The Greece Megamix

We arrived in Greece just under two weeks ago after what can only be described as a fairly infuriating last day in Positano/Naples.  The day went something like this:

  • Check out of Air BnB at 10 am.  Cue thunderstorms and torrential rain.  Spend 4 hours walking the streets trying to keep dry.
  • Return to Air BnB to pick up luggage and end up in awkward confrontation with Italian host’s mother who accuses us of the heinous crime of damaging the umbrella we had borrowed from her.  Pay crazy Italian 10 Euros in order to collect luggage and avoid having a hit put out on us.
  • Catch shuttle to Naples and end up in middle of Friday rush hour traffic. Shuttle driver makes Speedy (our first Naples taxi driver) look like an AA driving instructor.  Experience is similar to being in a car chase from a Lethal Weapon movie, albeit with no stuntmen and a very real chance of dying.
  • Arrive at airport hotel in Naples.  Hotel looks to be the business – great room and an excellent room service meal.  At midnight a full jazz band cranks into life in the garden and some husky voiced, leathery Italian woman bursts into a B-grade rendition of Happy Birthday.  I’ve heard better singing during open mic night at Petone Workers’.  The music carries on until 1 am.   I am livid, and let the man on reception know it.
  • Wake up at 3 am to catch flight only to find out it’s been delayed.  Reset alarm for another hour of sleep.  Wake up to a message from our friends at Easyjet reminding us that flight delays do not alter the cut-off time for check-in – we have approximately 45 minutes to get to the airport, drop our bags and clear security.  Cue mad panic.  Get ripped off by taxi driver, because we don’t have time to argue and then spend  3 hours waiting in the airport anyway.  Morale is low – I curl up in a ball eating a croissant and Campbell seeks solace in the smokers’ lounge.

After all of that, it was such a relief to touch down in Athens.  We had 2 days before we joined our tour, so stuck with our usual approach of booking an Air BnB apartment a little bit out of the city.  This time around we stayed in Gazi.  It was a great little area with loads of cafes, bars and restaurants and still within walking distant of the more touristy neighbourhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki.  It was a very artistic neighbourhood that seemed to attract a more alternative crowd, as well as locals looking to wine and dine away from the city.  On our first day we witnessed a lot of angry teenage boys protesting and tagging the local park and, in the evening, we ate souvlaki at the local cafe while watching short, dark and handsome Greek guys picking up short, dark and beautiful Greek girls by taking them for a spin on their motorbikes and popping wheelies down the main street.

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We enjoyed our time in Athens, but we did not find it to be a particularly pretty city.  It has the archaeological sites and amazing ruins, but has none of the wonderful architecture, public spaces and atmosphere of a lot of the other cities we have visited.  The buildings are densely-packed and almost all the same colour of beige.  On the plus side, it is a fairly easy place to navigate and there are some interesting flea markets, shopping streets and little laneways with cute eateries and bars.  The locals are also incredibly friendly and have helped us a lot given that we cannot read or speak any Greek.

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The Tour

Day 1:  Today we moved to our hotel to join our Greek Island Hopper tour.  We were both a bit nervous about this particular tour – the more we heard, and the more reviews we read (hint – nothing good comes of reading reviews after you’ve booked and paid), the more convinced we were that we were going to be the lame married couple on a tour of young, hot 20-somethings.  And, what would you know, that’s exactly what happened.  On our tour of 30 people, there were 27 girls (although totally outside of my control, even I acknowledge that this equates to an entitlement to a round of golf for Campbell).  Of those 27, 25 came from Australia and 22 were born in the 90s.  As they descended into the welcome meeting in a cloud of giggles and Aussie twang Campbell and I exchanged a look that translated to a combination of “you have got to be shitting me!” and “kill me, kill me now”.  Our tour guide, Sakis, looked pretty similar.

Sakis was our age, and a really nice guy.  There were so many times when I looked at him on the trip and thought “screw doing this for a job”.  He patiently guided us around, ignoring the fact that half the group spoke over the top of him and at a pitch only small dogs should be able to hear.  He even waited until 1 am one night to walk home a couple of girls who’d decided to do some last minute tog shopping.  He started every sentence with “Soooo, ok” and described everything as being “really really nice”, or in a “great location”.  He is just about to finish up with the tour company and you could tell he was a bit jaded – I’m pretty sure he upgraded his seat on the ferry ride home last night just so he didn’t have to spend 8 hours travelling with us.

Despite all this, things started to look up after we’d spent a few hours with the group at the first dinner.  Of course not everybody was our cup of tea (there was a large posse of girls interested exclusively in getting shit-faced, boys, eliminating tan lines and shopping – yawn), but we also met a couple of lovely Aussie school teachers (Kaitlyn and Clare), a really interesting guy from Las Vegas (Andrew) and a couple from Lower Hutt.  Campbell and Callum got straight into yarning about Petone Riverside Cricket Club (albeit that Campbell was playing when Callum was in nappies) and discovered Jasmine’s best friend works at the fish and chip store owned by one of Campbell’s best friends.  After a low key dinner, we all made our way back to the hotel where the adage “you’re only as old as you feel” really held true – Campbell and I outlasted all of the young guns and enjoyed a few drinks at the rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis before heading to bed.

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Day 2:  Day 2 kicked off with a walking tour around Athens, including a visit to the Greek Parliament at Syntagma Square.  Some of the group took an optional tour to Cape Sounion in the afternoon, but we opted instead to wander the streets of Athens and do a bit of shopping before we hit the islands.  We didn’t last very long – Athens is so hot.  It is also dusty and exposed (there is very little in the way of greenery or shade) and walking the streets is like being an ant under a magnifying glass.  Despite that, we had a great afternoon, especially after being plied with Ouzo and Mastika by a lovely woman at a Greek food store.

The evening was spent at a traditional taverna in Plaka, one of Athens oldest neighbourhoods.  The restaurant was clearly a tourist trap and the food was pretty dismal, but the Greek dancing and music performance went some way to make up for it.  The kids let the side down again and Campbell and I had to take one for the team and polish off most of the wine that came with dinner.  We already have the sense that we would need to self-medicate to get through elements of the tour.

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Day 3:  We were up at 5 am this morning to get ready for our ferry to Mykonos.  The ferry ride was an “experience”.  The journey took 5 hours and the seas were the roughest I have ever been on.  People were falling over, vomiting into plastic bags and tables and chairs were being knocked over and flying around the deck because of the wind.  It was one of those laugh or cry moments, and a group of us decided to tough it out on the top deck eating nougat that we bought from some hustlers who jumped on the ferry, and getting absolutely saturated.  We were so pleased to finally reach Mykonos and have the afternoon to spend poolside.

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In the evening, Sakis arranged dinner for us at another taverna, followed by a tequila tasting at a local pub and then entrance to one of Mykonos’ infamous nightclubs.  The young guns were very concerned for the well-being of us oldies and we endured well-meaning comments like “are you two actually coming out?!”, “you know you don’t have to do shots if you don’t want to” etc etc.  It was infuriating and hilarious at the same time.  Despite a lukewarm start, we ended up having an excellent night and got to see why Mykonos is so famous for its nightlife.  We also met a great couple from the UK (John and Lauren) who we encouraged to gatecrash the tour and hit the nightclub with us.

We stumbled to catch a bus home at 2 am (via the souvlaki store, of course), and who should we bump into, but the rest of our group.  After talking a big game about partying until sunrise, we found them in various states at the local bakery hoovering donuts and pastries and ready to hit the hay.  Amateurs.

Day 4:  We were a bit dusty when we woke up, but after a breakfast of champions at the hotel we were ready to explore.  Sakis took us on a quick walk to a couple of Mykonos’ most famous beaches, but in the end we decided to set up camp on our home beach of Platas Gialos.  We shelled out for a couple of loungers and a brolly and spent a good 5 hours enjoying the beach.  Campbell had an especially good time after 6 of the most gorgeous, tanned Italian girls took the sun loungers next to ours.  While I slept with my mouth wide open and snored so loud that I kept waking myself up, they sunbathed topless and (according to Campbell) put on quite an impressive show of rubbing sunscreen onto one another’s bums.  Once again, those $10 pervy sunglasses he picked up in San Fran paid dividends.

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We decided to take a break from the sorority house in the evening (estrogen levels were at near toxic levels) and skipped the group dinner to take a wander around Mykonos town, take some photos and have dinner (more souvlaki).

Day 5:  It was time to leave Mykonos behind and make our way to Paros.  We were both really looking forward to Paros, which Sakis had told us was a lot less touristy and a lot more representative of the majority of the Greek Islands.  After a lot of waiting round, we had a quick trip on the high-speed ferry and were in Paros by mid-afternoon.  After getting settled into our room, we really only had time to do a bit of laundry and hang by the pool before it was time for dinner.  Dinner was a bust, but we followed it up with a night at a local shisha lounge.  I’d never done shisha before, but Campbell showed his wealth of experience and took to the pipe like he was back in the garage listening to Snoop Dogg.  We finished up the night at a local nightclub where we hit the dance floor and the Birthday boy treated us to some of his signature moves.

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Day 6:  Our second day in Paros was a free day, and we decided to hire some quads to explore the island with Clare and Kaitlyn.  After a few false starts trying to arrange bikes, we finally got things sorted and were ready to hit the road.  All those times hooning around Waikawa beach with the Stevensons certainly came in handy.  It was an awesome day, and we managed to go around the entire outside of the island, stopping at Golden Beach for lunch, the fishing village of Naoussa for gelato in the afternoon and winding up with a swim at Kolibithres.

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Day 7:  We were off again today to head to Santorini.  Santorini is a beautiful volcanic island, which is famous for the blue domed buildings built into the cliffside.  The village of Oia is probably the most well-known – it features on almost every postcard and travel brochure for Santorini.  We made our way up there on our first evening to see what all the fuss was about.  It is undeniably a beautiful spot, but it was incredibly hard to enjoy given the massive number of tourists, bridal parties, tour groups and amorous couples.  In the end we took a few quick snapshots and then headed away from the sunset to the other, quieter side of the village.

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We didn’t finish up in Oia until late, so we decided to bunk out on the group dinner and get something easy (souvlaki) and head back to the hotel.  We have really struggled with not being able to pick where we eat, and started to get a bit over eating “authentic” Greek food that was average and expensive.  My appetite for souvlaki has also reached addiction status, and I don’t feel right if I don’t get one under my belt each day.

Day 8:  We had a full-on day exploring the island of Santorini.  We took a quick spin in a traditional kike, which dropped us on the island of Nea Kameni, an active volcano.  We hiked to the top crater for amazing views of the entire cluster of Santorini islands (there are 5 in total) and some time for photos.  The crater still releases sulphurous gases, which most of the group found pretty disgusting.  They couldn’t quite believe that we have whole cities that smell like that at home.

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Next stop was a quick round trip of the island on the kike, finishing up at a small inlet where you can swim in natural hot springs and cover yourself in the thermal mud.  It’s about a 100m swim into the inlet, during which you have to try to avoid the mass of tiny dead fish that get cooked by the thermal activity.  The mud smells like death, but apparently has loads of minerals that are great for your skin.  I decided to get amongst it – a cheap arse facial is just what I needed after months of sweating.  The mud can be black, grey, brown, green and red, and stains like nothing else.  Even after a thorough rinse in the ocean, I managed to bring home masses of mud on my clothes.  I also acquired a stowaway – a dead fish in my bikini top who I didn’t discover till I got home and it flopped out on the bathroom floor.  Nice.

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We wrapped up the day with a donkey/mule ride from the Old Port back to the centre of Fira, the capital of Santorini.  The donkeys were incredibly sweet, even though they were lazy and badly behaved.  Mine stopped whenever he felt like it, walked so close to the wall that my leg scraped the entire way up and pooped and pissed like he’d been holding it in all day.  I thought he was great.  The afternoon was spent poolside before a farewell dinner at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the sea. We did our best to soldier on to the pubs, but we really weren’t feeling it.  We bailed out at about 11.30 pm and sloped home to let the others carry on.  Judging by the state of most of the troops the next morning, I think we made the right call.

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Day 9:  Yesterday was our last day, so we hit the shops of Santorini to get a few souvenirs.  I had my heart set on getting a donkey bell, so went on a mission to find one of those while Campbell joined the old boys at the local Keno club (definitely showing his age!).  At 2 pm we started the massive journey home – an 8 hour ferry back to Athens and a short bus trip to our hotel.  Everyone was pretty wrecked, and it was a pretty uneventful close to the trip.

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Observations from the tour:

  • Greek Islands:  I don’t really know what I was expecting the Greek Islands to be like, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the rocky, arid, almost alien landscapes that greeted us.  Aside from the towns and villages, the islands are desolate.  There is very little vegetation and you can drive for miles on hot, barren roads without seeing much of anything.  That’s not to say that the islands aren’t beautiful, they’re just totally different to what we thought.  We also weren’t expecting it to be so windy – you want to have your good undies on (or only wear shorts) whenever you’re out and about in the Greek Islands, because chances are you’re going to flash your gruts at some point.
  • Island Hopping:  When people talk about visiting the Greek Islands, they often use the term “island hopping”.  Island hopping sounds a bit cute and conjures up images of fun, short, easy trips between islands – kinda like a wee jaunt from Wellington to Eastbourne.  That’s not the case at all.  In the last week we have spent hours at ferry terminals slumped over our luggage and waiting to board a boat.  It is hot and very busy and tempers get a bit frayed.  The ferries are enormous and fit hundreds of people onboard.  When you are close to arriving at the destination port, an announcement comes over the loud speaker, which is effectively a signal for everybody to go mental, rush down to the luggage hold, trample over one another and then wait another half an hour to dock.  On arrival, the back of the ferry opens up and forms a ramp that connects to the dock.  Everybody spills out the back and commences going mental again trying to find the shuttle, or bus to take them to their accommodation.

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  • Group Travel:  Group travel is hit and miss.  Our Cuba trip set the bar pretty high and, sadly, this trip just didn’t meet expectations.  Some of that was down to the structure/pace of the trip itself, but ultimately I think it’s the people that make the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, we met some great people, but overall the group dynamic was off.  In future, I think we would only do a tour again when it was (a) necessary from a logistics/local knowledge perspective and (b) when it revolved around some kind of activity (hiking, cycling etc – like Cuba).  We are not well-suited to hours spent on buses, ferries etc and (you’ll be shocked to hear) that neither of us really like being told what to do and when to do it.
  • Food:  The food in Greece is amazing.  There is loads of meat, seafood, salad and cheese.  Souvlaki has been a total revelation – I have no idea how I have lived 31 years without getting amongst souvlaki – they are delicious.  Essentially it’s meat (mainly chicken or pork) wrapped in a fresh pita (spongy pita, not that cardboard stuff we get at home) with tomato, onion, fries, tzatziki and herbs.  First job when I get home is to suss out a good souvlaki place – two cheeseburgers (no pickle) is no longer going to cut the mustard after a night on the wines.  It’s a testament to the quality of the food here that Greece is one of the few countries where McDonald’s has failed to make an impression, or a profit.  Sakis is the same age as me and has never eaten McDonald’s.  Greece is also one of the few places we have been with proper bakeries – they even have pies (sort of).  Pies here are a different shape (I know that shouldn’t matter, but it does) and tend to involve spinach, cheese, eggs and bacon – still not a steak and cheese in sight.  Our pie cravings are almost at catastrophic, “should we try and make one ourselves at home”, levels.  There was an article on Stuff yesterday naming the winners of the annual NZ Pie Awards, which just about tipped us over the edge.

We are now back in Athens and have one night here before we pick up our car and hit the Pelion Peninsula.  It’ll be a day of life admin – washing, banking, emailing etc, but we’re also planning to head up to the Acropolis this afternoon and tick that one of the bucket list.  There’ll be time for one more souvlaki dinner with Kaitlyn tonight and we’ll be good to go tomorrow.  We’re both looking forward to travelling independently again – doing what we want when we want!

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Moving on Up

We are just wrapping up 5 of the most wonderfully relaxing days of our trip so far.  Positano has proved to be the antidote to the mayhem that is the European high season, even though it’s been pretty damn busy here too.  It’s been so relaxing that I seemed to have developed some form of location-specific narcolepsy, which has seen me fall asleep at the drop of the hat in all manner of places.  This is a bit of a transformation given I’m usually a total Goldilocks when it comes to going to sleep – everything has to be just so, and I can’t sleep without ear plugs and an eye mask, even at home.  It’s really nice to slow down and properly relax.

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Our apartment in the heavens has provided some structure to our days – namely by incentivising us to schedule activities so that we only had to walk up and down the hill once.  The journey in and out of the village really is a game of two halves – on the way down you get to saunter, smiling like a smug git, and say things like “only a thousand steps to go, ha ha!” at everybody making their way up, and then sweat and pant and curse when it’s your turn to go up.  By the time you’re at the top, you’re seriously thinking about turning around and going all the way back to the beach to cool off.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Our routine has seen us swim in the morning/early afternoon on Fornillo Beach directly down from our house.  Campbell has finally accepted that he will have to wait until Greece for white sandy beaches, and managed to get in the swing of the “beaches” here.  With his trusty pair of goggles he transformed into aqua man, and left me reading John Grisham and other trash on the beach.  Our accommodation has a modest selection of books, which has been an absolute blessing – the bill to keep my kindle updated is quickly getting out of hand.  We hit town in the afternoon to get groceries for dinner, a mandatory gelato or lemon slushy, and then joined the queue for a bus to get us part-way up the hill to our house (because of this assistance, we can only crack peanuts, not walnuts with our butt cheeks).

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The Positano bus service leaves a little to be desired – the buses are quite small, seem to run irregularly and never quite get you as close to your destination as you would like.  The real issue though is the total lack of any manners by most of the tourists trying to use them.  People clamber over the top of each other, cut in line, push and elbow one another and generally act like animals trying to get on the bus.  It is the last thing anybody needs when they’re hot and bothered and stuck in wet togs.  After an hour wait at the bus stop yesterday, and being constantly pushed around and barged in front of, the red mist descended.  I ended up giving an impromptu tutorial on manners to a group of people at the bus stop – “that is not the front of the line, this (big sweeping gesture) is the front of the line”; “don’t even think about pushing in there, buddy”!  I would like to think that it was an informative refresher course that was greatly appreciated by my audience but admit that, on reflection, I might have gotten a little Jerry Springer on it.  People with bad manners make me so angry.

Locals themselves are not immune to the frustrations of the bus system.  As we boarded the bus today an elderly Italian man absolutely lost his shit with the driver (something about the driver not opening the back doors for the man to board), and started whacking the bus with his walking stick and standing in the road so that it couldn’t drive away.  When he finally got on the bus, he yelled a lot of things in Italian including “bastardo!” over and over again.  We all knew what he meant.

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We haven’t really ventured out much in the evenings, but sat on our balcony and watched the activities on the harbour and in the village.  Someone even put on a fireworks show for us one night, which was very kind.  Voices travel a long way from the boats and the beaches, so we have eavesdropped instead of watching tv.  There is also a local band that does the rounds of the restaurants playing Italian classics and cliche tunes (“That’s Amore”, and the “One Ton Rodeo” song, which turns out is actually called “Guantanamera”), so we  listen to them for a good few hours while they serenade diners at all the different restaurants up and down the hillside.

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Based on a quick reccy, the food in Positano looked to be pretty average and over-priced, so we have been quite happy to cook at home and make the most of our little apartment.  Campbell has been on cooking detail and has done wonders with our single hotplate and fry pan.  Of all the kitchen bits and pieces we miss, tongs would be top of the list.  It has now been 4 months since we laid eyes on a pair of tongs, and are totally baffled at how people in America and Europe can live without such a kitchen staple.

We haven’t done any real sight-seeing, or excursions while in Positano. Yesterday, we caught a little boat to Arienzo Beach Club – a private beach club where you hire a lounger and a brolly for the day.  It’s a really popular option here since the beaches are pebbles, rather than sand.  There was a lovely little restaurant where you could get drinks and food, and you could hire kayaks and paddle boards if you’re that way inclined.  We settled in for a day of cruising, reading and swimming.  After a few hours, Campbell decided to pop up to the bar for a few drinks.  We ended up with a jug of the gnarliest white wine I have ever tasted – it came out of a 10L plastic container, and was the type of wine that you usually drink knowing full well you’re going to wake up in several hours cradling a cheeseburger, with serious doubts about whether you can make your “fit and proper person declaration” next time the Law Society requests it.  It’s funny how things you would turn your nose up at at home, are suddenly far more palatable when they are served up overseas in a cute jug accompanied with sliced peaches.

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Tomorrow we leave Positano for Naples.  It’s only a 65km journey, but connections to the Amalfi cost are difficult and expensive, and Positano is not a transit hub.  After poring over bus timetables (and bearing in mind our experience with the bus), we have elected to take the easy option and arrange a shuttle van.  We will be holed up in an airport hotel tomorrow waiting to fly to Greece early Saturday morning.  After lots of angst and working through lots and lots of options (thank you for the recommendations) we have finally decided to take the path of least resistance and stay in Greece for the 2 weeks we would have been in Turkey.  We are going to grab a car and explore an area called the Pelion Peninsula, which is known for its beautiful beaches, walking trails and lack of tourists.  It will also give us a chance to recover from our Greek Island Tour, where we expect to the oldest and least able to back up night after night of drinking.

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Volare

As expected, our day of travelling from Rome to Capri was pretty manic.  It was smooth sailing from Rome (the train was only 5 minutes retardo), but arriving at Naples Central Station was an absolute baptism by fire.  In all of our travels, we have never been anywhere as totally out of control.  It was hot, dirty, loud and disorienting.  We tried our best to find the bus to the port, Molo Beverello, but eventually gave up and got a taxi, even though we knew we were paying over the odds.  Our driver was an absolutely lunatic, who wove in and out of traffic, created lanes where there weren’t any and abused other drivers.  He proudly told us that his nickname was Speedy Gonzales.

By the time Speedy dumped us on the side of the road at the port, we were already feeling a bit done in.  Things didn’t get much better from there.   Molo Beverello was heaving with tourists all looking to make their way to the Amalfi Coast and all totally bamboozled by the lack of signage, or guidance about what ferry to catch and when.  Getting on the ferry was like being in a moshpit – Italians don’t seem to have as much respect for the concept of an orderly queue as we do, and they will blatantly push in, or skip the line and run over your feet with their wheelie luggage while they do it.  In the end everybody managed to get onboard, and we spent the next hour sitting in the stifling boat counting the drips of sweat running down our back.

Upon arriving on the island of Capri, it was pretty evident that the situation wasn’t going to improve.  The hundreds of passengers who got off the ferry were all vying to get on the same bus or cable car to the villages of Capri and Anacapri.  We conceded defeat at this point and paid to get a taxi to our BnB.  It was actually a lot of fun – the taxis here are cute little jeeps and utes with open, or canvas tops, so you can take in the views as you wind your way up the tiny streets.  The streets here are narrower than anywhere else we have been – they are barely wide enough for two scooters to pass by each other.  Despite that, minibuses run up and down them continuously and the drivers are absolute pros at navigating the gaps.  They have the kind of spatial awareness I can only dream of.

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The whole day of travel was worth it when we arrived at our accommodation in Anacapri.  We stayed at a BnB run by Raffaella and her family.  Our room was gorgeous and overlooked the garden and vegetable patch that Raffaella’s Dad looks after, and the sea.  The view in the evenings was especially beautiful.

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Once she had got us settled into our room Raffaella instructed us to go for a swim.  It cracks me up how sometimes people who have English as a second language speak in commands, rather than suggestions – “you will go for a swim now, you will enjoy it, you will be refreshed”.  We did as we were told and caught a bus down to the local “beach”.  I say “beach”, because the beach turned out to be a rocky outcrop and cement pad with a couple of ladders into the water.  Campbell declared this false advertising and opted not to swim, but I decided to muck in with the locals and have a dip.  The water was so warm and, when you weren’t worried about waves smashing you into the rocks, it was pretty relaxing too.

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We spent yesterday exploring the island a bit more.  First stop was Marina Grande to take a boat trip around the island.  This is pretty much the most popular thing for visitors to Capri to do.  We boarded our boat and quickly realised that we were sharing our trip with quite possibly the vainest woman in the whole world.  After 30 minutes of having her clamber all over the boat in her bikini with her boobs, butt, lips (enormous trout pout lips) and her fricken selfie stick in everyone’s faces, we called time and told her to put the bloody thing away.  Judging by the look she gave us, we might as well have asked her to give us her first-born child, which I think she might have done provided someone took a flattering photo of her making the exchange.

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The boat trip was a lot more enjoyable after our little chat, and everybody could take in the beautiful scenery of the island and ogle the amazing super yachts and launches parked up at various points around the island.  Today, Bill Gates’ super yacht was parked in one of the bays.  You can see from the picture that it absolutely dwarfed the other boats (some of which were massive themselves) – it had several little boats onboard, as well as 2 helipads.  The owner of Victoria’s Secret also had his boat in the harbour.  There are some seriously cashed up people who visit here, and the village of Capri really caters for them.  Capri is pretty blingy – there is a shopping street full of high-end designers, Chanel, Gucci, Prada, luxury jewellers, expensive restaurants etc and the people walking around certainly give the impression that money isn’t an issue.

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The village we stayed in, Anacapri, was a lot quieter and more low-key.  There were far less tourists, we could walk everywhere, everybody was really friendly and we really liked it.    It was particularly nice in the evenings when the local families would pile into the main square to chat, have a drink, kick a ball around, or play cards.

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We spent our last few hours this morning exploring our local sights.  First stop was the Blue Grotto, which is possibly Capri’s most famous tourist attraction.  You get taken into the Blue Grotto by charming Italian men in little row boats that seat 4.  The opening to the Grotto is only a few feet tall, so you have to lie right back while your captain catapults you through using chains attached to the opening.  Once inside, the captain treats you to a stirring rendition of “Volare” while you marvel at how beautiful the Grotto is.  There is a very specific science-geek reason for it (something about red light rays being filtered out), but essentially the water in the Grotto is the brightest, clearest blue you have ever seen.  It is stunning.  After a spin round the Grotto (you get about 5 minutes to enjoy it), we took the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro.  The top of the mountain is almost 600m above sea level and gives panoramic views over Capri, the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

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After all of that, it was time to move on and catch the ferry to Positano.  Raffaella’s Dad (we never did catch his name) dropped our luggage down to the Port for us in his “Ferrari” – the most dinky little 3-wheeled, 1 seater truck.  Men here have no choice but to be confident with their masculinity.  The roads are simply not big enough for them drive cars that make up for any shortcomings they may have.

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Positano is absolutely beautiful, and we have a lovely wee apartment for the next 5 days.  We’re looking forward to some beach time and to coming away with butts that can crack walnuts – it’s approximately 1 billion steps from our house to central Positano and the beaches, and what goes down must, sadly, get itself back up.  It’s hard to complain with a view like this though.

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Roam if you want to, roam around the world

The last couple of days of our travels in France were spent in Nice which, to be honest, wasn’t really that nice at all.  When we first arrived in Nice we were blown away by the lovely coastline, clear blue waters and the beautiful people strolling and rollerblading along the Promenade des Anglais.  However, Nice suffered from what my Dad would refer to as DDF, or distance distortion factor (although he doesn’t typically use this phrase to refer to places) – the closer you get, the less pretty it becomes.  Upon closer inspection it was pretty clear that Nice’s glitz and glamour only extended about 3 blocks back from the beach.  From there, Nice turned into a maze of souvenir shops, tourist restaurants selling fish and chips and mushy peas and streets littered with dog poo.  It was such a comedown from our time in Provence, and we were pleased to have only arranged a 2 night stay.

If we had to name a highlight it would be the walk to the top of Castle Hill that we did on our last day.  Castle Hill is a public park with an amazing waterfall, a very old Jewish cemetery and views out over the beach and the port.  We got up there early to avoid the heat and it was a nice walk.

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We now find ourselves in Rome.  Sunday was a very long day of travel with a flight from Nice to Rome and then a couple of buses to get to our accommodation.  We are staying at a lovely BnB recommended by a friend from work (thanks Sherilyn!).  Our host, Lucyna, is such a mother hen and fusses over us all the time.  Her son, Flavio, says it is a blessing for him because otherwise all that fussing is directed at him.  We didn’t arrive at the BnB until about 9 pm in the evening, so quickly checked-in and then wandered off for dinner and to find a Tabac, so that Campbell could get cigarettes.  After finding all of the shops in our neighbourhood closed, we finally we stumbled across a cigarette vending machine.  We thought we were onto a winner until we got halfway through our purchase and realised that we needed to insert an Italian ID card to confirm we were old enough to buy smokes.  After much head scratching, we yelled out to a man on the street who very kindly came over and helped us finish the transaction. The experience was very similar to being a teenage loitering outside the liquor store while someone’s older brother bought you a bottle of Bernadino.

Our fellow houseguests are an interesting bunch.  Campbell has nicknamed one of them “the grot” and the “turd burglar” after using the bathroom after him and finding a big steaming log left in the loo.  It’s funny, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure the guy speaks English and can understand everything we’re staying about him.  A new guest arrived last night, a young guy from Germany who has been long-boarding his way around Europe.  He’s posting videos of his trip on Youtube and hoping to become the next Youtube sensation, so that he  never has to go back to the real world.  Our exploits seem pretty tame by comparison.

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We’ve had plenty of time during our stay to take in some of Rome’s great sights – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Vatican City, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps etc etc.  We both found the Vatican City such an odd place – on one hand it is a holy site of significance and grandeur, yet it is surrounded by some of the nastiest, tackiest souvenir outlets and shops we’ve ever seen.  There are tourists crawling all over the place wearing crop tops, pouting and posing seductively against water fountains and other monuments.  You just know those pictures are going to end up plastered all over Instagram and Facebook #Religious.

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We also went with Sherilyn’s suggestion and did a walking tour of the city, which covered some amazing churches.  Despite our waning interest in churches, you can’t really come to Rome and not see a couple.  My favourite church had a tiny, wizened little priest who looked totally harmless until he absolutely unleashed on the Austrian girls in our group who had worn denim cut-off shorts into the church – it was a pretty shameless breach of the dress code.  After blasting them (complete with classic Italian arm waving), he shuffled back inside the confession booth, where he looked set to drift off (potentially permanently).

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Sadly, we’ve found that the food in Rome is pretty hit and miss.  I love carb loading as much as the next person, but the total saturation of pizza and pasta restaurants can be a bit much, especially in the very touristy areas.  If you just amble round the city trying your luck there is a very high likelihood that you’ll end up with a soggy pizza, or stodgy carbonara.  To find good food requires a bit of work.  Luckily for us, Tripadvisor never fails.  Last night we had a great steak meal at a taverna down a little alley off Campo De’ Fiori.   Campbell was especially in need of some red meat, having had a strenuous afternoon playing bingo with the locals at the pub down the road from our BnB, while I window-shopped in Rome and picked up mandatory souvenirs.  I had planned on buying some new shoes, but 3 months of wandering around has not been kind to my feet and I just couldn’t bring myself to inflict them on a sales assistant.

On our way home from dinner we stopped by the Trevi Fountain, so Campbell could see it in action.  It has been empty and barricaded off since we got here, which our walking tour guide told us has been in preparation for  a Fendi fashion show that was happening there today.  Karl Lagerfield and his entourage where there inspecting the stage when we arrived, which prompted me to nut out a little bit, elbow my way to the front of the crowd and take a hundred photos like a crazed member of the paparazzi (this is how Campbell recalls it anyway).  When I couldn’t get a good shot Campbell had to take over, which he did with far less enthusiasm.  Being tall is certainly a plus when you’re travelling in very busy touristy places.  We are way bigger than a lot of the other tourists, which means we can elbow them out of the way (gently) and take photos from over their shoulders or above their heads.  It also means that on a jam-packed bus or metro, they get stuck in our armpits and not the other way round.

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Tonight we made our way across the river for dinner in Trastavere, which is regarded as one of the more gritty and authentic neighbourhoods.  If/when we come back to Rome we would like to stay here.  Based on our experience tonight, Trastevere absolutely goes off in the evenings.  There are bars and restaurants everywhere and people enjoying live music, dinner and drinks.  There are far less tourists and a much better atmosphere as a result.  After another great dinner, we managed to grab a couple of seats at a bar and watch the semi-final of the football between Germany and France.  We caught a taxi home and got dragged off at the lights by a guy in a Fiat Panda blasting Bone Thugs.  It was surreal.

As some of you will know from my Facebook SOS, we have had a bit of bad news during our stay – our tour of Turkey has been cancelled due to the recent terror attacks at Istanbul airport.  We are gutted and, due to the constraints of our round-the-world ticket (namely that we have to move in one continuous direction and cannot backtrack), have limited options to fill the 2 and a bit weeks we would have been in Turkey.  It turns out that almost every country between Greece (our last stop before Turkey) and India (our stop after Turkey) are war-torn, or carry some risk of being blown up.  Turns out that trying to organise something new on short notice, in high season, and with a modest budget sucks the big one.  At this stage, we will either stay in Greece and sun ourselves for a couple more weeks (poor us!), or head to Croatia if we can find flights that won’t require us to sell an organ on the black market.

Tomorrow we make our way to Capri via convoluted travel arrangements involving a taxi, train, bus, ferry, bus.  It will be a long day, but we’re confident it will be worth it.  Capri looks amazing!

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