full, and they're a bit rickety - so I don't really like going on them, but the drivers seem good at their job, and we've always arrived at our destination safely -so whew! I always thank the driver when I get off the bus - but I've noticed NO-ONE else does!!!

Posted by Julie's blog 09:50 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Kalimera from Athens

sunny 25 °C
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Athens airport was a breeze to get through, nice and simple, without loads of red tape. My transfer and check in went smoothly and I was able to get out for a good walk (the taxi driver said Athens was quite safe for me to walk around even at night??)

I very quickly discovered the people of Athens are far friendlier than Italians - they all spoke reasonably good English and went out of their way to help me. It turns out the warnings I'd heard about not being able to withdraw cash from ATM machines doesn't apply to tourists - it only applies to anyone holding a Greek bank account and the per day cash withdrawal limit for those people is E$60. I also heard that a lot of petrol stations have recently closed down - but I didn't see that, or get affected by it.

You can't walk through the streets and miss seeing the trouble Greece is in - there are many many unoccupied, crumbling, graffitied buildings throughout the main city area. Beggars and illegal street vendors are all around. A lot of work that got started for the 2002 Olympics is yet to be finished (the 'new' port being one such place). My taxi driver and I had a good chuckle about that, when I thought there was a new addition to the port in the throws of being finished, he explained to me it was the work started before the 2002 games - still in progress....

I did get into an uncomfortable situation on my first evening walk - I suddenly ended up in the middle of a square - and there were no women in sight,only lots and lots of groups of men - it looked like they might have been there for some sort of meeting - or perhaps that's the culture and the men all go and 'hang out' in the local squares... I'm not sure, but I definitely felt like I shouldn't be there so I hot footed it out of there as fast as I could. That one got my heart rate up a bit.

I got terribly lost in Athens too - even after asking at a local car rental office, I couldn't find my way back to my hotel. I'd done my usual trick and walked in entirely the wrong direction ... the lady in the car rental office was very difficult to understand, so she wrote me a note with my directions on it - but it may as well have been in hieroglyphics for I didn't have a clue what it said. She did tell me I'd have to catch the metro - well I tried, but I couldn't make any sense out of the ticket machine, or writing on any of the signs and no-one seemed interested in helping me - so in the end I gave up and caught a taxi home. I was scared about what the taxi driver was going to charge me, but it was only E$5 in the end - so was the right thing to do.

I enjoyed my half day included tour of Athens - it's always good to hear a local guide. We visited the site of the first modern Olympics - the Panathenaic Stadium, then the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis and Parthenon themselves. They dominate the landscape of central Athens, and you can't help but get caught up in the legends of the Greek Gods. It was hard to believe that the structures before me dated back to the fifth century BC.

On my own I found the ruins of Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Zeus - two more really interesting examples of the architecture of the period they were built. What I did find a little depressing was the fact that around these amazing sites, the area is quite run down. The streets are covered in potholes, there's rubbish bins galore, dust, dirt and weeds, graffiti on the buildings - that sort of thing.... it all served to reinforce the seriousness of the situation Greece is in. I wanted to spend money in every souvenir shop I went into just to help the shopkeepers out!

Two days in Athens was probably about long enough. If I ever get back to the area again, I'll try to get to Meteora - the Monasteries there are apparently well worth visiting.

Posted by Julie's blog 06:49 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

sunny 24 °C
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The countryside in Italy is barren, I think due to the heavy cultivation of the land over the years. The trees most prevalent are umbrella pines and cyprus trees. Pigeons are a real nuisance everywhere - and it must be frustrating for the locals to see some tourists feeding them so they can get photographs of them feeding out of their hands etc...

I haven't seen many children on this holiday. I'm not talking about children holidaying but more the children of locals. I looked it up and see Italy's birthrate is the second lowest in the western world. Understandably it's causing concern and the government is providing 'rewards' for couples who have more than one child.

Sorrento sits on top of a cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. The views of the Bay are amazing, so it was a good place to have a pit stop before we changed to 2 small buses to drive down the Amalfi Coast to Positano.

OMG - the Amalfi Coast road, it's not for the faint hearted I can tell you. We hurtled around blind corner after blind corner taking up most of the road - the road is pretty close to being one lane - to squeeze past oncoming vehicles there is often backing up required. Lots of corners had to be maneuvered in three point turns.... There's hardly anything in the way of safety barriers - it's crazy. I just had to put my faith in our driver - he seemed very confident in his driving (hmmmm). At least he wasn't talking on his cell phone while he was driving - that made a nice change!.

As well as dealing with oncoming buses and cars, there were scooters galore, weaving in and out and swerving hectically in front of us at every opportunity - they seem to have their own set of road rules. Added to that, as we neared Positano, the sides of the roads were jam packed with parked cars - apparently there's no parking in the town itself so everyone who works there has to park on the main highway and walk down. Squeezed in to the odd space here and there were stalls selling tourist items too - I don't know how anyone could ever pull over safely where some of the stalls were situated - it would be very dangerous to say the least.

Positano was incredible - one couple from my tour had pre-arranged to stay there and not complete the last day of the Cosmos tour with the rest of us - I thought it was a great idea. It's a town that you could easily spend three days or so snooping around, with it's unique boutiques, eateries and pretty little pebble beach.

Today is my last day on the tour coach. I'm looking forward to being away from all the coughing and sneezing - one of the not so great aspects of doing a coach tour is that bugs seem to get shared around pretty quickly - perhaps due to the air conditioning - I don't know. Anyway, enough of that - I'm getting excited about the next leg of my adventure, I'll be heading to Athens tomorrow :-)

Posted by Julie's blog 23:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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