A Travellerspoint blog

Volcanoes, Sunsets and our first nights roughing it

Santorini Magic

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Having been feeling decidely rough the day after our farewell well party we would first of all like to thank Carrie and Chris for giving up their bed on Saturday night to allow us to get 5 decent hours sleep before we started our big adventure. We must admit the other option of sleeping at the airport was starting to look less and less appealing as the day went on.

Our adventure started at 4:30am Sunday morning on the 20th September 2009. Still feeling the wear and tear from Friday night we clambered out of bed, proceeded to undertake a typical early morning backpacker wash of under arms and face before staggering out the door to find a bus to Victoria Train station. I've got to say if one needed to catch a bus across London early in the morning on a weekend 4:30am is the time to do it. Half expecting to have to ride the bus with reasonably drunk, loud and some what unpleasent people we were quite happy to see the bus speed through central london without picking up more than a couple of random souls. These souls were more than than likley lost having been thrown out of the bar at closing time after a decidely heavy affair in their favourite boozer.

Needless to say we arrived at Victoria station with about 20 minutes to spare and feeling decidely chuffed with ourselves at not having spent 53 quid on a cab direct to the airport. This chuffness was quickly eradicated when we discovered that the 5:30 am train that the automated rail line informed us about was not the typical south western train service but the Gatwick Express and that our savings by using public transport quickly shrunk - but at least we knew we'd get to the airport with time to spare!

We all know about airports and the usual hassles of check in, bag searches, waiting at gates and the UK pass time of queueing so I'll skip from here to good stuff.

We arrived in to Santorini curtesy of EasyJet at about 2pm Sunday afternoon, having collected our bags we headed for the exit and hopefully a bus in to the town of Fhira, where our campsite, Camping Santorini was located. Unfortunately we had a wait on our hands of about 2 hours. We reluctantly trudged off to join the back of a very long line at a cab rank missing the the most important element - cabs. Having been standing in line for 15 minutes with only 2 cabs arriving in that period we thought we'd probably be in line until the bus arrived at 4pm. Our prayers were answered by an enterprising cabbie who was taking one couple to Fhira and had 2 spare seats with everyone else in either groups larger than two or were wanting to go to Oia, so we jumped in the cab and were off.

Having spent only 5 minutes at the campsite, we came to the realisation that we were missing one critical item from our back packs, especially if we intend on doing a lot of camping. That was a hammer or mallet, the ground was like rock and no amount of poking, pushing, stroking or stabing was going to get our pegs in to the ground beneath our feet. Luckily this campsite like most we've visited before had a mallet to borrow.

The tent was up, our gear was unpacked, we were showered and now felt a small resemblance to being human. Our next stop was town for some food, a drink and to suss out a located for this famed sunset.

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Wandering through the small alley ways that make up the main shopping, eating and therefore touristy part of Fhira it is evident that this town does a cracking trade from the typical cruise liners that pump the mediterranean full of money at this time of year. It's also evident that the people of the cruise liners have money to burn with the streets of Fhira littered with jewellers hawking their gold, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. Had I known this I might have persuaded Hannah to visit some where else, a back packers budget does not stretch to cover bling! Not having been to Santorini before and discovering many of the cafes and restaraunts full of people looking out across the emerald blue waters towards the emininant sunset a feeling of panic washed over us. Where do we go? Do we need to get a seat now for a sunset thats over 2 hours away, if we wait will their be seats left? What place has the best views and can we get access to these views with out having to pay for food and drink?!

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Panic led to a mission and that mission led to the restaurant of Zaphora, perched high on the northern side of Thira. If we were going to have to pay for a view we may as well do it at a place where we can get 15% off with our camping card. After table hopping 2 or 3 times in order to gain the optimum position we dug in for the 2 and a half hour wait nursing ourselves through 1 drink each and the first glass from a bottle of locally produced white wine. Finally sunset was upon us and it was worth the wait. While the following nights sunset proved to be more spectacular, this was the first sunset of our trip and the company and wine ensured we started the trip romantically and in love. Being attached at the hip for the next 7 months and sleeping almost on top of each other in our tent it will be interesting to see if we feel the same way when we touch down in Oz, but we'll not focus on this for now.

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Day two started reasonably slowly, a 10am wake up, a shower the mission to find a cheap breakfast meant that it wasn't until 2pm that we were ready to rock and roll and we set our sights on the southern beaches of Santorini and in particular the Red Beach. Clambering aboard the comfortable air conditioned bus, Hannah quickly decided 12 hours sleep were not enough and passed out next to me. Watching the internal countryside of Santorini pass me by, I was left contemplating my own survival. How would I have survived on such an island back in the time of the Ancient Greeks? The weather was hot and dry the landscape dusty and rocky, the land has been parched by centuries of sun and wind leaving the open landscape looks inhospitable at best. But on these plains the Greeks have terraced, they have planted and from where there was nothing before they have created a life and lifestyle that suits them well. A lifestyle that I bet many of the visiting tourists are jealous of.

One example the the greeks inginuity and abilities is their cultivation of the grape. One thing struck me while on our bus trip - and that was how overgrown the landscape was with these weeds, the leaves a green and red colour, the stem of the plant twisted in torture by the suns rays it wasn't until we passed a sign for a vineyard that I realised these were the grape vines used to create the famous Santorini vino. I found out later that evening that the vines are purposely twisted into circles to provide shelter and protection for the grapes against natures forces.

The red beach was pretty non eventful we didn't actually make it to the red beach itself we got side swiped by a beach hut with deck chairs, beach bar and its own little inlet to allow us to whittle away our time. It was also the fact that we thought the bus had dropped us at the Red Beach.........Two hours later we found the right one and kind of regret not doing a bit more exploring before sitting down.

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The sunset on Day Two was unforgettable - the clouds and the colours were simply amazing.

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Day three was our last full day in Santorini and we occuppied ourselves by taking off on a boat tour of the surrounding area. First stop was the active Volcanic Island of Nea Kameni. Arriving on Nea Kameni one had thoughts of Jason and the Argonaughts, the land was barren, rocky, hot under foot and we were certain that the golden fleece lay near by. We could just imagine turning the corner to be confonted by the Cyclops made from the same clay they used in that trashie B grade 1960's movie that is shown at leats 4 times a year as the Saturday afternoon movie. Upon approaching the summit our guide proceeded to tell us stories of the locals and their love for their Volcanoe. When one thinks about it, Volcanoes, these creations of mother nature that bring so much death and destruction are reverred by the commuities that surround them. I think that this has somthing to do with our fascination with both life and death. To listen to your guide tell you with the broadest of smiles that Santorni's erruption was bigger than Krakatoa and that its tsunamis were still 40m high when it washed over the minoean civilisation on Crete killing everyone and putting an end to one of the greatest of ancient Greek Civilisation's is slightly destressing.

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Our tour finished in Oia, where we proceeded to wander the town waiting for our third and final Santorini sunset. Oia's reputation as Santorini's most picturesque town was right on the money. All of the buildings were white washed with the famous blue roofs and doors. Couples wandered arm in arm and newly weds were the norm. The crowds started to build, this was obviously the place to be as the crowds at Fhira were small in comparision. We took our position on a small wall and watched the sun until in said goodby dipping fully below the horizon until it could be seen no more. Our final sunset was not as beautiful as the one the night before but it was magical.

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This is a little long I know, Hannah is yawning beside me I'll have to work on condensing our thoughst and feelings over the next 7 months. If you've read this far I thank you. Look out for the next installment on Crete........

Posted by The VBs 10:01 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Beer, Pretzels and Family Castles

Our Goodbye trip to the Mueller's

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Germany, is one of those places that is dear to our hearts and when I say Germany, what I really mean is Bavaria. Bavaria is a state of Germany that is unlike any other part of the country, I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful scenery, fresh air, history or the fact that they just make and drink some of the best beer in the world. So, while this travel blog was meant to start after we left the UK I think it’s fitting to start it by writing about our last weekend visiting the Mueller’s.

Now some of you may be asking ‘Who are the Mueller’s?’ I did consider writing a bit about previous adventures in the land of beer and pretzels but thought I would be detracting from the point of this blog. I could talk about Amadeus, snow ball fights, never ending plates of food, hoi hoi, Christmas markets, Hoffbrau house visits, traditional German schnapps, not to be confused with the sweet sugary stuff they serve back in Australian bars, and a fire station party to end all fire station parties. But I won’t, I just tell you that they are our family away from home. We are always welcomed, looked after, and guided round some of the most beautiful villages and landscapes Southern Germany has to offer. We always leave feeling happier and generally fuller than when we first arrived.

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The coolest thing I learnt (pre pun!) about the castle was that the food store was built on the northern side of the castle to prevent it from ever receiving sunlight. The occupiers of the castle filled the store room with ice in winter and the lack of sunlight prevented the ice from melting all through summer, helping keep their good suitably chilled and fresh.

Mirjam was the perfect guide, we felt so honoured that she'd taken the time out of her day to show us around, particularly considering she'd been out the night before and was surviving on 4 hours sleep! We were met with a warm smile, our brains nourished with interesting family facts and anecdotes and we left feeling that potentially our wider family has just been further extended.

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Our next stop was Schloss Brenhaussen, Family Castle Number 2, which we found thanks to directions from Mirjam. This Castle while not as castle like as Burg Bibra was surrounded by its own moat and adjacent lake. It is a picturesque idealic place, a place that one could imagine staying at whittling away the hours over the course of a German summer.

Unfortunately the family members who own the property also own property in California and retire there when the weather in Germany starts to get too cold. Needless to say with the summer leaves losing their colour and starting to fall, they were not at home.

The grounds keeper, who lived on site was nice enough to open the gate and allow us to walk around the property. I could just imagine this place in summer; it would make one hell of a party pad, with barbecues, sun lounging and all round relaxing. This is the property where the previous family reunions have been held and we could see why.

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Mirjam mentioned a potential family reunion in 2011, having now seen the location of this potential reunion it looks like we may be returning Europe sooner than first expected for a holiday.

On our way back to Hitzhofen we stopped off at Bamberg, a very cute Venetian styled city with houses built on canal’s and possibly the worst half a pint of beer I’ve ever tasted. I say half a pint because after the first half you stop noticing that the beer your drinking tastes like bacon. I am of course talking about the famous Bamberg Smokey, A beer adored by the locals, found quirky by other Germans and ordered by the bucket load by the passing tourist coaches, only to be left half full on the beer hall tables.

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Following a short walk around Bamberg town we headed up in to the rose garden where we were trapped by a rainstorm reminiscent of a humid Queensland summer day. Taking shelter underneath one of the archways to wait out the storm we failed to keep track of the time and were almost locked in for the night, only being spotted by the caretaker on his final round and informed the gardens were closing.

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Sunday we took off for a river boat cruise along the Danube to one of Germany oldest beer makers. On our way we stopped off at King Ludwig's Victory Hall, constructed to celebrate Europe’s victory over Napoleon. Perched on a cliff top looking down on the Danube one could be forgiven for thinking the hall was a sandstone creation. However on closer inspection it was evident that different blocks of yellow paint had been used to create the feel of sandstone when looked at from afar. The main room was full of Angels, holding hands and supporting shields with names and dates of both locations and people important in the victory over the short French man and his armed forces.

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Sunday night was spent out for dinner at a very at a very quaint but high quality restaurant, a restaurant that was visited by Michael Ballack of Chelsea Football club fame only a few weeks prior. The food was locally sourced and cooked to perfection, the fillets of beef with melt in mouth quality and the size of the portions were typically German. Desert was a dish typical to the region and is quite hard to explain, it had been baked and then cut up in to little pieces and was served with a variety of different fruit compotes.

Although our bodies were crying out for sleep due to countless late nights during the Edinburgh Fringe eating, drinking and taking in late night comedy Monday started early. The alarm went off at 7:45 (6:45 Scottish time). We were showered, dressed and fed by 8:45 and out of the house at 9am on our way to the train station. Monday was to be our last trip to Munich. Munich is a city we’ve visited almost every time we’ve travelled across to Bavaria. As a city it offers history, architecture, and parks and is a great place to sample the local people and their culture. All of the great beer halls of Germany are located here and it is home to the famous Octoberfest. It’s not uncommon to pass groups of local men wearing liederhosen with the girls in the typical Bavarian dress. At the same time the shopping is some of the best in Germany with local brands such as Puma and Adidas stocking some very cool, funky designs that never seem to make it across to this side of the channel.

With all that Munich has to offer we were really looking forward to our last day out with Erna and the day itself did not disappoint. Where as our weather during the previous few days were ever changing we had blue sky and sunshine all day.

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Arriving in to Munich at about 11am we headed off down the main pedestrianised area towards the beautiful Government building and church. You’ll have to forgive us for not being able to supply their true names as we have not kept our European Lonely Planet. Having been in town for less than an hour our first stop was to a coffee house to sit out in the sun and people watch, and also to allow the use of the bathroom!

We wandered around for another hour taking in the a small section of the English Garden, and having a quick look in the palace before the hunger pains took grip and the Hoffbrau House started calling. This is possibly Munich’s most famous beer house and is definitely one all the tourists seem to go to. That said it has a storage area for locals to keep their personal beer steins for when ever they are in drinking.

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I love the Hoffbrau house, not for the beer, although the beer is certainly top quality, but for the fact that it is Bavarian in every single way. People share tables and benches with strangers, the girls serving both beer and pretzels wear the traditional dress, the Ompa band plays in the corner, all wearing leiderhosen and the food is simple but good. It is always a happy place.

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Being a beautiful sunny day we sought out a table in the beer garden and had soon ordered 2 large pretzels to share, three plates of food, a cola for Hannah a beer for Erna and a 1L stein for myself. I opted for the pork knuckle for the first time ever and was not disappointed this thing was mammoth it was more like a pork fist than a knuckle.

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Once we were well fed and our thirst quenched, we began wandering around the old town once more. Having been so many times before different parts of the town brought back different memories and it was nice to be able to reminisce about those past experiences. There was the climbing of the old tower for panoramic views across the town, the Christmas market down in the streets below and the copious amounts of coffee and cake at the different patisserie shops.

Our wandering was followed by coffee and cake that realistically wasn’t needed but I felt the need to try one last apple strudel. The idea was good but when put in practice I was left feeling reasonably ill and struggling to move, leaving Hannah to look on lovingly with an I told you so smile.

Moving on to the train station, there were always going to be a few tears. As the time approached to say goodbye to Erna sadness crept over me. Following 5 years of amazing adventures and memories our trips to Germany and to our dear friends were about to become fewer, no more being able to hop, skip and jump across to Hitzhofen. I can honestly say that disregarding the fact that I met Hannah over here in London meeting the Mueller’s has been my best experience from Europe, and the part of my time that I treasure the most. They are friends for life and we will miss them dearly. However, I take comfort in the knowledge that our friendship will always be there no matter how much time we spend apart. Additionally, if this family reunion occurs in 2011 then I know it will only be another 2 years until we are sharing laughs across the table again.

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Posted by The VBs 02:45 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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