Greece to Brazil and a whole lot of miles in the middle

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December 17th 2014
Published: December 17th 2014
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Dean writes......It was a cold and stormy night - only jokeing ..... that was last blog.

This time it was a sunny day when we left Turkey from the town of Mamaris. We had an early taxi booked for 7.00 am for the short trip to the port where we boarded a big car and passenger ferry for the island of Rhodes. Again we are so glad that we were not travelling in the busy summer months, as we have heard time and time again about how it is sometimes quite often a nightmare boarding these ferry's with lots of people pushing and shoving to get through what was a very small entry door before going up an escalator to the upper decks, unfortunately no order what so ever!
After a pleasant two hour ferry ride, we arrived at the port of Rhodes right in front of the fortified walls of the old town. We stayed three nights at a wonderful small hotel there called, Medieval Rose Inn, it is up a small cobbled alley off the main pedestrian way, and is run by a very nice couple, Billy, a native Greek and his wife, Olga a Russian from Taiwanese decent.
Rhodes is the most beautiful town we have visited in a very long time. With lots of small alleys that have colourful bougainvillea hanging over the old walls and lots of restaurants and bars to sit and people watch and of course to also enjoy the surrounding ambiance.
The Old Town is also filled with some amazing architecture, and is divided into the Knights' Quarter, where the Knights of St John lived during medieval times, as well as the Jewish Quarter and the Hora or Turkish Quarter which is primarily Rhodes commercial sector.
The Old Town is accessible by nine gates and a 12m-thick city wall. Just one of the many amazing site in Rhodes Old Town is the 'Avenue of the Knights', it was once home to the knights themselves. The Avenue is split into seven 'tongues' or languages and according to where the knights came from - England, France, Germany, Italy, Aragon, Auvergne or Provence, is where they lived. Each group was responsible for protecting a section of the bastion.
The main cobbled street was filled with lots and lots of shops selling all type of trinkets, including of all things suits of Armour! There are also lots of really nice small squares around the place filled with some great restaurants where we enjoyed some great food and cold Greek wine.
The lovely couple at the hotel were very friendly and generous, always putting out yummy snacks like olives and feta cheese and the odd glass of wine for Di, they even asked one night if we would like a Bar B Q, so with that Di jumped in Billy's car for a slightly hair raising ride around the old streets to get the meat and salad things for what turned out to be an excellent but rather smokey affair cooked in what looked like an old water tank cut in half!
One day, whilst there, we decided to rent a car and explore the island of Rhodes which is not that big, and we were to discover not nearly as interesting as the old town of Rhodes. We did however visit a small hilly town called Lindos, there were many and very cute donkeys working there, they carted everything up and down the small alleys including peoples luggage, food and other staples. There was also a beautiful, almost fully enclosed lagoon nearby called Saint Paul's, where I went for the most amazing swim in the bluest water I have ever swam in!
The only negative side to tripping around the Greek islands in the "slow season" is that the ferry's don't always run as frequently and unfortunately, at times, this determined how long our stay was to be on each island, and, in this case cut our stay on Rhodes to three nights but, Olga was kind enough to let us have a very late check out at midnight at no extra charge because our ferry to the small town of Sitia on the island of Crete left at 3.00am! Luckily for this trip we had a cabin booked and managed to sleep through some very rough seas without being thrown out of the single beds once.
On arrival into Sitia Crete, we jumped into a taxi and to asked to go to where we thought our accommodation was, but instead, arrived in a desolate looking bus station. The taxi driver spoke not a word of English, but made it clear that he needed paying, which we did. After some patient explaining and showing him the address again, and a map again many times, off we went again towards where we hoped we would found our accommodation.
On arrival the cab driver wanted paying again for our second trip of the morning, and after a lot of gestures and little English, the owner of the hotel came down and said he would in fact pay him for us as he did not understand we had in fact paid the driver already for a least half of the trip! With our lack of language skills and not always understanding people, we have decided while traveling in these situations, that if it is only a small sum of money, it is easier to just hand it over and be done with it, depending on the situation of course.
We had two nights in Sitia in a very nice self contained apartment which was a bit out of town but that gave us both some needed exercise walking into the town for dinner on the first evening and the following morning going to the local super market for some supply's for breakfast, lunch and dinner...It was nice to have a home cooked dinner!
From Sitia it was back on a bus for about a three hour bus trip west to the town of Iraklio. We had arranged, and were met by a guy who had a wee five door Fiat rental car ready for us, for our week road trip around Crete. We decided that we would make no plans for the next week and just make it up as we went.
Our first stop was only a few hours further west in the beautiful and very old Venetian town of Hania, we also stopped into the tourist town of Rethymno on the way for a walk about. In Hania we managed to find a hotel were we stayed two nights which had a balcony looking directly over the small harbour / bay. It really was a lovely town, with great restaurants , also shops and bars to visit!
The driving is truly spectacular in Crete as you head for the western end of the island and start getting into the south coast. With lovely fishing villages along the way where we would just pull into, find a hotel and stay the night. All the food through out Greece we found to be very nice, if not a little rich with all the yogurts and feta cheese. We would always stop along the way and pick up snacks and drinks for the drive too!
We had a great week just driving along some very narrow , windy and hilly roads, some times me coming a little too close to the edge of some roads for Di's liking, and having to give her a good listening to for what I was calling precision driving at the time!
We returned the car back to Iraklio at the ferry terminal where we were met by the guy from the rental company and got on a ferry for the next island on our plan , Santorini. It was a late arrival there ( a bit after midnight) but we were lucky enough that the owner of the wonderful hotel came down the very windy and steep hill to take us and some others back up again.
It was amazing staying there with all the white buildings, hotels and houses perched on top of the steep cliffs, we wandered around for many hours enjoying the breath- taking views from the top looking down over the spectacular Carpathian Sea. On our second day, we caught a bus (which was more like a roller coaster ride swinging around tight bends high up on the hills) and got off at the northern end of the Island at a place called Oia, where we again wandered around all the beautiful little alleys stopping in at different cafes and shops along the way.
Unfortunately again, due to the ferry timetable, we only had two nights on Santorini, and as we wanted to get to our next island stopover - Naxos, it was time to move again. We have been travelling for so long now, we thought that we needed to stop and rest somewhere nice and quiet and Naxos was the place.
Again we were met and transported to our Hotel near Agia Anna beach, it was the perfect spot about six or seven kms from the main town. The owner of hotel, 'Kalimera' (meaning good morning) hooked us up with a scooter which was to come in very handy over the time we had there (12 nights). We rode the wee bike every where around that island, along beaches , over mountains (even out running a nasty storm one day up the top of one while over looking Mykinos in the distance) and through little villages.
Naxos is a very beautiful island, and had been recommended to us by friends Paul and Michelle from New Zealand who had been there a few years ago. One day we left the hotel on the bike for yet another adventure and run out of petrol about 2 kms from the nearest garage, and with most of the all the bars ,restaurants and hotels closed down for the winter, there was no one about in the deserted village we were in. I thought it would be a good idea at this stage to put Di on the front of the bike while I pushed her along, but she kept steering herself and the bike into the bushes and basically had no control. Me thinking it could be finally be the beginning to Di's scooter riding lessons was to be proven very wrong and it now looks like she will always be my passenger and not riding buddy!
I ended up finding a guy who put me on the back of his bike and with a plastic water bottle we headed for the nearest garage , after tipped it into the bike, and filling up at the garage an hour or so later we were off again! We really did explore the whole island and there was always some thing different to see around every corner, from beautiful sea side villages to old and long ago abandoned villages , I think we saw it all there!
From Naxos it was off to the big smoke of Athens where we had an appointment at the Brazilian embassy for our visas and while there we also wanted to check out some of the ancient Greek architecture including the Acropolis, Hadrian Arch and the Temple of Zeus among the many other sights. On arrival we encountered some very dodgy characters on the trains pick pocketing people. The next day on the way to the embassy we encountered the same same but different robbing bastard, this time with his hand in my pocket! Shame about me having to bend his fingers into the most unnatural angle, before shoving him off at the next convenient stop!
They have huge problems in the city of Athens now after the global financial crisis, and many people have taken a 50% pay cut just to keep their jobs, some restaurants have also halved the prices on their menus just to stay open. There are a lot of middle eastern people there who, it seems have no problems getting into Turkey and then into Greece, but once there, they are stuck (tens of thousands of them on the streets and living in parks etc!) They unfortunately do not have the adequate paper work to get them onto other countries which may give them a good job or better living conditions for them and their family's.
One night Di and I were sitting in a restaurant in a square where many family's slept just like in the many other parks through out the city, when we heard a loud chanting noise as a group of a 70 or 80 big guys approached the square ( many carrying crash helmets as weapons) after the first loud chant came, there must have been at least 300 homeless Muslims rise to their feet and run in the opposite direction! These right wing neo Nazi fascist groups roam the city terrorising , beating and some times killing these people, it makes one think of how bad it is where they came from!
To be honest we had seen all we wanted to see with our month in Greece and with our Brazilian visa's in hand we boarded a flight to Rome where we stayed for four nights exploring the wonderful but massive city before picking up yet another rental car from the Termini (bus and train station there) and spending a week driving up through beautiful Tuscany.
While In Rome, we met a nice Australian couple (Adam and Michelle) from Adelaide doing the same tour as us at the Colosseum which has some amazing history, from all the brutal gladiator fights, to battles fought on boats inside when it was flooded. There was also many exotic animals at the time being bought there from Africa, many know of the gory stories of the big lions which were on chains munching on the bones of the defeated slaves , or the slaves just being used for game for the lions! But there were many other animals including elephants , giraffes etc which were all eventually slaughtered after a time. For a time it is said that it was even a zoo of sorts for the children to see these exotic animals from far away lands.
I think the one single story that I will never forget being told was from our passionate guide (apart from the gladiators school which foundations are still across the road now) was how there were gladiator games at one stage that went non stop (yep, 24 hours a day!) for ninety days straight!, they say there were tens of thousands killed there in this time alone!
The next day we met up with the Aussies at the Termini and off we went on about a seven hour walking tour of our own starting at St Paul's cathedral in the Vatican city, and then onto the many other amazing historical sights in this incredible city! Just to top things off nicely we found the number 1 Gelato shop we had found mentioned in a guide book and it was amazing too, I'm sure it is the nicest ice cream I have ever tasted!
Leaving Rome in itself proved to be an unexpected adventure, with no GPS we drove around the city for almost three hours until we found the way north that we wanted. The Italian drivers have to be the most impatient and rudest drivers in the world, if I was to slow down a little bit to see a sign there would be instant horn honking and rude gestures, they could really learn some manners there! ( and I thought Perth was bad!)
We stopped into some really beautiful towns between Rome and Savona and managed with a few hiccups along the way to find hotels that we had booked usually the previous day. The first stop was Orbetello, which has a causeway leading out from the medieval old town across the water and into a really nice summer holiday town opposite. From there we headed to another ancient town, which is over1200 years old, Siena. We had two nights there while Di rested her very sore leg after slipping over on some wet tiles leaving a restaurant. She could barely walk and is still in some pain after the incident four weeks later, I have tried to get her to a doctor a few times but Di being Di insists she is OK, and I even pushed her around in a wheel chair during our three week cruise, hoping that it would help. We are now finally going to have her injury looked at properly when we arrive back in England in five days time!
We still had a pretty good look driving up through part of Tuscany stopping in at Lucca for one night and then Levanto for two and doing a beautiful day trip along some very hilly and narrow roads through Portifino and La Spezia etc.... stopping at the later for a fantastic Italian lunch in a very classy restaurant.
I must say it was with great relief when I handed the car over back to the rental company at Genoa Airport, there are huge tunnels on these roads regularly and the turn off to the air port is actually inside of one of these such tunnels, if we had missed that I think we would have been screwed or at least would have spent a very long time going back in that direction to find the turn again, when I mentioned I was relieved I mean I was ecstatic I got that car to Genoa with out even a scratch!
From the Airport it was so easy, we hoped on a bus which took us directly into town, dropping us in front of the main train station right across the road from our lovely hotel The Continental, where we spent the night, ( I asked for an upgrade and was given an executive suite! very nice, see, asking is good some times!) The Continental had an awesome buffet breakfast too and soon we boarded our train for a short ride up to Savona. In the same booth of our carriage we met two German lads who were also on the same cruise so we all shared a taxi to the port terminal. On the way we were lucky enough to see the Costa Concordia ship which had been floated again and taken into a port further south of where we were to depart from, I think it is getting scrapped there!
So, here we are , after our 2nd cruise ever, the Costa Favalosa......Quite a let down after the fantastic experience of our 1st cruise on Celebrity Millennium, unfortunately being an Italian ship and there was no English spoken unless of course it was an important broadcast where we would have to listen to another 5 languages first before any English, the food was OK but the service and entertainment were less than average. I think we just got rather spoil on our first cruise!
We did however meet some very nice people on board (out of 3000 passengers on board there were only 200 English speakers!) we met an American couple who now live aboard their ocean going cruiser, aptly named 'Itchy Feet" in the Carribean off an island called St Croix, and another couple from Vancouver , her from Mexico. I would wheel Di down in the chair to a big card playing room where they all sat for hours playing different games while I would wander about the ship or visit the gym for a work out....(Yes I did!)
We did stop into some lovely places along the way but two were cancelled due to 12 meter seas, I went ashore in most to have a look about, it is many years since Di & I were in Barcelona and I wandered up the Ramblers to see a few changes but much the same with it's big wide boulevard with restaurants off to the side, I had a little shop buying Di a belt to keep her pants up, and me a cheap watch to wear in some dodgy places, also I made time to sit down and enjoy a big glass on Sangria.
From there we called into Malaga in Spain which was a beautiful old town with cobbled streets and fantastic architecture, there I bought a 10.00 Euro bottle of good scotch ( it seemed people were having no trouble bringing their own beverages aboard!) We also had a stop in Cadiz where I went ashore and what has become a bit of a blur since to be honest, but all very lovely and safe feeling towns. After that we skipped our planned stop in Casablanca in Morocco due to the weather and instead stopped in the port of Tangiers. Again Di & I had been there once before and did not find it that appealing so I opted to stay aboard with Di, from there our last stop in Europe was Tenneriffe in the Canary islands which was amazing to see the mountains going straight into the sea and some lovely buildings in the old town, I went ashore here mostly to check e mails of any importance then straight to a supermarket for snacks and more drinks and back to the ship to Di.
We then had five straight days at sea, during which time we crossed the equator ( at midnight under a full moon!) and so paid homage to King Neptune by pouring a small dram into the ocean for him for our safe passage.
During the five days at sea we filled in our days playing cards , walking about, using the gym ( I know - good ain't I?) drinking, dining and some more drinking! When we did finally see land again it was great to see the South American coast for the first time and the town of Reciffe Brazil. We both went ashore here together with the Americans, Tom and Charlene and had a nice stroll about and managed to find some good places to stop for lunch and refreshments along the way, by the time we got back aboard Di had had it with walking so I bought the chair to her and wheeled her back to our cabin and later out for dinner.
Our next stop was Macelo where the four of us again got off and boarded a bus which took us out of the port and to a junction in a road where we got a bit lost in what looked like a dodgy area. Then like something out of a cop show, we saw six cops on dirt bikes with flashing lights on the handle bars try and pull a car over, the car stopped quickly and one of the cops went up the back of the car and off his bike, next they had two guys cuffed and across their bonnet, we decided it was best to just walk on and get the hell out of there!
Tom and I had a swim there at the beach but it was not that clean so kept our heads out, we also enjoyed a few beers and then caught the bus back to port and onto the ship for the next stop, Salvador. Salvador was where Tom and Charlene disembarked and we both decided to stay aboard and rest up a bit. Our last stop before Rio was Ilheus where I had a quick look ashore and did not like the look of the place, the beaches were also far away from the port so pretty much flagged that place too!
In Rio De Janerio we had a shore excursion booked which we thoroughly enjoyed. Starting with a bus tour around the city where we were shown where the big Mardi Gras festival is held every year, the Copacabana Palace Hotel, where all the rich and famous stay, and many other places before we then drove to a small train station for the near vertical train ride through a tropical rain Forrest to one of the modern wonders of the world " Christ the Redeemer'. The train takes you most of the way up, and then there is an elevator which takes you to the top to see the most amazing views over the city and surrounding areas, a 360 degree view!
From there we went back down again by train, spotting some Brazilian monkeys on the way, and was then dropped at Copacabana Beach where I had a swim, and Di stared shocked at some of the women there wearing the tiniest g string swim suits, she reckons that there should be a rule that no one over the age of forty and no one bigger than a size 14 should be allowed to wear these! Man there were some big lasses there with some tiny strings disappearing into I don't want to know where!
It is a really amazing beach though with all sorts of characters hanging about, the water was a bit cool but nice to have a dip, and surprisingly the beach was very clean! After a couple of hours there it was time to hit the ship for our last night at sea and head for the port of Santos where we would disembark. This was pretty pain free waiting for our colour to be called out in English , walking down the gang plank , grabbing our bags and into a taxi for a short trip to the bus station. It was interesting getting off as in the queue there were many angry Europeans who had not done their research and thought that the port Santos is in Sao Paulo when it is in fact about and hour and a half away, the taxis were charging them between $160 and $200 for the trip, our taxi to the bus station cost us $10 and it was $24 for us both on the bus to the city of Sao Paulo. If some of them had been a bit more polite on the ship and, hadn't pushed quite so hard in the taxi rank I would have told them of the alternative option, but maybe the taxi drivers in Brazil had come across them before!
We are now in the city of Sao Paulo where I am writing this, staying with a nice couple ( a Dutch guy, William, his Brazilian wife, Annie and their little dog, Lucky) in a good part of town called Paulista Avenue, there are many nice restaurants, gallery's nearby and parks about. Tomorrow we fly 13 hours with Air Morocco with a stop in Casablanca for two hours and then onto Amsterdam where we are booked into a nice hotel near VondelPark for four nights. We have been there a few times before so know our way around the restaurants cafes etc... One day we are thinking of jumping on a train to Antwerp and change there for another to the town of Bruges in Belguim. After Amsterdam, it is back on the train for the Hook of Holland for the ferry to Harwich, Essex, England where we are having Christmas with Di's family and where at long last Di is seeing a doctor about her leg.
After Christmas we are then flying to the town of Carcasonne in the south of France near the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, where we will be woofing (working for our keep). We will be working five days a week around a farm / home stay for 4 to 5 hours a day, they have lots of nice pets there including four cute donkeys. We will be doing odd jobs about the place and intend on staying there for up to four to five months, lets see ...... Merry Christmas every one!

The journey continues ....................

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