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Journey to the holy mountain.

Thessaloniki, Greece

permalink written by  bluenomad on September 27, 2006 from Thessaloniki, Greece
from the travel blog: Mount Athos.
tagged MountAthos, Greece and Stavronikita

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Old town of Chania

Chania, Greece

When I first arrived in Crete, I lived in the town of Chania. Chania is the third largest settlement on Crete, and has a diverse history. The town has remnants from the ancient Minoans, Venetian settlers, Turkish mosques, and German roadways. For more photos, you can look me up on flickr or visit my website--just Google me.

Edit: I am not sure why the map is tagged in mainland Greece. Chania is on the Northwest side of the island of Crete (the largest of the Greek islands).

permalink written by  ArielleKristina on January 16, 2009 from Chania, Greece
from the travel blog: Crete, Greece
tagged Greece, Crete, Chania, Xania and Hania

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The English Turkish Riviera

Marmaris, Turkey

The less said about the bus journey from Goreme to Marmaris, the better. Suffice it to say that thirteen hours on a bus that gradually became more crowded, more overheated, and more malodorous throughout the night was not one of the more comfortable nights I have had to endure. They try their best: there are TVs, and the seats are at least soft, and there are regular stops, but nothing could induce me to have more than about an hour's sleep all night.

Marmaris, into which I arrived, had little of what I have come to expect of Turkey. There was the shuttle bus from the bus station to the centre, which was small and authentically Turkish, but here the similarities stopped. Having avoided wearing shorts for fear of offending, and having eaten almost nothing but true Turkish cuisine for over a week, I was suddenly thrown into an environment in which my Western values and expectations were both at home and thoroughly alarmed. Having enjoyed a great choice of vegetarian food in Turkey, here the only veggie burger I could find was at Burger King - everywhere else was catering for the British tourists. In fact, the first item on nearly every menu was the full English breakfast. But the strangest difference was in dress. Here, religious sensibilities are thrown at the window along with 80% of a person's clothes: short shorts, mini skirts, t-shirts or even toplessness (of the male variety I should add) were ubiquitous and nobody thought twice about it. In the summer I've heared that tourists can outnumber locals by 10 to 1 and the majority of these are Brits. I'm sure even in late April I heard more Yorkshire accents alone than people speaking Turkish.

I explored the waterfront of the town, which takes a good half hour to walk from end to end, sat in a couple of cafes, did some reading, and soaked up the sun, but the interest for me in the town was soon exhausted. Had I been here longer, I would have taken a tour to explore the beautiful coastline, but even these were geared towards the package holiday market, mostly involving stops at beaches only. The place I was staying was great for the price, but there were no other backpackers there and I was pleased I was not going to be there long. I went to bed early so I could get to the ferry early the next morning.

The next morning, the owner of the hostel offered to take me and my luggage to the port, situated out of town, on his scooter. I was eager for the free ride and so hopped aboard. At the port, the boat I boarded was not what I was expecting. Having been used to bigger ferries in the Adriatic, and seeing the numbers of tourists at Marmaris, I expected something like this, but the boat was tiny and the passengers didn't number above 20. Towards the end of the 90 minute journey I started to feel sick, no doubt due to the small size of the boat but the sight of Rhodes in the distance managed to keep me focused and we gradually pulled up into the harbour.

permalink written by  BenWH on April 29, 2009 from Marmaris, Turkey
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece and Turkey

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What Colossus?

Rodos, Greece

When I arrived into Rhodes, the heat of the sun was beating down and the few early tourists were walking along the waterfront. Rhodes is an idyllic place, spoiled only by the people who drive its economy: the tourists who come religiously every summer to bask in the sun and frequent the beach-side bars and clubs. Fortunately, by late April and early May the worst of the holiday season hasn't begun, but you can still benefit from fantastic weather. Everywhere has opened by now too, but you won't be hit by the prices that get hiked into June and beyond. I slowly made my way along the waterfront the makes the northern border of the town, stopping at a cafe and eventually completing the 2km walk that brought me to my hotel.

I say 'hotel' because the place I was staying was rather different to the establishments I have become accustomed to. Clean, modern and well located, it was nonetheless completely soul-less and characterless, the sort of place that people come to to stay by the pool all day and only to venture out at night. It, along with most of the accommodation, is in the modern part of the town: equally uninspiring, but close enough to both the old town and the beach. However, it was nice to have my own space, to have a real shower and even to get access to a television to fuel my hypochondria about swine flu. It acted as a good base and enabled me to have my first lie-in for weeks.

The next day I had planned to have a catchup, doing the things that build up when you neglect them for too long: doing my laundry, getting a hair cut, planning the next part of my journey and catching up on sleep. Stupidly, I had not foreseen that it was May Day, a national holiday in Greece. Everywhere was closed; literally everywhere. And what made matters worse was that the sun - an essential element if you are to enjoy a day on a Greek island when all businesses are shut - was on holiday too, hiding for the better part of the day behind heavy clouds. Even the sun-worshippers who are normally shamelessly baring all in their multitudes along the beaches had retired into their hotel rooms. I tried to make the most of the day by using the cool temperature to explore the town, but I couldn't help feeling a little defeated.

Saturday, however, was much more productive. The sun returned, as did the businesses and with them the tourists. I dumped my laundry and headed off to explore the old part of the city. Rhodes Town, which is apparently the biggest medieval walled city in Europe, is beautiful if a little crowded. It is a great place for walking, the walls acting as a your points of orientation, and in the centre and at the water there are enough cafes, restaurants and shops to keep most tourists amused for days. The prices, however, reflect the level of tourism, and it is probably a good thing that the next day I had planned to move on.

The people who come here seem to be a mix of northern Europeans, more diverse in some ways than the Marmaris crowd, but nonetheless fairly limited in their variety. Displaying unwarrented levels of delighted exoticism at the smallest cultural differences, it can be quite difficult to take them seriously. Go down to the beach in the day, however, and even at this time of year you will be visually assaulted by hundreds of square meters of sweaty pale flesh. Needless to say, I avoided the beaches during the day for this very reason. In the evening they cleared, however, and found a sun lounger to read for the final minutes of the day.

permalink written by  BenWH on April 30, 2009 from Rodos, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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Not another ferry trip ...

Rodos, Greece

Santorini is not that far from Rhodes, but the ferry I had chosen to take was the slow option, spending the day drifting from island to island. This way, I thought, I could see some of the natural and architectural variety of the islands in one day - the perfect option for the traveler who is limited for time. It is also cheaper and after my previous ferry experience I recognised the value of taking a proper ship rather than the sort that is more usually used as the temporary home of recently slaughtered fish.

The early morning taxi ride to the port cost, as always, almost as much as the ferry itself. Having boarded, I occupied myself in sitting down to relax for the next fourteen hours. As it was 7am, cold and damp, I settled in the bar and took the only available food and drink for breakfast - a cheese pie and a poisonously strong coffee. Then the irritations began. Children, I have come to realise, are the biggest annoyances of any traveler. In fact, in the Lonely Planet guides, the Dangers and Annoyances section should list children as the first item for virtually every destination. I hate that I've become one of these child-haters, but I wish parents would leave them at home. They won't remember anything, and really it's a waste of natural and economic resources and a damn nuisance to everyone else. To the point: as I sat in the lounge of the ferry, peacefully reading my newspaper, one of the little brats started flicking coins noisily onto a table. The parents, evidently relieved by this distraction in its attentions, did nothing. After several minutes of this, I started to lose my patience, but I know that hitting other people's children is generally frowned upon, so I too did nothing. But then it became coin-throwing, as the child started hurling the money violently at the table and watch it bounce up again. The phrase 'take someone's eye out' passed through my mind, and I raised my copy of Friday's International Guardian to shield my eyes. Soon afterwards, I made my escape.

Some of the islands we passed were completely unique and passing between them in a relatively short space of time gave an interesting perspective and a rare opportunity to contrast these isolated cultures and worlds. Thin layers of cloud were flitting over the sun, so I spent the day between the outside deck when it was warm and the relaxing bar when it wasn't. Despite the poor selection of food, it was one of the better ferries I have been on and I valued the opportunity of seeing several of the islands both up close and at a distance. I managed to read a great amount and to eavesdrop on some interesting conversations - one of my new favourite pastimes - and so the day passed almost too quickly.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 3, 2009 from Rodos, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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Rain, Wind and Sun in Santorini

Thira, Greece

The ferry pulled into the main port on the island of Santorini (also known as Thira) in the dark. The setting is surreal: a small port surrounded by a dozen or so shops and cafes at the bottom of a dramatic cliff face and accessible from the land only by a small winding road. The cliff was lit up by the lights from the port and a few hoteliers and taxi-drivers were loitering where we disembarked in the hope of catching some extra business. The hostel owners had promised to meet me to save a taxi fare, and I was expecting the usual custom of a piece of paper bearing my name so we could identify each other. I waited for some minutes before realising that this was obviously not the method used here. Eventually I saw a man in the distance holding a sign with the hostel's name and ran to meet him before he gave up and turned around.

We drove through the winding lanes and over the rocky landscape to the town of Perissa on the other side of the island. All I could really see, however, were the lights of the few and sparsely placed dwellings. The hostel was much what I had expected for the small price I was paying: clean, full, but nothing special. In fact, we were on the ground floor with a door opening to the outside seating area and as the temperature quickly dropped outside, so it did in the dorm. I met my room-mates and settled in for an early night.

The next morning promised a wasted day - heavy rain set in, making any efforts at sightseeing doomed to failure. This is the main problem with the smaller Greek islands as opposed to cities: enjoyment is heavily reliant on good weather. However, I met some new people, ate and drank in a couple of nice cafes and watched films and read. It was the first day of the trip so far in which I did not take a single photograph, but I needed to catchup on some relaxation and it served that purpose.

The next day the weather was a little better. Frustrated by both the rain and my inactivity on the previous day, I probably over-reacted on both counts and decided to head up a mountain ... in shorts and flip-flops. The inappropriate nature of my dress didn't hit me until I was a quarter of the way up and by this stage I refused my better judgment of going back. It was still drizzly and every few minutes the wind would surge round the bend of the mountain and make walking the delicate path almost impossible. But it was worth it: the views over the town towards the sea, the beautiful flora and the rocky crags were so wild and unspoilt. I reached the top, but didn't hang around as the wind was picking up and nearly swept me off - literally! The weather gradually improved throughout the day, which I spent a little more sedately. I went a number of times to an internet cafe to plan the next leg of my journey, upload photos and catch up with friends, but the wind was still intermittently strong and every time I went there was a power-cut. Indeed, so synchronised were my arrivals and the losses of power that the owner started to think I was an unlucky omen and laughingly nearly refused me entry towards the end of the day.

In the evening, I went to the bar opposite the hostel and met some of the 'locals'. In the summer, these are mostly made up of Britons and other English-speakers who head to the island to get work. The holiday season, I discovered, did not start for another week or so, and nearly everyone in the hostel was planning on remaining on the island until September and looking for more permanent accommodation. As such, the place has a real community atmosphere, but I also realised that not being part of this group I was effectively an outsider; a tourist. This may be something to do one summer, I thought.

On the final full day, I had intended to be a little more adventurous. Cycling was futile because of the terrain, however, and quading or motorbiking was probably a little too adventurous given the local drivers and the unpredictability of the roads. I therefore planned a day lying in the sun, and headed down to the black beach, where the sand is thick, dark and consequently keeps warm all day. The weather was some of the best I have had yet, and almost made it worth enduring the rain of two days before. I lay out on the beach into the evening hours and finally headed in for bed.

The next day I was due to leave for Athens, but my ferry did not depart until midnight. I spent the greater part of the day reading on the beach again and walking around the town. In the afternoon I had wanted to leave for Fira, the capital of the island, so I could see some variation. However, the timing did not work out and by the time I got to Fira by bus, it was time to get a taxi to the port. At the port I ate in a cafe full of locals watching Chelsea play Barcelona, and was eventually able to board the ferry, take my seat, and try to sleep.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 4, 2009 from Thira, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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It's All Greek To Me

Athens, Greece

The first thing I saw of mainland Greece was Starbucks. A good omen, I thought to myself. I felt awful: neck ache, headache, very little sleep, and on at least half a dozen occassions throughout the night I had woken to find I had no sensation in one of my limbs due to my awkward sleeping position, draped as I was over my backpack and curled around the arms of a chair. My mood had not been improved by the ferry failing to serve breakfast and charging me 5 euros for a coke and a packet of crisps. So I made for Starbucks, praising the deity that had brought two of my favourite things to me: coffee and WiFi.

Finally I decided I had to get to Athens proper. The ferries arrive into Piraeus, some kilometres outside of the city centre and fairly uninteresting. The route to the centre, however, is less than obviously pointed out. But with the help of a local businesswoman I managed to get a bus and then the metro, and she even insisted on paying for my ticket. I was in the centre by midday.

When in Athens, head to the Acropolis. So I did. The heat was overpowering, and limited the sort of walking you could do seriously, but I am not one to complain. I spent the day exploring Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora and the Acropolis. The latter was obviously the highlight, though the Parthenon is itself a dissappointment in one respect due to its continual state of scaffolding-clad repair. When you step back, however, and consider the age of the buildings, the significance of the sight and the civilisation that grew from here you begin to really appreciate it. The setting, as well, is incredible. I had been warned that I would not like Athens because of its ugly modern buildings, the smell of sewage that pervades the atmosphere and the notorious and equally ubiquitous 'women of the night'. Somehow, however, all these lend the city something of authenticity: it is alive, in all its ugliness and sin, and it was probably equally sordid and even more foul-smelling two and a half thousand years ago. From the hills overlooking the city, you also have the benefit of seeing the city buzz beneath you, without the scents and sights you would rather miss. For me, this didn't ruin the ancient buildings; it just put them in a different context.

In the evening I went out with three others from the hostel: an Australian, a South African and an American. So, naturally, rather than taking on the nickname of 'Britain' as is common in such gatherings, I became 'Europe', as we realised we represented four different continents. And whilst I resented the pressure that comes with representing over 700 million people, there is something special about sitting around four corners of a table, having come from four corners of the globe. We went to a wine bar in the centre, then took a ridiculously cheap taxi to a club playing something like remixed ska, and walked back past the Acropolis as the dawn was breaking over it.

On day two after getting a much-needed haircut, which was pleasantly unsurprising, I headed back down to the ruins aiming to spend the day exploring those parts I had not yet seen, namely the Agora and the surrounding area. I did, but having forgotten my camera, I knew I would be back the next day. The sun was again bright overhead, so I relaxed, read, and treated myself to a (relatively) expensive lunch. That evening we stayed in the hostel, which had a friendly and relaxed bar area, and played cards. The hostel seemed to attract really interesting and fun young people from all over the world and was big enough that there was variety in company but small enough that you could find people again.

The next two days passed similarly. I had got into a pattern of exploring the fascinating areas around the main hills, which stretch further than is at first obvious, and which are constantly opening up new paths to walk down, new pillars, inscriptions or monuments to investigate. On the final day I climbed the big hill opposite the Acropolis with a guy from the hostel, and was amazed at the views of the sprawling city, stretching from the coast and the port, past the ancient city, and up to the mountains in the distance.

Nightlife remained fairly relaxed over the final two nights. One interesting occurence happened, however, after two of us had gone to get food. We noticed, as we were walking, that the streets were empty, cordened off by the police who were showing a big presence. This was because of demonstrations, fairly small, but potentially violent as they seemed to included both right-wing nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Many of the shops were closed, but due to the banishing of the usually terrifying traffic, the city actually felt safer than normal. That was until we were on the street on which the hostel was located. Extraordinarily, of all the places to choose, about 50 protesters and perhaps 20 armed riot police were standing just yards from the hostel door. At first we planned to walk through them; 'they don't look very violent' I said. Famous last words: I fight broke out at that very moment. So we managed to navigate a back street, sneak behind the protestors and police, and reach the hostel before they started using tear gass. The hostel was locked, but the receptionist let us in, and the other guests who had been on the balconies watching the fighting, came back in as the tear gas got to them.

Later that night, however, the violence had cleared, so four of us walked back down to the Acropolis, climbed the hill next to it and sat to watch the lit-up ruins with the full moon behind them as some Greek men played folk music on a guitar beside us. It was one of those atmospheric 'gap-year' moments you know you will never forget.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 7, 2009 from Athens, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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Cross-Country Greek Journey

Patrai, Greece

The day was a stressful one. I woke up not knowing where I was going to be spending the night; I had some idea that it would be Greece, but other than this I was lost. I had stupidly left all my arranging until the previous day, forgetting it was a Sunday and that all the places selling ferry tickets would be closed. Therefore, I had to get up early to confirm that my preferred route was possible, buy ferry and train tickets and notify my accommodation that I was going to arrive in the middle of the night. Fortunately, everything worked out alright; someone must have been placating Metra, the little known Greek goddess of public transport, on my behalf.

I had to get a train from Athens to Patra, which was fairly uneventful excluding a frantic 15 seconds at the station as two trains pulled in next to each other at exactly 12.06, the specified time for my departure. And then there was the fact that I had to change, having not been notified by the unhelpful and grumpy gentleman at the ticket office. Other than this, however, it all ran smoothly. In Patra, I went to a cafe with two college freshmen from Colorado who I had met on the train, and sat there talking for the greater part of the afternoon.

The ferry was a nice one - no restaurant and no WiFi, but it was less than three hours. On it I met a group of Kefalonian school students, who began the conversation, as is the norm I have found, with 'what football team do you support?' Within minutes there were nearly twenty crowded round me. What was my starsign? What did I think of the Greek entry to the Eurovision song contest? Did I know Zac Effron? And so it continued. Whilst I enjoyed talking to some authentic Greek islanders, especially getting the chance to actually meet a 'Iannis' from Kefalonia, and learning some Greek phrases, I was so tired that I couldn't help but be a little relieved when the ferry arrived and I could clamber into a taxi.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 11, 2009 from Patrai, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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On the Trail of Captain Corelli

Argostolion, Greece

When I arrived into Sami, the main Kefalonian port, it was completely dark and all I could see were the shadows of the hills and the lights flickering on the surface of the water. I would have to wait until morning to get a proper glimpse of the island I had read and dreamt about for so long.

When that chance came, it was worth the wait. The scenery of Kefalonia is probably more beautiful than any I have seen so far. It also earns the title of being the only place I have been to to which I would move unhesitatingly if given the chance. Like the other Greek islands, Kefalonia is rugged, montainous with beautiful calm blue seas and rocky beaches. It differs, however, in that it is so green and lucious; so alive. I started the morning by going for a walk to explore and get a feel for the island's landscape. I didn't have a destination or route in mind, but I headed inland, walking at first along a track and then veering off onto a country path. For nearly three hours, I didn't see another human being, a welcome break from the bustle and chaos of Athens. If you blink here, you might think you were walking through fields in southern England; there are small paddocks, mossy walls, arboreal paths and hundreds of coloured wild flowers. Beneath the surface, however, everything is more dramatic and impressive: ants three-quarters of an inch long, flying insects as thick as your thumb and sheer peaks replacing the rolling hills of England. Walking back along the path between shade and sun, I could almost picture Pelagia hunting for snails - either you'll know what I'm talking about, or you won't. Everything about this landscape is timeless.

Back down on the coast, I found a nearly private beach and settled down to read. Every time it got too hot I could go to the waters edge and sit on a rock with my feet dipped into the tepid water. This, I think, must be what the Greek islands are all about. In the evening, I went to an internet cafe, this being the only deficiency of the place I was staying. I had opted for self-catering in a small town on the coast, aiming to save a little money on food. The plus side of this was that my studio apartment was so close to the beach I could easily walk back for a snack or a drink; the down side was that I ate nothing but bread, cheese and fruit for three days. I bought a newspaper, as I have started to do to keep track of the British news in preparation for my return, and spent a relaxing evening on the waterfront and on the balcony of my apartment.

After a long-anticipated good night's sleep, I was ready to explore even further afield. I decided I would leave some of the other towns on the island for another time as the bus journeys can be long despite the short distances and in this weather I wanted to make the most of where I was staying. I walked inland again, up a road the led me round a hill and to a small village. Like most of the island, this was mostly made up of modern and uninteresting (though not ugly) houses that were built after the immensely destructive earthquake last century. Further up the hill, however, I discovered the ruins of what must have been the old village until 1953 - stone buildings, now desolate and overgrown. This made the journey worthwhile and strengthened the links of what I saw with the book that had introduced me to the island.

Again, I spent the afternoon at the beach, and this time ventured to swim. I chose a rocky cove because it was deserted and later discovered why. After half an hour swimming in the warm water and another fifteen minutes drying on a rock, I looked down and saw a trail of blood trickling from my foot down towards the sea. Given the length of time this must have been open, I could not work out how much blood I had lost, but on closer inspection the wound was fairly deep, giving the appearance of my having tried to carve myself a sixth toe. Reluctantly, I limped back to the apartment and dressed the damaged foot, sadly acknowledging that this would put an end to my doing any swimming for the next few days.

The final day of my peaceful rest arrived, and so I went to soak up as much sun on the beach as I could. In a complicated and prolonged conversation with a woman who worked at the place I was staying I had managed to get a free load of laundry done, which considering the extorniate laundry rates in this part of the world was particularly welcome. After a lazy, but nonetheless productive day, I took a late-afternoon taxi back to Sami. Two Greeks shared the cab with me but for some reason weren't willing to share the cost and I wasn't really in a position to argue, outnumbered as I was. So to save funds, I bought a 1 euro meatless Greek kebab and sat by the port in the evening sun.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 12, 2009 from Argostolion, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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Athens, Greece

Oh boy do I have so many things I could say, I'll keep it to the really good stuff. First off Greece was awesome and im so proud of myself for going alone, until the last 4 days that is. I started in Rhodes which was really nice there was an old village small streets close houses lots of little shops, I would let my self get a little lost in there everyday, then there was new town which was on the outside of the wall that surrounded old town. More modern streets lots of food shops and clothing shops. THen there was real Rhodos which is where i stayed outside of new town with this guy george. He was super nice offered to show me around but i just prefered to get lost. Had some good greek cuisine there lots of baklava some gelato and of course some gyros souvlaki and some good cheap crepes. After that island I headed for santorini. And I heard that the sunsets were amazing but really how good/better can they be from the states? Oh so much better maybe its cuz you way above the water and feel like your floating or its just the endorphines pumping through you after trecking around exploring all day. Either way both the nights I was there for sunset I treated myself to a nice little spot with a great view and got a little snack. One place was a pool bar at the most north end call Oia, I just had a brownie there, the second night i actually had made friends with one of the guys so he reserved me a table in Fira on the edge of the cliff overlooking the water and volcano. I had pasta and some wine there, probably my favorite spot. And of course some of the perks of traveling alone the guys give you an extra drink or two. So I had another glass of wine with sunset. One day I rented an ATV and drove around the whole island, all the way to the most south by the light house and all the way to the most north, Oia, east and west. I also found smaller quieter beaches which was awesome I found this one with this small lil restaurant on the water so I decided to stop and have a bite it was so nice there very peaceful and yes here I got a free frappe. haha
After Santorini I got the ferry to Paros which was very touristy didn't like it that much until we rented a scooter and went to Nauossa, small fisher village less tourists very cute. Oh so this is where i was supposed to meet up with boo the only problem was neither of us had phones we just knew the day we were arriving and a possible place to be staying. Impossible others thought, but boo and I knew we would find eachother and sure enough one night I hear LOOMIS! And it was boo we were so excited to see eachother with so many stories we forgot to check her in. We walked around paros a lil but mainly swam then headed for athens. We stayed with Giorgos who was super nice and took us to see the temple of posidon which is an hour away from the center. He also took us to the main square where we could walk around the shops. We had so much fun with him boo and i both connected with him relaly easy it was like he was one of our close friends already. Found out he is the basketball manager for the womens team in greece, he told us he would try to help us get picked up in austrailia if we wanted!! Great connection to have made, over all great guy. Finally I returned home to Sweden where surprise suprise its raining haha. So hopefully tomorrow work begins! Ah but what a great trip :) I will post some pics later

permalink written by  katieandboo on July 19, 2009 from Athens, Greece
from the travel blog: sweden adventures
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