Ruins

Athens, Greece

I love ruins. The older they are, the better. I love walking among fallen columns, crumbling facades, and on broken streets. I like to imagine what life might have been like in these places when they were still populated, you know, before everything was ruined. Ruins, along with old churches, stunning beaches, and of course the food, are my favorite thing about traveling through Europe. They’re everywhere. They haven’t been destroyed in the name of progress, and sometimes progress gets destroyed in the name of archaeology. What a great set of priorities!

Pompeii

Now, why do I like the crumbling old ruins so much? I think it has to do with the same reasons I’m a sucker for reality TV. I have an active imagination and love wondering what other peoples’ lives are like. I like to see “how the other half lives.”

Pompeii

Ruins certainly let your imagination run wild. Bathhouses, brothels, coliseums, temples, and even bakeries and bars can really let you wonder just what went on in this place before you managed to make it here. Sometimes you don’t really have to wonder, the writing (pictures) is/are still on the walls.

Ephesus, TurkeySometimes the ruin you’re looking at doesn’t seem like much at all, but you know that it’s all that remains of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This kind of thing can really boggle the mind.

At any rate, I love ruins, and “ruins” starts with “R,” so there it is.

 

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The trip from Naples, Italy to Athens, Greece

The trip from Naples to Athens was an all-day, all-night affair that featured no less than two trains, one ginormous ferry, and a bus, but it was one of the most memorable events of our honeymoon.

You see, when I planned the trip I knew that the Greek portion was going to be the most complex because ferries run certain routes on certain days. Initially I planned for us to get from Naples to Bari, Italy and take a ferry on Sunday, but alas, there wouldn’t have been enough time to make the transfer and I read on the interweb that the Italian Train system runs on something that once was a schedule but is now more of a general guideline. For whatever reason I couldn’t seem to find any information on the internet about buses from Naples to Bari, so I settled on the train option when I planned to spend an extra day in Naples and forego a night in Bari.

So here’s how it went. We got up bright and early, had breakfast, and checked out of Hotel Zara, making it to the train station with plenty of time to spare and boarding the unairconditioned commuter train from Napoli Centrale to Caserta. About halfway through the trip a family of gypsies hopped on the train and pulled out some birds and magic wands and all sorts of hoopla and made a ton of noise, annoying the older gentleman across from us. I seriously thought his eyes would roll all the way out of his head and onto the floor.

Eventually someone asked us if we were heading into the mountains (or some such thing in Italian) and he translated. OH. You speak English. I see. So he asked where we were headed and told us we could have taken a bus from Naples to Bari in 2 hours, and that the trains were terrible. THIS STUFF SHOULD BE ON THE INTERNET. Anyhow, we transferred in Caserta and started rolling towards Bari on what should have been a 4 hour train ride a group of partied-out and very loud locals on their way back from some sort of event in Rome. Then the train stopped. And didn’t start again. We sat at a station somewhere in central Italy for an hour. Then two. Finally we got moving again after everyone was moved to the back of the train, and a couple hours later we arrived in Bari.

Following our usual arrival procedure, we found the tourist information booth and learned the ferry port was about a 20 minute walk from the station. We walked, had a slice of pizza, walked some more, and finally walked right through the security gate of the ferry port. I saw the smokestack of the SUPERFAST ferry in the distance and we walked. And walked. And walked. Finally the ticketing booth came into view, so I checked us in, got our tickets, and we walked to the ship. It was all very industrial, until we walked up to the back of the ship and took the escalator up to the passenger deck.

Port of Bari

Port of Bari

Carolyn on deck

Carolyn on deck!

Superfast Ferries

The interior of our Superfast Ferry. Nice digs.

HOLY COW. It was like a cruise ship. There were men in tuxedo vests serving wine, a nice place to set down our bags, air conditioning, nice seats, and a wine list! It was clear at this point that we had found a good way to spend an evening. We watched the trucks load, stood out on the deck a bit before we departed, and then settled down in the lounge with a glass of wine. When the restaurant opened we lined up and had a meal and a bottle of wine next to the bow side windows, and had a great view as we sailed into the sunset (romantic, non?)

Sailing into the sunset. Arrividerci, Italy!  Hello, Greece!

Sailing into the sunset. Arrividerci, Italy! Hello, Greece!

Romantic Desserts

Romantic desserts are a must when sailing through the Mediterranean!

Then it happened. Italy was in the rear-view mirror and we were suddenly in Greece. The group sitting next to us had three or four Greek Orthodox ministers in its midst, and they started singing. SINGING I TELL YOU. They sang for hours, and as they did so we kept ordering bottles of wine. DON’T JUDGE US. The ship had miniature bottles of wine. We would have been in trouble if they were full-size. At any rate, the singing progressed to dancing. Greeks dancing and singing. We loved it. It was almost like being at one of the family gatherings in My Big Fat Greek Wedding except without the helpful subtitles. After a bit we headed back to our seats, laid down, and got some rest.

Good morning, Greece!

Good morning, Greece!

Odysseus was here

Odysseus was here! Okay, that’s totally unverifiable, but I’d like to think so.

First Greek Selfie

Our first Greek Selfie

Greek Blue

The water in and around Greece is perfectly blue.

Hello Greece

Hello, Greece.

Port of Patras

Port of Patras, our first steps into Greece.

Greece, Port of Patras

My lovely wife posing in front of the entire nation of Greece. 🙂

The next morning we awoke when the ship pulled into the first port, dropping off most of the trucks. We had some coffee and breakfast, and then headed outside to have a look. The water was beautifully blue and clear. Carolyn left the deck for a minute to run inside and I saw a blue marlin swimming alongside the ship. She doesn’t believe any of it, but it’s true. When she came back, as the islands of Greece started to come into view, the church group showed up and started singing again. It was really, really idyllic.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

The Parthenon lit up at night. A good way to end our first day in Greece.

The Parthenon lit up at night. A good way to end our first day in Greece.

Once we arrived we caught a bus from Patrassos to Athens, then braved the Athenian metro system until we found our hotel. This is when I realized that stupid pledge I made to a stupid fraternity in college paid off. I could read the Greek alphabet. Heh. Slowly. Anyway, we arrived in Athens, had dinner with a view of the Parthenon, and soaked up some Greek hospitality, which, I assure you, is far more amazing than you would ever expect.

Barcelona – Why so spendy?

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve been filling hours in Texas shopping for the best values on accommodations and transport for our very-quickly-approaching honeymoon in the Mediterranean. So far I’ve managed to accomplish three things. I’ve booked what looks like a much-nicer-than-basic hotel in Madrid for the first couple of nights. I’ve booked our bus tickets from Barcelona to Marseilles (HELLO Eurolines Spanish affiliate was having a 50% off sale for all Spain-France routes this weekend), and I’ve put down a deposit on a room in a guesthouse in Barcelona on Hostelbookers.com.

HOLY COW BARCELONA SEEMS EXPENSIVE

Not that we don’t have enough money or anything, we do, but the fact of the matter is a room in what amounts to a glorified hostel in Barcelona is going to cost more than a four-star hotel in a desirable location in Madrid. Not just by a little either, we’re talking a margin of about $20/night. Now don’t get the impression that I’m having sticker shock or anything. We’ve researched and researched and planned and planned and I kinda knew this thing was coming. I just expected to be able to find a better deal on a nicer place, I guess, as the hotel in Madrid seemed to work out pretty well.

Expensive rooms in Barcelona are a good problem to have

Now, I didn’t widen my search to include undesirable neighborhoods, anything off the beaten path, or a location that would require any sort of commute to get to the parts of the city that we’ll want to see. We can afford to stay in El Barri Gotic, and we deserve to stay where we like on this trip because it’s our freaking honeymoon.  Two Korean winters, two Korean summers, and several gallons of kimchi say that we get to stay where we want. I guess paying more for a guesthouse in Barcelona really isn’t all that bad of a problem to have. Plus, maybe there’s a big partido de futbol or something happening the weekend that we’re there. Sometimes less availability means more cool things happening, right?

Warm blast from the past – The Bahamas

It is probably as cold as that ninth circle of hell Dante wrote about. When I wake up in the morning I check the weather immediately after turning the alarm on my iPod off, and today it told me that not only was it cold in our drafty ass old Korean apartment but that it was only 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside. NINE degrees. It never got that cold here last year, and from what I understand South Korea is having it’s coldest winter in 45 years. That means that I’ve got to do everything I can mentally and physically to stay warm.

You see, the icy walk (literally, it’s like crossing a glacier) to get to the grocery store is far more worth it when you’re going to get coconut milk to make that awesome green curry you ate in Thailand this summer. If you’re stuck sitting in a drafty office, it makes sense to use the computer you’re huddled in front of to look at pictures you took somewhere far warmer than the frozen tundra of your frostbitten neighborhood where you are now. That lead me to find these old photos I took back in 2007 on my first solo trip to the super remote and far away country of The Bahamas (if you can’t pick up on the sarcasm about The Bahamas being a far away and remote country you should get your sarcasm-meter adjusted.)

Here’s the relevant details about this trip. At the time I was a stock broker, and I was hopelessly obsessed with scuba diving. I wanted to try a live-aboard dive trip, and the only one I could even dream that I could afford was this “camping at sea” adventure out of Grand Bahama. I booked it, packed, and flew off to The Bahamas for a week. It was cheap. It wasn’t that nice, but I didn’t expect it to be. The diving was great, and I made some great friends that I’m still in touch with on the trip. I had such a great time that I quit my job to be a scuba instructor 3 weeks or so later. That financially calamitous gutsy move found me in Florida for six months, Hawaii for another six months, and then back to Florida for two more years. I completely, 100%, fell out of love with diving, burned the obsession to the ground, and met the most wonderful woman on Earth. As you might gather, we moved to Korea shortly thereafter (where it is currently very, very cold), and now we’re going to get married and travel to Europe and start a glamorous new life filled with puppies and kittens and babies and stuff. This trip is really where the whole thing started, and looking at the photos I took before utterly ruining my poor camera halfway through the trip makes me feel just a little bit warmer than I would staring out the window.

Fly Away Friday: Anywhere but Korea!

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I like Korea just fine. I feel like I need to say that as a sort of disclaimer before making this post. There it is. Korea is great.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ve got to say, if I could go anywhere this weekend, I think the answer is anywhere but here. There’s nothing particularly irritating about Korea right now. The weather is cold, sure. The students at school are kinda extra docile right now because their exams are over and they are tired. My job is winding down in a big way, with just camp left to plan and another couple of weeks worth of busywork and waiting until the contract wraps up. Every little bit of extra busy work, attitude from one ill-tempered child, or disapproving glance from the administration (or that one old groundskeeper that seems to generally enjoy trying to make fun of me for being foreign) makes me just a bit more ready to kiss Korea good bye.

This leads me to why it’s anywhere but Korea right now. You see, I can’t for the life of me stand the idea of fantasizing about going somewhere that I’m not already planning to go. The next few months are going to be crazy. Have a look and see.

  • January: Hong Kong
  • February: Tokyo
  • March: New York
  • April: Texas and a wedding
  • May-June: Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey

For the first time in my life I can say with conviction: Holy cow. Our travel plans are nuts.

We’ve got all of the flights booked for these trips, now it’s just all the little stuff in the middle that needs to be sorted out. You know, little details like where to sleep and how to get from Barcelona to Marseilles. It’s super exciting to have so much on tap, but it’s a little bit overwhelming to be planning so many different trips and such and think about other places that might be nice to visit. That’s why you’re getting a crap answer for the weekly question of, If you could go anywhere on earth this weekend, where would you go?


The best I can come up with right now is: Anywhere but here.

Why saying a place is “too touristy” is just silly.

Phuket? I heard that’s TOO TOURISTY! (Shut the hell up.)

Being an ESL Korea in teacher means you have one conversation about a thousand times before you go on your vacation. That conversation goes somewhat like this:

Hey! Where are you going for vacation?
We’re going to AMAZINGSOUTHEASTASIANDESTINATIONOPOLIS. How about you?
Really? We were thinking about going there, but it’s too touristy.

That conversation bugs me for a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s pretty douche-y to deride someone’s choice of vacation spots. We’re all different and like different things.
  2. The place you’re going is probably pretty touristy too, it’s not like you’re going to live with some pre-contact tribe in the Amazon or something.

Anyhow, every time we told someone we were going to Phuket we had this conversation. Without fail, we were informed that our destination was “too touristy” for the tastes of the amazing off the beaten path traveler who is completely incapable of traveling without twenty of their best friends that they’ve only known for a few months.

So yeah, I think it’s pretty silly to say that a place is too touristy. What kind of lame-ass hipster calls a developing nation too touristy, anyway?

Shrine of the Serene Light – “I’ve never heard of it, but it’s in Phuket so it must be TOO TOURISTY!”

Reasons it’s just silly to say a place is “too touristy.”

  1. Tourists don’t frequent crap destinations. There’s a reason tourists flock to Phuket, or Bali, or Waikiki and not to the favelas in Sao Paolo. If you don’t like crapping on a toilet equipped with running water more power to you. If you would like to voluntarily contract malaria or Japanese encephalitis go for it, but don’t talk down your nose to me because my destination is too touristy.
  2. Not everyone is trying to travel like a total cheap-ass. It’s cool to be a budget traveler. We travel on a pretty small budget, I think. We don’t take pride in the idea of saving $4 a night and trading the comfort of a private room with air conditioning for the comfort of a smelly room with 12 other people who shower less often than we do.
  3. Touristy areas have some cool sites that aren’t as frequented. We didn’t see all that many other tourists in Phuket Town. We were the only people in the Shrine of the Serene Light. Kata beach wasn’t too crowded. Railay was gorgeous and laid back. We didn’t feel like cattle being shoved off to slaughter in any of these places.
  4. I’d rather need to seek medical attention in a place that’s too touristy than a place that has no medical services.
  5. In all of my fantasy vacation dreams, I dream of staying in the places you see in pictures and magazines and on TV shows. I don’t dream of fighting off motion sickness in the back of a goat-pulled buggy with a bunch of locals wondering, Just what the hell is this guy doing here? , but rather enjoying myself somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.
I think we’ve all got our preferences when it comes to choosing a place to go on our valuable time off. It costs a lot of money to get around this planet. Choosing a destination is based completely on personal preference. If you want to choose a place where you can stay for $1.50 a night and eat nothing but offal whilst seeing the beautiful sewage rivers and commercial agriculture of a developing nation, more power to you, but I’d rather go somewhere that other people might also enjoy, and that more than likely means somewhere touristy.

 

Seeing the light at the end of the expat tunnel

Teaching English in Korea has been a pretty varied adventure. Most days the job is plenty easy. Sometimes the kids drive you nuts. Living in Korea as an expat is mostly easy, but sometimes it drives you nuts. Finding ways to maintain an even keel and not let the “drives you nuts” variety of experience actually drive you nuts is the game, the adventure, the whole big shebang.

As you may have read in my last post, we’ve just booked our final vacation in Asia (we’ll be back in Asia one day, just not as temporary contract workers in Korean public schools). After one of my classes today required me to be what I call “mean teachah” I sat down at my desk, thankful that the situation hadn’t gone totally Lord of the Flies and checked my bank account. I was happy to see two $400.00 charges from Air India indicating that our tickets to Hong Kong, purchased through Travelocity are completely confirmed, paid for, and booked. This means that we’ve rounded the last corner on this adventure and we’re racing for the finish line in New York on March 1st.

What that also means is that I can show off this fancy map I made online of all of the flights I’ve taken (*Carolyn was on most of these flights, but we took separate winter vacations) since leaving home early on the morning of February 17, 2011 to start this big Asian adventure.

Every flight I’ve taken during my time as an ESL teacher in Korea

Interesting to me numbers encompassed in this map:

4 trips across the Pacific Ocean
4 stops in Tokyo (we’ll finally make a proper visit to Tokyo on the way home)
4 stops in Kuala Lumpur (and I think about 8 passport stamps in Malaysia, though I’ve never made a proper visit)
7 airlines
6 countries
48,637 miles flown

This isn’t really super impressive when you compare how much some people travel for business, but seeing those pretty red arcs across the Pacific Ocean makes me feel like I’ve been somewhere, dammit.