London and Greece

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Europe » Greece
September 7th 2010
Published: September 7th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

As we landed in London and entered the Heathrow airport, it was surreal to realize that we were in a complete different continent in only 8 hours! The airport was so organized and sparkling clean, everything was written in English again and people looked completely different. It was quite shocking to see people wearing shorts and tank tops; all thru Asia we have had to cover up our bodies like the rest of the people there! Maybe in Europe we were going to have some sort of reverse culture shock!

For us, it was a delight to be in a first world country conditions again after 5 months in Asia. Our Asia experience was amazing, but we were ready for a change at this point of our trip, and ready to pay the price ($) that it means travelling in Europe.

We made our way thru the “Underground” metro system all the way to the elegant Holland Park area. The hostel we stayed at was a beautiful ancient building, as quoted from the YHA Hostel website: One wing of the hostel is a former Jacobean mansion built in 1607 for Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for James I. In the 19th century, Lady Holland had a salon here, attended by such famous names as Sheridan, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Wordsworth and Dickens. All these names meaning how fancy it used to be.

We planned to spend 2 full days in London and on our first day we saw so many beautiful places. We took the famous “Underground” once again and came up to daylight right in front of the Houses of Parliament (The Big Ben Tower) one of London’s major landmarks. We also visited the London Eye which is the world’s largest ferris wheel. We didn’t take the ride but it was a pretty impressive sight from the ground. It was a fairly cool but sunny day in London and as we strolled along the Thames River we passed crowded restaurant terraces, very interesting street artists and groups of tourists. We walked and walked and walked some more (such a big city!) until we reached the London Bridge and also St. Paul’s Cathedral. This cathedral is gorgeous and impressive. It seemed familiar to us and it may be because England’s royal family performs their important religious ceremonies here, like Princess Diana’s funeral.
Close to St. Paul’s Cathedral we found a beautifully decorated pub with stained glass windows and wood carvings in the walls; we decided to have our first English beer here. We felt as if we had been transported back to the early 19th century as we tasted the frothy English brew amidst the stained glass windows and wall carvings.

Our second day we decided to go to the Buckingham Palace to see the famous changing of the guards that takes place everyday around 10 a.m. It was a fun experience; you see an organized show of marching guards and bands entering the great gates of this palace. We then headed to Camden Market, a very interesting area of London. It is famous for the daily open market and shops that are in the area. The people that frequent this area are also very unique; we could only describe it as a cross between gothic, techno and punk rockers. There are a lot of tattoo shops, shops where all the clothes are strange and black, shops where all the clothes are neon colors; also you can get all sorts of interesting art from all over the world. We did some window shopping, some people watching, enjoyed a delicious hummus falafel kebab and went back to the “center” of London.

We decided to head to the British Museum. This museum is huge but we only had a couple of hours to see it, so we chose to see the Greek and Egyptian sections. There were some very impressive and beautiful items that date back thousands of years.

After this, we went on a shopping mission to find the gear we needed to camp in Europe. We had decided while in Asia that we would camp in a tent as much as possible in Greece, Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain. We had met a few people during our travels that had done it very comfortably. In addition to having more space and privacy than in hostel dorms, you are surrounded by nature all day long. Also, it is much cheaper! We were very lucky since summer is half way thru; a lot of camping equipment was on sale in London. So we managed to buy our small but wonderful tent, sleeping mats and travel pillows for a great price. Now we were ready for our camping travels!

Because of strange long train connections to London Heathrow airport, we almost missed our flight to Athens, but we were lucky enough that they re-open the flight, just for us and our bags. Blessings are always following our steps! We left cold and rainy London and arrived to Athens. It was bright, sunny and about 35 C (95 F) degrees Celsius! It was really summer in Greece!

We have a good Panamanian friend, Sofia, living in Athens and she was kind enough to invite us to stay with her. The night we arrived, we met her right next to the Acropolis (Greece’s major historic site that includes the Parthenon). It was such a gorgeous and impressive sight… the Acropolis lit up at night! We strolled around for some time in the beautiful narrow streets until we found a lively restaurant. It was such a happy moment to see Sofia again while enjoying some of the most typical taverna (restaurant) meals of Greece; Mousaka, rice stuffed tomato and Greek Salad.

We took a taxi to her apartment and, to our surprise; we had a whole private studio for ourselves with a big balcony and awesome views of the “white” city. What a gift! The next day we pretty much enjoyed the studio and the comfort and coziness of a home. We strolled around this Greek neighborhood where you could see mainly apartment buildings and all of them had solar panels for hot water! Seems like Greece is contributing to being green and helping with the global warming issues…and also the electricity is very expensive here. We also saw many wind power farms during our trip here.

During our stay in Athens we visited the Acropolis. One of the most majestic of Greek historic sites! It is right in the middle of the city, next to the busy and beautiful Plaka district where you find all sort of restaurants and shops. It’s a wonderful mix of new and old. We made our way up to the Parthenon which is considered by some as the most perfect building built by the world’s most advance civilization, and even though anthropologists have been studying it for centuries they are still not sure of how it was built.
The Parthenon and other main buildings of the Acropolis where built by Pericles in the 5th century BC as a monument to the cultural and political achievements of the inhabitants of Athens. It was, without a doubt, amazing to stroll around so much history! At the top of the Acropolis, next to the Parthenon there is a big Greek flag and from this part you can see beautiful endless views of the city of Athens.

We then headed to the beach. Greece has about 1,400 islands! It was hard to pick but we decided to visit the Ionian group of islands. These islands are famous for their stunning turquoise water beaches and are greener than most! Also the architecture is mainly white Venetian style houses and mansions. It is sometimes said that is more similar to south Italy than to Greece. Our friend’s Sofia comes from one of these islands and she was heading to one of the islands for a few days so we decided to join her! Our bus trip to Lefkada was very beautiful. It seemed like this part of Greece was a huge rock coming out of the blue sea. The landscape is very rocky and dry. Grass is scarce and trees are small with many pretty olive trees all over the place. In fact the climate here is usually very dry and at the time we were there it was sometimes as low as 18% humidity. The whole trip we were bordering the blue sea and we saw many small fishing villages along the way.

At our arrival to Lefkada the time had come to set up our tent for the first time. We found a nice camping site close to the beach. How wonderful to be surrounded by nature again. Our first day, we spent quite a few hours in the sea. The water was actually refreshingly cool! Our last splash in a beach was in the warm waters of Cambodia back in May. Later during the day we toured the small village with its picturesque houses and gorgeous views of the beach and the surrounding islands.

That afternoon, Xiomara was feeling somewhat exhausted, but Rustin wasn’t, so he went on a motorbike tour of the western part of the island with Sofia and her friend Gianni. They saw so many beautiful things, the next day we jump on the motorbike again so he could show me all of it! It was a curvy winding road all the way to Porto Katsiki, a stunning turquoise water beach. It looked like the perfect pebbles (instead of sand) beach with an extra 300 people on it. Hey, everybody wants to be in the most beautiful beach and it doesn’t really matter! The water and the views from it were just too pretty. That evening on our way back to our campsite we stopped to have a romantic sunset dinner in a small quaint village. It was a small family owned restaurant. The son and daughter of the owner were our waiters; everybody was just so nice and they gave us a free desert… it was greek yogurt and honey! Greece is supposed to have the best honey in the world and I would say the best thick creamy yogurt in the world too… what a delicious treat!!!

On our last day in Lefkada, we still had our rented motorbike so we decided to go to east side of the island to see other pretty seaside villages. On most of the island, but on this side especially, there is a lot of wind and it is one of the most well-known places to do windsurf in all of Europe. We enjoyed looking at newbies falling down from their surf boards.

Our next stop was Kefalonia Island. Our campsite was right in front of the beach. It was a beautiful corner of the island. Here we stayed for about 4 nights and just chilled out. We just sat by the beach, read our books and we had free internet so we caught up a lot on our blog and family/friends. So nice and relaxing (because we travel so much we also need time to relax!! ).

Our last two days in Greece were spent in what our travel book called the “prettiest town” in all of Greece. Nafplio was just gorgeous. It is a small town next to the sea with beautiful Venetian style houses. It has a small castle on its bay as well as a walled fort and castle that overlooks the town; both give Nafplio a wonderful medieval touch. The old town is pedestrian only with small narrow streets made out of big stones that recall the perfect Mediterranean picturesque village. The streets are filled with little greek restaurants and small shops. We spent a whole day visiting all the unique shops (antiques, unique jewelry, paintings). Rustin made it up to one of the castles and took great pictures of the surroundings and the beach in Nafplio.

We went back to Athens just for one night, we said goodbye to our friend Sofia, thank you so much for your amazing hospitality! The next day we were to catch a flight to Berlin, Germany.

Additional photos below
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7th September 2010

We sincerely want to thank all of our family and friends that have been reading our blog and sending us such nice comments here!!! We thank you so much, we love getting your comments and messages! We wished we had the opportunity to write to each one of your personally. Xiomara and Rustin
28th January 2011

Very nice.
How, I envy you. Wished I was with you. Something to show your kids and grand kids. Like looking in a national geography magazine.

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