Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's All Greek to Me

After a week in Greece I have come to the conclusion that it really wasn't long enough. Of course I say that about everywhere I go, and its true by far, but I really liked Greece.

We sailed from Italy to Greece by ferry – on my birthday actually – over an almost 28 hour period in which our entire crew ran rampart across the ship. We had some dinner and drinks to celebrate the fact that I'm now 24, but the thing everyone was the most looking forward to was of course the extended sleep in we got to have on board. And trust me when I say we took advantage.

We had one night in Athens before taking to the seas again through the Greek Islands en route to Mykonos for what had been highly anticipated as the party central halfway through our trip. And it actually kind of was; the pool bar area was gorgeous and right on the beach, something that even I could adore despite not being too keen on beaches or much to do with them. Our actual accommodation wasn't grand – they were pretty much just tents with some beds in them like something out of the bunkers of the Western Front – but once the party got started no one really cared all that much.

Let me just interject here, however, and explain how very torn I was on my opinion of Mykonos by the end of our long weekend. During the day it was great: there was quad-biking, swimming, exploring, pampering, cocktails and the cutest little town to wander through. But when night fell the island became a very different place and a lot of drama went down in more ways than one. There is something so loose about the island that it seemed like nothing was too far and the three nights we were there saw screaming matches, hookups, dangerous midnight jaunts along treacherous cliff edges, potential rapes and thefts, and a lot of hurt feelings. I'm saddened to say that I myself was one of the unfortunate bearers of some very hurt feelings which stay with me even now although I know deep down its not a big deal and the fact that I am still in Europe will actually fix that on its own.

Feelings aside, the darker side of Mykonos did not sour my opinion of Greece even after some of the bad things the Island brought about. For me it was never really about the party Island anyway, and the white-washed buildings of the set-like town was more of a stage for me to belt out songs from Mamma Mia and wander around like I'm in some sort of movie. I accepted a long time ago that I was never going to be the party animal of the group much less in life in general, and once I reminded myself that it was easier to just immerse myself into the gorgeous surroundings, hidden pelicans and very epic jewellery. I didn't need more than a couple pina coladas to enjoy Mykonos.

Greece has always been, in my world, so amazing as one of the birthplaces of modern civilisation. Just think about it: famous philosophers and mathematicians and storytellers and early scientists have all emerged from the splendour of the Ancient Greek world. Figures like Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Homer, and Alexander the Great. Such an amazingly progressive place within the ancient world was obviously way up there with Egypt in terms of wanting to get there to see stuff like the Acropolis and Temple of Zeus – crack for archaeologists addicted to ruins such as myself, especially when I couldn't make it to the site of Delos on Mykonos on any of the three days we were there.

Arriving back in Athens after the hectic nature of the Mykonos leg was over, I was very much cheered up by the approaching quality time that I had coming up with some very old pieces of architecture. I desperately wanted to sit at the Temple of Zeus or the Temple of Athena-Nike and pray to some of the gods that maybe would still be sympathetic enough to listen. It's not every day that you get to visit the ancient temples and sacred places dedicated to a spirituality and belief system that well out-dates Christianity or Islam.

Mythology and folklore is my total forte. Hashing out the names, meanings, representations and histories behind so many gods, goddesses, fairytales and all sorts of other similar stuff is an area of study that I am so very passionate about. Sitting in front of the Acropolis and looking up at the ruins of what was once a great civilisation I can't describe the feeling that it gave me to be apart of it all. Like in Rome, Egypt, and England its such a heady feeling to know that right where I may be standing something miraculous happened, someone famous stood, separated by centuries in one spot on the same ground. Obviously I don't mean the gods right then, or the fairy tales, but the world isn't that huge a place that there is so far you can go, at least in the Old World, that holds no history. Athens was just one of the better places that held that kind of feeling for me.
I'm a total nerd for my history, myth and fairy stories – excuse me whilst I gush a little about the Acropolis.

On a side note, has anyone else realised how great Greek food actually is? If you haven't, then you need to get on that.

All in all, I loved Greece. I want to go back to explore the rest of the country – most notably Mycenae, Crete, Santorini and Sparta, but I'll take it as it comes. The jury is still out about a possible return to Mykonos, however I won't lie and pretend that I wouldn't make the entire trip back to the Island of Anarchy just to visit the ruins of Delos. Let's face it – I would endure some more crazy cliffs to get back to the archaeological site and it wouldn't even be the first time that I have.

Greece was relatively good to me in the end. And it gave me the Evil Eye to protect me, an owl to bring me wisdom, and knowledge to guide me further.

Until next time then, Greece. Efharisto.

Sam xox

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

France, Spain and Italy Oh My!

It's been a very exciting past couple of days. Betweenn Paris, Lauterbrunnen, Barcelona, Nice, Monte Carlo Verona, Venice, Florence and Rome I just don't even know where to start.

I probably already mentioned it at some point, but I'm on a Topdeck tour that travels to the most well known and famous parts of Europe (plus a heap of stuff you haven't heard of) over a period of 36 days from London to London. I started right back on the 15th (I know, forgive me internet for I have sinned, it has been 11 days since my last confession), and in the past week and a half I've been in and out of so many different cities that it has honestly felt like far longer than forever. So no judgey for the two week turn-around post.

We started in Paris, so that's probably where I should start, too, and even though I've been to Paris a couple of times before I definitely have to say that this may have been the most I enjoyed it. The city hadn't changed in the year since I'd last been there, but what was different was being there not only in the warmer months but to be there with a group of friends my age. We saw some museums, I finally made it to the Catacombs to see the bones, we had a picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower and I managed to some eat more escargot, macarons and to relocate a tea place that I'd found last year. I had also intended to make it to both the Opera Populaire and the Museum of Fashion but neither time nor reason seemed to allow the opportunity for that (sort of like always failing to make it to the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco), although a cruise along the Seine compensated for the loss of excitement seeing the pretty pretty things would have given me. Not to mention all the flourish we saw at our cheeky cabaret. And man was it cheeky.

After leaving Paris we made it up into the Swiss Alps for the weekend and stopped off to stay in Lauterbrunnen - the most gorgeous little picturesque town in the Switzerland that is said to have been JRR Tolkien's inspiration for the Elven village of Rivendell. To be honest I didn't really see it, I think of Rivendell far differently than the little provincial Swiss village, but it was certainly beautiful with its wide open meadows, rambling mountains and numerous waterfalls. I tell you I could have lived there, but it wouldn't have been without pretending to be an extra from Heidi every now and then.

And let's not even get too into the complete amazing that was the Ice Palace atop the Jun-Frau, the highest peak in Western Europe. I can't even begin, and that was before I heard a friend of mine tried to lick it.

Or the mad dash a friend and I made to get to the top of a very high waterfall and back down to the bottom in less than 15 minutes.

Italy we reached into the second week, but not before we'd been through Avingon, Nice, Barcelona and Monaco all in a few days so chocked full of adventure and entertainment that I couldn't write it all down right now without exploding. Although Barcelona saw the beginning of a few long nights filled with revelry, drinking and more drama to boot that only continued to escalate through Monte Carlo, Venice and well into Rome. I would be lying if I said my friends and I weren't also privy to that kind of behaviour, but rest assured that we were all better for it in the end and no one was lost to the night.

Unlike Paris, Avingon and Nice both showed very different sides to France that I had never seen before and from what I did I found I really liked it a lot more. You know I love Paris, but Avingon is a medieval walled city and Nice is pretty much in the name. Even someone far from a beach person as I can appreciate the natural beauty of the Cote d'Azur and admire the dazzle of the lives of the rich and famous. More so in Monaco where it costs over 20 Euro for a cocktail, but the glitz can be more blissful than you think. And who wouldn't enjoy dressing up in their finery for a lovely night out in the very rich, pretty city home to the legendarily beautiful Casino de Monte Carlo. Although I will admit that Monaco was not at all what I expected.

Barcelona, on the other hand, that we reached between Avingon and Nice, was pretty much better than I had anticipated. It was hot and steamy, I got to wear my straw hat and some dangly earrings that I bought on the street, and see some pretty cool sights like the Sagrada Familia and Casa Battlo. Of course we went on a bit of a walk around the city when we got royally lost, but we still got there in the end and got to see Park Guell as well. All in a days work when you're city surfing with Sam.

Of course the night before was crazy, which is why the walk didn't go down as well as anticipated, and too much sangria led to a very flamboyant night out in Las Ramblas and then by the beach. We started with sangria then saw some traditional Flamenco, had some more sangria, and then more, and by the end of it everyone had a similarly manic night all over the place. Again, I say, this was only the first of many still to come including that in Monaco. Barcelona was of course a lot more of a gritty night than Monte Carlo was, but never say that it wasn't wicked fun.

By the time we made it to Italy and rolled straight into Venice via Verona, the party nation was in full swing. Dynamics shifted with the loss of some people and the gaining of some more, but these newbies were so quickly accepted into the family they may have been there from the beginning. Verona, I loved, and even more so loved that it became known as 'Love day' filled with love letter dedications and songs, a trip to Juliet's balcony and a movie night (on the bus) consisting of Baz L's Romeo + Juliet. It was also the beginning of a full week or more dedicated to eating as much gelato as humanely possible. And boy did we ever.

Venice I perhaps enjoyed the most this time because it was new, and seeing the floating sitting for real left a very funny flutter in my heart that may have been as much a love of the place as evidence of my wine hangover from the masquerade party the night before. There was just so much to be said for wandering through the windy alleys of Venice and cruising along the canals via gondola or vaporetto that one day was by no means enough. I could easily have spent more than a week there alone with enough time to just get lost the way that I really wanted to. The plus side did see a fun selfie with Charlie Chaplin's Italian descendent.

Florence via Pisa was just as fun, if taking selfies by the leaning tower wasn't all that it was cracked up to be however thought somehow my attempt managed to make it look straight. Seeing the Birth of Venus at the Uffizi in Florence was pretty distinguished since I decided not to wait in line for hours to see David when the exact replica was waiting outside just as naked. When you don't have more than a few hours, there is only time to see one famous naked person.

We drove to Rome that afternoon and managed to smash out half of the major tourist attractions in the space of 5 hours from the Spanish steps, to Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Roman Forum and the outside of the Colosseum. We went back in the next day to see what we hadn't the day before, and I spent a very lovely pre-birthday brunch in the famous Babington's tea house prior to seeing the inside of the Forum and Colosseum, the Bocca de la Virata and Piazza Navona. There wasn't much about Rome that I didn't enjoy the second time around, and when you remember that since the last time all the ruins mean so much more to me there really was no reason to frown on a day like I had in Rome. We did unfortunately have a bit of trauma happen at the end, as well as more revelry toga-style, but overall Rome was one place that I wouldn' trade for the world.

It's been a mad few weeks that have consisted of a new place almost every day, so much food and drink that obviously tastes so much better overseas and more fun and games and laughs than I could possibly put in words in the confines of this one post. So apologise for the time lapse, do forgive me, but I'll try to remember next time I'm sitting by the Cote d'Azur or eating pizza in Rome to update you.

Sam xox