A Travellerspoint blog

Dr. Fraiser Crane, Starbucks and the Space Needle

...finally visiting Seattle...

If I had one word to describe Seattle, it would be cool! I have been dying to visit the NorthWest coast of the US since as long as I can remember (and Seattle in particular). I don't know why, but I always thought that I could live in Seattle. Of course until I just recently visited, I had nothing to base this on except for some very loose facts I knew about Seattle (most that I may or may not have picked up from being an avid watcher of Frasier!). Despite my groundless basis for my opinion, my gut was not wrong. I absolutely loved this uber cool city, it is so chill!

Taking the bus from Vancouver to Seattle is a relatively easy process, as long as you don't forget to renew your visa (ooopppps) and can stand being interrogated by US immigration officials (I will never understand why they have to be so rude!). Aside from being lectured about having had an expired visa to cross the border (in my defence it was a two year visa and it had only been expired by a month!), crossing the border wasn't too much of an issue. Six dollars later, and I was safely secured back in my seat on the bus and ready for the 3 hour drive to Seattle.

I opted to stay at the Green Tortoise (or something along those lines), which conveniently located me right in the thick of things at Pike Place Market. After ditching my bags, I set off on my first adventure, the most quintessential landmark in Seattle, the Space Needle. As you can imagine, there were hoards of people that day, but somehow I managed to get relatively lucky and only have a 40 minute wait before I was at the top. A few snaps later, I was at the bottom again and setting off back to Pike Place Markets for a wander. The markets are fantastic. So much fresh food (and fish!), it really is a sensory delight. On the recommendation of one of the hostel volunteers, I went to China Town for dinner and indulged in the biggest noodle bowl of my life! Yum, yum.

The following morning, I started my day with the Seattle 101 tour which was run by an American bloke who after travelling extensively through Europe with his new bride and had taken many of the free tours they offer, decided to return to America to get it started in Seattle. I don't remember his name, but he does a fantastic job educating you on the very interesting history of this funky little city. And he even gets you free taste tests of clam chowder and fries! Delicious...and well worth his generous tip, I might add!

In the afternoon I had decided to do the hostel´s "Famous Dead Guy" tour that they run. One of the hostel employees, Sascha, picks you up in the green tortoise van and you are off venturing out and exploring the famous sites of the famous dead people who have lived here (Bruce Lee, Jet Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain).

That evening I went out on a pub crawl with a few of my new found friends on the dead guys tour. One thing led to another and it wasn't long before it was 4am! Where did the night go?! Well worth the lack of sleep though. I woke up early the following morning to make a 9am Market Tour that was also run by the same bloke as Seattle 101. This was certainly one of the highlights of my time in Seattle, learning all of the history about how the Pike Place markets have come to light and how they are run today. He even gets you lots of free tasters for many of the local specialties; fish, hot sauce jelly, apple chips, pickle juice shots (soooooo good! I´m a freak for pickles), fresh fruits to name a few. Following the tour, I made my way back to the bus station where I had a 1pm bus to catch, I had a very important occasion to be back for...it was Maura's birthday celebration!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

You can't go to Seattle and not visit the most iconic landmark...
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A beautiful city...loved everything about the Seattle...the people, the vibe...awesome, awesome, awesome
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Love this picture...Seattle with Mt. Rainier in the background...it doesn't even look real...I promise it's not photoshopped!
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And again...the floating mountain...
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The bus-boat...a very popular tour here...I didn't do it but they're bloody everywhere!
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Pike Place Markets
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The oldest busker that I have ever seen...she was lethal on that guitar! Impressive.
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Seattle is also home to some enormous seagulls. These fellas sit at the dock all day and beg for hot chips...
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Black Hole Sun by Sound Garden...
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Famous Dead Guy Tour - Bruce & Brandon Lee
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Lake Washington...before I realised it was a nudey beach! And first hand caught one of our fellow hostel buddies there in the nud...Ooooppppssss. Awkward.
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Famous Dead Guy Tour - Kurt Cobain's house
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Blueberry picking! So juicy and delicious
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Famous Dead Guy Tour - Jimi Hendrix's grave...Hey Joeeeeee!
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And again...
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Stealing sailor's hats on the pub crawl...Annie & I...the American Sailors were in town...watch out!
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Jack shooting the boot...the evening taking a turn for the worse...and a clear explanation of the 4am bedtime.
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Pike Place Market...in the daylight
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Look at all that delicious seafood goodness
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Heaving!
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The fruit and vegge....yummmmm
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Fresh salmon
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The original location of Starbucks before there was a fire...
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The "new" first Starbucks
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The worlds largest gum wall
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Classic
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Posted by melpage 12:43 Archived in USA Tagged seattle Comments (0)

I heart Van

And the wedding of the year!!!

They say that friends are the family that you choose, and even though I am very blessed to have a fantastic family, I have to admit, I've chosen a pretty bloody good one for myself too! Two of my great friends from Bermuda, Anton and Caitlin (who are native Vancouverites), were getting married at the end of July and even though it meant chopping my summer in Europe short, I was going to be there, come hell or high water.

I first met Anton at PwC. Well, truth be told, he was one of the first people who I met in Bermuda as we had arrived together and were in the same "class". His lovely girlfriend, the illusive Caitlin, who I had heard so much about, eventually followed about a month later and of course we became friends. But it wasn't until I left PwC and started working at Athene, that Caitlin and I became really close, going from a friend that I would occasionally run into at barbecues or see out on the town to what is best described as my work wife. We worked in the same group, had all of our lunches together, hung out most weekends and told each other everything for two years. At this stage in the trip, I was definitely missing my other half and even though we were still in constant contact via text, it's just not the same!

Not only was I also very lucky to be able to come back to Vancouver, a city that I have always wanted to explore more thoroughly having been there once before on a quick eight hour layover, but I also had another of my closest pals, Tammy, who had moved back home a year prior to visit. Tammy was my soul sister while living on the island. We did all the things that were "good for me" together (and occasionally, the odd thing that wasn't so good for me! But hey, that's Bermuda...). We both have an inner hippy so would often take random courses at the local holistic centre, she was my yoga buddy, my running partner, one of the crew in the paddle boarding gang and just my go to girl in general. Even though I was so happy for her to move back home to such a wonderful opportunity, I was missing her tremendously and a thorough catch up was long overdue!

I stayed in Vancouver for a total of ten days (including a sidebar trip where I nipped over the border to Seattle) and if I was to go through the complete blow by blow of the entire experience, this post would be ridiculously long (and to be honest I am not sure anyone would finish it)! I was so spoilt by all of my Vancouverite friends (you know who you are) that I was able to do so much while I was visiting! So here are some of the highlights of the fabulous visit to Vancouver, a place that if the opportunity ever arose, I could definitely see myself living in one day.

Clearly the wedding was the absolute highlight of my visit (it was so unbelievably fun), but in order to not get too sidetracked, I'll start the list in a sequential order.

On the first full day of my visit, Tammy, Caitlin, Anton, Amanda (Caitlin's sister) and two of Caitlin's cousins, Roisin and Siobhan, visiting from the UK, went on a hike up the Sea to Sky gondola, which is a mountain that is next to The Chief. The hike was supposed to be an intermediate/advanced hike that was to be between 3-5 hours. We managed to knock it out in just under 3 hours (with lots of puffing and panting on my behalf! I think three months in Europe of over indulging had finally caught up to me!) The fiancé were absolutely spectacular. Vancouver (and BC) is so picturesque. Such a beautiful part of the world!

Following our jaunt up the mountain, we drove for about 40 minutes to Whistler where we had a quick refuel and rehydrate (or dehydrate on my behalf as a few of us opted to hit the turps) at Earl's. Our friend Navid and his fiancé Ashely, had also just arrived in Whistler for a few nights so they also came and joined us.

Post lunch, we bid farewell to the bride and groom to be, and Tam and I made our way to the Delta, where we were to be staying for a few nights. Tam has a friend that works there so was able to secure us an excellent deal. Whistler is a great town. Really cute with tonnes of people. I would love to see it in the winter. But on several occasions I had to ask myself, "wait, where am I?" The entire place is packed full of Aussies! It is most definitely a case of ¨spot the Canadian¨, they were few and far between.

Tam and I spent the rest of our stay in Whistler checking out all the local sites and doing a number of hikes. The weather was beautiful, not too hot and certainly not too cold, which was the ideal temperature for a few hikes. We closed our of final evening in Whistler by meeting Navid and Ashely at the Fairmont for a few drinks by the fire pit to celebrate Ashley's birthday.

By Thursday, most of the out of town guests had arrived in Vancouver. It was starting to finally feel like a party! Mika, one of my best friends from Bermuda, had arrived from Bermuda (Mika, another Vancouverite, who I was also very close with and was definitely feeling the pangs of missing her!). That evening, a group of us congregated at an Irish bar down by the water in the city for a few warm up welcome drinks for the wedding weekend. So many familiar faces, it was so fabulous to see everyone again! Not only the Bermuda crew, those who had previously left the island or those who were still there, but also many of Caitlin's friends who I have had the pleasure of meeting during their holidays to Bermuda. A great crew.

The wedding was in a town called Harrison Hot Springs, which was about a two and a half hour trip from Vancouver, directly east. It's a holiday hot spot for locals, and an exceptionally stunning setting for a wedding. The rehearsal dinner took place at the groom and groomsmen's quarters, which was about a twenty minute drive out of the town on a small country farm. Now it was all coming together, and we got to see more old friends...it's really starting to feel like a party!

As you can imagine, I was quite tuckered out after all of the wedding celebrations. What a phenomenal long weekend! We spent the rest of Sunday in recovery mode and slowly made our way back to Vancouver on Sunday afternoon.

As I had always wanted to go to Seattle, I decided to make a mad dash for the border early Monday morning. I stayed for two nights, and as for my adventures there, that will be for another post.

I returned to Vancouver at around 5pm on Wednesday evening, which was perfect timing for the fireworks and also to celebrate Maura's birthday. There is an annual Celebration of Light firework show that takes place in Vancouver during the summer months. Countries go head to head in a competition to see who can bring the ¨biggest bangs, so to speak. I had the pleasure of watching team France and they certainly did not disappoint. To date, I think this might have been the most impressive fireworks that I have ever seen!

On Thursday, I went for lunch with a friend from my travels in Turkey, Sebastian, downtown. A few pints later, and I hit the bus towards Grouse, where I was to meet Tammy so that we could do the famous tradition of the "Grouse Grind". It is an incredibly steep hike (very challenging) that goes for about an hour in my case (I really shouldn't have had those beers at lunch). Despite the pain in getting to the top, the views were spectacular! Seriously, is there ever a bad view in this city?!

Post the hike, we went back into the city to meet up with some of Tammy's volleyball friends for a drink in Kits. We closed out relatively early, as I had an early flight to catch to Houston! And that closes a wonderful trip to Vancouver...I cannot wait to go back!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

Beautiful Vancouver! In an effort to keep me awake after my eleven hour flight from Frankfurt, Tam took me on a walk around Granville Island...even when it's grey...still a beautiful city!
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Tambo & I
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The Sea to Sky gondola
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Happy hikers...Caitlin, Anton, one of the twins & Tam
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Look at that view!
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Hikers...
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The girls on the gondola on the way down...Caitlin, Amanda, Me & one of the twins...
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Tambo & I in Whistler...I need to go back in winter...unbelievably gorgeous!
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Amazing views galore! Pinch meeeee
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Canadian represent! The gorgeous Tam...
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One of the lakes in Whistler...up Blackcombe I believe.
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Bride and Groom to be warm up karaoke...just your average Thursday session...
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Alexis, Dash & Meeks in Harrison Hot Springs...three of my favourite Bermudians! Well, one real Bermudian, one spouse of and an expat...Can't tell you how good it feels to be reunited again!!!
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The ladies before the wedding...Tambo, me, Mika, Kristen K & Kristen P (oooooppppsss eyes closed!)
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The gorgeous bridesmaids...stunning! Loved, loved, loved their dresses!
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The stunning bride and her parents...
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Exchanging vows
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The beautiful ladies in red...Tam, Shannon & Maura
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And now for the ladies in blue...Kristen, Gloria & I
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My fave Japanese!
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Work wife!!! Miss my other half!
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Friends like these are few and far between...I miss these two far too much....Mika & Alexis
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Tam and Al....the MC
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Shannon & I...Miss this girl and our cooking adventures!
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The BEST table...
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One of the many reasons I love Caitlin...she just exudes fun! Swimming in your wedding dress...
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Probably my favourite photo of the evening...ever so glam...love!
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Wedding hot tub partayyyyyy
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Beautiful Van at sunset for the fireworks...
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Happy birthday Maura!!!
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Maura & I getting stuck into some swizzle...true Bermy style!
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Definitely the most impressive firework display that I have ever seen!!! BOOM!!!!
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Tam & Mel v. the Grouse Grind...brutal climb...
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Just because it made me laugh...it's a thing in Canada apparently...
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BEARS!!!!! At the top of Grouse
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Tam & I at the top of Grouse...beer time!
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Posted by melpage 12:12 Archived in Canada Tagged vancouver whistler harrison_hot_springs Comments (0)

Ich bin ein Berliner

A punksters paradise

I never thought that I would ever describe myself as being straight laced, but after visiting Berlin, I have never felt more so! Being tattoo-less, having a "normal" hair colour, dressing relatively "conservative", having no wild piercings or other loud appearance statements, I was definitely in the minority here. Even the mums out edged/punked me! But aside from feeling a tad out of place from an appearance perspective, I absolutely adored Berlin and cannot wait for return in the future!

Getting to my hostel from the airport was not nearly as seamless as I had imagined it. The Germans are very known for their organisation and punctuality, however, somehow I missed the giant sign (if there even was one) that was directing us that a very important piece of the line I needed for the metro was out of commission. Fortunately, a nice German bloke had made the assumption that I probably was foreign (hello, giant backpack...finally you throw me a bone!) and felt the need to share this crucial information. He was one of the few Germans that I came across that really didn't speak English too well, but luckily enough, my high school German kicked in and I was at least able to understand the gist of what he was getting at.

A few small detours later and I had arrived at Plus Hostel. The hostel was by far the most impressive and enormous hostel that I have stayed in to date. It came fully equipt with several bars, a "beach", pool, sauna, outdoor art gallery and more games rooms than you can poke a stick at! The only downside was it was a prime location for all of the Conktiki and Topdeck tours, which meant that it was full of teens and young twenties that were all quite keen to "get after it". And as I have come to realise on several occasions during the trip, I'm far too old for that sh!t!

I spent the early evening of my arrival walking around my neigbourhood. Freidrichstein is definitely the most happening area of Berlin. It is filled with heaps of artsy cafes, bars and one off shops. There is great music in the area (it's a key location for buskers) and is definitely some of the best people watching to date. Despite the area being quite alternative (I definitely saw quite a few punksters that were shooting up heroin), I never felt unsafe. Everybody minded their own business and got on with it. It was quite refreshing to be honest!

The following morning, I took a free tour of Berlin. The tour was lead by a very entertaining bloke by the name of Rob who is a Manchesterite that had been living in Berlin for quite sometime. He was incredibly passionate about Berlin's (and Germany's) history, and was able to provide us with all kinds of important information about the history of this fabulous city. It also helped that he was incredibly funny, so he kept me highly entertained while he was spinning his tales showing us the Bradenburg Gate, Hitler's Bunker, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, the SS Headquarters, The Berlin Wall (of course!), TV Tower, Pariser Plate and Luftwaffe Headquarters.

Despite having such a controversial history, what I really admire about the Germans and how they are handling it, is that today they are really taking an active effort to educate and address the mistakes of their past. This is certainly a very different approach to take in contrast to many other countries approaches as most of their "controversial" history is swept under the rug and glossed over in a brief discussion during our history classes. The Germans are very proactive in being very honest and direct about their mistakes. I think this is very honorable and certainly very important tactic in ensuring that the future generations are not repeat offenders.

Later that afternoon, I took another free tour, but this time it was far less serious and much more creative (definitely more my scene), the alternative tour of Berlin. The tour was led by a wicked bloke from Melbourne called Mikey. Like Rob, he also has been in Berlin a number of years, but instead of focussing on journalism and tours, his main focus was his band and the alternative tours. During the tour, Mikey showed us some amazing street art (my new obsession!), graffiti art and urban projects that are happening in Kruezburg. He informed us about artist squats, showed us Europe's largest indoor skate park that is located inside the ruins of a bombed train depot, urban farms, and some Jamaican Beach Bars on the River Spree. It was definitely a very unique and very eccletic tour that showed a very different (and funky) side of Berlin. I absolutely loved it!

That evening, I made friends with a lovely girl from Chile, Paola. There weren't too many people "my age" at the hostel, so when she arrived in my room that afternoon, it was like a God send! We spent the rest of the evening chatting over drinks and dinner as she gave me all kinds of tips and tricks for travelling through South America (which will be also on the agenda). And now I have another friend to visit!

The following morning was a very lazy start to the day. Rob had convinced me to do his tour of Sachsenhausen (concentration camp), which sounded like it was going to be quite a solemn, yet educational experience. Sachsenhausen is about a 40minute journey outside the centre of Berlin (in the suburbs) but is easily accessible by train. Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Orianienburg that was mainly used to house political prisoners from 1936-1945. Around 200,000 prisoners passed through here while it was open, and of those prisoners, 30,000 died due to from exhaustion, malnutirition and other byproducts of extremely poor living conditions. Many were also killed in brutal medical experimentations and very interestingly was also the site of the largest counterfeiting operation in history. The stories of these poor people were beyond appalling, and just thinking of them now, still sends shivers up my spine. It certainly is not a very easy thing to learn about, which again says a lot about the character of the German people through the education of their history.

Following the tour, a group of us headed out to a traditional beer garden for some heferweisen and a brat. God knows after hearing about the torturings of those poor souls for a number of hours that afternoon, it certainly worked up a thirst for beer! It was a nice way to wind down quite an emotional afternoon with a few new found friends. And, quite shockingly, it was the first brat and hefer that I have had since being in Berlin! It would be sacreligious to leave Germany having not reveled in a few of its famous delicacies.

That evening, Paola and I had a very lazy evening at the hostel indulging in the sauna and pool before a bite and a few drinks at the hostel. Sadly we didn't manage to stay out too late that evening as we were highly distracted by the young drunken teens who were on an absolute bender playing drinking games at the bar. Yep, I am definitely far too old for this! We packed it in reasonably early, which was fine by me. I had an early start the next day as was catching a seven hour bus to Frankfurt. It was time to bid Germany one final "aufwiedersehen" and begin the long journey to Vancouver for my great friend Caitlin's wedding. Saying that I was beyond excited was an understatement!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

Beautiful sunset on Oberbaumbrucke bridge. Also a hotspot for lots of buskers. Excellent street performers here...very talented!
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Street art heaven! Love this place!
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The busking bridge round two! I sat and listened to the guys playing under here for a good twenty minutes...they were bloody brilliant! Never caught their name but I wouldn't be surprised if I heard one of their tunes in the future...
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The Bradenburg Gate (and the start of my free walking tour through Berlin).
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The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by Peter Eisenman & Buro Happold and consisting of 2,711 slabs of concrete, each of varying sizes. There are several theories as to what the design represents. The most plausible, in my mind, is the one that says it was constructed to remind us that while we may appear to have some differences, when it all boils down, we are all the same. No two blocks in the memorial are the same.
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A Trabi!
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The Berlin Konzerthaus.
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The Berliner Dom. A famous Cathedral on the River Spree that was built in the late 1800s.
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More street art! I was obsessed with it. This one if by Victor Ash, he was featured on my alternative tour several times. The cool thing is that if you visit at dusk, there is a lamp post that casts a shadow in the astronauts hand that gives the impression that he is waving a flat! Really cool. Love his work! Mikey told us that while lots of the street art is commissioned, there is also part of it that is "illegal", although most people generally like it. There is a group of young guys who will create their work overnight and do all kinds of crazy things like tying a rope to themselves and repelling down a wall or having one guy hold his feet in a death clamp while he prepares his piece upside down. It's quite insane but makes you appreciate the art more in a way knowing the lengths that they do to do it!
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An Urban Farm. This old bloke built his home on some unclaimed land on the Western side of Germany, but was really part of the Eastern side so was left unclaimed and up for the grabs when the wall was built.
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More street art!
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And again
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Rachel & I outside of the Jamaican Beach Bar that we visited on the riverfront. Rachel was a young lass from St. Louis that I met on the morning free walking tour and we spent the day together wandering through the streets of Berlin.
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And again...a new obsession has developed!
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The Jamaican Beach Bar on the river bank. A very funky little spot that even boasts real sand from Jamaica (allegedly!). This was a great spot to take a small break from the tour and quench our thirst on those great German brews.
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Street art...
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The Wall!!! There is a stretch of the wall that is still up and currently demonstrates some amazing art work.
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This is a great bar that was down the street from my hostel. I use the term "bar" very loosely as it's almost like a giant carpark that is set up like a bit of a bar. The main showcase is the always-changing art work that is on the surrounding walls of the premise. The owner commissions local artists to come in and repaint the walls every so often. Really cool place to just chill in an eclectic scene (if that's your thing)...
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More artwork from the bar car parking thingy...
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And again...
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And again...
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Sachsenhausen Tour. Quite an emotionally draining day, but certainly well worth the visit.
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The gates to Sachsenhausen. Eerie...
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Inside one of the "torture" chamber areas. This is the place where the prisoners often came to the doctors for a "check up" but never returned...the thought of it still haunts me!
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Posted by melpage 12:01 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin Comments (0)

Raki, anyone?!

The final stop for the travel band...

Chania, pronounced Hahn-yah, is the second largest city on the island of Crete. In typical Greek fashion, Chania can be spelled one of three different ways (talk about confusing! Obviously this is excluding the Greek lettering); Chania, Hania, or Xania. This was the first location that we decided to hire cars, and of course being in Greece and on the right hand side of the road, it made for all kinds of fun adventures in trying to decipher where we were going (and are we really ever going to make it home? Wait, how do you spell Chania again?).

Even though Crete was the final gig for the travel band, we weren't too sad yet, we still had six days ahead of us. We arrived at the Heraklion airport in the late afternoon. The flight from Santorini to Heraklion was interesting, one of those up and down flights, but uncharacteristically Greek, we left about twenty minutes prior to our scheduled take off time, and the pilot had started to take off almost before the flight attendant could finish giving us the safety demonstration. Interesting! Our stewardess had some mad skills (or maybe just lots of practice with our over zeallous pilot!).

We had booked the 20.00 bus to Chania, which was about a three hour drive from Heraklion (the main city in Crete). The bus ride was pretty uneventful, despite some very annoying young Greek boys who were joking around the entire time. We arrived in Chania a little later than expected and feeling a little worse for wear. We divided up into two groups for the taxis so that they could drop us off at our accommodation as our host, Andreas, was patiently waiting for us. As is the case with most bus stations in town, they are usually right in thick of the action, which appeared to be the case for the station in Chania. However, our taxi ride was proving to be much longer than it should have been and I was beginning to get a little worried. Great, finally the bubble of "luck" that I had had in booking the accommodation for us had burst. Our taxi finally pulled up to an incredibly run down building on the outskirts of town. I quickly looked at my phone (which had the pictures of our stay) and then at the house, "nope, this cannot be it!". Unless of course, I had been played a fool by the best photoshopper out there! I passed my phone to the driver and had him dial our host Andreas. A few seconds later (what seemed like 10 minutes), the driver was laughing, he had taken us to the wrong area (thank god! We were miles from anything worthwhile) but in his defense, there were two of these streets in Chania. A few minutes later, we were back in the Old Town of Chania (were the touristas belong!).

The Old Town of Chania is a labyrinth to navigate, so many twisting and winding turns, so it was easier for us to do the rest of the distance by foot. Thankfully Andreas (who funnily enough ended up being a friend of a friend of mine from uni - very small world!), was patiently waiting for us. And even more fortunately, the accommodation lived up to (and again exceeded expectations)....phew!! A gigantic sigh of relief.

Our first day in Chania was very relaxing. We spent the majority of the day sightseeing and getting a sense of the layout of the town, which was much larger than Oia (but definitely manageable). We went to the famous leather markets and spent the rest of the afternoon bar hopping (we were in the ideal location for it). By early evening, we retired to our terrace where the drinking continued (this time we were peanut racing! Explained in pictures below but a tradition in our families). And as you can imagine with any drinking game, it got rowdy. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant not far from our house and then headed out on the town again (and for more peanut racing). It wasn't long before it became abundantly clear to us that it was time to go home. Peanut racing had gotten the better of us (and to be honest, I'm not sure that Greece was ready for it...we had random men helping themselves to eating our racing peanuts right out of the bag). They clearly had no appreciation for the sanctity of the game.

The second day began with a visit to the Chania Farmer's Market, which was conveniently located about two streets over from our accommodation. We had decided the previous day that we were all quite keen for a home cooked meal that evening so what better way to prepare for it than to purchase locally grown produce! We then dipped out for a quick lunch followed by a very chilled day relaxing at the local beach. That evening we cooked our meal. Each of us was "assigned" to a course; Kel made bruschetta, I made the grilled veggies, and Elena and Tori were in charge of the pasta (Alex made sure our glasses were topped up). It was a spectacular meal and definitely a well received break from all of the eating out that we had done recently.

On the third morning, Alex, Elena, Tori, Sam and I had elected to go on a hike of the Samaria Gorge, which is the largest gorge in Europe and Crete's only National Park. The hike began with a pick up in the centre of town at 6am. We drove to Omalos, where we had a quick breakfast, and then proceeded to Xiloskalo to commence a 16km descent (thankfully not an ascent!) into the Samaria Gorge. We were at 1230m altitude. The hike was thoroughly enjoyable and certainly a very picturesque part of the world. By far the highlight of the day was our tour operator Thomas. I still burst into fits of laughter whenever I think of him (and his bumbag or fanny-pack for you Americans) and I really wish I had gotten a picture with him as only a picture can capture the true essence of Thomas! Let's just say that I can certainly see the likes of Will Ferrel or Sascha Baron Cohen playing a Thomas-esque character about being a park ranger in the future. I'm not sure if Thomas originally hailed from Greece (he had long flowing blonde locks...a wild curly mane!), his English was good, but certainly interesting to say the least as he took very odd long pauses when he spoke (I took a video of him talking to us - Alex and I spent both the journey to and from the Gorge in tears from so much laughter). He would repeat very odd things excessively when he spoke, for example, when trying to clarify at what time we were supposed to be halfway through our walk, he would say "Eleven fifteen. That is fifteen minutes passed eleven, or one one dot one five" (and then go on to repeat it several more times). Needless to say, when you hear that several times, and along with the other things spelled out this way, it was hilarious. You could also say that we are both slightly immature!

Following our hike, we finished the walk by taking a dip in the Libyan Sea. The cold water never felt so good on our aching feet! We had a few beers beachside while we waited for the rest of the tour group to finish and then we piled back on the bus. In the early evening, we met Kel back at the apartment, quick showers were taken all round and we went out for dinner. Somehow we managed to bargain an excellent deal with one very naive matri'd who agreed to give us free drinks if we ate at his restaurant while we watched the World Cup. Big mistake for him, but a win, win for team travel!

The next morning, we had finally obtained a bit of independence and opted to hire a couple of cars to further explore Crete. Because none of us felt confident enough to drive a seven seater stick van (it has been a long time since I have driven a manual and being on the right hand side of the road would be far too intimidating! AND in Greece no less...AND I'd have five backseat drivers...), we opted for two small automatic cars. I drove one car, and Alex drove the other. I knew driving in Greece was going to be interesting, but it wasn't nearly as hectic as I had imagined it (perhaps it's worse on the mainland), but all the other drivers seemed to be quite courteous and nobody did anything too obscene. Having said that, it goes without saying that all the speed signs are completely inconsistent, and if someone is taking you over, you are supposed to pull halfway off of the road. Interesting. As my car (which contained Tori and Elena) was the designated lead car, we were in charge of leading the way. Tori, my Chief Navigator, did a fabulous job of accurately navigating me at all times. The only problem was that on most occasions, our GPS would either not update accurately, or was completely outdated for the "new" roads (which I would guess weren't all that new!). Things got incredibly "interesting" when we had a few instances of off-roading (and I'm talking serious bush bashing) while trying to find the on-ramp to the highway. I'm not sure the second car found our adventures nearly as amusing as we did, but our car certainly found all of our unplanned adventures to be highly comical. We got the see the real Crete!

Our first road trip was to Elafonisi Island, which was about three hours away and is a large lagoon with crystal clear water (and pink sand!). It was absolutely stunning. One side of the Island is luke warm water, and the other side is refreshingly cold. It is very shallow and you have to walk out almost a kilometre to get any depth! Ideal for young children, I would imagine. Following Elafonisi, we had a small pit stop at a beach that we spied that was not too far out of Chania (about 20kms). Elena and Alex had a quick dip while the rest of us relaxed. The second car was quite keen to get back to Chania to relax before dinner so they decided to leave the beach early. Tori, Elena and I were slightly peckish before we packed up and left so we decided to eat at one of the restuarants that we saw on the shorefront of the beach. WOW! All I can say is that it was by far the best food that I had in Greece. Absolutely divine (and free shots and dessert to boot!). Of course because the rest of the travel band missed out on the incredible meal, we vowed to take them there for lunch the next day (and we did).

Day five, our final full day in Greece, began with a quick stint of last minute shopping in the morning before we packed up our things and hit the road. As the small snack the Wetmores & I had had the evening before had made such an impression on us, we decided to drive 20km out of our way to take the rest of the group there for lunch. And we couldn't have been more pleased we did. They also agreed, best meal in Greece. Hands down (Thank you to Tori for picking it!). Following lunch (post more free desserts and shots...sidebar, don't worry, the drivers were not doing shots!), we piled back into our respective cars and made our way for Heraklion. It was about a 160km drive but passed by relatively quickly as we had plenty of stunning views, some great banter and some "interesting" Greek music on the radio.

That evening we had dinner at our hotel, which was very close to the airport. The dinner was nothing special, but a buffet, so gave us plenty of chances to stock up "one last time" on anything Greek that we were going to miss. I for one certainly ate my fair share of tzatiki (we seriously must have consumed kilos of the stuff during our trip! Insane). The best part of dinner was in fact that the beer and wine was on tap and unlimited. So what was planned to be an early night ended up turning into a serious session of "go time" and we had the rowdiest night for our entire stay in Greece. Again, I repeat, when will I learn to not drink excessively before a travel day?!

With very sore heads the next day, some far worse than others (thankfully it was not me!), we bid farewell and closed out a fabulous holiday. Such a fantastic trip with so many memories and laughs! Big thank you's to my family for making the time and spending the money to come and spend time with me! I cannot wait to go to back to Greece...

Next up Berlin....

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

Shots at breakfast...OPAAA!!!!! Bit of a rough way to start the morning. My preferred shot in Greece is by far ouzo. As we were now in Crete, we were drinking Raki which is the local liquor (it's ouzo in Athens and other islands). Boo Raki (I think the Turkish Raki is nicer). Although Elena and Alex seemed to acquire quite the thirst for it...Alex seemed to drink it like water and Elena was down to do a shot at anytime! I was happy when I was "driving" so I could kindly decline and slide it right on over to Elena...the Raki shot master!
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The streets of Chania. This place is such a gorgeous seaside town. I adored it.
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The coast of Chania.
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Our amazing rooftop terrace! We killed some serious time (and brain cells) up here. Bloody brilliant! Who doesn't love a good rooftop patio!
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The Old Town in Chania from our terrace.
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Elena and her champion peanut! PEANUT RACING!!!! I'll explain the significance of this below...
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Cousins peanut racing!!! So this might sound quite strange, but peanut racing is a pretty important game in our family (and I believe the reason Elena and I are a week apart...after a very boozey weekend away peanut racing). Back in the early 80s (and maybe the 70s?!), our parents were avid peanut racers. That was the thing to do on a night out. You each would sit with your pint of beer, pick a peanut, and ready steady go, drop it in the beer. The first peanut to get to the bottom and then rise to the top is the winner. And if you loose, you down your pint. You really don't know how exciting or how intense this game can get until you get involved (and perhaps a few pints in). There really aren't any hard and fast rules as to which peanuts are "winners". I've used small ones, big ones, extra salty ones, etc and they have each been winners. But rest assured...when you find that winning nut, you put that buddy in your pocket and use him all night long! You can imagine the strange looks we received when we started racing our peanuts in the middle of a restaurant (screaming at our beers!)....and walking into a nightclub with a bag of peanuts...snack time?! It is honestly hysterical. And just to emphasize how important it is to look after your winner, about a week later in Berlin, I was wearing a pair of shorts I hadn't worn for a while and found my winning nut in my pocket. It's serious business!
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Peanut racing in action.
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My lovely cousins.
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Bit blurry but Al & I.
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Kel & Sam.
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An intense game...although Tori looks completely preoccupied!
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The markets! Just outside our house.
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Hahaha...oh this bloke...wow...I don't know what to say. I think pictures scream far louder than words. But he does make a helluva kebab, Al bought one from him...tasty.
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View of Chania from a lookout.
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The magnificent Samaria Gorge...
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Wowzers...
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Alex keeping hydrated. We were so excited that we could just fill up our water bottles as we walked! Until we saw people upstream washing their feet....GROSS!
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Some wild deer (not actually sure what this animal is!)
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More of the incredible Gorge.
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Me in the Gorge.
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A very well deserved swim post the 16km hike (fortunately downhill!). Well, for most of it. And also the scene of quite possibly the worst chat up line I have ever heard. The young Egyptian waiter was quite found of Elena, and asked to see her eyes (which are blue). He then proceeded to tell her "oh, you are not so bright!". Hmmm...are you knocking her intelligence young sir? I believe he was trying to make a comment for how tan she is considering she has light eyes, but who really knows...anyway, we got a kick out of it.
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Seriously the most incredible blues that I have ever seen!
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The very warm water of Elafonisi island. Some parts of the beach were very warm, others quite cold. A beautiful large lagoon with pink sand (Bermuda you aren't alone!).
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Beautiful Elafonisi.
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And again...I was really blown away.
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Elena and Al having a dip at a random pebbled beach we found on the way home from Elafonisi.
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Sunset somewhere in Crete (random town we found).
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Our last night...I hate goodbyes! The close of a fabulous trip with my lovely family.
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Ok this just sums up our last night...ridiculously boozey...why oh why do we drink before a travel day?! Never again (ugh, now we all know that is a lie!)
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Posted by melpage 17:06 Archived in Greece Tagged crete chania Comments (2)

A cave house and (an almost) death by donkey

Oia...one of the most beautiful places on the planet....

I don't really know where to begin to describe Oia (or Santorini for that matter) other than....WOW. What a breathtakingly beautiful place! For those of you who have not heard of Oia, it is the town that you see in all of the gorgeous Santorini pictures (google Santorini if you don't know what I'm talking about). Extremely picturesque. I basically spent the entirety of the three days that we were there aimlessly wandering the streets pretending to be a photographer. The only downfall of Oia is that it is very touristic. Too many people! But as soon as you get used to dodging hoards of people in the narrow and winding streets, it is a very relaxing and stunning place to be (and romantic...interesting location for a family holiday!).

Our accomodation in Oia exceeded our expectations. I decided to take a bit of a risk when booking our accomodation and opted to stay in what the Greeks refer to as a traditional cave villa. It was one of those moments where you knew it could really go one of two ways, either be absolutely amazing or be a giant flop ("what on earth was I thinking when I thought staying in a cave would be good?!"). Fortunately for us it was the former (but you know what they say, there are no rewards without risks!). There are not enough words to describe how stunning The Zoe Villas were (you'll see pictures below). We were ideally located right in the centre of all of the action, just off one of the main pedestrian walkways. We had a fabulous terrace, which was the ideal location to just perch with a drink in hand and watch the fellow passersby. Zak and Ionnis (our fantastic hosts and the owner/manager of the property), did an amazing job of recommending various restaurants to eat at and also which activities we should partake in. This certainly came in handy as upon arrival, we had no plans for our stay. I have really taken it upon myself in this trip to instill the "wing it" motto to my fellow travellers mates. And, fortunately for me, they picked it up like pros!

As soon as we had unpacked and stopped pinching ourselves, "OMG are we really staying here?!", we hit the streets for lunch. Zak had recommended us a fabulous locally owned restaurant that was off the beaten path and served some exsquisite home cooked traditional Greek meals at very reasonable prices (and kilos of wine of course!). Following our beautiful meal, we hit the streets to get a sense of the layout of the village (and to get our shop on!). As you can imagine, the town is quite petite so doesn't take long to get your bearings. We were, however, "shopping" (and for me trying to be a photographer) for much longer than you would have expected. So much "material". Post our stint in the streets, we headed back to the cave for a quick stint of R&R before we packed up our togs and headed to the local public pool. Zak had informed us that it was free, as long as you ordered a drink....my kind of pool! We happily sat there for a few hours enjoying our beverages. On the way back home, we stopped at a famous lookout point in Oia to watch the sunset and then made our way to a restaurant for another great dinner. We really are not going hungry in Greece!

The next day, we awoke to a beautifully prepared traditional Greek breakfast which we unfortunately had to scoff down before going on our volcano and island tour. Elena, Tori, Alex, Sam and I (Kelly opted for a day of shopping) then boarded a giant wooden boat which was reminiscient of a pirate ship that gave us a fabulous day tour of some local islands, an old church that was right on the water, a volcano, swimming in some "hot" springs (hello sulphur!) and finishing with a visit to a small island near Oia where we had lunch. For some idiotic reason, Elena, Tori and I decided to walk to the very top of the island (it was incredibly steep) for lunch at a panoramic restaurant that boasted some very spectacular views. Considering how hot it was (and in my case, very lacking level of fitness), it was a tremendous oversight! Alex and Sam played it safe and coughed up the extra five Euros for a very leisurely (and docile) donkey ride to the top. Our climb was definitely far from an easy task (arduous comes to mind), but little by little we managed to inch our way to the top. There were 180 steps, which doesn't sound like a lot but considering the incline and the fact that each step was about three metres apart, it was quite the feat! Upon arriving at the top, and heavily out of breath, the man attending the door at the restaurant couldn't help but mess with us as we were desperately pleading for water in between each gasp for precious air. "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are saying. Oh you want water? That's unfortunate, we don't sell it here, you'll have to go back down to the bottom again". Funny guy. Once we finally stabilized, we noticed that the restaurant was lovely, and the views, INCREDIBLE! It was a mum and pop style of restaurant with enormous portions of traditional food. The water was ice cold and the beer was even colder! I can't think of a better way to finish off an afternoon of activities.

Following our lunch, we then rolled back down the hill (somehow it didn't seem nearly as extreme as the way up, but we were sure to cheer on those who were amidst their grueling climb), and boarded the boat en route to Oia. As Tori, Elena and I had already completed our exercise for the day (and quite frankly the week, bring on the gelati!), we decided that we deserved a donkey ride up to the top of Oia.

To be honest, I really don't even know how to put into words the eventful ride that we had up that giant hill. Terrifying, near-fatal and exhilarating are the first words that come to mind. We definitely screamed the entire way up. Our donkeys were wild, loose savage beasts that were changing lanes and abruptly cutting each other off (and not to mention the other tourists that were trying to climb the hill as well!). On several occasions we were either right on the edge of the cliff, or basically right up against the wall of the very windy road (so much so that I skinned my knee!) This was certainly the exact OPPOSITE experience that Alex and Sam had climbing up the other hill. But even though it was an incredibly intense experience, it filled us with life and we were in fits of laughter about it for the rest of the evening (and had a fabulous story to boot!). We met Kelly back at the accommodation where we had a few drinks and then made our way out on the town for a progressive dinner (accompanied by a few kilos of wine...especially for the survivors of death by donkey who were still counting their blessings).

On our third, and sadly, final day, we began the morning with an early swim at a local beach. Unfortunately this meant that we had to once again go down the giant hill that the donkeys had taken us up the previous evening but fortunately, because it was so early, the donkeys hadn't started their "shift" yet so we were forced to avoid the very important question of "am I really willing to risk my life again for the sake of a few minutes of pain?" We enjoyed swimming (and for some, Alex & Sam, jumping off the nearby island cliffs) for a few hours.

We closed out our experience in Oia with lunch at an overpriced tavern (not the greatest Greek salad of my life but still definitely a good one!), and then went to the local Santorini Brewing Company and Canava Roussos wine cave for some beer and wine tasting (they were conveniently located within a 3 minute drive of the airport after all!). We later rolled onto the plane (we have been doing a lot of "rolling" on this trip) and were en route to Crete...time for the third and final part of our Greek adventure!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

A beautiful church in Oia.
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Me and my now preferred means of "donkey" transport in Greece (aka the sedentary kind)...prior to the donkey ride of death!
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My beautiful cousins (Elena & Tori) and I.
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I consider myself to be somewhat of an extremely novice photographer sometimes. Please humour me ;)
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The girls in front of our cave house accommodation. Absolutely sensational!
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Me & Oia...just chilling...
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Can you believe that water?! Pinch me!
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Inside the cave....bedroom number two at the top. Oh and hey Tori!
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Upper bedroom.
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Hi Tori! Relaxing in the lounge.
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In case you ever wanted to know what a cave kitchen looks like!
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Watching the sunset. Not the most spectacular sunset that I have ever seen (I still think Bermuda boasts the best!) but definitely noteworthy. My favourite part is the round of applause the sun receives for setting....any excuse for an OPAAAAA, eh?!
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We spied a wedding...definitely will have some of the most incredible wedding photos!
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I really can't get over how picturesque this town is. My mediocre photography is shamefully doing it no justice!
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The bro and I climbed a volcano...yeh buddy!
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Cousins! Tori, Elena, Me & Alex...the Pagmores.
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It's absolutely ridiculous how many shots I had to do to get this right. Quite embarrassing. So for all the effort it took (thank you for your patience Alex...I owe you a beer!) it needs to be included in the blog.
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Love this shot of Tori!...Falling off the volcano...oh no!
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Sam & Alex doing a very placid donkey ride. This is absolutely no comparison to what we experienced. Hence why we thought it was a good idea in the first place.
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If you ever wondered why the meat is so delicious in Greece...I discovered the secret utensil that is imperative for an amazing piece of barbecued meat....a HAIRDRYER!!!
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Octopi...nom nom nom (I actually don't know the plural for octopus...stab in the dark. Apologies to all the grammatically proficient readers out there, namely my dad).
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I think this might be one of my favourite photos of all time...Elena, Tori and I on our donkeys. I don't really know how to really pin point my feelings of the experience other than it was probably the most terrifying yet the most fun thing that I have ever done. We screamed the entire way up the hill. To the point where when we got to the top, other tourists were coming up to us saying "sounds like you guys had a lot of fun!" Clearly loudness runs in the family....it's the Italian in us. Oh, and check the "guide" calmly going up the hill side saddle. Even though he didn't speak a lick of English (other than to tell us how much it cost, approx $5E), I am still convinced he thought we had a few screws loose. Definitely no Occ. Health & Safety here, one by one he just let us loose up the hill...poor Tori was first! And vroommmm she was off and racing (and screaming)!
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Collateral damage...evidence that the donkeys are completely loco! Mine kept cutting corners, cutting the other donkeys off and zig zagging up the stairs, so much so that we got so close to the walls (and EDGE! for that matter....eeeekkkkk) that of course the result was some grazing.
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Tori and the local brew, Yellow Donkey. Delicious brew!
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The travel band at dinner!
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More scenic shots.
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Me & Oia...at sunset...
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Siblings
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Elena, Alex & I swimming
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This bloke was an absolute legend. Loved a photo! All about posing...too cute. A real Greek fisherman.
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Visiting a real wine cave
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Wine tasting with the crew...when you have a few hours to kill before your flight...DRINK WINE!
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Posted by melpage 13:16 Archived in Greece Tagged santorini Comments (0)

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