In the previous post, I wrote about the Mediterranean cruise I went on with my family, focusing on life on board the ship. This post describes the places that the cruise visited.
Remember that we only got 4-6 hours in each place, so these are merely shallow first-impressions and not the in-depth reviews I hope to write in my later travels.
Venice is a strange place. Take an old European city centre, convert ten percent of the largest roads into canals and shrink the remaining roads to small winding alleys. Shoo away the Minotaur that wants to move into the maze that you just created, and while you are at it, remove all cars, mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles. Everyone will either walk or go on the vaporettas, the boats that function as public transport on the canals. There are gondolas as well, but they only exist to facilitate the robbing of rich romantic tourists.
There is no better way to enjoy Venice than to get lost in it. It won’t take long. At times, hordes of tourists will stampede your way, but be quick and you can often dart into a nearby alleyway to avoid being trampled to death.
Venice is its own best attraction, but if you want a specific ‘sight’, then it would be St Mark’s square. There you will find St Mark’s Basilica, which houses some marvellous mosaic depicting such cheerful scenes as sinners burning in hell while being speared by angels for sport.
I had a couple of days before and after the cruise to explore Venice, enough time to explore the islands in the northern lagoon. I visited three islands in total.
The first island I visited was San Michele. I never meant to go there, but I jumped off the vaporetta one stop too early. It was good fortune I did for I would otherwise have missed the stunning cemetery that takes up this entire island. The cemetery is huge and and full of beautiful mausoleums, serene marble statues and intriguing headstones.
The second island was Murano, famous for blown glass and entirely boring. [edit: I never saw the glass blowing in action, and according to the comment left by Richard, it is something worth seeing.]
The third island was Burano and the prettiest sight in Venice. It has the canals of the main Venice island, but Burano stands apart because the buildings there are painted in strikingly vivid colours. It is architectural Prozac, and you cannot keep from smiling as you walk down this rainbow town.
To round off Venice, here are a few random observations I made during my visit:
- You cannot tell the difference between Venetian and gay men, a compliment to both parties.
- I love being in a city with only pedestrian traffic!
- There is no place on earth I’d hate more if I died and came back as a poltergeist. (They cannot cross running water.)
- 49% of the Venetian population is constantly embracing the other 49%, 1% mans the gondolas leaving — cue the violins — 1% of lone travellers, like me.
- Venice is the only inhabited area with more pizzerias per square metre than my hometown, Ljungby.
There is nothing of importance to see or do in Bari. I presume that our cruise ship had a technical problem that forced them to stop at the nearest port, for I see no other reason why they would linger in this post-apocalyptic dystopian town.
Katakolon’s only claim to fame is that it is within driving distance to the original site of the Olympic Games. My family and I rented a couple of cars and drove for half an hour only to find that the Olympic archaeological site had closed for visitors an hour earlier, at 3pm.
Two questions spring to mind. The first is why no one from the cruise company or the car rental place told us that there was no way in hell that we could reach the Olympic site in time. The answer is simply that they are bastards, and in the case of the car renting company, greedy bastards.
The second question is why this tourist attraction closes at 3pm on a Tuesday. Is it a rare combination of archaeological site and a bank branch? Speaking of banks, I thought that Greece was in a deep economic crisis. No wonder when they close shortly after lunch. Or perhaps I’m unfair. Maybe this was a special occasion when the staff was busy counting the money in the stimulus package just handed to the country by the EU.
Rant aside, the situation did have a silver lining; I discovered a passion for paparazzi archaeology. We walked around the closed gate and walls, up on a hill and from there, through some trees, I managed to snap a few shots of the Olympic ruins through my telescopic lens. I think I will hunt down and snap other unsuspecting monuments in the future.
Santorino and Mykonos, Greece
Today featured a double bill of two gorgeous little towns. First we visited Santorino, a village built on top of an enormous volcanic half-moon crater. There isn’t any one particular thing to see here apart from the scenery, but that is reason enough to stop by this gorgeous little place. The view across the blue water and the whitewashed buildings clinging to the rim of the crater is simply postcard material, as proven by the thousands of postcards on sale everywhere.
The walk from sea level up to the town is quite a challenge, one made easier when riding a horse. While waiting for my horse to come along (Think of them as carrot-munching shuttle busses.) one of the attendants felt like whipping one of the horses, missed, and instead whipped his colleague in the face. Here is a lesson for those who were wondering: Greek men become angry if you whip them in the face. Very angry.
Our second stop of the day was Mykonos. Mykonos is famous for its vivid (gay) nightlife, but off-season it is quite different. We arrived in the evening and spent it wandering the quaint streets and admiring the beauty of yet more whitewashed buildings, weather vanes and the night-lights reflected in the bay.
One of my favourite little places in Mykonos is the Piano Bar. It is atmospheric, has good cocktails with a punch and features a piano playing queen who has promised me to learn how to play Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, so if you come by, be sure to request it.
Greek mythology has always been one of my great interests, and so it was with great excitement I went to Athens, where there is one obvious attraction for fans of ancient Greece: the Acropolis.
The Acropolis is a great hill that looms over the rest of Athens on all sides. On top of this hill, the then powerful Athenians built several monuments to their gods, in particular their patron goddess Athena, to whom they built the world-renowned Parthenon.
Athens has had a tumultuous past, and the Parthenon has suffered some damage over the nearly 2500 years that it has watched over the city. Most noteworthy, the Ottoman Turks figured that the Parthenon was the obvious place to store large kegs of gunpowder. What could possibly go wrong? Well, it did, and so it is no surprise that the place needs some tender loving care.
The ancient Greeks built the Parthenon in nine years. The modern Greeks have been restoring the damn thing for twenty-eight years, and the place still looks like a construction site with cranes and heavy machinery spoiling what is otherwise an awesome monument to democracy, philosophy and superiority.
I had no more time in Athens, so I may have missed some rocking bits. However, I don’t feel the need to return to the city. Frankly, it is a bit depressing. I’ve never seen so many dilapidated and abandoned blown out husks of please-tear-me-down-and-take-me-out-of-my-misery buildings in the centre of a big city as I did in Athens. I know that I should not judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t help when the cover is made of poison ivy.
Corfu is a sweet Greek town that has been passed around various rulers and countries like a cheap French whore on the docks of Amsterdam. Naturally, the town has picked up a few influences along the way. For example, the British left the bad habit of playing cricket (How this dull sport ever made it out of the asylum is beyond my comprehension.) and I had the bizarre pleasure of witnessing a Norwegian team play cricket in Greece.
The town is pretty enough to just stroll around, but if the souvenir shops stress you out, then seek refuge at the old fortress on the edge of the old town.
The fortress is built on top of a tall cliff, and the stonework blends perfectly with the cliff side, creating the illusion that the fortress is bigger than it is. The view from the top is simply gorgeous and well worth searching for and climbing the small trail that leads up there.
I was not there at night, but judging from the discarded condoms with unmentionable content (a homophone of seamen) littering the ground, it must be quite the party.
I love Eastern Europe and its old stone cities. Dubrovnik is no exception, except that it is exceptionally exceptional.
Similar to Venice, the real attraction of Dubrovnik are the quaint old streets and stone buildings. There are a few museums and churches, but you can safely ignore them and enjoy a few more winding alleyways and maybe an ice cream by the old port.
The city has a real authentic feel to it even though there are plenty of shops and restaurants all around. All shop names are written on a red fabric scrolls hanging beside the doors, so there are no modern signs ruining the view of the streets. Instead of a sign featuring a garish manga cartoon declaring a sushi bar ahead, you get a discreet text saying ‘Kaito – sushi bar’ in gold lettering on red velvet, keeping it in line with the aesthetics of the town. It is a simple trick, but I wish more old cities followed suit.
There is one thing you simply must do if you come to Dubrovnik: walk all around the city wall. The wall is very tall in places, giving you a phenomenal view of the town from above. Similar to how the building facades are standardized, the roofs are too. They are covered in patterns of red and orange tiles and again, the effect is beautiful.
Yes, Dubrovnik is stunning, and even more so when you reflect on how the Yugoslav People’s Army bombed it to smithereens in 1991 with 650 artillery rounds. After the war, this senseless destruction of architectural beauty was repaired under supervision of UNESCO.