Archive for May, 2006

24
May
06

Italy

Those of you who are observant may pick up that we sort of skipped Greece. We decided on taking a longer trip in one of Greece and Italy and since our onward flight was from Rome we picked Italy.

We had already travelled to Italy about 5 years ago, so this time we went down south to Sorrento for 6 nights and we are now in Rome (sort of) for 2 nights before heading to London.

With so much time to spend we checked off the Amalfi coast essentials in quick time.

First day: Pompeii, Check!. Yes more Roman Ruins, but well I (Craig) remembered the story from school about Mount Vesuvius belching itself on the poor Pompeiins (?) and frying ’em all. The ruins were impressive but spread over a huge area. Well worth the visit, but enough about the Romans!

Second Day: Capri, Check! Busy, expensive, a transport strike (remember those unions…. memories… ahhh!), and well sick of it really quick. Very beautiful but full of rich “white and wrinklies”!

Third day: Positano, Check! Lovely and quiet compared to Capri. The bus trip around the edges of sheer cliff faces left us both a little chunderous yet exhilarated. But it was well worth the visit. Check out the photos when we find a PC we can upload from!

All the essentials checked off we took some time to do bugger all! And it was great. An anniversary passed – 11 years since our first date. We had a lovely dinner at the hotel in our room. Our waiter – Giovanni – served us that night and every morning for breakfast. We started to get friendly and he told us about his little village down the peninsula. We kept asking where it was and he said, “Ten Minnie”. Great! Not far to go, but where is it man!!!! Finally we worked out he was talking about a village called Termini!

So we walked down there one day through several other villages, through lemon orchards galore, and olive groves and sharing the walking tracks with many a lizard. They were everywhere. We caught some brilliant views of Capri. It’s really nice from a distance!

Not much else to say. We spent a day at the beach at Puolo which was a small “local” beach and found out that black volcanic sand gets bloody hot underfoot. And when you go local, you don’t get ripped off. Hired a couple of sun beds and got sun burnt and had a great swim….

In Rome now near airport and tomorrow will do a whirlwind tour of Rome (hey we’ve already “done” Rome and well those Romans….) probably catching a few highlights and a spag bol in some piazza somewhere.

Now off for some sleep if possible. The coffee here is fannnnn-bloody-tastic!

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17
May
06

Turkey

Turkey begun with a fun border crossing. It was recommended that we take a small “coaster” bus across and we’re glad we did or would still be at the border! There were columns of trucks miles long on either side of the border and the drivers didn’t always keep the path clear which resulted in us driving down footpaths, down the verges of roads and weaving between hulking trucks. At one stage our bus scraped a truck who had moved his truck the wrong way. Much yelling ensued, but no numbers were exchanged so we guess insurance isn’t the norm.

At one stage a happy Syrian border guard stopped our bus and refused to let us pass. Apparently our driver had left some paper work back up the road at another border station. Much laughter of the guards – and much sweating of the driver – later the guard asked us if we should let him pass or make him run all the way back (suggesting that the driver could lose some weight!). We saved him.

Smuggling is big business on the border and we thought we would miss this as we had a private bus. But our driver dutifully dropped off a box of stuff with a “friend” in Syria who we then met and exchanged goods with in Turkey!

We had a short overnight stay in Antakya then we were off to the Cappadoccia region. Our guide Sheref (not his real name) took us through the beautiful Ilhara Gorge and an underground city (where locals hid when their country was being invaded – by armies or tourists – which seems to happen very often). The city was 57 metres deep (8 levels), well ventilated which was a relief as some tunnels were a tight squeeze!

Off to Goreme for two days where we got to chill out, wash our clothes and find out Sheref’s real name, Joofuk (spelling???). Needless to say the aussie pronounciation brought a sly smirk. Can’t think why they changed his name. I (Craig) wondered why he kept ignoring me!!!

Goreme started on a low when we decided to go hiking but got lost and wasted 3 hours getting sunburnt and grumpy. The walking tracks are not marked and then are lots of other tracks used by farmers and the like so it was very frustrating. We made up for it the next day by hiring two 4-wheel ATVs and roaring around the whole valley with a guide and seeing everything quick smart!

After a lovely last dinner with our group we were off to Istanbul on a bus, overnight train and then passenger ferry. Lots of sad goodbyes but also good to have some time to ourselves

We have been in Istanbul 4 nights, in a room with the most magnificent view of the Bosphorus, Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque. We spent one day haggling our next trip to the Amalfi coast. We fly Alitalia today at 14:30 to Rome and then connect down to Naples. We then have to get our own way to Sorrento. Anna spent a few hours searching for a bargain and we got this place – Relais Regina Giovanna – for a song in the end and will be there for 5 nights, then head up to Rome for 2 nights before flying onto London as scheduled.

We did a day trip to Gallipoli and spent about 5 hours trekking around the peninsula. The guide, Murat, was excellent, and the experience reminded us of the futility of wars and also the unexpected bonding between Australia and New Zealand and Turkey which occurred because of this battle. There were too many stories told to mention them all.

I suppose the most amazing aspect was how close the trenches were to each other (8 metres) and also tracking down Jack’s (Anna’s grandfather) great uncle who has a burial stone at Lone Pine.

Turkey has left an impression on us and our stomachs. The food!!! Bread, Cakes, Pastries and great – but expensive – coffee. It is quite modern and stylish and easier to get around. The people dress very european style rather than middle-eastern and we blended in easily (except for the bloody restaurant touts in Istanbul who picked us a mile away). The country is very green and beautiful with rolling hills and pastures. If we had more time and energy it would be good to have seen more.

11
May
06

Syria

Crossing borders is always an entertaining, and possibly stressful, task. But, for this one, our bus driver took charge, and had us in and out/over in no time at all. To top it off, he shouted us falafel and coke just before the border and then juices and salty yoghurt drinks on the other side.

“On the road to Damascus”

Damascus is a busy vibrant city which we took to straight away. The locals took to us as well, all eyes on the westerners! Some returned smiles, others just stared in awe. Our guide for the day took us to the main mosque of Damascus. The chicks all needed to “robe up” ensuring no flesh was exposed.

Inside was the tomb that held the head of John the Baptist who was considered as a prophet by the muslims. The mosque is one of the 6 largest in the world. The Call to prayer followed us everywhere. Usually a low-light, especially at 4 o’clock in the morning, or even at 9 at night while trying to watch tv or on a Friday at 12 (goes for an hour or more). Our guide thought it an experience we wouldn’t forget at Umayyad at this time, with 7 men singing into a mic. Craig isn’t so sure!
More of a highlight was the second mosque – the Iranian Shiite Mosque. The entire ceiling was made of mirrors, to give the impression of chandeliers all through. Men and women were separate. There was a tomb of some woman (forgive me for forgetting her name Fatima?) and the women, all in black, prayed to the point of tears touching the tomb.
The Guide took us through the old city and at the end propositioned our group leader for a dinner date!
The souq (market) was huge. We saw banners denouncing US and Israel policy, coupled with loads of green banners that were in celebration of the prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Very colourful. Margaret and Anna checked out a lingerie store, out of curiousity, to discover that they were serviced by men! The belly dancer outfit was a highlight – the male shop attendant fitting the bra top onto Anna was hilarious (over clothes of course!). Icecream was very good too…

Palmyra:

We arrived in Palmyra on a public bus, and were greeted by the Hotel owner in his 1954 Mercedes bus, which took us up to the castle for a sunset tour. It chugged chugged chugged and clunked up that hill!
Palmyra is a desert oasis, not that exciting. There were ruins from Roman times, but to be honest we are a little tired of ruins. What have the Romans ever done for us? hehe. More interesting was being only about 130 clicks from the Iraqi border!

Crac de Cavaliers:

Awesome castle from Crusader period. Tour of the castle by a man whose family once lived inside, before the french (bastards!) kicked them out – no compensation, no offer of alternative home, only told to leave. The families took with them stones to build their new homes.
Our hotel opposite afforded an amazing view.
On a walk we met a group of children – refreshingly they didn’t want money or pens, only high fives and photos!

Hama – aka Pervy-man town!:

Hama is famous for its wooden water wheels, which moan like sick donkeys! But for us it will be infamous for the badly behaved men! Anna got groped!

On our way to the Beehive houses and then to Aleppo we overtook truck loads of people being carted around – easily 50 per pick up truck!

Aleppo:

Here we Discovered Ramsis Hotel which served Lavazza coffee! Woo hoooooooo!

Met Mohammed (“my weiner does tricks…….. but not always!”) who took us on a walking tour to his shop in the main souq. We walked past the “ginger beer” hammam and into gay Syria. It was a fun-filled afternoon of innuendo (in whose endo??). We met Magid who lived in Sydney for a short time in Oxford st. Some classic aussie sayings in an arabic accent – “About bloody time”, “20 kms you’ll be in Dubbo”, “Horses hoof”. Magid had a “rainbow” t-shirt and a freo dockers t-shirt. About the only place in Syria homosexuality is tolerated.

We had a great tour of the Citadel in Aleppo and the guide translated conversations between us and local women. His name was Ahmed and he gave us lollies when we answered his questions correctly.

Had a morning breakfast at the Ramses Hotel, just for the coffee and western breaky which was a nice change.

Then we crossed the border into Turkey. Karyn secured a bus all to ourselves, which is good and bad – good as it will reduce hassle, but bad coz i wanted to see all the smuggling!

Syria has left us with an impression of an isolated country (can’t buy coca cola. “Seven up” is not available and a local alternative called “cheer up” is.) with loads of charm. Lots of motor and push bikes. Lots of little shops (no big supermarket chains here!). The people stare incessently and are unnerving in some places and the men hold hands!!! The place is so diverse though with good food and ever changing landscapes.

06
May
06

Jordan

Another message from the road. We find ourselves in Syria at the moment, but we’ll only talk about Jordan so we can catch up.

Caught the ferry from Nuweiba in Sinai to Aqaba Jordan. Quite a modern affair with some big scary looking arabs on board wearing overcoats. Ferry ride was very modern and comfortable though. Sort of like Jordan really. A lot cleaner, more western, easier yet expensive. The police were better equiped too with newer “gear” and helicopters flying overhead as well. Had a tasty fish feed and also found a Cinnabons for a decent cup of “real” coffee (which didn’t go astray).

Next day off to Wadi Rum which was made famous by Lawrence and the ensuing film. Spent a night in the desert with some mad bedouins eating fire-cooked chicken and “singing” fireside songs. Apparently there are only 12 main families in Jordan which may explain their craziness and how everyone seems to be the cousin of someone else.

Next two nights we were off at Petra. For the uneducated watch the last 15 minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (we did!). We booked a Hammam (Turkish Bath), but just before we were due to go we found out that it had been cancelled due to water problems. Frank, Margaret, Anna and I smelt the BS wafting as did our Czech Hotel Receptionist, Valentina, so we headed off anyway with a plan to enter the Hammam boldly and start undressing. As we entered we were asked if we were the Simmons group. Honesty prevailed: “No? We have made a booking”. It seems the Simmons group had stolen our booking. Much bickering and bargaining but no Hammam. When someone called someone else a liar, the liar wanted to set the Tourist Police on us. They never arrived, like our Hammam!!

As mentioned Valentina was the source of much straight talking. Her view on middle eastern men was somewhat tainted by experience, but her candour was refreshing as most women are pretty reserved in their opinions.

Then off to the Dead Sea Resort, floating, bathing ourselves in the mud (well Anna anyway). The darkest skin she’s ever had! Every little cut/abrasion we had stung like buggery, but it was great fun “floating on our backs” and having a swim with the view of Israel just off in the distance.

After a short journey to Mt. Nebo (read your bibles – we couldn’t see the promised land due to haze), we headed to Madaba a beautiful little town nearby. The hotel had a pool! One of life’s little freak coincidences occurred when we ran into Rob Tong whom we worked with in London a few years prior at the hotel breakfast.
The Food and Mosaics of Madaba were a highlight.

Amman, the capital, was quite charmless and busy. There were some great ruins there to see, and we had Elias a 70 year old guide show us around. He had met Australians in the Palestine conflict when he had been about 12, and he kept saying “Dinky Di” and “No Bullshit”. He walked very briskly and was aided by very loud farting which was a bit disconcerting. He had us all chuckling. He told us a story about an Aussie soldier who got in a fight with a Pommie soldier and was sent to jail for 3 days. Elias got him cigarettes and helped him when he was released (“Where’s the pub!?”, apparently.)

Then it was morning in Jaresh. Amazing, extensive Roman ruins which gave you the sense of a real city with shops and streets. Not just your regular Tombs and Temples stop! They are still digging the old city up! The guide had a stoush with a French man here who was guiding his group. You need to use official guides in Jordan or you are in trouble…. with the Tourist Police. Words were exchanged. The French man was arrogant and rude (wow) and met his match!!!

Then we hit the Syrian Border.

More photos to follow soon but are having upload problems here in Syria.

PS: Bruno, we rode camels in Aswan, Egypt, and that was enough!




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