Acropolis

I’m just going to say it…. I didn’t like Athens

It’s unfortunate but true, I didn’t like Athens. Turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I recently read Travel Letdowns and Why I Don’t Like Athens and to be honest, it was a relief. It made me feel a little better about my experience. It always helps knowing you are not alone, even if our travel experiences were vastly different.

Our arrival in Athens was literally a series of unfortunate events. Five of us were flying in from Istanbul to meet our friends, intending to take the bus the next day to Lefkas (where we had charted a yacht to sail nine of us around the Ionian Islands).

A text from two friends warned of us of an impending taxi strike and the need to take the metro to our hotel. Not the worst problem in the world. However, given the heat and the fact there were five of us to spread the cost, we decided to see if we could organise a transfer to our hotel. Our friends on the ground organised this and upon our arrival in Athens we were (eventually) met by our transfer. The hotel owner’s son.

His late arrival didn’t matter, we were grateful… well, until we got to his car. An old Barina for five people (plus a driver) and luggage. Let’s just say, we didn’t fit.  This was how we stayed for the entire journey to our hotel.

Our arrival into Athens… did I mention it was 40 degrees and around an hour drive?

Deciding to get on with things, we showered and went out to dinner… It was a great night, but I woke early the next morning with food poisoning. Now, I’m a pretty determined person and food poisoning be damned, if I was going to see one thing in Athens, it would be the Parthenon on the Acropolis.

So off we set. Looking back at the photos now, it actually looks pretty special. Perhaps if I hadn’t of been so sick, I would have enjoyed it more. As it was however, I lasted about an hour before catching the metro back to our hotel (the taxi strike continued). I did however manage to take a few nice shots of my visit.

Athens

The view!Athens

For a short trip, I took quite a few photos… perhaps trying to make it feel like I was enjoying myself more than I actually was. Here I am with my gorgeous friend Pippa and while you may not be able to tell, I am seriously struggling here. Worst. Feeling. Ever.

After a bit of exploration (and I’m sorry to say a few detours to the bathroom) we came to it, the pièce de résistance, the Parthenon on the Acropolis:

Acropolis

Parthenon on the Acropolis!

This was exciting! I was pretty stoked to be able to walk around the ruins and I’m definitely glad I dragged myself out of bed for it. Make no mistake however, this was not a fun experience.

You’d think things would have improved after this but unfortunately not. We had intended to leave Athens later that afternoon, but after receiving some incorrect information regarding buses to Lefkas, we were stranded until the following day. With little choice in the matter (and probably a blessing for me with food poisoning) we booked another night in the worst hotel in the world (if you’re determined to avoid it, comment below and I’ll find the name) before setting off around 5:30 am the next morning to get bus tickets.

Why 5:30am? The ticket counter opened at 7am and we needed to get on a bus that day. We couldn’t risk being late. However, having to rely on public transport the journey to the bus stop wasn’t exactly the easiest! (To give you an insight into our predicament, there had been quite serious debate about sleeping at the bus shelter overnight. Let’s just say, we’re all glad that didn’t eventuate…)

After arriving at the bus stop early in the morning, we were happily rewarded with tickets and eventually left Athens later that day for a sailing trip starting in Lefkas (that was one of the best travel experiences of my life). For that reason alone, Athens was totally worth it.

However, I can’t help but be disappointed and feel that we really missed Athens as a city.

I get that my circumstances were unique and I am willing to give it another chance should that opportunity ever come my way (and I hope it does). In the meantime however, I don’t exactly recommend it. So tell me, did you have a better experience in Athens? I’d love to hear about it!

3 Replies

Advertisements
Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Listening to my Dad has almost always paid off (ok, so I’m sure it’s probably always paid off!)

His advice on Turkey was no exception.

My whole family has spent time in Turkey and while they’d raved about it for years, I decided to go because it was a convenient destination. Not exactly on a whim, but a well-located stop over on a planned trip to sail the Ionian Islands in Greece.

When I told my parents of my plans, they were excited. Not just a “great, you’re going on holiday” kind of excited (which they always are when it comes to travel), but a rare excited that I don’t think I’ve ever seen them match for another destination. At this point in the conversation, my Dad took the phone from my Mum and insisted “You must see the Blue Mosque. And Aya Sofia. Magnificent buildings. You will love them. Go”.

He was right, I loved them both.

After my horrendous journey to Istanbul, my first stop was the Blue Mosque. This alone made up for everything that had occurred in the preceding five or six hours.

Technically named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Capii), those who haven’t visited often wonder why it’s called the Blue Mosque, it’s not exactly blue from the outside. However, once you’re inside you quickly realise why: It is simply the number of blue tiles on the interior. That said, I must admit I do think the white/grey exterior seems to take on a blue tinge in certain lights, though perhaps that’s just me!

Blue Mosque

Outside the Blue Mosque

As the story goes, Sultan Ahmed (I) commissioned a mosque to be built, reportedly designed to intentionally outshine the Aya Sofia (deserving of a post in its own right so I won’t go into detail here). He was only 19 at the time and it took seven years to build, though sadly he died just one year after completion at 27.

Whether or not the story about his intent is entirely true, it is fair to say the mosque has a big impact on the city of Istanbul. It was the first thing I saw on my way into Istanbul, and come to think of it, probably the last.

Here’s a little evidence of why it’s so spectacular!

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

I went snap happy in here. Couldn’t put my camera down kind of crazy. That’s not altogether uncommon for me, but it was pretty phenomenal.

Blue Mosque Blue Tiles

Blue Mosque with blue tiles

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

A tourist mecca, this place is popular. Amazingly enough however, it’s still actively used as a mosque. Dress respectfully or you’ll be forced to pay to borrow scarves or other clothes (though given the heat when we visited, this was well worth it for us).

While it was certainly busy when we were there, it wasn’t as busy as we were expecting. This was because a group prayer session was scheduled shortly after our visit and we were asked to leave before it commenced (also be mindful of the ezan – the call to prayer – which occurs, as I understand it, at slightly different times each day). While this meant we had less time inside, it did allow us to have a few moments shared with far fewer people than normal, definitely something to consider if you’re planning a visit.

Besides, if we hadn’t been kicked out (read: asked politely to vacate), we may never have left. It’s pretty spectacular. A must visit on any trip to Istanbul.

Have you visited the Blue Mosque? Do you think it outshines Aya Sofia as Sultan Ahmed wished? I’ll let you know my thoughts when I share my photos of Aya Sofia

Until then,
The Healthy Globetrotter.

Running the World: Singapore Style

Staying fit and healthy while travelling isn’t always the easiest task. You’re away from regular routine, around delicious food and if you’re anything like me, switch to a holiday mindset as well. It’s pretty much a recipe for some weight gain (and an amazing time) unless you’re determined to avoid it. While I’m all for the amazing time, I am preferable to avoiding any excess “baggage” on the way home!

As I’ve previously posted, I love to run in new destinations to get the lay of the land and stay healthy while travelling. As an added bonus, with the help of a pocket camera or phone (I normally use an iPhone) you can capture the sights too. Often you’ll be able to see things you’d never have had the opportunity to if not for your run. Just another reason to pack your exercise gear and get moving.

So, without further ado, here’s the latest edition of Running the World. This time, it’s Singapore Style:

Merlion – Iconic Singapore. Taken while running across the esplanade

Singapore Skyline – the big white building is the Fullerton Hotel where I stayed

A word to those keen to join my Running the World fun – Singapore can get pretty warm, I’d definitely recommend taking some water with you for the journey.

Further, make sure you know your destination and assess whether it is safe to head out for a run at the time you plan (and if you’re new to exercise, take advice from a doctor before starting!)

Marina Bay Sands

I followed a path provided to me by my hotel, ending around Marina Bay Sands. As an aside, the shopping here is pretty great. It also has a “canal” at the bottom of the centre and little Venice-style gondolas you can ride on if you feeling up to an ultra-touristy experience.

Coming across the other side of the esplanade, this was taken just near my hotel towards the end of my run

Now you might be thinking what sort of run can I be having if I keep stopping to take photos?! Excellent point. However, a good way to still get a great workout in is by doing interval training. Running as hard as you can for a burst and then slowing down to a jog, taking a picture and then repeating the process!

Having a little fun outside the Asian Civilisations Museum, pretty much where I finished up my run!

Here I am at the end of my run, having a little fun at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

My advice? Exercise doesn’t have to be a boring part of your travels. It can totally add to your experience and is one of my favourite things to do upon arriving at a new destination.

So, where are your travels taking you next? Are you game to join Running the World?

The Healthy Globetrotter

Roar and Snore

Combine lions and the thought of sleeping in a tent and you’d probably imagine you’re on safari. While that remains a travel dream, this was a little more achievable.

Roar and snore at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo came as a surprise to me. Not just because I didn’t know where I was headed when told to pack my bags for the night, but also because of the quality of the next 15 or so hours.

Arriving at the zoo around 6:45pm, you’re met by three guides who act as your hosts for the evening. We were immediately told how lucky we were with only 15 others joining us for the night (there can be up to 40) and indeed we were. I think everyone had a tent in the front row facing this view:

Phenomenal, yes? Talk about special.

The evening was a surprise as I was celebrating my birthday, and what a surprise it was. Taken to our “camp” site, we immediately declared it glamping over camping, given our tent had a double bed and electric blankets. Oh, and did I mention the view?!

Waking up to this view – pretty special! (I only had my Iphone so apologies for the photos!)

Shortly after arrival we were called to the main common area for drinks and nibbles. This was wonderful. Not only was there a wide array of food and beverages (everything from carrot sticks – thank you – to cheese and biscuits, fruit, nuts and chips), as we were eating our hosts brought around some of the animals for us to meet.

I faced a fear and got up close and personal with a snake (and this friendly lizard!) after a glass of wine, and of course, after properly washing my hands!

My new friend!

We were served dinner (roast with vegetables) and then set out on a night tour of the zoo. I didn’t take photos here as the flash would hurt many of the animals eyes and having been surprised by the night I only had my iPhone for a camera.

However, what was so special about this tour (and our behind-the-scenes tours the next day) was just how knowledgable our hosts were. They answered every question asked and we learnt a lot. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn just how well cared for these animals are. All are given enrichment in order to fulfill their lives, use muscles that would be utilized it the wild and, ultimately, be happy in what is their home.

A little fuzzy (iphone photo!) but I still think this one is beautiful!

After a few hours exploring the zoo, we were exhausted and were led back to our camp. Dessert followed, though I skipped this having more than filled up on the wonderful and healthy food earlier in the evening.

Sent to bed with full bellies, we were warned of an early start. Around 6:50 am the next morning, we set off on three behind-the-scenes tours, meeting several keepers and getting very involved. Inside the bear enclosure type involved. This is where we met Mr Hobbs.

Mr Hobbs, a gorgeous sun bear, was rescued from the restaurant trade in Cambodia. Make up your own mind about zoos, but trust me, this is a step up.

Ok, so obviously we couldn’t be in Mr Hobbs’ enclosure when he was there, but our job was pretty important. Each day, Mr Hobbs is provided with enrichment to his life. So, how do you enrich a bear’s life? By making him forage.

We spent part of the morning hiding eggs in trees, spreading honey under logs and, quite interestingly, spraying different scents around the enclosure.

Our friend the bear finding our treats!

We were then led outside the enclosure while Mr Hobbs was let back in. It was pretty special watching him discover our treats!

Our experience ended here, but we went on to enjoy several hours at the zoo in the daylight. Roar and Snore was a wonderful experience, and with the entire ticket price being donated to animal conservation, well worth the price tag.

The Healthy Globetrotter

The kindness of strangers: Istanbul

Not long ago, I was in Turkey and I loved it. However, having just seen Taken 2, I feel like a few of the Istanbul locals may have gotten a bit of a bad rap.* But here’s the thing: two of the kindest strangers I’ve ever met call Istanbul home.

Beautiful Istanbul… despite the start to my adventure I loved it here.

I’ve previously alluded to the fact that my arrival in Istanbul didn’t quite go as planned. It was only with the help of two strangers that I arrived at my eventual destination and able to commence what was an absolutely amazing trip.

Upon arrival, I caught a taxi from the airport to meet my friends at our well located apartment near the (Sultanahmet) Blue Mosque. My driver only spoke Turkish, but nodded when I showed him my destination and drove off in the direction of the city. After around 10 or 20 minutes, my driver made a call, spoke briefly to his friend and then handed his phone to me. Confused, I accepted it and raised it to my ear.

The friend explained in English what my driver couldn’t: There had been a major accident on the bridge into Istanbul from the airport, meaning that if we took a taxi the whole way to my apartment, I may be in the taxi for several hours (which would also cost me several hundred dollars). Instead, my driver wanted to recommend I take the ferry, saving me considerable money and time. It might not seem like much, but as an English speaking tourist in a foreign country travelling alone, I was a prime target to be taken advantage of. The driver could have just kept going and left me with the fare and hours wasted. He chose not to and I thank him for that.

Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, my driver didn’t just dump me at the curb. He took me all the way to the terminal carrying my backpack, showing me where to go and how to buy a ticket. As an added bonus, there were some fairly fabulous views on the ferry.

A nice surprise on my way into Istanbul

Views from my unexpected ferry ride!

The ferry ride went well and upon reaching the other side there were numerous taxis lined up to take me to my apartment. So the problem? No one would take me.

I asked almost 20 drivers to take me to my apartment. The responses I received ranged from “too close” to “I don’t know it”. I even offered to pay extra money on top of the fare to those that stated my destination was too close, but to no avail. All of them pointed me in the right direction – up a steep hill. I wasn’t keen but as I had no choice, off I set:

  • Without a map;
  • In 35 degree celsius weather;
  • With 15 kilograms on my back; and
  • Wearing clothes suitable for a Copenhagen summer and an overnight flight (read: jeans and a jumper).

I asked for help along the way, but it was fruitless. However, after approximately 45 minutes of walking around looking for my street, I saw a man standing outside a hotel. He was young and smiled at me as I approached. He probably thought I was a guest at his new hotel; I wasn’t. But it didn’t matter, he treated me like one. 

Where I found my saviour!… Image via: http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

By this stage, it is fair to say that I was in a bit of state. Upon explaining my predicament, the man told me that while he didn’t know where my apartment was, we could use the hotel’s computer (and google maps) to find it. Inside the hotel, he sat me down (in air-conditioning: Best. Ever.) and asked someone to bring me some tea. He then looked up my apartment and gave me instructions to give my friend who he insisted come and collect me (thank you, Anurag). Beyond nice and this kind stranger wouldn’t even accept a tip

Picture me, sitting exactly where this photo is taken from. Looking like a complete exhausted mess. Image via: http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

The cynic in you might think that my cab driver just had somewhere better to be and that my friend from the hotel just wanted a good review on trip advisor, but I choose to believe in the good in people. Yes, I could have been better organised, prepared for the weather and the walk, but the kindness of strangers saved me on this trip (and that ridiculous walk totally counted as my exercise for the day). I am so grateful for that!

We all need to be cautious when travelling, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little faith too.  Who are the nicest strangers you’ve met when travelling?

The Healthy Globetrotter

P.s. In case you’re wondering: Time taken from my flight landing until my arrival at the apartment? Over five hours.  Without water. On zero sleep. Yup, it was an ordeal. The take away? It didn’t ruin my trip. Remains up there with the best of them.

*Ok, so obviously the Albanians got a worse rap than the few Istanbul locals who were helping the Albanians, but i’m yet to travel to Albania. When I do visit, i’m sure i’ll meet some kind strangers there too and i’ll be sure to tell you all about it. 

1 Reply

Cycling the world: Vietnam

I recently posted Running the World, explaining why I always pack my exercise gear, even on short trips. Here’s another reason: cycling.

Now, before I go any further, I am not a cyclist. I’m shamefully scared of cycling on main roads (why do buses and bikes have to share the same lanes here?!) and don’t own a bike in Sydney. That said, there are some great riding trips you can do around the world. I’m all for them when they occur in the countryside!

I travelled to Vietnam with Intrepid Travel. While I love travelling independently, their small group adventures can be very enjoyable, especially if you want to see a reasonable area in a short space of time. As part of my trip, there were several optional activities including bike rides. Without these rides, I wouldn’t have been able to see half as much of the country side in the same amount of time. Definitely worth the work out!

Incense!

Now, to be honest, taking photos while bike riding isn’t exactly easy. Further, as I was riding as part of a group, I didn’t have the freedom to stop the way I could choose to if I was running by myself. However, it does allow for some accidentally artistic captures!

Totally accidental but I love this shot! 🙂

I loved the scenery riding around different areas of Vietnam. It was truly beautiful. I especially loved taking photos of the workers in the rice paddy fields!

I also loved riding alongside a number of the locals. The people in Vietnam were beautiful, particularly so out in the country – away from the hustle and bustle of the city markets where I did find there was some pressure to buy, buy, buy! That said, I can’t exactly complain – I loved the shopping, particularly getting clothes tailored in Hoi An.

Often we were lucky enough to be out riding when many children were on there way to school. The kids were lovely, sometime oblivious to us, sometimes engaging. Either way, I found it fascinating.

School kids

I loved Vietnam and can’t wait to get back there. There is so much more to see and I’m excited to share more about my adventures there soon!

In the meantime, have you cycled anywhere around the world?

The Healthy Globetrotter

Leave a reply

Singapore Zoo

So as you’ve probably realised by now, I’m in Singapore. For me, the best thing about visiting a city more than once is discovering new things. The second has got to be the memories!

My current visit has reminded me just how much I loved visiting the zoo last time I was here!

For those that know me personally, this is probably not much of a surprise. I love the zoo and animals. How can you not? This is the very definition of adorable:

Baby!

Assuming you avoid all the ice-creams and chips that are usually on offer, the zoo (any zoo! In this case, Singapore Zoo) can be a really healthy day out. If you have the desire to see the animals (and the zoo is big enough) you can definitely get in a solid day of walking, all while enjoying the animals! With 2800 animals over 26 hectares, Singapore Zoo definitely meets my criteria. Win.

One of my favourites at Singapore Zoo were the rhinos. This one was beautiful. I loved that he had a little birdy playing on his back… that was until I realised that the little birdy was in fact picking at the poor Rhino’s skin.

Rhino! You might notice the “third love photography” – don’t worry, I’m not stealing photos, these photos have just come straight from my tumblr!

I know, I know, there are better ways to see animals. In the wild. On safari. But as I recently learnt during a Roar and Snore sleepover at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo (post coming soon!) the conditions animals are kept in at zoos worldwide have improved rapidly over the years. Further, many zoos (including Singapore) participate in critical conservation and breeding programs to help save endangered animals from extinction. In my view, that’s a worthy cause. Let’s face it, until such time as I make it to Africa (fingers crossed for 2013!) the zoo will have to do.

African Crowned Crane

Out of all the zoos I’ve visited in the world (and trust me, there has been more than a few) Singapore Zoo sits high on my list as one of the better zoos out there. In my view, it is pretty special.

Clearly designed to allow you to get up and close with the animals, that’s exactly what I did:

Zebra!

Hello little fella!

Pensive

Next time you’re in Singapore, I would definitely recommend the zoo! Though don’t forget to skip the unhealthy snacks that can come with a day out and focus on enjoying the fresh air and walks instead!

Do you have a favourite zoo?

The Healthy Globetrotter