Three Islands on the Saronic Coast

Thursday: on cruising to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina along the Saronic Coast just off Athens.

I’d booked a day-long cruise to explore some of the islands just off the coast of Athens. There’s a popular cruise that takes in Hydra, Poros and Aegina. Briefly, I’d considered catching a ferry by myself and visiting one or two of the islands and doing everything myself. I’m not usually a fan of big tour groups and super structured activities, plus doing it alone (Glen had the conference) I was a little reluctant. But the effort involved to do it under my own steam seemed too much so I paid the money and got on the bus at 7:30.

I had an unpleasant experience with the guy corralling us all. I’d booked the tour only a day or two before and the confirmation said I either had to print the voucher or show the email confirmation on my phone. Not having a printer handy, I was ready to show my phone. I then got flack from this arsehole who said, ‘All this stuff [I assume he was referring to my bag] and you haven’t printed the voucher.’ I said I didn’t have to and when he gave me some bullshit about his accounting department, I was ready for a fight but he backed down. I was pissed. It was not a good start to the tour.

The bus took us to the port and we boarded the boat with what looked like 300 other people. I wondered if I could have found a smaller tour group that could have taken me to the islands instead but that would be no use now. I got on the boat, found a place to sit and the cruise began.

Hydra

First stop was Hydra after a couple of hours on the boat. I read a book. I’d paid to go on a 45-minute walking tour of Hydra. You don’t cover much ground in 45 minutes. I could have easily bypassed this tour as there wasn’t much that really held my interest. Apparently it’s a well-known island for the rich and famous. It also doesn’t have cars so everything is transported by donkey.

We stood in a square underneath a bougainvillaea where they filmed a scene in Octopussy. We also went in the church where we saw the relics of the saint. His bones are arranged in a silver box. It’s a bit grotesque.

After the tour, I went for a short walk along the coast, taking some photos and looking longingly at the sea and wishing I could go for a swim. I got back on the boat at quarter to 12 and we headed to our second island.

Poros

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We had 45 minutes on this small island but I liked it the best out of the three from the little I saw. I had hoped to go for a dip in the ocean but couldn’t find a beach nearby. (I contemplated just jumping in where the boats docked but didn’t.) Instead I walked through narrow streets and along the edge of the water. I bought an ice-cream (which was sickly sweet) and a bottle of water and got back on the boat for lunch.

Aegina

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Temple of Aphaia

If it weren’t for visiting Aegina and the Temple of Aphaia, I probably wouldn’t have booked the tour and instead just picked one island and gone to that. I chose to go on the ‘classical’ tour which took us up to the temple and then to a monastery. (The other tours were a scenic tour or a swimming tour – which I was sorely tempted to go on.)

The Temple of Aphaia is one of three temples that form the Sacred Triangle – the others being the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon. I can now say I’ve been to them all. It’s the most intact temple out of the three. You can also see where the altar is and more of the broader complex. Aphaia was worshipped there in the second millennium BC and later became incorporated into Athena. Athena is worshipped on the mainland and Aphaia on Aegina.

Twenty minutes later we got back on the bus and headed to the monastery of St Nektarios. (I kept thinking of him as St Nectarine.) The island of Aegina – as well as being briefly the first capital of modern Greece (1827–1829) – is also a highly significant religious site for the Orthodox Church. Adherents are meant to go on a pilgrimage to the island at least once in their lives. Not a bad spot to go on a pilgrimage, that’s for sure.

The cathedral is finished on the outside (it was only built about 30 years ago) but the inside is still undergoing works. I saw the relics of the saint, less gruesome this time, in the smaller chapel. Beautiful paintings on the roof.

After that, it was time to return to the boat. Nearly two hours had passed.

Return to Athens

The boat docked at about 7:30 and then it was a bus ride back to the city. I can’t say I really had the best time. Perhaps it was tiredness, being on my own, or just not being all that interested in what I saw. I was glad to have gone to the Temple of Aphaia but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d had more time on the islands to go swimming, to have lunch, to relax.

Instead I spent 8 out of 12 hours travelling. It can’t really be helped considering the distances we travelled. I’d even worked that out beforehand but went anyway, hoping it would be amazing. Oh well. I did it. It’s done. Mykonos tomorrow and finally – finally! – a swim in the ocean.

I got back into Athens later than expected so Glen was ready to call the police or the coast guard or Superman to find out if I’d sunk. He was on the balcony waiting for me when I got back at 8:30.

We then went for dinner at Macro Provato (again) with Anna, Michael, Alison and Michael’s friend, and ate an enormous feast before heading home to pack at 11pm. Athens has been great.

More Ancient Athens

Wednesday: On returning the car, seeing the Temple of Olympian Zeus, marvelling at the Antikythira Mechanism in the Archaeological Museum, and enjoying the sunset with a bunch of drunk radiologists.

I returned the car in the morning, navigating Athens’ rush-hour traffic to deliver it downtown. I’m sure I crossed three lanes of traffic at some point and cut off a bus. Driving in Athens felt more like being in a computer game than being of any consequence. Glen went off to the conference for the morning and then returned at 11 with Anne for us to check out a few more of Athens’ sights.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

We’d purchased a combination ticket (€30) at the Acropolis which gave us access to other archaeological sites around the city, one of which being the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was only a short walk down the road from our accommodation but the heat was already quite fierce and draining.

We got into the temple complex, took our photos and wandered around this impressively large temple still with a good number of columns standing (and one that had fallen over in the 1800s and been left where it lay).

The sun drained me of my energy and I was keen to get inside somewhere that wasn’t so hot. We walked up the road and flagged down a taxi which took us to the Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Antikythira Mechanism

The main reason for going to the Archaeological Museum was to see the Antikythira Mechanism, the 2000-year-old ‘computer’ found at the bottom of the ocean. A bonus was seeing a whole lot of ancient sculptures and artefacts.

The Antikythira Mechanism, when we found it, was in pieces, separated out to show the cogs and the intricacies of a device that you wouldn’t think someone could make back then. It was an astronomical device and, according to the interpretation, matched up a variety of calendars with the movements of different planetary bodies. Or something like that. The mathematics involved made my head hurt.

We zoomed through a few more galleries, took our photos, read a few signs and then left to catch a taxi back.

ESGAR by the Sea

Sunset on the Coast

Glen and Anna returned to the conference while I had a nap. The conference dinner was held in the evening so we went along to that, boarding a bus at 7/7:30 and driving out of Athens down the coast. We stopped at a place that we passed on our drive down to Sounio. The dinner was held on a spit of grass and tree-covered land that jutted into the ocean.

We nabbed some comfy couches, drank our drinks, muscled our way through the crowd of hungry radiologists to get to the food, and watched the sunset. Magical setting, good food and ample drinks.

The event was meant to finish at 11pm but we opted to catch a taxi at 10ish back to Athens. It took barely anytime and we got home before 11. (If we’d stayed for the buses, we likely wouldn’t have got home until after midnight.) We socialised. We were content.

The Road to Sounio and Temple of Poseidon

Glen went to the conference on Tuesday morning while I stayed in the apartment catching up on some work. It’s both a positive and a negative that as a freelancer you can work from anywhere. He returned at lunch time with the other radiologists and we went for lunch at a local fish restaurant. We then collected the car and set off on our second road trip.

Vouliagmeni Lake

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About half an hour out of Athens (if there’s no traffic), you’ll find Vouliagmeni Lake. It’s a lake carved out of the mountain and set back a little from the coast. It’s fed from sea water and an underwater thermal spring. To capitalise on this unique natural feature, it’s been turned into a ‘spa’.

We paid our €12 and claimed a table underneath an umbrella and went for a swim. The sign said the water was between 26°C and 28°C but it didn’t feel as warm as that going in. It was a bit like being in a saltwater pool, the water only tasting slightly of salt.

Another unique feature of the lake are the schools of tiny fish that swim around, waiting for anything to stand still long enough so they can attack it and strip it of dead skin. This resulted in many, many squeals as their little mouths rapidly suck away at your flesh like a ticklish massage.

After a swim and a fish-pedicure, we continued on our way.

Cape Sounio and the Temple of Poseidon

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About an hour farther up the road are the town of Sounio and the Temple of Poseidon, an impressive ruin that dominates the landscape from the land and the sea. We stopped to get a photo from the opposite side of the bay before going around, parking and exploring the site.

We went down before we went up, seeing ruins of the walls and settlements. I saw a long green lizard while we were later treated to the sight of an adult bird corralling (and trying to defend) its brood of six chicks. We watched them for a while as they peeped away and tried to climb a wall.

We reached the top of the hill and walked around the temple. I was impressed with the number of columns still standing (or the number that had been restored). The weather was perfect and I got some great shots (Glen and I doing our traditional #lickingthings photos).

It was well worth the trip out to see and I was glad I’d chosen to drive rather than hire a driver. Felt we were free to do what we wanted. We left at about 5 something and headed back into Athens.

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Mount Lycabettus

As we had the car we decided to check out Mount Lycabettus in Athens, also known as ‘the other big hill’. Getting back into Athens-traffic was not pleasant, especially when I had to drive down narrow streets lined with parked cars. I got us fairly high up the hill before we had to get out and climb the rest of the way. (There is a funicular from the other side to the bottom of the hill.)

Our first view of the Acropolis and Athens was impressive and we oohed and aahed over it. We then repeated this the higher up the hill we climbed. The only downside was a slight haze over the city but in the gradually fading light, it was a real treat. Athens just goes on forever.

At the top of the hill is a restaurant that’s apparently expensive (I didn’t look) but instead of eating there, we head back to the car and I drove us to the Gazi district. We settled into a Greek restaurant (well, they’re all Greek as they’re in Greece but you get what I mean) called Frog Island and ordered lots of different things.

It was all delicious. Alison was coming to join us so we had the problem of deciding whether to leave things for her (and risk it being cold when she arrived) or gorging ourselves (and destroying the evidence) so she could order something fresh. In the end we were too full to finish it all so Michael made up a plate for her. We waddled out sometime around 9pm, dropped the car back at the parking garage and went home. Another successful day in Greece complete.

Mulberries of Delphi

On Monday, Glen, Anna and I went on a roadtrip to Delphi. Rather than join a tour group or hire a driver, I rented a car and decided I’d drive us the 2.5 hours up there. I was a little anxious about driving in Greece, expecting the drivers to be as crazy as the Italians, but I put on my big boy pants and we went anyway.

Getting out of Athens was the hardest part. We left at about 9am, going through busy streets without a GPS. Glen had downloaded the map onto his phone which was lucky and we then took a tense 45 minutes to get out of Athens and on to the freeway. I was mostly worried about the (helmet-free) motorcyclists who zip in between the cars, concerned that I’d inexplicably turn into them and squash them between me and the next car. Thankfully, this did not happen.

Drivers mostly kept to their lanes so the traffic wasn’t like India or Bali where it’s just one big amorphous blob of cars. However, the space between one car and the next is fairly fluid so no one minded when I merged across three lanes of traffic so I could go down the correct exit. What surprised me was how infrequently people use their horns. There’s little impatient tooting going on and people seem generally relaxed (as long as you’re not slow in the fast lane).

It was smooth sailing once we left the city. The speed limit was 100–120kmh on the freeways, with an interesting feature being the two centre lanes at the highest speed and then the next two lanes being 20kmh slower. However, everyone regularly does 20kmh over the speed limit. It was quite something to be going 140.

Orchomenos

We made it to our first stop along the scenic – yet faster – route in a town called Orchomenos. Google made us go down a few back streets to get to where we wanted to go but we finally made it. We stopped at a monastery which has a famous icon of the Virgin Mary Who Stopped The Tanks. It was closed.

Over the road were the ruins of a theatre and tholos tomb, which we paid €2 to get into and look around. We located different sculpture body parts – a leg, a torso, a head – though I don’t think we found any arms or hands. After half an hour in Orchomenos we got back in the car and set off to our second stop.

Livadia

The guide-description I had for this town said:

At first glance Livadia doesn’t seem like much but if you go into the old town in the center, it’s one of the most beautiful town centers in Greece with its old water mills and waterfalls.

The section we drove into was definitely not beautiful but we managed to find a tight parking space and headed into what we hoped was the old town centre, following the route of the river upstream.

When we finally found the right spot, we weren’t disappointed. It was so picturesque with clear running water, water mills, stone bridges and green leafy trees. It was well worth the stop. We walked up to the top edge of town where the river is left natural, and then stopped for lunch in this idyllic setting.

There are also some archaeological ruins (another oracle was stationed here) and a castle but I was conscious of time and wanted to get to Delphi. We found the car – momentarily worried we couldn’t locate it again – and then picked our way through the narrow and scary streets of Livadia before we zoomed off along the freeway again.

We hit the mountains and the winding mountain roads which, for me, were fun. Glen did not share my enthusiasm for them. We also went through a town called Arahova which is built into the side of the mountain and is reminiscent of Cinqueterre. It’s a ski town…not a bad spot.

Delphi

I can’t believe I was considering not making the trip out here. What a waste of a trip to Greece that would have been. We arrived in Delphi at about 3, bought our tickets and went into the Museum of Delphi (which closed at 5). It displayed lots of archaeological findings from the Delphi site, displayed on plinths and in cabinets in various rooms. Sphinx, a statue of Antinous, a bronze charioteer and lots of gold offerings. I was worn out from the driving so my brain rebelled at taking in too much.

We then hit the site itself, walking up the side of the mountain and looking over the ruins. It’s a shame you can’t enter the Temple of Apollo – where the oracle is said to have been housed – but c’est la vie. We got our photos up and down the hill, a beautiful vista from the top looking down at the theatre, the temple and then the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in the distance.

One of the best parts of the climb up the hill was the raiding of the mulberry trees, first going up and then going down again. I’ve NEVER had mulberries that tasted that good before. The only downside was the we could only reach a few of them, meanwhile the branches out of reach were laden with ripe fruit. Our hands were stained by the end of it but we washed them in the drinking mountain. Mulberries, who knew?

Delphi: go for the oracle, stay for the mulberries.

After Delphi-proper, we got in the car and drove down to the ruins of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia. This one’s open to the public and free of charge. The ruins of the tholos in the centre is what I originally thought was the oracle of Delphi. Not so apparently. We wandered around in the heat, taking our photos and then got back in the car to drive home.

Back to Athens

The sun was still well and truly in the sky but it was about 6pm when we left and based on the last few night’s I figured I’d be asleep at the wheel by 8 so we needed to hurry. We took a slightly longer route on the way back to Athens, going along country roads and seeing a different part of the countryside. I also saw four police cars at various intervals, an unwelcome sight after speeding so much all day. They paid me no attention, however.

Traffic in Athens was bordering on the insane when we arrived back in the city. Some of the streets aren’t well marked so it looked like I was going to go down a one-way street (wouldn’t be the first time for the day) but eventually made it nearer our accommodation.

The concert at the stadium was due to start at 9 so every man and his dog was in the area (we’re a few doors down) and they were taking up all available parking space. In the end we parked in the 24-hour car park, expecting to be hit with an exorbitant fee but 24 hours only cost €15 so it was a bargain. They also parked the car for us.

Anna’s colleagues went to the stadium for the concert but we went for dinner at Macro Provato instead, which was just down the road. We had an enjoyable and simple meal – anchovies and meatballs to start, followed by salmon and salad for Anna and I, and chicken for Glen. Good food. We then head home and were in bed by 10. Exhausted but content.

Athens and the Acropolis: Day Two

We woke up on Sunday morning to the sound of rain. By the looks of things it had rained all night and wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down. Our plans to see the Acropolis with Anna were looking in jeopardy. Regardless, Anna came to our apartment and we caught up before deciding we’d take a taxi to the Acropolis Museum and wait out the rain.

When we got in the taxi I didn’t check that he had his meter on. I couldn’t even see the meter. So when he dropped us the three minutes down the road and he asked for €5, I handed it over. I think we all thought that was reasonable enough. At the end of the day when we caught a taxi home and it took about 15 minutes, the total came to €5.50. Now that was a bargain. Anyway, I digress…

Acropolis Museum

Every tourist in Athens had the same idea to escape the rain in the Acropolis Museum. We joined the queue for security and then the queue for the tickets and set off for a bit of culture and learning. Thankfully Anna was of the same mindset as us in that we were happy with passive learning. That is, if the learning came to us, we’d take it in. If not, then we’d find the restaurant.

We wandered through the galleries, picking up bits and pieces from a tour guide who was leading a group. I learned that being naked in the gymnasium was a sign of high status. We also learned that there seemed little rhyme or reason as to why you could take photos in most galleries but not the first, despite there being no demarcation to tell you so.

Inside were lots of statues, urns, sculptures, columns etc, and minimal signage (although when there were information boards they were in big chunks of text…not that conducive to processing). Our favourite gallery, however, was on the top floor where they have replicated the size and shape of the top of the Parthenon and placed around the sides copies and fragments of the friezes that were on the Parthenon. Meanwhile, this window-lined gallery had a fantastic view of the Acropolis. This was a masterful piece of interpretation and by far the highlight of the museum.

Having reached the top of the museum and seen ‘everything’, we rewarded ourselves with lunch in the restaurant, again with a superb view of the Parthenon out the window. We’ve started to notice a pattern with food service that, when you’ve finished your meal, it’s nearly impossible to get someone to bring the check. And then, when they finally do, it takes another eternity to pay. Anna put it down to them not wanting us to leave so the tables would look full. Whatever it is, it’s frustrating.

The Acropolis and More

The rain had abated by the time we got outside so we walked to the Acropolis, bought our ticket and ascended the hill with the rest of the horde. It’s an impressive collection of statues, columns, temples and rocks on the ground. We navigated around the crowds and took our photos, looked out across Athens and considered how interesting it would be to have immersive interpretation going on up there, for example, a sacrifice to Athena or priests selling votives. I guess they don’t need to add more considering how many people go just to see it and the view.

We navigated around the crowds and took our photos, looked out across Athens and considered how interesting it would be to have immersive interpretation going on up there, for example, a sacrifice to Athena or priests selling votives. I guess they don’t need to add more considering how many people go just to see it and the view.

The Parthenon is under construction as part of renovation and restoration works so one side is covered in scaffolding and blocked with a crane. It would really be something if they were able to restore it to the level where you could walk through the temple itself. Then you’d really get an idea of the scale of the thing. The old temple of Athena, the smaller one next to it, is mostly there but again, off-limits.

We wandered down from the top of the hill along the southern slope, seeing more ruins, before popping out down the bottom to go walking through Plaka. We covered much the same route that we’d travelled the day before, again stopping, looking in shops and buying things. We also stopped at a restaurant near Hadrian’s Library and had meze and Aperol spritz.

Despite our screaming legs, we continued our march to check out more of the sites. We’d paid for a combo ticket (€30) which gave us entry to the Acropolis and a bunch of other temples and ruins. We hit the Roman Agora first but were unable to enter as it had suddenly become 5 pm and it had closed. We walked on, going to the Stoa and the Ancient Agora of Athens.

The Stoa, although restored, is impressive. A two-storey building with lots of columns, the effect of the light and shadow is stunning. We then cut across more ruins, up a hill and then to the Temple of Hephaistos which had excellent views across and up to the Acropolis. Well worth the trek.

Dead legs by this stage we cut through the tourist restaurants, again ending up near where we were the day before near Monastiraki Square, and caught a taxi home. Anna went to check-in to her accommodation and a few hours later we set off for food. Again, crossing territory we’d been over before, we hit a neighbourhood bar/pizzeria called Colibri. Glen and Anna had pasta while I had chicken and salad (GREEN THINGS! YAY!). We were falling asleep at the table by 8:30. Anna’s work colleague arrived but we said our farewells and stumbled home and to bed.

A packed day! Delphi on Monday.

Athens: Day One

After a 25-hour journey, we landed in Athens on Saturday afternoon feeling fairly fresh. This was probably due to the fact that during our nine-hour stopover, we checked into the Premier Inn in Abu Dhabi for a few hours’ sleep. (This involved traipsing back and forth through Terminals 1 and 3 trying to find the right exit for the hotel. Glen’s fault, not mine.)

At Athen’s airport I wanted to go through the EU Passport holder’s line (I have a British passport). A couple in front of us asked if they could go as a couple (one with EU, one non-EU) and they were given a sort of ‘well, you can try’ answer and off they went. We didn’t see them again. Glen refused to follow their lead so we joined an exceptionally long queue with all the other non-privileged people. In the end it didn’t matter so much because our luggage was one of the last pieces out so we were standing around a while.

A taxi driver was waiting for us when we got through everything and out into the Meditteranean heat. We then had a 40-minute drive from the airport through the city, during which time I managed to check the pronunciation of the 20 Greek words I know. They’re really going to come in handy. We’re staying fairly central so the drive gave us our first view of the Akropolis. Wow, we really are in Athens.

Glen had booked us a comfortable and spacious apartment not far from the National Gardens (although he had thought it was closer to the train station and therefore easier for him to get to the conference venue by public transport). Two bedroom, second floor apartment with kitchen, bathroom etc. The hosts left us a bottle of white wine and a bowl of cherries, apricots and peaches. Mmmm cherries.

We resisted the urge to sleep so after a shower and a moment to get our bearings we head out to explore Athens.

Athens in an Afternoon

First stop: National Gardens. Incidentally, the circuitous route we ‘chose’ took us past the Prime Minister’s and President’s residences and then into the gardens…where we saw a tortoise. Did not expect that. One surprising but lovely thing we noticed about Athens are the fruit trees everywhere. Orange trees are the most popular, with fruit littering the ground where it’s fallen. Mulberry trees are also popular.

Through the gardens we popped out the other side near the parliament building and Syntagma Square. Lots of tourists in this part of town with a lot of touristy food places. Nevertheless, we were drawn into a Greek bakery by the sight of galaktoboureko in the window, one of Glen’s favourites. I also bought a chocolate/biscuit/nut slice thing and a sesame bar. All very rich, I couldn’t finish mine.

We wandered through the Plaka district (the old town) and remarked on how it look like Paris/Le Castellet/La Spezia/[insert other old town names]. All pleasant and chill and easy. We passed an ouzo distillery called Brettos. It’s the oldest ouzo distillery in Athens at over 100 years old. While neither of us drink ouzo, the different coloured bottles on the wall drew us in. I figured, while in Greece, I may as well have some.

We took our place at the bar in this small place. There were about 10 other people there and it felt full. I chose an ouzo, Glen a gin fizz and then ordered a meze plate (cheese, salami, bread and olives). Really, we just wanted the meze and conveyed this to nearly the point of desperation to which the waitress replied that ‘don’t worry, no matter what, you’ll get the meze plate.’ We were happy. I only drank half my ouzo which was enough for me, we finished off the meze and went on our way.

Saw lots of old ruins dotted about the place, old churchs and columns and walls, which have all been built around. How else are you supposed to build a city when there’s all this history here? We wandered here and there, even stopping into a tablecloth store and buying a table runner and placemats. (We’re now old.) We saw the Agora and another small church and walked through the flea market before finally succumbing to the numbing in our legs and walked home.

Just before we got home a man walking a dog overheard us talking and asked if we were Australian and struck up a conversation. He’d lived in Melbourne for a few years with his partner of 18 years (who’s now dead). He told us how conservative Greece can be, yet this year’s Pride parade (which we missed by a week) was held in front of parliament in one of the busiest and most popular parts of the city. (Every other year it’s been held somewhere out of the way. Some progress.) He also told us about the stadium (where the first modern Olympics were held) and how, on Monday, there’ll be a big music festival to celebrate a composer who was a major figure in the fight against the dictatorship. Our apartment is barely a block away so we’ll probably hear it from our balcony, but he did suggest grabbing a bottle of wine and finding a spot on the grassed area around the stadium and settle in. Hopefully we’re back from Delphi in time.

Despite the bad rap that Athens gets, I really enjoyed the few hours we spent wandering around. The parts we saw were easy to get around, very relaxed, and accessible for non-Greek speakers.

Summer Rain

It’s daylight savings in Greece at the moment so the sun stays up late, later than us. We got back to the apartment at 6ish. We sat for a while, me on the balcony with a glass of wine and watching the rain come down. Glen then decided he needed food but didn’t adequately assess the rain situation (and I thought it was only spitting). He found a supermarket so we set off.

We got drenched!

We took refuge at a kebab shop where we had two skewers of meat, some chips and a piece of bread. They even gave us tequila shots. We sat outside at a table under an awning and watched part of Athens closing down while another part opening up as people had their drinks and went on to other places. Reminded me a lot of Italy where people always seem to be outside.

The rain eased. We found the supermarket and bought groceries then came home. We were in bed by 9pm and asleep soon after.

Need a Hand with that Flat Tyre?

I’d wanted to check out Coral Bay while we were up in Exmouth but there wasn’t enough time to do it without getting stressed and being rushed. Instead, I’ve filed it away as something to do on the next trip up here. So, in exchange, we slept in and decided to take it easy, eventually choosing to go for a snorkel at Lakeside.

We packed up the cabin, put everything in the car, and then I went to the campers next door and asked if they wanted our leftover food (carrots, weetbix, garlic etc). The guy gratefully accepted it and then said, ‘Do you need a hand with that flat tyre?’

Excuse me? What? Flat what?

I popped me head out and looked at the car. Sure enough, the back right wheel was completely flat.

Oh.

The guy was happy to lend a hand. In fact, he changed the whole thing and saved us having to get our hands too dirty. Thank god we didn’t have our hearts set on going to Coral Bay early or else we would have been in a flap. He changed the tyre as if he’d been doing such a thing for years, said thanks again for the food, and we were on our way.

We drove around to Cape Range National Park again and then to Lakeside to go drift snorkelling. Glen stayed on the beach as he was extremely worried about jellyfish. Meanwhile I went in with nothing but speedos and flippers.

It was fun to drift on the current while looking at the fish. The water was warm. The experience pleasant. Although when I drifted down the current picked up a bit and made it harder to go back into shore. Luckily it wasn’t that deep and I could simply stand and walk back in. Snorkel and swim complete, we returned to the car and to town.

We stopped for lunch in Exmouth, where I ordered something revolted that I couldn’t finish. We filled up the tank and headed for the airport. Two emus sat beside a floodway sign so we stopped and looked at them. Strangely, an empty 4WD was parked near them, its occupants nowhere to be seen. Glen surmised that they had probably stopped to take photos of the emus and had subsequently been eaten by them. Sounds plausible enough.

Got to the airport, discovering that I was missing one beach towel. Very annoying as it was one of our favourites from Canada. I hope someone finds it and makes use of it. I then dropped off the keys…in the wrong rental car hire box. I’m sure they’ll get it in the end.

Short flight home, landing in much colder weather than we’d experienced in Exmouth. Time to rug up. And the cat looks like she wants cuddles too.

Whale Sharks of Exmouth

The bus picked us up at 7:20am and took us, along with 16 other excited passengers, to the jetty where we’d board the boat for our day of swimming with whale sharks. Despite having heard positive reports about a currently good run of sightings, I was a little worried we’d spend a day on the boat without much to show for it.

While we waited for the inflatable to take us to the boat, a sea turtle intermittently popped its head out of the water in the bay next to us. Kind of like an aquatic version of whack-a-mole. If nothing else, we’d seen a turtle’s head.

Once on the boat, we were given a safety briefing and provided with full body stingy suits, attractive things that make you look like a human condom. They also smelled of human sweat so it was a relief to get moving so the breeze could blow the smell away.

We went for a snorkel in the bay first, drifting down a ways as we floated above coral and a bunch of fish. I saw many of the same species I’d seen the day before including a large starfish and a cat fish. The water was warm and it was a nice way to, well, get our feet wet.

Back on the boat we were soon zooming out to see as a whale shark had been spotted nearby. The captain was happy we wouldn’t have to travel for 45 minutes to reach it, as they’d had to do the day before. Glen and I were in group two, each group consisting of nine people plus a spotter.

Group one hopped in and we got ready, slipping on snorkel and mask and flippers. Once we received the go ahead we jumped in and lined up with the spotter, waiting for the shark to come in line with us and then it was on for young and old as we swam hard to try to keep up.

The shark we saw was a juvenile male, about 4-5 metres long. He was so beautiful. The spots on his side are so well defined and the strange shape of its head and mouth is captivating. I swam as fast as I could, which admittedly isn’t very fast, but this shark, with a few flicks of its powerful tail, steamed ahead and left me behind. Others were much better at keeping up.

We had seen a whale shark. Mission accomplished!

Poor Glen didn’t have such a good time of it though. He often gets seasick so to be on a boat and then to have to snorkel through choppy seas made him feel decidedly green. Up came his breakfast and after two dives with the shark, he decided to call it quits and have a lie-down.

The rest of us went in and out of the water with this juvenile male over the next hour or so before he finally had enough and disappeared. We then saw a much younger and smaller whale shark who was double the adorable level and was quite happy to hang around and have a look at us for a while.

Even though we didn’t see one of the giant ones, I’m really glad we saw what we did. I couldn’t get over how beautiful they look.

After the swims we had lunch on board and then were taken to a part of the reef for a snorkel. That is until they spotted a tiger shark near the boat. It didn’t come to the surface but based on how big it looked from above, it was likely to be a bit of a monster. After that sighting, the skipper wasn’t keen for us to go snorkelling so instead we drifted along spotting more sharks.

Apparently we saw different types but one tiger shark was enough for me.

We got back to land at about four, Glen very happy to no longer be swaying left and right. Despite the seasickness, I think we can claim that trip as a success.

I’d like to come back and see the humpback whales and the manta rays but I think Glen will abstain from them. Anyone else want to join me?

Mini-break in Exmouth

This weekend we’re continuing our exploration of Australia by heading up to Exmouth to swim with whale sharks (much to Glen’s horror). We saw so much of Canada that it seemed ridiculous to not see more of Australia.

We left drizzly and grey Perth at 11am, boarding an almost full flight up to Learmonth. We landed an hour and a half later, flying up the coast and seeing the pointy bit you see on the map. I think it’s Shark Bay, but don’t quote me.

After collecting our luggage and picking up the hire car, we drove into Exmouth and had a late lunch. Based on a recommendation we then drove around the tip to Cape Range National Park to reach Oyster Stacks.

High tide was at 4:20 and we got there about 3:30. It was windy and the water looked choppy. I was anxious about getting in the water, made worse by the signs warning of dangerous jellyfish. But FOMO won out in the end and I got in the warm water with my snorkel and mask.

Fish everywhere! Thousands of very small, silvery fish in a massive swarm coalesced around me. Large fish in a variety of colours, iridescent fish, tiny bright blue fish, yellow fish, zebra fish, a fish with a long snout that swam close to the surface, starfish, sea cucumbers and coral…all amazing.

I chose not to swim out to the actual oyster stacks (columns of rocks with oysters on them) purely out of fear of getting stuck out there and not being able to get back. Nevertheless, I saw a lot, and really happy about it.

Glen stayed on the beach, taking photos of sea snails and crabs in the rocks.

The sun was getting low in the sky on the drive back, casting a golden glow across the landscape. We soon saw an emu and later a kangaroo nearly jumped into the side of the car. We stopped and took photos of Sturt’s Desert Pea on the verge, then went up to the lighthouse. People were gathering with their chairs and bottles of beer to watch the approaching sunset.

Back in Exmouth we bought food at IGA, then checked into our accommodation, a caravan/camping/chalet place like the ones I used to stay at with my family in Albany. We cooked snapper with carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas, and watched tv. It’s like being on holiday.

Glenorchy and Ziplining in Queenstown

Friday was our last full day in Queenstown. There’s still a few things I would like to have done (such as take a trip to Stewart Island to look for kiwi) but there are only so many hours in the day. While Glen was at the conference in the morning, I took a drive to Glenorchy, a town 40 minutes away from Queenstown.

A few people had recommended the drive there and it didn’t disappoint. I travelled along winding roads that hugged the coastline with glimpses of the lake and the mountains offered up as I zoomed along at 100 kmh. I got stuck behind a four-car convoy for part of it, all doing 80, but eventually managed to get around them and zoom along. I made good time.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who think I should have taken the drive slow but where’s the fun in that? Going around sharp corners at speed was much more enjoyable.

There’s not much in Glenorchy but I did stop and take some photos from the jetty and the bank before getting back into the car and going back into Queenstown. Forty minutes later I was back in town, content with my speed sightseeing, and sitting have a tea and poached eggs at a cafe on the shores of the lake.

I picked Glen up from the conference venue around midday and we caught the gondola up the hill for our ziplining appointment.

Ziplining Down the Mountain

There are plenty of adventure sports that you can do in Queenstown, including skydiving, bungy jumping, paragliding, mountain bike riding and a whole lot more. As we went past the bungy platform on the gondola, my stomach started feeling queasy. Definitely not giving that a go if I can’t even look at the platform without feeling ill.

Instead we booked in for a ziplining experience that took us down the mountain on six ziplines over three hours (including a 20-minute walk between the last two ziplines). there were ten of us in the group with two lots of three-person families (a dad and two daughters), us and a man and a woman (one from the US, one from Auckland) who pull together conferences for companies.

We were given our harnesses and, despite having gone to the washroom about three times before the tour began, as soon as the harnesses were on we were both busting to go (TMI I know). Still we engaged our kegels and soldiered on. We are not yet incontinent.

Unlike the ziplining I did in Newfoundland, this one doesn’t involve any braking on our behalf; it’s all handled by the guides. So really we’re just locked onto the line and off we go, stopping safely at the other end and drawn into the platform. This meant we were free to do what we wanted on the line, including going upside down.

This turned out to be my favourite thing to do on five of the lines (we didn’t learn how to do it until the second). Travelling along at speed upside down as the mountain goes whizzing by is a bizarre but fun experience. We felt fairly safe so the whole ziplining experience was pretty chill, even the last line which is advertised as the world’s steepest.

We ended up at the bottom of the mountain, took off our harnesses and went on our way. I was starving by this point so we went for an early dinner at Botswana Butchery, luckily getting a table because we’re nannas and eat early. At 6 pm it started to get busy and there were no seats available without a reservation. We ate well then went home for a bit of a rest before our stargazing experience.

Upside-down! #Queenstown #newzealand #gaytravel #ziplining

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Stargazing

Unfortunately the air conditioning at our accommodation broke down a day or two before so the shipping container house was absolutely freezing. It prepared us for the stargazing tour which was starting at 8:45 pm.

We went back to the gondola, caught it up to the top, only to be told that the tour might be cancelled because the clouds had rolled in. The day was looking so promising too with a fairly clear sky but alas, the weather had other plans.

We waited around for a little while but at 8:30 it was clear nothing would proceed. We were fortunate to get a refund (we couldn’t rebook as we were leaving the next day) and went home. Glen was not-so-secretly pleased as he didn’t fancy standing outside for a couple of hours in the cold. Instead we went home and watched Getting On on Netflix and went to bed at 11.