May 29, 2008

bit of the irish!

I will amend my earlier post, only to add that I seem to love Ireland in general, not just Dublin.

After my one full day in the big city, I trotted over to the bus station to head south. Though I generally love train travel, i decided to take the buses here, one b
ecause trains don't do part of the route I am taking, and also because te Irish rail network is generally preceded in all conversation by the phrase "questionably reliable." So bus won, and for the better - turned out the rail networks are all on strike, so there are extra buses running the routes. Hah.

The bus ride was unremarkable, and after we got out of the icky city traffic, it was picturesque countryside and charming wee villages. The countryside looks a lot like New Zealand - complete with sheep - but with fewer mountains, and if possible, even greener. Or rather, just as green, but even less that is not green. Plus, it's older, so we could be driving along and pass random medieval ruins.

I arrived in Cork and proceeded to be really dramatic - I did LAUNDRY. It may not sound exciting to you, but everything I owned was covered in a think layer of the Middle East, so it was worth every extortion-level penny I paid for it (the only laundry here is for more of an industrial crowd, so their rated don't start low enough to make my one load a practical purchase. But it was fast, and also worth it). I also went out for a pint (not of beer, once was enough) and some traditional Irish music with some girls in my dorm, and if anything will make you love Ireland more, it's a local pub. We have dive bars in the States, which I love, but it's really not the same at all, is it?

Yesterday was wander-Cork day. It's a walkable town, and I went all over - the local cathedrals, the butter museum, the hills overlooking town, up and down the little side streets. But it's not a very big place, so that pretty much covered it. It's a charming city, on two sides of a river (actually three, but most of the stuff is in the middle and on one bank), and I had to stop myself from taking too many pictures. Also, even though it's Ireland and it never really gets bright, it also doesn't get dark until like 10:30. Not quite Patagonia unnerving, but certainly a change.

Today, I got a bit out of town, and went to the Blarney Castle. It was hyper-touristy, sure, but the castle grounds are also stunningly pretty. I did kiss the Blarney Stone, too, so if you find this and future posts to be unusually eloquent, well, you will at least know why. But just wandering the lush green lands were enough to make me feel so peaceful; even when it started to drizzle (of course) it wasn't enough to push me inside.
Tomorrow I am off to Galway, which I am really looking forward to. Most people say it's the best city in Ireland, so my hopes are up.

I still haven't found a good sweater or hoodie to buy Despite current weather to the complete contrary, most stores are selling bikinis and gauzy skirts, and there are actually surprisingly few tourist shops, but even fewer with anything good. There were a bunch today, of course, in Blarney, but nothing I actually want to wear, or want to spend tourist-level kinds of money on, so I will just count on finding something later. Or, you know, getting an aran sweater on the Aran Islands. For now I can just keep wearing the same two longsleeved shirts I own...

And for those keeping score, I am STILL not caught up on my pictures from Egypt, despite many hours' worth of online effort. I finished Jordan, and am keeping Ireland up-to-date ( I now deeply know the perils of falling behind...) but have like 150 more to label in Egypt. Sigh. Tomorrow, maybe.

May 27, 2008

a whole new world

I. Love. Dublin.

It;s like London, but smaller and cuter and easier to navigate. Everyone here is so young, too, with basically the entire population looking like they are in their 20s and 30s.

I just walked around yesterday, touring the city and going to St Stephen's Green, the Photography Archive, Trinity College, the shopping streets, the Liffey, all of it. It was so pleasant to walk about, even if I was wearing my long-sleeved shirt, my fleece and was still cold when the wind blew.

I also went out with a girl I had met in Bangkok, and I tired,I really did, but I just can't drink Guinness. Euch.

Today it's rainy, but I am spending the day on the bus anyhow, heading southwest to Cork. I am really excited to see more of Ireland, because so far, so good.

May 26, 2008

gear shift

I am all out of the Middle East. It was a brutally long day of travel yesterday, but everything went smoothly, so I have gone from Jordan to just about as opposite I can get. Today, I take on Dublin!

It was surprisingly difficult to leave the tour. I was lucky and ended up with a really cohesive group who genuinely got along and enjoyed spending time together, which was lovely, so as with any goodbye it was hard to say goodbye and all go our separate ways. But even more than that, I was pretty hard-hit by how much I was going to miss the fact of my tour mates. It was such a welcome relief to have people to travel with for three weeks. For the first part, to have someone so competent to take care of all of our details and travel concerns for us so we didn't even have to think about it. When things went wrong, an 8 hour ferry wait or an abysmal accommodation in Petra, we were in it together and would joke about it and get through, rather than me having to take it all on my shoulders alone.

I've had to remind myself the last couple of days that not only CAN I do this solo travel thing (remember, self? That's how you've been doing it almost this WHOLE TIME), but also that I would even want to. Today, though, after a good night's sleep under a comfy duvet, with a nice hot shower and a rainy, overcast Dublin through the window, I am much more excited about exploring. Besides, I am on the way downward end of my trip, so I need to make the most of it - love it or hate it, it won't last long.

Anyway, to wrap up Jordan: Meh.

I mean, Jordan was good - Petra was incredible, and of course I loved floating in the Dead Sea and getting covered by mud.

But overall, Jordan was just kind of all right. The food was the same sort as Egypt, but not as good; everything was easier and more Western, in terms of the bargaining and the baksheesh (tipping) and the like, but it was also less interesting and more sterilized. I just felt like I was there because the things I wanted to see were in Jordan, as opposed to any desire at all to see Jordan itself.

All right, enough rehash. I am in a place with lightening-quick internet, so I hope to have the rest of my pictures up later on, and get them labeled and ready to view. After that, my mind is 100% on pretty green Ireland!

May 22, 2008

dr. jekyll and mr.jordanian tour guide

So, I've been lucky, and had a really wonderful tour that I love.

I've now also been super unlucky and miserable and had a crap tour. Interestingly, they are the same tour.

I thought the ferry crossing was a blip, and that things would be smooth and easy, but it turns out that the Jordan leg of my trip is going to be radically different. In Egypt, the tour was fortunate enough to have a wonderful guide who was both a good guy and incredibly knowledgeable. He was a great guide, and we loved it. In Jordan...not so much.

Our tour guide here is pretty sleazy, clearly making his living by kickb
acks, commissions and freebies courtesy of his tours; making seedy comments to the pretty blonde on the tour, and giving all of his information with a healthy dose of condescension. We had a problem when we arrived in Petra and went to a hotel different from the one listed on our itinerary - given to us two weeks ago - and significantly worse quality. We ended up kicking up a fuss and moving ourselves to another hotel - the one on the itinerary - and fighting with the local travel agency about getting reimbursed.

On the one hand, it's a nightmare. Whereas my Egypt tour made me thrilled with the company and excited about all the places in the world I could go with them that I was not comfortable traveling to on my own, if Jordan were my first leg, I would be in misery and trapped in every organized tour horror story you hear.

However, this is not a poor me bitch session. the thing is, after two weeks of traveling together and some genuine affinity, my tour has become 12 good friends, so we are all in this together. we are a pretty close group and we are all traveling together, so it's not so bad. We roll our eyes at the guide, or take turns fighing the battles we need to fight, and it works out really well. tit's a huge advantage to traveling in a group, honestly - even when things are bad they are not bad for you alone.

But enough with the bad - Jordan is also pretty incredible. I came to this country for Petra, and to Petra I have officially been:

Jordan may just be the country that cannot be captured by a camera, though. Petra is completely stunning, but there is no picture that can really get across the mind-bogling level of pretty at teh Siq, this amazing one-and-a-half kilometer long cavern that you walk through to get to Petra, with towering walls orf amazing rock, no can they get the magnitude and the colors in all of the carved out buildings of the city itself. It is honestly a wonder of ancient architecture and beauty, and nothing I took, or anyone else took, possibly did it justice.

But even before then, we went to Wadi Rum, in the desert to the south, and spent a day four-wheeling around and then a night in the Bedouin camp, and I took picture after picture, but nothing got the craggy, jagged, gorgeous rocks and the sweeping deserts really well. This is apparently a country that cannot be got really well on my wee camera.

random egypt

The short version is that I liked Egypt a lot more than I thought that I would. I was really excited and intrigued to go there, but before arriving, I was more intellectually interested in the place - the history is so long and so vivid, the culture so foreign and so fascinating, and the images of pyramids and heiroglyphics so iconic that I was looking forward to the education of the place. I got all of that, to be sure, and I feel much smarter than I did before I came. But I also liked Egypt - it was fun, the people were wonderful and different and fascinating, the food was fantastic, the weather quite lovely. That was unexpected.

As much as I was interested in going to Egyt, though, there was no way I was going to try it on my own. Every day I was there, I became even more convinced of how right a decision that was. I could probably have done Egypt on my own, but I don't know that I could have enjyed it. Egypt is very, very hard.

The most obvious is that it is hard to be a woman in Egypt. Not just a Western woman, though that is certainly harder, but being female. When I got to the airport, on the airport bus to the parking lot, I was the only woman. On the street, there were occasionally a pair of women traveling together, but they kept to themselves and tend to hurry along. I honestly never felt so conspicuous as a female as I did simply existing in Egypt. And to exacerbate the problem, the social and religious practices of Egypt itself make the men rather aggressive and unpleasant in a lot of ways - but only sometimes. Others are terribly friendly, with no ulterior motive at all. It makes it a challenge to do anything, because you get peppered with greetings just walking down the street, and you never know - is this person asking where I am from or saying "Welcome to Egypt" to be friendly, or are they doing it to elicit a smile that they can take as an invitation? This is not an exaggeration, really. It is a minefield. The attention, very unwanted and very constant, really got to me before too long, and even though I dressed conservatively, I still felt that I was on display. The fact that I quickly began to see the advantage of the traditional Muslim female dress I think says too much about the way men ae socialized in Egypt.

But it's not just a gender thing; the whole place takes negotiation. You have to constantly be on guard in Egypt, because the heavy tourist culture makes for an active culture of ripping off Westerners. My tour members quickly discovered that when you asked the price of something, if it took them more than a second to answer, they were basically inflating the price, often my 100-200%; if the price was immediate, it was probably close to accurate. This is not just for the outdoor markets aimed at tourists; this is at mini markets, drink stands, everywhere. You have to constantly be on guard, clarify that they mean EGYPTIAN pounds when they give a price (they like to "mean" English pounds to give a higher price to start the bargaining), and ask for a breakdown of prices when you buy a few things, because often the math got creative. You price things at various stores, and you learn that everything, EVERYTHING, is a negotiable price. You have to play it as a game, because otherwise you start to fee like everyone is out to rip you off. But Egypt is just random, and there is no good reason for two oranges to cost only 1 pound less than 2 oranges, two bananas and two plums, except that the people who bought the latter didn't balk at the price, so the vendor wanted to see how far he could go.

Egypt is random and unpredictable, but it was good. I don't know if I ever will go back - the Red Sea coast is incredible, and I would like to see the Western Desert and Alexandria, but it is difficult and there are so many other places to see. But I like that I get to associate Egypt with a sense of uncertainty and gambling that makes it entertaining.

May 19, 2008

more middle east

Egypt is officially no more for me.

Since we left Cairo, we have done the following (assume all is said with some disbelief that this is my life and this is all for real, because that's how it felt):

We got on a private bus on Friday to drive down to the Sinai Peninsula. A lot of the tourist routes in southern Egypt (Aswan-Luxor, Aswan-Abu Simbel, etc) have required convoys buses need to travel in for "safety reasons," but Sinai does not have this; they do, however, have mad check points all over and lots of scary military with scary huge guns. Sinai is pretty much a rocky, sandy moonscape that is pretty in a forbidding way. We also drove in the tunnel under the Suez - unreal!

It took several hours, but we got to St. Katherine's "City" (it is a few stores and hotels...) midday, and got toeat and rest before we climbed Mt. Sinai. No joke. The climb was long, but not terribly hard until we got to the last set of steep, rocky, uneven steps - I counted 763 of them. But the view from up top was just astronomical, and we watched the sun set from Mount Sinai before climbing down. Incredible.

The next day we went back to St Katherine's Monastary to tour around, and saw the burning bush and the Eastern Orthodox chapel, which was gorgeous, and navigated our way through some serious throngs of tourists. I am not really one for religious monuments as my top impressive tour sights, but something about St. Katherine's was really moving. Honestly, I think that it is because, in Egypt, there is this ancient monastary worked by a group of Greek and Russian monks, and the place is cared for and run by a particular Beduin tribe, a tribe that is 100% Muslim. There is even a mosque at the monastary for the Beduins to pray in. I just find it so compelling that the different religions and histories are all able to work with this respect for one another that is larger than any differences.

After Sinai, we went on the road again to Nuweiba, a little cluster of small resorts on the Red Sea. Can you say spectacular? I spent the last two and a half days staying in a thatched hut about 10 meters from the water, lounging in and by the water, and eating calamari. It was the perfect holiday in my holidays, and I got a bit of my tan back from Thailand. I was surprised a bit, but honestly the Red Sea is up there with my best beach spots ever, and apparently the Scuba was fantastic.

Of course, the relaxation was all to lull us to a sense of security, I can clearly see now. We have local leaders for each leg, so our Egypt guide left us at the port at 2 for our ferry, where we proceeded to wait in a seedy, dirty, gross port with no signs or announcements in English and air conditioning for only a little while. And we waited. We thought the ferry was at 2:30. Then we find it is at 4. Then it may come later. Then it is here, and we will load in an hour. No, another hour. We are shuttled from one door to another. We wait. At 7:30 they put us on buses to go to the boat. At 8 we are still queued up to get on the boat. Then they try to tell us that the boat is full, but we will not be dissuaded. Then they pull everyone from the back of the line and let them on and leave my group and about 25 other international tourists fighting to be allowed onto the boat, which we eventually are, but without seats. The ferry leaves at 8:45. We finally browbeat them into letting us onto some of the empty business class seats after sitting in the aisled for the first half hour. We get to Aquaba, Jordan about 10, but wait and wait and wait on the boat. They collect our passports, and we are unnerved by this fact. The disorganized, ramshackle, tedious immigration process takes about another hour. We have an Intrepid person waiting to get us to the hotel, which is wonderful. We finally make it, and I fall into bed and sleep like the dead at about 1 am.

It was a long, terrible day, and really tiring - I just about regretted being up to watch the sun rise over Saudi Arabia that morning.

But we are in Aqaba, which is so much more clean and polished and modern than Egypt - it reminds me a lot of Singapore, really. And we are officially in Jordan. The internet is slow-ish, and there are no USB ports to upload photos, but its here. Though tonight, we are going to a Beduin camp, so you know, probably no WiFi.

And we are offically done with Egypt. I have a lot, lot, lot to say on Egypt, but this has already gone on long enough, so I will add it soon.

May 15, 2008

diet coke: egypt

I give it a hearty "meh."

Much better than Greece (meaning it's drinkable), but much less appealing than Thailand. It looks cool, though.

But the most depressing thing is that I am beginning to wonder if I am forgetting what the real thing tastes like. That can't happen, can it? I can't be getting confused my my steady drinking of Fanta and an ever-increasing amount of water, can I? I will remember the joy of Diet Coke once more, when I experince the magic once again? Please say so!

Back to Cairo

Ok, foreign keyboards are hard enough, but signing into Blogger on an Arabic computer is damn confusing. The user name is on the right, the password is on the left. It's backwards, and I can't read anything at all.

Anyway, minor quibble, but here I am. I am just popping online briefly on our free day back in Cairo. We took an overnight train yesterday from Luxor and got in this morning, and then I took it pretty easy, going back to Khan al Khalili market to do some shopping (because I hear it's pretty rubbish in Jordan, so it is now or...Dublin) and also to Coptic Cairo, to get a feel for a completely different kind of Egypt. This is the Greek Orthodox area, and it has tiny winding streets and no cars, so it felt like a whole other world, even though it was only a few stops on the metro from our hotel in downtown Cairo. Surreal.

In Luxor yesterday, I discovered that donkey riding is way, way easier and more pleasant than camel riding - either because you feel like there is less distance to fall, or because they surprisingly smelled less, or because I had a mellow, lazy donkey who was keen to stop just...whenever, so I never felt out of control. Except when I wanted him - I named him Paco, for lack of knowing his real name - to andale up the hill. he preferred to whine and complain about how LONG and STEEP the hill was. Sounds like me on a bike ride.

Anyway, I've been all over - hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings, to see several tombs there, to the Colossus of Memnon and Karnak Temples, and on a felucca sailing up the Nile for an entire day and night in the most relaxing, no-agenda day I've had in ages. Plus, it was sailing up the NILE, stopping now and again when we got hot, to go swimming. In the Nile.

Life is getting surreal, but I love it. To add to that, tomorrow we drive south again, and then climb Mount Sinai.

The next couple of days we get to lounge by the Red Sea, and maybe do a spot of snorkeling.

It's so strange to get to do all of this, but I love it.

May 11, 2008

Down the nile

'Sup, yo.

Sorry that I am not updating as much. It is not, as you may think, because I cannot find Internet or because it is prohibitively expensive, as neither are the case. I've been in major cities so far, and the most expensive I've found is the one I am currently on, which comes
in at a whopping $2 an hour. So this is not the problem.

Time is the problem. Tours are tiring! We do so much and go so many places, and I suddenly have people to talk with that when it's the end of the day I am too darn tired to muster up the energy to post a blog. I will be better, but it's looking like, nah, pictures are going to wait a while longer. They take too long.

So anyway, the tour so far is great. It's a small group, with 4 other Americans, one Canadian and 6 Aussies, and a good range of ages. The guise is Egyptian, too, which if you are ever coming here, insist on it - that alone (besides that he is very good) is invaluable.

On the first day we went to a Mosque, to the Khan al Khalili market in Islamic Cairo, and out to dinner where I had fanTAStic ground spiced lamb. Since then, we have also:

--visited the Pyramids of Giza (taking the metro and public bus to get there, which I loved)
--gone through the Egyptian Museum (which was wonderful, if rather completely overwhelming and chock-a-block with too much stuff, though the Tutankhamun room was jaw-dropping)
--ridden an overnight sleeper train down the Nile, which I loved. I adore train travel, sleeper cars are so North by Northwest, and it was such a cool way to tool down the country
--ridden feluccas on the Nile, visited Nubian villages, and, of course, the following:

I did quite well, thank you. even though I now can safely say that camel travel is both inefficient AND uncomfortable.

Today we got up ungodly early in order to leave the hotel at 3:30 am. Yeah. We are in Aswan, but we were getting a caravan of tour vans out of town to go a few hundred kilometers south to visit Abu Simbel. Everything I've listed above was, of course, astonishing and amazing; this was so far the highlight. This temple is just magnificent, and I could have spent hours staring at the carvings on the walls. Loved it.

After, we drove back (with a driver who stayed awake nearly the whole time!) and went to the Philae temple, which is an Egyptian temple and Roman church both (Egyptoman? Romyptian?) in the middle of the Nile. Lovely way to end the day.

Except it was about 2:30. So now we've had luch, and tonight our guide has arranged a dinner at some friend's houses - the cooking should be fabulous. I will say, though, that I am looking forward to tomorrow. We get on a felucca and spend the entire day and night just floating up the Nile and reading, drinking, eating, swimming, and relaxing. Oh, so fun!

I am so glad, though, that I am on a tour. I would not be able to do what I am doing on my own, and I don't think I would have as much fun. As it is, it is already starting to get hard to deal with the scams and rip offs that are so common everywhere we go. I understand that money is so important, but on the other hand, I don't appreciate being made to haggle to use a toilet when I know what it costs, just because I am a tourist. But hopefully it is residual crankiness from being up at 3 am...

May 07, 2008

Onto the next

Made it safe and sound to Cairo. It's such an overwhelming city, right from the start. The sprawl is huge, and from the air so many of the buildings are crowded together and the same color and not really defined, so they almost look like rubble fallen together. We did fly over the pyramids, though, so that was incredible.

I am back in heat, but it is so far WAY more bearable than Asia. I am itching to meet up with my tour tomorrow, and until then dont have a lot on the agenda. But I have officially reached a new country and a new continent. Woo!

May 06, 2008

Greek Week

It's interesting how much Athens can change in a week. Compared to when I was here with my parents, on this visit the city was far, far more crowded. I expected there to be more Greeks in twon, since it was no longer the long Easter holiday, but there were also exponentially more tourists and backpackers around the city as well. There were suddenly venders lined up in front of marble pillars that were not there before and the metro was packed and busy. May 1 must mark the start of the big tourist season or something, or at least other people pay attention and start their vacations AFTER Easter? Imagine that! I still really enjoyed the city, but if people I've talked to had only visited during high season, i can easily see why they would find it a crowded, dirty city.

Of course, my circumstances changed as well - before, I was not only on a high from getting to see my parents, but I was also in a happu hotel existence, bopping about the islands at a good clip and enjoying the company. On my return, I was back to hostel living. The one I stayed at a supremely nice location, but also had a barely-tolerable bathrooms (some of the worst I've encountered thus far actually - I hope it's not an indication of the hostels in Europe...).

I also noticed the travelers here - like with everywhere I've been, the majority seem to all come from a similar background, and in Greece, in May, a huge percentage of them are American or Canadian college students either finishing their study abroad by traveling about or getting a jump on their summer backpaking through Europe.

Even though the age groups are similar, for some reason, this group strikes me as decidedly more Baccanalian than the young Brits traveling everywhere in Australia. Maybe because the Brits were in one place longer, and were working, and were living and traveling both, but somehow they were not as ...frat party about thier travels. Sitting in the hostel's garden, listening to groups trade stories about where they had been and where they were going, so much seemed like a waste - a giant drinking binge across a continent. I hope that, too, is not an indication of the hostels across Europe...

(Though it did encourage me , since I will be in my last month in Western Europe during high season, to make the unprecedented move to book hostels for that whole time - good thing, too, since I already ran into places being booked out).

But despite some of the difference not being for the better, and despite it being a 3-day stay rahter than a day-and-a-half one, I had a good time back in Athens. I went to the Archaeological Museum, whioch we missed the first time on account of Good Friday but which was absolutely worth a visit, and I sat in the National Gardens, so unruly compared to the tidy, manicured botanical gardens of Australia and New Zealand.

I also went to Delphi today, to see the oracle and a bit of northern-ish Greece. It involved a long day of travel and lots of clmibing about the ruins, but it was well worth it - the rocks and cliffs and stones were just gorgeous, and there was almost palpable history there. Of course, to get to Delphi (three hours out of Athens) one must get up before 6am. And at that time, one thinks one is tucking ones camera in their bag, when in fact they are leaving it in their backpack at the hostel. Sigh.

May 04, 2008

on the road again

All alone again, now in Athens. My parents left today, and I am not going to lie and say it wasn't hard, but they are off to Italy, and in a couple of days I am going to Egypt.

The good news is that even though I am back to traveling alone, back to hostels, back to it all, I have sort of re-discovered my reason for doing this. I am once again looking forward to the places I get to go, and once again feel capable of getting to them. So really, the time with my parents, the time in Greece, it all had the rejuvenating effect I hoped for. And thank goodness!

I am glad my attitude returned, though, because the day my parents left, things did not go so well. I had worked out what I wanted to do for the four days between coming back from Santorini and going to Cairo, and I made reservations at a hostel on a nearby island called Aegina, and then at a hostel in Athens for two nights each. No problem.

So yesterday I sadly leave mom and dad, and get on the Athens metro and ride it to the ferry terminal. Then I get a ferry to Aegina. Then i wait an hour to get bus to the other side of the island. Then I get there and discover in 8 minutes that the hostel is shut up tight - presumably still for the season? I don't know. It's overgrown and padlocked.


So I basically get to retrace everything - wait another hour for the bus, catch another ferry, do another metro ride, and go to the only hostel I know in Athens, where I do not have a reservation, at 7:30 on a Saturday night. Good lord.

But, fortunately, they did have a bed, and I was so exhausted from a futile day of LOTS of travel that I fell into it. I have one more day in Athens now, so we will see how I fill it.

It seems my travel karma markedly improves when I have others in my family there to help it along.

May 03, 2008

something old, something older, something oldest

Ah, Santorini. Really stunning place - the island is on the cusp of a volcano, with the towns clinging to the sides of sheer cliffs in white, stair-steppy glory.

Santorini at times feels a bit superficial, or like its water - shallow, but pretty! - but there were some really cool, amazing things to the island as well. On Naxos, we went to the Mitroplous museum and saw the remains of a city from 1300 BC and I marveled that it was the oldest thing I'd ever seen (apart from nature, of course). Today, though, we went to two museums. At the first, there was a new record, as most of the artefacts - gorgeous, well-preserved vases and pots, still painted and lovely and mostly recovered from the town of Ancient Thera - dated to 1700 BC. Everything was stunning. But THEN we went to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, where they keep the really old stuff. It's findings from Akrotiri, an ancient...well, urban hub, really, that has only been 3-5% excavated. The new oldest thing I've ever seen is this:

dated from a Cycladic period from 2800-2300 BC. Jaw-dropping. Aren't they incredible?

In New Zealand, I marveled at how new everything was. As an American, I can go to England and see schools still in use from back before anyone over there even FOUND our continent, so in New Zealand, where America was old hat during their entire Anglo history, everything seems so young. But, of course, the Maoris were there long, long before - as with the aboriginal sin Australia, the Native Americans, and so on. There were people there and living hundreds of years ago. But in Greece, it's in terms of millenniums - there were people there, building cities, wearing jewelry, making purchases, taking baths, cooking and eating and celebrating not too differently from how we do now several MILLENNIUMS ago. It boggles the mind.

But that is not the bulk of Santorini - really, the bulk is all about the pretty. I get the feeling that the Santorini Chamber of Commerce or whoever saw tourism starting in Greece like
30 years ago and decided to capitalize by turning the island into Quintessential Greece (tm). The terraced, perched villages are stunning, but all the buildings seem to be hotels and restaurants and shops - everything for tourists; the locals (of which there aren't many, year-round) are sensible and live on the flat parts, where it's not 40 zillion stairs and a donkey ride to get a bottle of water from the market.

It's worked, though. If you go to the Greek Isles, from the States anyway, then Santorini is the place you go. Often to Mykonos as well, and maybe another, but Santorini without a doubt. If you go ona cruise in Greece, you go to Santorini. It really is "typical Greece all the
way" I wonder if that's Quintessential Greece (tm)'s motto?

I can't even imagine what this place is like during the high season, too. We were in Fira today - the capital, where we stayed - when there was a cruise ship, I think from Spain, was in port, and toe town felt overrun. That was one ship. Yesterday, there were nine cruise ships docked for the day. NINE. It made me so happy that was the day we rented a car (this time an even more stripped-down mini vehicle in bright yellow we dubbed Little Buttercup) and fled to the o
ther parts of the island. We got to see lots of beaches - one in red! - and lots of quiet towns not yet thumpin' for the season. We ran into two Japanese tour groups when we went to Oia at the north of the island to watch the sunset, but mostly we zigged when the hordes zagged. In high season, I don't think there is that option - our waiter tonight was telling us that, in August, the adorable cobblestone walkways are so packed, people can only shuffle along, not walk at full speed. Even with things sometimes being not open or the weather being occasionally cold, I will take Greece outside the high season, thank you. After all, it's still pretty.