Pompeii and Corfu

Opa! Today we are traveling from Corfu to Athens, and preparing for our vacation within a vacation when the group splits for a week. On Thursday we drove from Rome to Pompeii, eating from a restaurant that’s most likely run by the mafia and getting out guided tour of the ancient, volcano ridden town. The tour was really neat, seeing ruins of temples, houses, shops and brothels, and I could’ve spent hours looking around and walking the streets. Unfortunately, with a tight schedule involving the ferry, we had a quick tour and no time to just explore, so that’s definitely on the list of places to come back to. After a quick last Italian gelati, we were back on the bus to catch our ferry to Greece. We spent 12 hours on that ferry, which moved quick with the sleep I managed to get, and then switched to another 1.5 hour ferry, which I slept through fully. Because of Greek Easter and weather, our schedule got all switched around, so instead of getting a relaxed day like intended, we got 10 minutes at the hotel to drop off bags before we were out on the legendary George’s Boat Cruise. George has been running these party fun boat days for Contiki for 37 years or something like that, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular option. George is a gigantic, dirty, jolly old Greek man, who plays fun music, shouts over the loudspeaker, and acts like a 23 year old as he drives us around the sea around Corfu. It was overcast an slightly windy, but still warm (at least by Canadian standards) and definitely preferable to the next days forecast of thunderstorms. We cruised to a watersport place and watched some members parasail and waterski, and I went banana boating! It was super fun, the water was warm for Canadian standards (but ultra salty!), and overall a good time (despite losing my 2 nice charm bracelets). We ate a huge delicious Greek lunch and went cruising more, this time to George’s proclaimed Hanky Panky Hubba Hubba Sexy Skinny Dipping Island, where quite a few went for a naked swim (by that point I had just warmed up and wasn’t keen to jump back in the water). We cruised to another island, took photos on rocks, and came back to a second delicious lunch. It really was a fun day, and we spent the night eating supper and just hanging out, the majority of us hanging out at the hotel bar drinking decorated cocktails, ouzo, and having a casual night in. Yesterday was Greek Easter, the biggest celebration and holiday in Greece, and lucky for us, Corfu is the number one place for it! We got a bit of a sleep in before heading out into the town center to join the crowds awaiting the 11:00 dropping of the pots. At 11:00am, hundreds of clay pots, dishes, etc are dropped out of windows onto the streets below, meant to scare away evil spirits. The people take great appreciation and art in this event, some houses dropping a dozen small ones before pulling out giant painted pots with different Greek phrases painted on them (I assume saying happy Easter and from the crowds around, some saying things like “Greece will remain” kind of things. The pot droppers were definitely crowd workers, waiting until the crowd screamed the appropriate amount before sending their pot hurtling to the ground. One pot that dropped from the roof had to be 5 feet tall, and just watching this giant thing fall and hear the crash as it smashes on the street as the crowd cheers, it was a really neat experience. Once the pots had dropped, the city flocks to the road to collect souvenir pieces, and matching bands paraded over the sea of broken shards. We walked some of the crowded streets, got gyros from a local joint (chicken, tomato, onion, tzatziki, and French fries in a pita), and hung out enjoying the vibes of Greek Easter. We went back for a chill out time in the hotel, packing our bags for our upcoming split, siesta, and some casual room parties before we head out for an evening of Greek food and dancing. It was a super fun dinner, delicious food and a fun atmosphere as we learned traditional dances between spots of YMCA type dancing. We were at a local place that also hosted an Albanian tour group, but contiki definitely owned the show, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Back to Greek Easter, many of us then head back into town to partake in mass, standing in a field listening to mass in Greek. It was really cool, despite not being able to understand a word, you could feel the atmosphere moving as the mass progressed and we lit our candles, sharing flames, getting hugged by randoms saying “Christos annecy” as an awesome fireworks show ended the mass and crowds cheered. We headed to a bar after, as many of the locals do, but most of us didn’t stay particularly long in the cramped bar, and we had an early morning coming. And that morning was today, where we had breakfast at 6, and traveled all day to Athens, where we are now. We drove over the Rio something bridge, and saw the Corinth Canal, and now just awaiting meeting up with a local guide for a city tour, seeing the outside of the Acropolis (it’s closed 2 days a year, and today is one), dinner and an early night for another early departure. Going to Ios tomorrow, and Santorini after that, and should be a rather relaxing vacation within a vacation. While the other half goes to Egypt and runs around in 40 degree heat avoiding malaria, I’ll be by the beach or riding scooters while eating delicious pita bread and wine. Life is fantastic. :)

Rome and Vatican City

Bonjourno! Here we are in Rome! Yesterday was a busy day, with travel, a quick driving tour, the Vatican, dinner and more sightseeing. We saw the colosseum and all the major sights from the coach, and then got a bit of free time to go to the markets, watch nuns eat lunch, and get touristy shirts for our whiteboard party. Then we had our guide tour of the Vatican, which was definitely neat, but had so much to take in. Entering is like going through airport security, where I may have accidentally used the lords name in vain (whoops). Hahaha. We got a tour of the museum, with the intricate ceilings, maps, tapestries, and sculptures. We saw the sisters chapel and St. Peters basilica, which was definitely the most impressive church I’ve ever seen. The whole experience was awesome, but would definitely mean a lot more if I was religious. After the Vatican, we ate pizza and wine outside on a cute Italian lane, saw the pantheon and threw a couple Canadian coins in the Trevi fountain. We went back to camp, got the bus stuck on a very tight corner where some of us got out and literally picked up a car to give us room to move the coach, and we got to our campground. I swore to an early night after wifi, but once again, a quiet night is a rare thing with contiki, especially with a disco pub on site. Today we went to the Roman forum and the colosseum. The audio guide in the forum wasn’t great, a lot of paths were closed off, and the weather wasn’t fantastic, so we didn’t see a whole lot and I definitely would’ve liked to have spent more time there. We managed to get a guided tour of the colosseum, somehow snagging a third floor and basement tour, which was fantastic! We got to to into the basement where the bases of elevator platforms were, animal cages, etc. and all the way to the third floor stadium seating. The whole thing was truly fascinating, an I’m really glad we got the tour. It was all rainy and windy, so we went off for a pasta lunch, and dessert to wait for the rain to quit. We grabbed pizza on the way to the Spanish steps meetin place after dashing around the train stations, meeting the crew just in time to go home. I would’ve liked to have seen the monks catacombs and a couple other things, but there just wasn’t enough time if I wanted my included dinner. Just an excuse to come back! Now we’re all relaxing with reliable wifi, packing for our overnight ferry adventure. Tomorrow we drive to Pompeii, and then to a 14 hour overnight ferry to Greece. Crazy to think that tomorrow I’ll fall asleep in Italy and wake up in Greece. What a crazy trip….

Venice to Rome

Ciao Bella! (and Happy Easter!) Here we are, once again in the Italian countryside, this time just departing The ghetto of Pisa to our campsite in Florence. It’s raining, and hailing, but that’s okay on driving days. Our camp in Venice was pretty nice, with more spacious mobile trailer rooms, in a public campsite. Arriving on Good Friday, the contiki team had left little chocolate surprises on our pillow! :) Yesterday we had a free day in the water city of Venice, cruising the roads of water in our boat to get there. Venice was pretty neat, but not somewhere I’d ever be able to live. The canals are a pretty opaque greeny blue, but don’t smell very pleasant. The narrow walkways are super neat, though crowded with millions of people (and tourists). It was a cool place, and I’m glad to say I’ve been there, especially with the fact that it’s sinking! We arrived and waded through the crowds to St. Marks Square, then the majority took off on an optional walking your while Alicia and I and a couple others got gelato and went down the walkways to explore the little shops. Venice is well known for its masks and it’s glass, being the city that glass was invented in. The stores are crammed full of neat little figurines and beautiful jewelry, and intricate masks. We followed pathways around, bridges over canals, somehow ended up in a glass factory, and eventually in some little bar. In Venice they charge you more to eat in than take away, and can charge you different rates if you sit at a window seat or on an outdoor patio. For example, one of the groups got charged an additional fee to listen to the music that was playing in St Marks while they drank coffee on an outdoor patio. It’s crazy. We saw the bridge of sighs, a covered bridge that connects the court house to the jail (I think that’s what it is… I overheard from a tour group), and to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, shops covering the bridge. We wandered the streets back to take the most expensive pee of Europe, at €1,50, and back to St. Marks, where I met up with some other people to go into St. Marks Basilica. The line was horrendous, but sneaky contiki gives hints to avoid lines. In the case of st marks, you can wait in line, and once you get to the front they’ll send you down an alley to a bag drop off, where they give you a fast pass in. If you go right to the bag drop, you can get a fast pass and enter without even stepping in line. It was pretty neat inside, with intricate mosaic domes and floors, but for the few minutes it took to walk around i wouldn’t have waited an hour or two in line. Then we did actually wait in line to go up St. Marks Campanile, the big bell tower in the square. It had fantastic views of Venice, with surrounding suburbs floating amid the water. Interestingly enough, you can’t see a single canal from above! We met up with the group to head off on our optional gondola ride, where we drank Prosecco while cruising the canals. It was definitely a neat experience, moving inches from the walls of buildings with perfect precision. We went back to camp, and then everyone went to the bar. I had a quiet night, hanging out on the docks and avoiding some of the drama that’s been going on. Well that never got finished on time, but it is now Tuesday. The trip from Venice to Florence was one of mostly sleep, as I was in the early stages of Contiki Cough, along with everyone else. We stopped in Pisa, seeing the famous leaning tower and get being surrounded by more of the illegal street vendors trying to make you buy their stolen sunglasses before you even make it off the coach. We had a contest of who could find the most disgusting and corny souvenir, which I won with a horrible pen holder. We were surrounded by the baby toting women who try to steal your things while they distract you, and of course, there’s always one they manage to scare enough to get alone and take her wallet. She did manage to get it back, luckily only losing €10, but it’s a reminder that we’re not at home anymore. We got to our contiki campsite in Florence, beautiful little cabins but no heat, making for rather chilly mornings (something I don’t mind from having plenty of with JFR, but the Aussies didn’t appreciate them the same way). That night we went into town to a karaoke bar, had a lot of drinks, and a lot of fun. Karaoke here was a lot more whole bar invoking, not just a couple people being watched, so way less awkward and way more fun. Yesterday we spent the day in Florence, getting a leather demonstration (being Florence’s thing), and a walking your that was really quite awful. Most of the people were a combination of hungover and Contiki sick, so it was a very slow day for everyone. We lost the walking tour, and when we found it we couldn’t hear anything, and she wasn’t very interesting overall. We ate pizza and strolled around for the day, taking it easy. We had a group photo done later, and our optional Tuscan dinner, with bruschetta, 3 kinds of pasta, potatoes, meatballs, chicken, salad and tirimasu. So tasty, but so much food! After dinner, we went the Electronic Space Discoteque, a neat club with fishtails in the bar, podiums and cages and lots of lights. Rather fun night, but it emptied out pretty quick to only consist of 16 year old girls, and since most of us had a big night the night before (which was meant to be the “I’ll have a quiet night, only 1 or 2 drinks”), most went home early. The thing about Europe is that they do a lot of free pouring of alcohol, so sometimes you get a drink with four times the amount of alcohol you’d get at home, which is beneficial for a wallet, but harder to count drinks accurately. And that leads to today! It’s 8:30am on Tuesday, we’re heading to Rome and have our Vatican tour today, and we’ve all been informed that tonight is a party night at our contiki campsite, with another group staying there tonight as well. As they say about Contiki, every night is a Friday or Saturday, and every morning is a Monday morning. Time for a nap!