Archive for the 'trip2006' Category

06
Jun
06

London and New York (and getting home!)

Well we had sort of finished our travels really, but while we were out and about we thought we’d “drop in” to London and New York to catch up with some old friends.

It was fabulous to stay with our gracious hosts Andy and Suzannanh and meet their 11 month old boy, James. Of course our first 24 hours in London started with 3 bottles of Rose, a Curry, 5 pints of Guiness (me, Craig) and a late night Kebab. What do you expect?! It was good to see all our old haunts, some old work colleagues (thanks for those of you who came out), and also Ross and Yi. It poured one day and we got soaked (first drenching of trip) which gave us both colds which we are still trying to shake.

Our trip to New york was a similar affair, staying with my younger brother Andrew and hanging out with his house mates and friends. Didn’t do much touristy stuff as we were a bit tired of that sort of thing and had been to NYC before. Seemed to spend a lot of time in Central Park! We also got to catch up with Anna (or Ania) which was nice. But these sorts of meetings are always to short and we wish the world was smaller of planes quicker or something so we could do this more often.

Our trip home was a bit of a debacle (thanks United!). In Summary, we had 3 flight trip home from New York (NYC-LA-Sydney-Melbourne). Our first flight was diverted to Chicago when three circuit breakers “popped” on take off. The ground crew and pilot had a quite a noticeable disagreement with the pilot walking off to find a new plane and the customer service person telling us the same plane would be used again. Tony Danza was on board as well! Could it get any worse? Well we got a new plane in the end which got us to LA late so we missed our connection which meant a 24 hour delay. United put us up in LA for a night. As we were going to bed, 5 gun shots went off in the street below. Anna checked from our window. It didn’t look promising for the shootee.

With a day to spend in LA we went to Universal which was fun and highly recommended (see photos).

We boarded the plane to Sydney that night and it had to taxi back to the gate when an “indicator on a controller” (whatever) failed. This was replaced and we took off. The flight was pretty smooth and we slept a bit. Upon attemping to land in Sydney our plane pulled out of the landing because of a failed flap. The pilot told us that he had not enough time to activate the back-up so we circled again and then landed. Our connection flight to Melbourne was then delayed a few hours because of fog in Melbourne (can’t blame United for that one). In any case, I’m glad I have an extra day off to recover. Enjoy the photos…

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!

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!

28
Apr
06

Egypt

We arrived in Cairo rather tired. We paid three times the going rate for a taxi to the once-upon-a-time-lovely Cosmopolitan Hotel. Two porters assisted us up a lift which was as old as time, and both expected a tip. Welcome to Egypt! Overservicing and the expectation of Baksheesh (tip).

There was a helpful tourist/concierge type person who sat chain-smoking in his office at the hotel. He helped us out with a Sound and Light show at the pyramids so Anna gave him a Furry Friend chocolate – can’t remember the animal (thanks Dings). Our first day otherwise was a lagged blur. We fell asleep in the museum once and also at the light show at the pyramids (even though they had a bagpipe band there!!!).

There are guards everywhere in Cairo. The first day they were wearing black, the second day white. We speculated on the reasons for the change but were way out. It turns out white is for summer, black for winter and the seasons had just changed. The guards are generally sleeping or close to it with an AK47 slung over their shoulder. I think National Service includes police work so they aren’t the motivated type. The guns were ancient!

Cairo and Egypt in general is smoky, smelling of diesel and camel and donkey droppings, there is litter everywhere and lots of “rubble”. Lots of it. There are unfinished buildings with metal bars jutting out the top promising more levels to be added. Apparently finished buildings attract more tax so go figure!

Whilst the place is over-crowded and intense, the people are very open and return your smile – more than you can say for Melbourne. Everyone is very helpful. Once our taxi stalled. The driver yelled out the window and a young bloke came over to help him roll start instantly. Just one example.

Taxi drivers yell out to you and toot their horns for business. Traders in the local souqs come up and greet you with “Hello”, “Welcome” or “Where (You) From?” We usually answer “Australia” or “No Thankyou!!!”. A fellow traveller, Frank, would asnwer “Tasmania” just to confuse.

In a strange way, the best bits of travel sometimes are the harder parts. And breakfast in Middle East is not one of its finer points. If I see one more bloody boiled egg!!! And everything is saturated in sugar or oil. Bah! Hehe.

Most Scary Moment
Bus Driver driving a mini-bus 160km/hour to Abu Simbel. I knew it was trouble when I jumped in the bus and he was sleeping at the wheel before we’d even started. The bus driver to Mt. Sinai also almost fell asleep!

Best Chill Outs:
Cataract Hotel in Aswan – drinking juice at sunset with a view of the Nile
Felucca Day – a day spent sailing on the Nile.
Sinai – Sitting on the beach drinking strawberry juice.

Best Meet-the-locals:
Mr Sams House in Luxor. The family put on a big meal and we got to chat to his daughters about life as a muslim female in Egypt.

Weirdest Moment:
Tony, our brit co-traveller, telling me about a disturbing festival in the Cotswolds involving rolling cheese down a hill and chasing it! 🙂

Favourite Food:
Kushari – a mixture of Rice, Pasta, Lentils, Tomato sauce. Also cost less than one Aussie dollar.

Most Middle-East Sexist Moment:
Anna’s white tops turned pink after the laundry effort at the Victoria Hotel in Cairo. When she went to reception the men refused to take her seriously and laughed at her. The laughter died down somewhat when we refused to pay for our laundry!! Take that! No-one messes with Anna.

… more to follow

22
Apr
06

Trip pictures

I was planning on blogging a bit, but the first one has never got finished. Hopefully soon. We have put some photos up so have a gander!




Craig’s twitter


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