Saturday, October 15, 2011

Insert subtle Greek reference here...

Greece - yeah it's ok...

OK, it's frickin' awesome, probably one of my favourite places we've visited. Our Greek odyssey was to visit three of the Greek Islands for a bit of rest and relaxation. Our first stop was Rhodes, a sun saturated paradise surrounded by turquoise seas that defy description or photography.

Of course, we were the whitest people there and even though I had plans of taking my shirt off to try and tan – the screams of horror combined with the blinding flash of light when the sun hit my pasty skin meant my shirtless frolics were cut short. I did, however, put my feet in the ocean and almost drown.

The other great thing is the food and seriously, I could fill this blog with pictures of me stuffing my face with all manner of beautiful goodies. Anyhow, this momentous picture is of our first Greek salad in Greece.

They also have excellent wine as Ruth shows us today.

A very rare view of Ruth with her tail out.

Rhodes, seemingly like most towns in Europe is based around an old town but this one was particularly epic as it is actually the size of a small town rather than being a few buildings and streets.
There was also a large number of cats which were immediately unsafe by Ruth's arrival.

Due to the strikes, we had a few extra days and went to the small island of Symi for the day. It's one of those small islands you see in adverts for Greece and indulged in every cliche of being a alluring utopia under a blazing hot sun.

I got to know the locals but you can't actually tell from this photo that this is the skankiest dog in the whole of Europe - I had to douse my hands in kerosene after patting him.

We also stumbled upon this boat - the Lazy Days, which literally looked as if it had run aground. It was pretty awesome but I resisted the urge to climb aboard as it seemed like a recipe for tetanus or death. Strange to say, this is the boat of my dreams...

After leaving Rhodes, we moved onto Crete and the city of Chania. Insert repetitive comment about being an exquisite paradise on blue, blue waters...

Yeah, it was pretty beautiful...

On the river front strip, you were constantly harassed by restaurant owners to dine with them but these guys took another tact. As their sign says "we don't talk too much" - they, in fact, recite their menu in mime.

It was also my birthday in Chania so we celebrated in style. Ruth took an official birthday portrait by the ocean but really, the day was mostly about me eating meatballs as shown here. 38 and still sexy...

Our next stop was Santorini - playground of the rich and famous. I'm sure that the thousands of pictures and films of Santorini are meant to prepare you for how gorgeous this place is but it really doesn't. White villages perched upon volcanic cliff faces overlooking islands and a sea such an astonishing shade, I'm not sure there even description for it.

However, one word of advice. If you're ever planning a trip to Santorini, make sure you book your accommodation in Oia, not Thira. Thira is beautiful but Oia is mind blowing as shown above.
Probably the biggest reason it's so mindblowing here is that part of the movie the Sisterhood of the Travelling pants was filmed there. Go the sisterhood! (what do you mean you haven't seen it?)

I have no idea why anyone would make a film here.

During the day Santorini fills up with hundreds of rich tourists from cruise ships asking where George Clooney is. The town swells as people buy craptacular souvenirs to remember their three hour stay.

But at sunset, they disappear in a plume of pollution allowing everyone else to enjoy the fantastic sunset in peace.

And as the sun set on our Greek adventure our thoughts now turn to Laos, where we head next which has supposedly been suffering from flooding. That could be interesting...

Note: Ruth has put amazing photos up of Greece on her Flickr site. Check it out here.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Cheques in the mail

So we took a train to the Czech Republic and arrived in Cesky Krumlov, another remarkable old town which is famous for persecuting Egon Schiele.

It was a beautiful place that had some kind of Children of the Corn-esque harvest festival going on. We found a great vegetarian restaurant we ate at a few times and generally just hung out soaking up the Czech vibe.
The other great thing in Cesky Krumlov was our accommodation which was called the Dilettante's Hangout. It was run by this guy who looked like Johnny Depp who had crammed the room with his paintings of nudes. The room was painted wine red and reeked of incense - if you ever hung out with hippies in the early 90's, you'll know exactly the kind of place I'm talking about. It was vaguely awesome and yet, oh so disturbing.

After we left Cesky Krumlov, we made our way to Prague. At one point we were contemplating living in Prague for a month as part of the holiday so I was looking forward to exploring the city. However, a few hours after we arrived someone stole my bag from the restaurant we were eating at and the whole Prague experience turned a bit sour. The bag contained my camera, ipod, phone etc and after spending time with some unsympathetic cops filling out a police report, my desire to be in Prague greatly diminished. Sure, it's a nice city with some great architecture (if you don't include that Frank Gehry building) but its kind of been spoilt for me. As I don't have a camera to take any photos, here's a picture of a sad kitten.

Is that sad kitten a representation of me? I don't know but we leave for Greece tomorrow and I hope for better things there.


Friday, September 30, 2011

There are no kangaroos in Austria

Ahh Vienna, home of culture, fine wine and the only Ultravox song I know. After months of nature sight seeing and physical activity, it was time for Ruth and I to go on an art and culture extravaganza. As such, we pretty much hit every museum and gallery in town. We even went to the globe museum - the only museum in the universe dedicated to world and celestial globes and even then, it felt like one museum too many. It was a whirlwind of high art, bad art and more globes than you can point a stick at.

Of the artistic discoveries I made, I have a new appreciation of Gustav Klimt. I had only ever seen prints of his work in the bedrooms of girls who liked Jane Austen a little too much and been long dismissive of his wildly romantic stylings. Up close, his work is exquisite and moving and I had to re-think my view on his work.

So much so that I even bought a Klimt Barbie doll for my collection. Even better than this, I discovered the work of Egon Schiele, another Austrian artist whose dark spin on art tickled my soul - his work was so beautiful and I wondered why I hadn't seen more of it. It is all murky contorted images, nudes and misery - strangely there was no Schiele Barbie doll. Sadly, I only had an hour with his work as the gallery where most of his major works are shown was being closed temporarily so a wedding could be held in the gallery. They had set up the registry and ceremony spot right in front of the picture below:

I'd say every wedding needs a little more Austrian sausage...
But then again, it seems that Austria has the weiner situation in hand.
We also got to see the opening credits from Desperate Housewives painting...
...and the freaky-ass children of Rome sculptures.
We went to the Museum of Modern Art which was absolute crap. I should have known from the German name of the gallery.

We also saw the Venus of Willendorf which is actually about the size of a one dollar coin. They certainly didn't tell you that in the history books at school.

This was at the Natural History museum where they had a never ending display of freaky stuffed animals. Even though this terrifying cat was stuffed and in attack mode, Ruth still tried to bring it home with her.

On that very day, we stumbled across a harvest festival which featured a lot of beer and lederhosen. However, this was the happiest guy of the day - a modern day Dionysus surrounded by buxom lasses feeding him wine on the back of a tractor. That dude was sooooo drunk...
We also went to a Gothic church in the heart of Vienna that was so huge that it was impossible to photograph.
Here's a rare shot of me praying that I never have to visit a large Gothic church in Europe again.

We then move onto Salzburg which is one of those towns in the running for the prize of 'most awesome old town'. The centrepiece of the city is a fort built in the 10th century that repelled pretty much everyone except Napoleon. When he rolled into town they just handed him the keys and said "go nuts buddy."

Here's a view of Slazburg from the fortress.

Unfortunately, the day we went up it was windy and rainy which played havoc with Ruth's hair...

...and made me embrace my inner-thug life.

We also visited a 900 year old catacombs carved into the side of a hill. This is me in deep contemplation on whoever could have done this...

I didn't know my brother had been here. On a side note: how well are Stoke doing at the moment - go the Potters!

Salzburg is also renowned for being the birthplace of Mozart who was apparently most famous here for his own brand of delicious chocolate.

From Salzburg, we made our way to the small town of Hallstatt which is one of the oldest continually populated places in the world. It's a small picturesque town of about 1000 people and 20,000,000 tourists.

On the Saturday evening, the local um-pah-pah band did a recital in the town square. It was amazing for everyone...

Except this guy who hates um-pah-pah music

One thing you should note if you ever go to Hallstatt is that it is impossible to get breakfast on a weekend anywhere. I'm sorry Mum but this was my breakfast on that fateful Sunday morning...

Ruth found a way around it by just hitting the booze straight away. I joke, I joke, she wisely waited until lunchtime and had break-lunch-fast.

They even had a Cafe named Cafe Zur Ruth which Ruth seemed to like. Anyhow, we ended our Austrian odyssey by going to Innsbruck. On the train there, it looked like it was snowing which got Ruth very excited because she loves snow. I assured her it was probably just sleet but it turns out that it was the first time it had snowed in the Innsbruck valley in a September since 1932. Ruth was pretty unhappy about that...

Oh the poor sad child...

As soon as we arrived in Innsbruck we caught a cable car up the mountain with what started as three day love affair with that snow. The first day we just went up and hung out in the snow.

On day 2, the weather had brightened somewhat so we could see the Innsbruck valley and played in the snow a bit more. On day 3, we decided to ditch the cable car and climb that sucker (apparently it is part of the Alps but I have no idea which one).

At the beginning of the walk we were feeling confident. I mean we were only walking as high as the cable car goes, how high can it be?
We started the slow march up the mountain knowing that we had about five hours to make it so we could catch the last cable car down. However, the walk was considerably longer than we expected. The snow of the previous days had largely melted at the lower levels.

Although you could find random chunks of it lying around much to Ruth's delight.
About half way up the mountain, we ran out of water which was of concern because even though we walking towards snow, it was actually quite warm.
The only solution was to start eating snow Bear Grylls style once we reached the snow line. I'm not sure if it's particularly good for you but it seemed like a sensible solution at the time. As we progressed we were worried we wouldn't reach our cable car deadline even though it was getting harder and harder towards the end.

However, (spoiler alert) we made it in the end. Here's our red faced victory poses.

We then sailed down the mountain in a cable car to our hotel. This is the view from our balcony. We sat there contented knowing that we had once again scaled another mountain without dying - YAY!

By the way, the town of Innsbruck is quite lovely and very picturesque as it surrounded by mountains on all sides. It does have a number of tourist shops that sell shirts that say "There are no kangaroos in Austria." I don't think anyone thought there was in the first place - weirdos...