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The games bit is just getting to Olympia there with amazingly no bus that can get you there from Athens, but everyone has a bus that can get you close. In the end a 5 hour bus and then a 25 minute local bus got me dropped off at a spot that I could walk to Olympia from. Without a map, my first goal was to find one after about five minutes i relaised it was redundant as the town is no more than four streets by three streets.

The bus trip here though wasn’t as bad as expected with things running on time and most people speaking enough English to be able to help me out at least (I am actually missing being able to semi communicate in Spanish). It is good that people here speak a bit of English because the sign system seems to be broken down into roughly 50% signs in Greek, 20% in both Greek and English and 30% of the signs completely missing. Not exactly ideal and I can only imagine what it must have been like pre-olympics.

After arriving I found out how little tourists indeed, actually finding a hostel here I thought I would check into it which it turns out I am the only person here. After a quick walk around the town at 7pm looking for food and seeing everything closed I think this must be super off season for them here. I finally found something for dinner and walked the whole town, which took about 15 minutes.

The Olympic site today is sadly mostly ruins but that cannot take away from the sheer awesome size of the Olympic sanctuary. The temple of Zues which once housed one of the Seven Wonders of the World (coincidently the great statue of Zues) remains only as pillar bases but indicates its size. The most impressive of the standing ruins now is the temple of Hera which as a result is where the Olympic flame is first lit before it starts its journey round the world to indicate the commencement of the modern day Olympics. The running track also remains but is somewhat less impressive with the stadium gone. Attached to the archeological site is also a museum which showcases how the sanctuary once was and also houses the impressively intact statues of “Nike of Paeonius” and also “Hermes carrying Dionysus”. With not much else to see in Olympia and nothing but olive trees remaining in Sparta it’s time for me to seek some wisdom by consulting the Oracle at Delphi.

Posted by rhinoc 11:16 Archived in Greece Comments (0)



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The first thing that you notice about this city is that it is simply dominated by the acropolis which looks out over the city from its highest point. The other thing is that as you walk through the city you see the very new building that co-exist right next to ancient ruins that are left as they are for the most part.

Arriving here the transport is quite nice and it is easy to get to my hostel which just happens to be run by a couple from Perth which made things easier. With this and the fact that the kitchen was closed or accommodation I decided to try bargain down the price, but instead they upgraded the room. The upgraded room is actually a dorm bed inside an apartment which is quite nice having your own kitchen and bathroom for the price of dorm bed. The kitchen came in handy here as eating cheap in Greece is only possible by eating gyros (kebabs) which are ~$3 each, two gyros initially is a godsend for a meal but after a few you really want something different. The one great thing here though is that because the delivery guys use scooters (and the footpaths) any kebab order over 5 euros includes free delivery - brilliant because you don't even have to leave the bar to get a kebab. Since my mate behind the bar ordered one everytime he worked it became hard to avoid. Other food here sets you back in the vicinity of $20, whilst cooking is not much cheaper than the gyros it does offer some variety.

They also have a nice little sports bar that became a regular haunt of mine especially with regular coverage of the cricket,rugby union, champions league, NFL and NHL. People were amazed at how I would go from talking football, to hockey, to soccer, to union and then attempt to explain cricket to them.
They also have a quiz once a week that I managed to finish second one week and win the next (continuing my good run overseas), not bad when I was up against teams of 4! Unsurprisingly to everyone there I was 5/5 after sport, and 9/10 after movies and sport. I then finished with 13/20 quite sad really even sadder for that to be the winning score. Predictably the winning prize was ouzo with a kicker of dodgy bubbly.
The good (and bad) thing about getting to know the bar staff well was that I paid for roughly every second drink there. The biggest problem this created was their willingness to provide the free beers with free shots of ouzo, especially after I indicated my dislike for it. Seriously terrible stuff even when it’s free!

The Acropolis is the main attraction here with its dominant Parthenon which combined with the much smaller temple of Athena are used to navigate the city as they are visible from just about everywhere, indeed it becomes quite disorientating when you can’t see it. When you walk up to the Acropolis you cannot help but be amazed by the engineering achievement that is best shown by the Parthenon. All the columns are made without any cement or the like so the column pieces fit perfectly on top of each other with only slight convex deviations from the straight line for strength, but so slight are they that unless you are aware of the fact they look perfectly straight. The sheer size of the temple which is just awe inspiring and makes you wonder just how this could have been achieved roughly 2500 years ago! But perhaps the most impressive thing is the intricate detail to which they carved the tops of the Corinthian columns and also the head pieces right through to the ceiling – just incredible. The temple of the Athena which also remains on top of the Acropolis is equally impressive with its intricate design but is much smaller roughly a third the size of the Parthenon. The only sad thing is that the country is undertaking extensive renovations of the ruins and it is impossible to get a picture without some scaffolding in it but this seems to be a bit of a theme around the world now with all the major attractions. Perhaps by the end of my trip I can bring out a calendar of the “scaffolds of the great wonders of the world”.

The ticket also includes access to the temple of Zeus, the roman and greek agoras and a few other ruins. The temple of Zues despite being mostly collapsed has some columns that remain giving you an idea of the sheer size of this construction, they certainly didn’t do things in half measures. It also has one column that fell that they have not removed so that you can gain an appreciation of the way the columns are formed by the pieces. The two agoras (which roughly translate to town squares) are impressive more so in their size that what remains however there is one temple that remains and is the most complete with everything except part of the roof intact.
Getting out of Athens is also hard with seemingly no cheap transport options and also the fact that the destinations you want to see are rarely on train lines. Couple that with the fact that other than Athens there are not really any hostels that exist so you are forced to go down the route of cheap single hotels which is also annoying (not to mention pricier that you would like). At the moment it is very off season which is good because it means that you can negotiate room prices a bit more but also means that bus & train timetables are limited and there are very few tourists around.

Managed to get myself to a football or as it should be known soccer game in Greece that was supposed to be incredible with the passion of the crowd as easy to see as the flares that they were lighting. The game was between one of the local Athens giant teams, Panathiniakos and a team from out of town. This helped a bit as it meant that the only fans there were the local ones and thus the crowd would be well behaved. Yes, but this was Greece and well behaved has a slightly different meaning here and with only one side of the grandstand packed there was plenty of noise, plenty of passion, plenty of abuse at the ref and a deafening silence when the away team scored, then they started on their own players! But all was forgiven when the home team scored to tie the game which signalled the time to light what seemed like a couple of hundred flares to the point where parts of the grandstand dissappeared and made the air almost unbreathable. After this we experienced a lot of time wasting by the away team which ofcourse required much abuse but at the end of the game the 1-1 scoreline was not what the fans wanted and didn't they let everyone from the ref to their own players know about it. All a great experience and one that should definitely be experienced but the recommendation I got to spend 2 euro on the home scarf was a worth while investment - certainly would be interesting with both sets of fans here. The other thing it did allow me to do was see the olympic stadium which like everything in Greece looks really nice but fails to function well and with the athletic track between the grandstand and the gal some atmosphere is lost, but it does atleast stop the flares going on to the ground.

The other thing in Athens is that even after a week I am yet to figure where you can actually walk here. The roads belong to the cars, the footpath belongs to the scooters and as far as I can tell the zebra crossing belongs to the cars that are turning right. Add to that the fact that the pedestrian crossings here are ridiculously short and as a result you end up running across the crossing as the light it starting to go red.

Posted by rhinoc 07:23 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

The Quest for the Holy Grail.....Complete


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Arriving in Valencia I had only two days which seemed to be about right for this city which is rich in history but also being a fair bit more relaxed (and cheaper) than either Madrid or Barcelona. With time on the short side I took up the option of a free walking tour which was very interesting. This city is very much the hot spot for political activity and boasts that this is where war was first declared on Napoleon by a peasant farmer no less. The city also claims to have perfected and therefore be the home of paella, I’m not sure If it’s the best but it is certainly very good here. The city is also obviously famous for its oranges and being able to get some good paella and some orange juice is certainly a nice change from the tapas and kebab dominated cuisine of Granada (but I do miss the free tapas with a drink though).

One cool thing that this city has is two nice city gates that formed the border of the city walls. The gates are setup in such a way that one can defend from inside the city, but if they are captured they provide no help in advancing further and indeed offer nothing in the form of a military outpost.

The other nice thing about Valencia is that after the river was diverted around the town after severe flooding they decided to build a road in its place. It was at this time that the residents started to plant trees in the middle of the night, forcing the government to turn the area into a park which gives the city a nice green feel about it.

The main reason I was here though is to see the cathedral which supposedly has what the Vatican acknowledges might be the Holy Grail. Inside the cathedral is quite nice with a nice design and some spectacular gold relics that offers an excellent example of the amount of gold that the Spanish relocated from South America. The grail itself is not hidden as far away as one would imagine and you can actually have a good view of it in its entire splendor. The grail is a little different to that portrayed in the Indiana Jones (a wooden cup of a carpenters) with a nicely finished gold cup with two little handles. Strangely it looks very similar to the AFL premiership cup……or maybe I am just missing footy. Definitely worth the trip and with my quest for the Holy Grail complete the obvious question then is what’s next? The answer, well for the moment it’s off to follow the footsteps of the Alexander the great.

Posted by rhinoc 11:04 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

The Alhambra & Tapas Tours With a Twist


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Once again I arrived at the hostel with a free tapas tour on offer (which would become the theme for pretty much every night here with a slight twist). Here they have a fantastic concept of offering free food anytime you order a drink. Makes tremendous sense when it comes down to it but it does make it hard to ignore the fact that you can go and get food for E1.20 or food and a beer for E1.50. After the first night we realized there were places that would offer up some plain tapas (mini pizzas, hamburgers) and places that would do gourmet (olives, cheeses ect). Upon discovering this we decided to try and few other places and as a result every night pretty much ended with a tapas tour led by myself and another guy. These became quite popular with others resulting in groups of 8-10 people joining us for tapas such as calamari, prawns, curries and BBQ’s over town that we had discovered. We realized after our last night that with another few days we could have made some money out of this. Even as I left I had people coming to me with maps asking for such and such a bar that someone we had taken out had told them about.

Owing to the strong Moorish presence here (the people here lasted about 200 years longer than anywhere else in Spain) it is also quite easy to get a good kebab here. Between the kebab stores, the sheesha bars, and street side merchants some of the little alleys have a very Arabian feel about them.

The next day it was off to take in a walking tour of the alabaicin neighbourhood taking in a very nice view point of the Alhambra (the main attraction here) as well as a few of the city gardens and the market place. The tour also showed off some great view points of the cave houses which the area is particularly known for. Some of the caves are pimped out to the point of having running water and electricity as well. Indeed if you are in the market for a cave house I know a guy who was selling one, a lazy 5 bedroom cavehouse for 80,000 euros (~$A130,000). We also visited the market which exists outsides the town gates meaning that it was tax free and self governed. A fact best shown by the weights that hammered into the city wall as a warning to all merchants that tried to dupe others in their dealings.

Also went on a street art tour of the city taking in some of the most famous street art there. In Granada there is a famous street artist called El Nino who does so quite elaborate spray paint art taking in portraits and depicting certain scenes. There is also a lot of childish art (penis and the like) that after a city wide man hunt were found to be the work of a 65 year old university professor, strangely after that was discovered they let him be and his drawings are seen everywhere.

The Spanish have two great saying involving the Alhambra. The first one states “that if you haven’t visited the Alhambra then you haven’t really lived at all”. The second suggests that as King Boabdil resigned the city to Christian rule he cast a look back at the Alhambra to which his mother replied “You do well to weep like a woman over what you couldn’t defend like a man”. These two sayings give some idea as to its beauty but words do not really describe it. As one of the most significant Moorish castles in Spain it is one of the places that everyone should see if they come to Spain. The Alhambra itself is a spectacular combination of gardens, Moorish architecture, light and water combined to create breath some quite plain from afar but something quite beautiful to walk around. The water features alone, fed by a roman aqueduct such that there is always water a pressure produce lively green gardens and a constant distraction of running water. The only real sad point is that at the moment the fountain of the lions is being restored and the current fountain pales in comparison to what the pictures suggest the courtyard looked like. The other thing that I really liked was the use of smaller arches to create bigger arches which in turn created bigger arches, really quite simple but incredibly effective. It is very easy to see Washington Earving got lost here as he wrote the Tales of the Alhambra living there with gypsies as it was uninhabited.

With one day left in Granada I decided to hike through the valley for a couple of hours to an abandoned monastery that apparently was worth a visit. As has become customary here for me I ended up playing tour guide to a group of people and thankfully It was indeed very cool and worth the hike, having a very strange and creepy feel about it. The monastery is obviously used by homeless people from time to time but is currently empty but remains mostly intact to the point of having to navigate the basement levels used only our camera flash. Definitely worth the visit and something that very few people see in Granada.

Today we went on a nice 2 hour hike through the valleys and away from the city to an abandoned monastery that had a really creepy and disrupted feeling about it. The monastery was a bit odd with soe very new bits and some very old bits but still a very cold feeling especially in the basement and stables areas where we had to navigate only by camera flash. After this it was time to take in one last batch of free tapas with a beer and leave for Valencia in search of the Holy Grail (or atleast a glimpse).

Posted by rhinoc 15:05 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Weclome to Flamenco Country


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I arrived at my hostel in Sevillla to find an organized tapas and flamenco tour on that night. With the added bonus of only paying for what you ate and drank this was quickly locked in for the nightly activity. The tapas that we had what slightly different to what you would expect, being more of large portions of plainer foods rather that the smaller portions of boutique cuisine. The cuisine consisted of a curry, some steaks and fries amongst some more traditional tapas dishes like crumbed croqueatas. With some healthy sangria to wash it down it was good start to the night. After one night I feel like I am back in Australia and would say that the hostel is comfortably about 75% Australians. A very big difference to South America and it was nice to be able to talk some AFL for a change instead of soccer.

After this is was time to walk half way across town to see a popular flamenco show that was indeed quite interesting. The flamenco show is a curious combination of guitar, singing, tap dancing and clapping. Unusually the clapping is used very much like an instrument where by the sound produced is altered by changing the speed and hand position of the clap. This is done to complement the other instruments and dictate the speed of the dancing which is done whilst portraying the sourest face possible. At the end they had some nice audience participation to finish it all off.

The city itself is a nice mix of the three cultures Jewish, Moorish and Christian despite also being one of the first places drive off the Jewish population and indeed was a centre for the Spanish inquisition (which strangely no one expects….).

The cathedral here was originally a mosque that has since been converted. The designers were after a cathedral that would suggest that the people that lived there were madmen and that they would be foolish to try and conquer them. Not quite sure they achieved that but they did come up with a nice cathedral all the same. Inside it is decked out with incredible amounts of gold that the Spanish pilfered from South America. Seville was used as the major port for the ships returning as it was approximately two hours down the river and thus easier to protect. The cathedral also supposedly holds the remains of Christopher Columbus but there is some debate as to whether it may indeed be only a relation. The other interesting thing is that because of its Moorish origins the towers interior contains ramps rather than stairs very unusual in Europe) so that the bell ringer could ride up there in his cart.
The city also has a castle which is modest by European standards but does have a quite nice plaza Espana which consists of the palace and towers on each side of a semi circular plaza. Really quite visually impressive and also nicely has mosaics of all the provinces of Spain. The plaza has also featured in the film “Lawrence of Arabia” and more recently as the council on Naboo in the new Star Wars films.

No visit to Sevilla would be complete without a visit to the bullring, the most famous in all of Spain and second only in size to the one in Madrid. Here I forked over the cash and actually went inside the bull ring, which gives off a small colleseum type feel. Here they also have the bullfighting museum here to celebrate their national heroes. The guide also explained how the bullfight actually works and to be honest its kind of a pretend sport with the bull literally thrown to the sword to allow the matador to showboat essentially. Sadly it isn’t bullfighting season and thus it was impossible to see a bullfight while I was here.

Oddly here where they are doing construction (just about everywhere by the way) rather than reduce tourist photos to that of an attraction hidden by scaffold they have covered the scaffold with a painting of what you should be able to see. Not quite sure whether it works some people loved it but I felt it was kind of like just looking at a photo of it over the net.

The city is also synonymous with ghost stories and legends abound from the city walls. The two most famous legends are that of the Spanish Casanova Don Juan and Senova both of whom supposedly lost their lives here due to romance. Don Juan supposedly seduced women all over the place here and was in the city and challenged by a fellow player to seduce both a nun and an engaged woman, after succeeding that night with the players wife he then seduces and falls in love with the nun. After being tracked down he repents to be granted mercy and then kills the guy and flees leaving the nun to die of sorrow. When he returns after being granted a pardon he finds nothing but a cemetery of three statues one of which represents her father and proceeds to drag him into hell. A fairly typical if only slightly confusing tale medieval tale with many variations but this seems to be the central theme.
The story of Susona is also a sad one and is best likened to Romeo and Juliet whereby the princess of the Jewish merchant falls in love with the prince of the Christian knight. After over hearing her fathers plots to overthrow the Christians she tells him only for his family to take swift action and kills her family. She then repents her sins and retires to a convent whereby she dies and left her skull in the window as symbol of redemption to all. Her street was once known as “the street of death” but is now simply “street of Susona”.

The last night I was there marked the opening of the European film festival in Sevilla with a few stars appearing for the event. So we decided we had to walk down and check it out but after a long walk to the opening we were informed by a very big guy that we were in no way dressed to attend the event. After staying for a bit and seeing some very over dressed people but no one we recognized we attempted to find a bar around the place only to be end up with a quiet drink and an “if only” story.

Posted by rhinoc 05:17 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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