Saturday, 21 April 2018

A useful post: Tirana

We were only here for a short time but I can definitely make some recommendations based on my experience there. 

Accommodation

Choose Balkans Apartments
For less than €30 per night, we had a full apartment with small kitchen, stove tops, washing machine and dryer. The service was second to none - we were invited for a coffee or a raki at their offices, the latter we took up the offer. The apartment was very comfortable and in quite a good location. Be aware that the location on the booking sites is for the head offices. Our apartment was located near the gymnasium on the other side of the river. 

Restaurants

Tek Zgara Tirones 2
There's a number 1 nearby, but number 2 is the one that came up on all best restaurant searches. They looked quite similar from the outside but we went to number 2. The menu was all in Albanian but the waiter kindly gave us some recommendations. We chose the chicken wings and a local Tiranian plate which turned out to be a local dish, some steamed veggies and of course a half carafe of wine. We were given complimentary bread which was light and fluffy. 

The food was incredible. I cannot describe how tasty the local dish was, just that I couldn't get enough of it and was mopping up the sauce with my bread. The wine was so cheap, about €2.50 for a half carafe so we ordered another. The veggies were done with lemon and had a great zing to them, and the chicken wings - always messy, were delicious too. We found out later that chicken is a bit of a delicacy here as the staple meat for years was pork or beef. 

Our whole meal came to about €12 including tip. Divine!

Kolonat 
Albanian fast food, this company used to have a logo rather similar to some very famous Golden Arches with many things on the menu quite similar. Also does pizza. A cheeseburger will cost you 200lek and a meal with drink and fries 400lek. Some of the appeal is now lost because the logo has changed but if you're in the area, it is interesting to see their fast food. Cash only, the only one we found was located near pyramid. 

Things to do

Free walking tour
This starts outside the Opera House everyday at 10am and lasts between 2-2.5 hours. It's a great way to get your bearings on the centre of the city - and was an utterly fascinating way to get a first hand account of what living in the city is like now and what it was like under communist control. Highly recommend. Our tour guide Gazi, who organises the tours (Altho he may have other guides on other days) was incredible, quickly humorous and super knowledgable. 

Bunkart 1 and 2
We only had time to visit one of the two, and the recommendation was to do 1 over 2. It's a bit complicated to get to - you have to go to the main bus station on the other side of the main square (behind the mosque) and then catch a blue bus headed towards Porcelan. Tickets are purchased onboard are 40Lek. The bus stops right infront of the Bunkart. Well worth a visit, the walls are adorned with historical information as well as art, and shows what it would have been like had there been a nuclear attack on Tirana. Tickets cost 500lek to enter. Note that the site closes at 4pm and you'll need at least 2 hours inside. 

Bunkart 2 is in the middle of the city and is open to 6, so is more convenient but apparently not as interesting, but a good option if you can't get to the other. 

Dajti Ekspres Cable Car
The longest cable car in the Balkans, the journey from base to top takes a full 15 minutes and the start is very close to Bunkart 1. It is open until 7pm. Amazing views of the city (Altho it because very far away the higher you go) as well as the lush green mountainside. At the top are a few restaurants and hiking trails. Return tickets cost €6. 

National Art Museum
This was a surprising addition and one we are so glad we popped into. Located near Bunkart 2, the gallery is full of communist propaganda art and shows an amazing insight into how the communist regime brainwashed its citizens. Tickets cost 200lek, and you'll need approximately 30-60 minutes here. 

Climb the Pyramid
No visit to Tirana is complete without scaling the pyramid. Initially a museum to the dead communist leader built by his daughter, it was turned into a cultural centre and then left to ruin. People now scale it for a free view over Tirana and also a place to hang out. You need non-slippery shoes and the third slope around is the least steep. Note: I am not condoning anyone climbing this structure and am not responsible for any injuries sustained in the attempt. 

Try Raki! 
Albanian raki is quite different from the spirit made in other countries as the country because completely closed off so they developed their own recipes and flavours. 



The Final Countdown. Day 18: Athens - Olympia


Our alarm went off stupidly early again (this is going to be a running theme for the next four months, I think) and we made ourselves some muesli and headed out. Dani was already downstairs and we said we would be back in a little while after we bought our bus tickets.

Googlemaps suggested the ticket office was about a 10 min walk away but it was through the dodgy area, so we caught the metro one stop instead. Popping out of the station, we held our belongings close to us and started searching for this ticket office. And searching. Finally we came to the shop we figured it had to be - completed closed up. An old travel agent. Shit. This is what happens when you rely on a timetable from 2014.

To hold back the panic, I suggested we just go straight to the KTEL bus station - they’ll at least be able to push us in the right direction. Just around the corner from where we were standing there would be a bus that would take us directly there. Perfect. We got ourselves some little seats (using our 24 hour ticket from the day before) and waited for the bus to leave. Every time I looked up public transport in Athens on Google maps, I would get a little warning suggesting that Google didn’t have the latest timetable information. This was no exception - the time the bus was supposed to leave according to the app and the time it actually left was quite different (although didn’t make much difference to us, just a little extra wait). It’s interesting to note that this is the first European city where I have repeatedly receiving this warning notification.

I kept my maps open so we knew when to get off the bus (as the bus stop was all Greek to me!…ok I finally had to say it…) but quite a few people on the bus had luggage so we were pretty sure we were going to the right place. When the bus stopped, we just followed everyone and saw a big sign for TICKET OFFICE. This was excellent! Inside were a row of ticket booths, most unmanned, so we went up to one and asked about tickets to Olympia. He pointed to the unmanned booth next to him and said “You buy your ticket from here.” Luckily, we had seen someone sitting in there a few minutes before so knew that someone at least existed, and it wasn’t too long before he returned.

Buying the tickets turned out to be relatively simple - there was some initial confusion as he thought we wanted to get on the next bus, but we sorted that quickly and chose the 5.15pm bus instead. This would get us to Pyrgos at about 9pm and then our bus to Olympia would get us there about 10.30. Late, but gave us almost another full day in Athens, which was nice. At the last minute, Dan remembered to ask about return tickets, which gave us a slight discount. When we turned to leave, our ticket man said, “I’m from Olympia, actually. Have a lovely time.”

I feel like I need to put up a post on Tripadvisor to help people with this now as the information I had previously found was so out of date!

We were on a ticket buying roll, and we still needed to get tickets for our ferries to the Greek islands, so while we were out and about we decided to just hop skip it to Piraeus and see if you could get those tickets while we were at it. This would also give us a heads on how to get there in a few days time, laden with our luggage. We had heard horror stories about Piraeus and pickpocketing so we wanted to spend as little time here as possible.

We caught the bus and the metro to Piraeus, being regaled by a considerable number of homeless people on the train - seemingly more than Berlin, even. We looked for the Blue Star Ferries office, and there seemed to be one in 100m, and another in 160m, and we soon realised that these were the travel agent offices and this would be where we booked the tickets. Inside, we listed our dates, and the lady told us the prices. We had hoped to get the €20 tickets to Santorini, but apparently there are only ever 10 of these and we had, not surprisingly, missed out. Therefore: Thursday 19 April: Piraeus to Santorini. Monday 23 April: Santorini to Paros. Wednesday 25 April: Paros to Piraeus again. It cost a little bit, but not completely unexpected, and so once we got our tickets we checked out where our next accommodation would be. 

Literally across the road from the E7 port for our ferry. Perfect! The street smelled like pee but we could get past that.

We returned to our accommodation in Athens and checked out, leaving our bags with the strange gentleman who always hovered around. He didn’t talk to us nearly as much as Dani did, but he was very kind and helpful. As we had already been up for hours, we were ready for lunch. Just around the corner from our accommodation was a small street with vines and pretty lights - and I realised I had eaten here on my previous visit. The gyros was cheap, the wine was cheap, so we set ourselves up in the sun and waited to be served.

As it was before 12pm, I think the place was still in the process of setting up for the day, and our service was on what I like to call “ish” time. This means things happen when they happen, in no particular hurry. We weren’t in any particular hurry either - we had gained much more of a day than we thought we would as our original idea to catch the bus to Olympia would have left at 1pm. Now we had until 5pm to meander through Athens. Eventually we got some service, and our delicious red wine was delivered in a very cool but impractical container, so we proceeded to spill most of it over the table.

This was the first proper gyros of the trip, complete with chips stuffed inside the wrap. It was delicious and hit the spot! Buzzing from our wine, we started wandering all through the Plaka area. It was quite beautiful, and we felt the need for a wine top up and some coffee, so we stopped at the same place we had had coffee on the first day. It seems we were destined to only every drink there, and never consume food! 

As we walked past some shops, Dan noticed a bee hive. This initially made me uncomfortable but when I realised they weren’t getting out, I crept closer. The store owner spotted us and gave us a few samples of the different honey flavours. He also showed us some lip balm and body balm - good for exzema and sunburn, and as our sunburn lotion continually explodes in our bag we  grabbed ourselves a little tub. It smelled lovely, like pine trees.

We returned to the rock overlooking the city and next to the Acropolis and sat here with a multitude of others in the lovely sunshine. Time was slowly moving along, and we were ready to return to our accommodation, grab our things and head to the station.



We picked up sandwiches on the way which would constitute our dinner, and back at the apartment Dani was there to welcome us. We chatted for quite some time, Dani repeating that Sasha, you’re such a good girl, and Dan, you have such babyface, and with cheek kisses and air kisses we finally extracted ourselves and made it out the front door. What a character!

Laden with our luggage, we traversed the metro (always stressful, let alone covered in about 20kg of luggage each) and we were quite relieved when we made it back to the KTEL station. Nothing much to report of the bus journey - I fell asleep for the beginning of it (it was 4 hours to Pyrgos, then another hourish to Ancient Olympia). We arrived in Pyrgos about 9pm and went inside to ask where the bus to Olympia would be and what time. We found out that we would actually be getting back on the same bus we had just gotten off, and if we had looked up we would have realised we had already pulled into the Olympia parking spot. No matter! We were told, haltingly, that the bus would leave at 9.35pm. 9.35pm came and went, but when we all piled on a little bit later I realised that perhaps he had meant 9.45pm.

A lady was waiting with us, slightly crazy of course, and she chatted with us for a little bit. She had been on the bus all the way from Athens too, and had the most bizarre luggage. She was putting a big box that she had been dragging across the floor under the bus, as well as a series of plastic bags, all bursting. Must have done some shopping in the big city! I think her daughter came to meet her at Pyrgos because they went off chatting together. The bus from Pyrgos to Olympia was also uneventful - it definitely took the “local” route which was not direct. There didn’t appear to be any bus stops along the side of the road - people went up to the driver and said something, and a short while later he would pull over and they would get out, often in the middle of nowhere, and often with a parked car waiting to pick them up.

The bus pulled over at one of these stops and we realised it was right out front of our accommodation, not the main bus stop, so we made the snap decision to jump off and walk the half a block to our accommodation.

Check in was easy enough, our room was nice enough, and that’s the story of how we got from Athens to Olympia!

Til next time,
xx

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Final Countdown. Day 17: Athens

What to say about our accommodation in Athens! I'll start at the beginning. We had checked the day before what time check in opened from, which was 7am. We were a little earlier than that but figured we could just wait outside or something until they opened.

We had a bit of trouble finding the place but eventually Dan spotted the hand painted sign and we tried opening the door. Locked. A dog started barking. Tried the door a few more times. Nothing. Then we heard a voice calling out to us from inside - basically, be patient, I'm coming. The door opened and there stood a squat middle aged Greek lady who opened her arms wide and beckoned us inside. Inside looked like a living room - her living room - and she bade us take off our bags and get comfortable. It's hard to describe the decor, but this wasn't a hotel! She chatted and chatted away, asking our names again and again, bidding us welcome to Athens and apologising for her poor English. She explained again and again that we couldn't go to our room until 2pm, which was fine, but she seemed distressed by this, and we assured her it was ok as long as we could put our things somewhere and come back later.

I am a good woman, it is safe here. My husband is a policeman! She repeatedly assured us, before ushering us downstairs so that I could use the toilet. Our accommodation had a lift - a very old lift - and she took us and all our luggage jerkily down into the basement. It was pitch black down there, and she started shouting to the gentleman who I don't think was her husband but maybe the cleaner. She shouted and grew louder and louder until he turned the light on from upstairs. This toilet was for the cleaners, not the guests usually.

While down here I tried to sort myself out and figure out what I needed for the day as I didn't know if I'd get a chance once we dropped our bags. I needed my contacts and deodorant - oh yes, and there had been no time to change clothes so I had to stay in what I'd been wearing the day before and all night. Don't judge me!

I took ages and I could hear her and Dan nattering away. When I finally emerged she said Australian! and was very impressed. She then started commenting on Dan's "baby face", a theme which continued for the rest of our stay.

We went jerkily up to level 1, did another quick bag sort and finally bid our farewells. She sat there lighting up her ciggie waiting for us, saying "pretend I'm not here." I later found out her name was Dani or Deni, and she saw us down to the front door and waved us out into the day. Before we left, she told us not to go left - lots of criminals and robberies that way, stay right, and for Sasha, Sasha always keep your bag at the front!

We stepped out into the still rather dark morning air, blinked and laughed quietly to each other - what have we walked in to! Such a whirlwind for having had no sleep, we weren't sure what had happened.

First stop: breakfast. We hadn't wanted to impose so we thought today we will just buy something. Our accom was very close to Monastaraki and I realised that it was also very close to where I had stayed last time. We emerged into the square and it looked cold dark and grey. Completely uninviting. I could only think "what is Dan thinking of this place?" Athens had been my first stop on my Summer of Fun in 2015 and I traversed it alone - it had a bit of a special place in my heart. This Athens looked yuck.

We found a place doing pastries and fresh juices so after a lot of sleepy deliberation, we managed to order these. The juice waiter was Albanian of all things, and he was quick to tell me how Albania is full of drug dealers and criminals - I couldn't help but think that Athens probably wasn't any better...

We decided to make our way up to the Acropolis as it wasn't far even tho the day was quite grey and hazy. Not the best for photos but maybe our only chance. As things transpired this was an excellent decision as I will get to later!

The square was covered in graffiti and closed up shops. I could tell by Dan's face he wasn't impressed. We walked up the hill and met some kitties on the way, spirits slightly improving. We stopped to let a large group of French teenagers pass as we didn't want to have to fight for our place in the queue.

As we approched the entry point I noticed some steps up onto a rocky enclave which I had never spotted before. A few people were up there and once we were up we could see why - here was a fantastic view of the Acropolis to our right and out across Athens to our left. You could really get the full scope of how big this city is from here - it's enormous. We took a few photos and selfies and made our way back down to the ticket queue.


We needn't have worried as when we got to the ticket office, there was no queue and we were able to enter immediately. On our right was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and we stood next to two bogan Aussie girls with matching braided hair as they posed in front of it. We kind of followed them around the whole site and we are probably in the way of all their posed shots!

As we reached the stairs to the make our way up we could hear shouting - army style shouting. A frantic looking man was trying to keep tourists out of the way and then we spotted 6 soldiers doing drills on the stairs. They weren't able to look where they were treading - head up and tiny steps. Took them an age to go past, but gave us some great photo opportunities with all the ruins in the background! They eventually crept past us and we continued on.



There ahead of us was the Parthenon. Covered in scaffolding, as per usual. Usually I'm pretty annoyed to find a monument/building all scaffolded (and to be honest this isn't an exception) but we had a good read about the restoration work and it is a worthwhile cause. It literally looked identical to when I saw it last - but this time had a crane sticking out the Top. I'm sure some work had been done on it since then...!



We also encountered a very friendly kitty! We nicknamed him the Parthenon kitty and he didn't want us to stop patting him. So friendly!



We got to the non-scaffolded side of the Parthenon before the big crowds so took a few hurried pictures and then sat back to watch the swarms. We checked out the theatre and kept walking in that direction, coming to a closed gate, and unwilling to go back up the hill again we stood there and pondered whether we just go through it. Someone walked past and let us out and we popped out into the street. Dan was flagging, so next stop was for some coffee. We looked at a few price lists and found one that was quite cheap and settled in for some caffeine and juice.

We people watched for a while as the square got busier as it got later in the morning. We devised our plan: the archaeological museum opened at 1: we would meander our way through the Athens markets and head towards the museum for lunch and opening time.

Plan in place we set off. Now Athens was coming alive - the streets were buzzing, all the graffitied shop fronts had lifted their barriers and displayed amazing (touristy) wares. Beautiful dresses, ouzo, evil eye jewellery. We kept on walking towards the museum and hit a really rough patch. I mean a really rough patch.
"Would you like anything? Marijuana?" Was the only one I caught as I held my bags closer and kept on walking, Dan behind me.

Big groups of men leering at us - we were no longer in the nice buzzy bright section of Athens but it's seedy underbelly. We eventually came out the other side and arrived at the museum. Across from the museum is a nice albeit expensive and touristy restaurant so we rested our tired feet here, had some wine and a feed (Greek salad for me!) and when we were sufficiently rested we went into the museum.

I expected a queue here too but there was only one person in front of us. Super easy, checked my backpack and we were in. Now I have been here before - Acropolis and the Archaeological Museum but Dan hasn't, and to be honest I was with a Contiki group and wasn't able to peruse at my leisure (or walk past things I found uninteresting) so it was nice to be able to do it my (and Dan's) way, no compromises.

I pointed out to Dan some of the funny things I had seen last time, like the statues with the star shaped pubes and the statue that the Starbucks coffee logo is apparently based on. We walked past what felt like a billion clay pots (and it was almost like I had a tic, I kept muttering "Pots pots, pots. Pots." Probably the lack of sleep.) Lots of pots. Loads of statues from varying ages - many created hundreds of years BC. Basically statues and pots. Lots of pots.



Oh and the gold mask of Agamemnon is really cool! There's something about seeing these objects in a museum right near where they were found - unlike something like the British Museum which has pilfered so many things (including about half of the Parthenon). Maybe one day these big museums will give back what isn't really theirs?

We took our time here but eventually our feet got sore so it was time to walk back to our accom and check in properly. We walked a different route to avoid Dodge Alley arriving about 3pm.

We were gently chastised by the accom owner as we had originally said we would be back about 2pm. This accommodation didn't really let us come and go with ease, to be honest! We had to keep checking on time which was slightly annoying but to be fair, Dani is a story all in her own and definitely part of our Athens story!

Back at the accommodation, we had to wait while Dani tried to help her elderly mother wait and then into a taxi. Much confused Greeklish reigned, lots of smiling and head nodding, something about Budapest (I honestly have no idea what Budapest had to do with anything) and we air kissed her nonna goodbye, and it was time for us to finally head towards our room.

Dani told us that our luggage is already upstairs, and we all piled into the lift and up to level 3. When we got there and stepped out of the lift, Dani pointed to a small futon bed just outside the lift and said "All of this, this level, yours. You sleep here." Dan and I looked at each other. I was like "Ahhh, ok...! And the bathroom?"
"Basement downstairs. Like before."
"Oh. Um, ok." Thinking to myself, "she is gonna get one hell of a bad review!"

Then she lost it in fits of laughter, saying I was such a good girl and no, our room is through the door to the left. Tricked! And fell for it. Although she then told us stories of other people who had been tricked too, so I'm not the only gulliable one! It was true that this whole level was ours, and when she opened the door she led us into a room that was bigger than our entire apartment in Berlin. The floor was adorned with mismatching rugs of various sizes, colours and materials. On one side was a single bed and the other, a queen bed, and there was also a small kitchen and a large sofa. There was even a balcony, and if you opened the window and leeeaaaaannnnned out you could see the corner of the Acropolis.

It was bright and vibrant and had as much personality as our host. She kept chuckling to herself about my reaction (maybe I was the first to be like...oh, ok? Instead of FUCK no!) and showed us every corner of the room and how everything worked (including showing us the new mattress and how clean everything was).

At the bathroom, Dani stopped and said "This I can say in perfect English." Pauses for effect. "Do not put the paper in the toilet." If you haven't been to Greece you may not know that you can't flush toilet paper there - the pipes and sewage system is so old and so small that paper clogs it very easily. And no one wants an overflowing toilet! There are always large bins placed nearby. It takes some getting used to but after a day or two you're in the swing of it (and most places have signs to remind you).

Dani offered us a coffee and has we had denied one earlier, this time we said yes. She repeated that she was good woman, good mumma, and if we need anything to shout "Dani! Mumma!" And she would come help. After some time she left and we were able to collapse in a fit of giggles. She returned a short while later with our coffees, which were actually delicious.

At this point I decided to look up how to get to ancient Olympia on the morrow and realised that I may have made a grave error. You see, Dan has done basically all the transport planning (I do most of the attractions and I do all the food planning) but for some reason I had looked up Olympia. In essence, I had a timetable - but absolutely no clue where to catch the bus from in Athens. The timetable had a ticket office address on it and opening times from 7am the next morning, so after panicking considerably Dan convinced me that we would be ok - we would go to the ticket office first thing in the morning and work it out from there.

Dan had wanted to see the new old Olympic stadium in Athens from the 1896 first modern Olympics. We could walk, but that would take us through the dodgy area again so we decided to catch the metro. This was a great idea as we bought 24 hour tickets which we DEFINITELY got our money's worth out of in the end! We left the accommodation with Dani asking, "When will you be back?" You see, they stay awake for their guests, "1am?" Dan and I both burst into laughter - we could barely stand right now and it was 5pm, let alone going out and partying all night. 9pm is more like it for this old couple...

We left and metroed one stop and, popping out, realised we were in front of parliament with lots of people on front. Maybe the guards are changing? We wandered over and the guards were doing their amazing dance routine (if you've seen it before, you know what I'm talking about!) I don't even know how to describe what they were doing and I have absolutely no idea of the history behind it (or their costumes). In essence the two guards walk towards each other slowly, kicking one leg up and flopping a pom-pomed foot around until they eventually meet in the middle. Then the touch outstretched pom-pomed feet, and do some funny twirl things before returning to the other side, occasionally pawing their feet like bulls. It's truly amazing and I love it - I need to find out what it's all about!



Happy we had caught this, it was time to go to the stadium. It closed at 7pm however we hadn't intended to go inside as you can see a lot from outside for free. We walked through the botanic gardens and got a bit lost as we hit a fence when we thought we could join the main road again but after a short backtrack we were on the right path again.

The sunlight was a gentle yellow lighting up the stadium just before 7pm when we got there. We took a bunch of photos and returned via metro to the main square where we were going to find dinner.



Riding the metro is not a relaxing experience in Athens. The metro, in particular, is EXTREMELY bad for pickpockets and I have heard a lot of horror stories. I desperately do not want to become a horror story, so I keep my belongings held tight to my body or push my back up against the door or wall, outing myself even further as a tourist, no doubt.

I had googled best cheap eats and came across Tylxito Greek Wrap that was super close to our accommodation. It had little indoor seating, most was on the pedestrian street and we luckily found a little table slightly away from the crowd so we could feel a bit more comfortable with our bags and also people watch.

We were a little hungrier than a normal gyros so we got a pita each and a half carafe of wine and it was all delicious. Highly recommend this hole in the wall! While under the influence of the wine, we formulated a plan. Before we left the accom we had grabbed my tripod as I had said we should try to take some night photos of the Acropolis if we could. We googled best places to go; I had wanted to climb Mt Lycabettus, which I referred to as the Boob because it's kind of shaped like one but the climb was rather intrepid for nighttime adventures and the view not overly great. Dan found the Philoppapos Hill and the views looked pretty speccy- also it was a little closer and on a path we already knew. So off we went!

We climbed back up to the ticket offices at the Acropolis but this time turned right and started climbing up towards the monument on the hill. There was no light here but we weren't the only ones making the trek. Every so often in a clearing a few people were set up with beers or cameras just surveying the scene. We kept going and eventually found a little nook of our which offered spectacular views. I set up my tripod and Dan set up on a rock and we spent some time trying to take pretty pictures of the Acropolis with the theatre in the foreground.

By now we were very weary - it was almost 10pm and we had been up for over 36 hours. Time to call it a night. We returned to our accommodation, said our good nights to our hosts, set our alarm for early the next morning and collapsed into bed.

Til next time
xx

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Final Countdown. Day 16: Tirana - Athens

Already time to check out of our apartment! We made our breakfast and lunch like yesterday, packhorsed ourselves and walked to the Choose Balkans Apartment offices. The lovely lady wasn't there but a young man greeted us warmly and let us leave our stuff. I happened to mention that the lady had offered us some home made raki, but it was a little early in the morning so we would try it when we collected our bags.

Our first stop today was return to the pyramid so Dan could climb it. My shoes are too slippery - it would have been a disaster! I set up my cameras and away he went - the "third" slope is the easiest as it is the least steep. He got a good amount of momentum and was on the top in no time! Another guy was trying at the same time and neither he nor his girlfriend were having much luck. I took a few photos of Dan on the peak before he slid down - literally. I took a video and I couldn't stop giggling - he slid down like he was on a slippery slide! I'm sure most people just try to run down - this was far more sensible. Only made his pants a bit dusty. He inspired a big group of teenage girls who started trying once he got down.



Next we needed to find magnets and postcards. We had seen only one place that sold them so we returned there. The selection wasn't great but it'll do - they're not totally geared up for tourists just yet! It was good not having crappy tourist stores every second shop.



We walked down the leafy street until we came to one of te stops from yesterday and we remembered it was an art gallery with artwork from communist times. That sounded interesting and upon inquiring at the price, only 200lek we grabbed ourselves some tickets.
We both find communist propaganda so interesting. It's just mind boggling. Here were all these painting of stoic, happy people - each painting sends a message of strength, unity, happiness, togetherness when in actuality life was none of these things. The paintings go from realistic (pre- communism) to cartoonlike and stylised. Just fascinating. As our guide had said the day before, "look at these weird paintings. Well, I grew up with them and they weren't so weird then."



We had heard of a fast food chain called kolonat which was like a fake McDonalds. On that note - there are no Maccas in Albania. They got their first KFC two years ago - not even a Starbucks...yet. Anyway the kolonat had a kind of "frie" logo and we went looking for it. Where it was supposed
To be was all closed off. Bugger. There was supposed to be another near the bunker park that we wanted to go return to do we gave that a go.



And Lo and behold we found it! It no longer had the cool logo - probably legal action from Maccas did this? And they only take cash. This was a problem. We had come all this way and we only had 400lek on us. This could buy us two cheeseburgers so we thought we would compare it to Maccas cheeseburgers. It was tasty! And pretty close.

We took some photos in the bunker park and made our way back to the Choose Balkans offices to collect our bags and hopefully try some home made raki!



At the offices he seemed to have forgotten about the raki but when I paused in the collection of my bag he then asked. He poured three shots (one for himself as well) and offered to the others in there and cheers! Down the hatch. It wasn't too bad - I didn't shudder wven though it was very strong. The American who was being served took it upon himself to tell us in great detail the method for making raki, and then the Choose Balkans guy poured us another little one. He said it's tradition to have a photo with it, so we posed and downed the next one.

This would numb the pain of having to walk to the international bus station - at least about 25 minutes away in the muggy warmth. We had one small pause with 10 minutes left on the walk but made it there relatively easily. We will be having to do a lot more of this over the coming months!

At the bus station I checked us in and asked where the toilets were. Squat toilets, my favourite. Our bus was already waiting and when it hit 3pm (we had been quite early) we could put our bags on and soon after get on the bus.

The few people getting on were all squashed up the back (us included) - I figured we would pick up a few more people along the way. As usual my travel sickness pills knocked me out almost immediately so I indeed up missing durres! Dan assured me there wasn't much to see from the bus. Unfortunately this hour is about the sun total of sleep I got on the journey.

At one toilet stop was a particularly hikarkous cat. He had plonked himself right in the doorway to get inside the snack bar and toilet and would flinch but resoultutely stayed put. He shied away from all advances and Dan only managed a brief pat. What a silly place for an unsociable cat to stop! Someone everntually kicked him out of the way.

When we set out I was a bit apprehensive about our 15 hour bus journey and sitting on a bus for nigh on 15 hours. This isn't what actually happened. What I hadn't bargained on was the border crossing. Now there was a song and dance!

Three hours it took to cross the border from Albania into Greece. This three hours must be quite standard because we got into Athens at the expected arrival time. The first thing that happened was we pulled up behind a convey of other buses and stopped. Immediately had we come to a standstill and our doors were open, the bus was flooded with people. Were these people security or police or border control? No these people were shop owners and selling things. Everything. From bread rolls to pot plants, salespeople piled onto the bus from every available door.
Outside of the bus was a cafe, bar and lots of shops. Obviously they knew that there would be a wait...

Eventually after about an hour and a half, our driver passed down the bus to collect passports. I'll mention here one of our delightful fellow passsengers who insisted on talking with people on her phone on FaceTime or speaker for the duration of the journey so far. Then when time to hand over passport she wasn't ready. We had been sitting here for almost and hour and a half and she somehow wasn't prepared.

After another age we all piled off, grabbing our belongings. This was very confusing as some people were moving and others weren't but it just turned out They were moving very lazily and not hastily. I grabbed most of my stuff and hopped off the bus, where everyone had collected their luggage and was opening up.

Wut. Really. We have so much luggage this is gonna take an ice age. By the time we even found space on a table a lot of people had already been checked and so we opened every bag and waited patiently. The man had long moved on from our position and I was certain we would be last. Another man appeared from nowhere and literally patted my bags, but his Hand slightly inside Dans big purple bag, patted the top and moved on. Seriously we had gone to all that effort for that? So we struggled our bags closed and our locks back on, and were one of the last people back on the bus.

This whole spectacle started at 8.10pm and ended at 10.10pm. Two hours. And it wasn't quite over yet.

Back on the bus we received our passports back and drove through the Albanian border crossing. And stopped on the other side.

Piling back out of the bus again it was time for some performance on the Greek side. We all made a mass near the building office, some hanging back others pushing to form a bit of a queue. Eventually our driver starting calling out names and we realised we needed to line up in our seat order (to make it easy on security I guess.)

About halfway through our driver read out a name with no response. He looked puzzled and continued reading a couple more names, including and ending with Dans name. Not everyone's name had been read out as we watched or driver go back on the bus, find a bag and take it off and bring it through security...I think we may have left someone somewhere!

Phone lady was infront of me but pushed herself forward so she could lean on a wall. Eventually it was time for me to go up, pretty quick and easy - this time we got a stamp for entering Greece (no Albania stamp sadly!) and Dan and I were officially in Greece.

As is my wont I needed to pee and so we circumnavigated a nearby building eventually realising the door being guarded by a troll was in fact the toilet. He was shouting all sorts at us (I think it may have been about the toilets) but I was too scared to go alone so I made dan come trough with me and go to the men's. The troll ran up behind us which gave me a fright but it was just to show which one was he men's and which the women's.

This is a bathroom worth mentioning. Along the mirror was the remains of about five sinks, all smashed in with buckets trying to collect some of the water flowing out of the taps. The entire floor was flooded and I was presented with some questionable squat toilets.

I tried to spend as little time in there as possible and literally ran past the troll on my way out - dan had given him a couple of coins.

By the time we were all back on the bus and through the border it was well after 11pm, bringing the whole shemozzle to approx 3 hours.

Over the next few hours I dozed but mostly just willed the time to pass. At about 5am someone up the back of the bus started shouting extremely loudly and persistently. When he got off about a half an hour later I realised that Mr Shouty had wanted to be let off before the Athens stop. No discreet walking down the bus to the driver, no, let's shout up and down the bus. I was fully awake now (as awake as one can be on no sleep) and just sat there waiting to arrive into Athens.

From my googling I thought we would arrive into the international bus station which was a 40+ minute walk from our accom, or deal with metro or taxis at 6.30am after no sleep. This was a stressful thought. Now we were in Greece our phone data works again (yay, EU!) so Dan checked and actually we were somewhere else only about a 15 minute walk!

I shall leave this post here as our accommodation in Greece deserves a chapter of its own - it was *quite* the experience, so I will finish with the picture of us walking through the streets of Athens in the pitch black before sunrise, laden with all of our luggage.

Til next time
xx


Monday, 16 April 2018

The Final Countdown. Day 15: Tirana




As we had gone shopping the night before, we had some supplies for breakfast instead of our usual muesli. We bought some eggs, (12lek each), some canned mushroom (because there were no fresh fruits or veggies here), some strange small slices of bread and some cream cheese to use instead of butter. Dan did a great job pulling it all together with our limited utensils, and we topped it off with a juice. This will likely be our standard whenever we stay in an apartment. This way we were also able to make ourselves some sandwiches for lunch.

These were cream cheese, sardines (the actual meat was horribly expensive) and cheese - let's see if this would be really awful! They actually turned out to be ok, thankfully!

I got a bit sidetracked watching Shrek on the tv while getting dressed do we ended up having to rush a bit to the starting point of our walking tour near the opera house.

We found ourselves in a giant open square with the opera house on the far side. A few other tourist looking people were milling about and we found what looked to be a guide.

The walking tour went for a bit over two hours and I have to say it was one of the most interesting tours I have been on. Due to the relatively recent opening up of Albania, our guide, who I think said he was 41 years old, grew up under the strict communist regime and would have been a teenager when it collapsed. His first hand accounts were brilliant and he encouraged questions, always answering with tongue in cheek humour.

He explained how every stone slab in the giant open square came from and represented a different region of Albania. How in the summer, it would flood with water to keep cool, which just made it look like a "giant toilet floor".

I can't go into the history of this incredible country: it's too much to go into. Essentially they felt brief freedom between WWI and WWII, before being plunged into one of the most strict communist regimes of the time, only lifted in 1992. Much of our tour revolved around the communist era and what came after which was truly fascinating. 

"In Albania, cars were forbidden. In 1992, Cars came. Next day everyone was a driver." This explains the driving!

From 1967-1991 it was forbidden to practice religion. Most religious buildings were destroyed - those that remained were kept as "museums". 

Across the years, Hoxha, the communist leader, slowly cut ties with all former allies and countries, closing the country entirely. First it was all non-communist countries. Next, their neighbour Yuogoslavia - wasn't communist enough. So the borders were shut. After the death of Stalin, upon whom the regime took great inspiration, Russia relaxed its communist ways and again - want communist enough for Albania.  Albania had one last ally - China. Until eventually in the 70s it was decided they weren't following communism well enough, and the last ties to the outside world were cut. This caused a devastating blow to the economy which was also struggling but to the people inside - they were being told that they were still better off than anywhere else in the world!

He explained how everyone was brainwashed into thinking the rest of the world was much much worse off than Albania. The limited news they would hear would be carefully selected to show other places in bad light. Strikes. Protests. Disease. 

Other stories he regaled us with included that of his own family. 
"Before," said his father, "there were no car accidents." "There were no cars to have accidents!"
"Tirana used to be so much cleaner!" "That's because we had nothing to throw away!"

Our guide Gazi would constantly refer to his water bottle as a small symbol of what they never had. The convenience, the colours, the freshness. He also told us about how he himself had been brainwashed - for instance, if you saw a man with longer than regulation hair or an unshaven face (as it was illegal to grow a beard), it was his *duty* to tell someone. These days he sports a beard, and his family members still can't quite get used to it. 

We continued walking and came to a Catholic Church with a statue of Mother Teresa and St Paul seemingly taking a selfie. We wondered why we had seen so much of her here considering Macedonia claims her. Apparently she was born in Macedonia but to Albanian parents. While here, Gazi explained that while under communism, Mother Teresa visited Albania. "I'd like to open a house for the poor."
The response? "There are no poor people in Albania!"
After the fall of communist she returned, and discovered EVERYONE was poor!

To try to lift the spirits of the people once it was a democracy, the Prime Minuster started having things painted bright colours. New buildings or buildings that have been renovated are bright oranges or with vibrant patterns. On all electricity meters there's a painting - often of some cartoon character. Our guide told us that there had been a famous illegal artist in Tirana, and he was made the Chief of Decoration! Also, there are painted sunflowers everywhere. I need to look up why this is. 



The walking tour took us in a big loop - as I said we were more interested in his stories! We passed a few churches/mosques, all donated by the respective countries that worship that denomination. We visited George W Bush street, and the famous pyramid of Tirana. It was originally built by the dictators daughter as a museum to her father but was later transformed into a cultural centre. It fell into ruin. Now it's a place for young people to hang out and try to climb it if they dare!

Back through a park where we were shown a series of small rounded bunkers - the country was littered with these and if you look carefully through the country you can see the remains of some of them. Past the dictators residence which is in an area called Blloku - originally only the elite could enter here so the moment it was opened to the public it became a space filled with trendy bars and restaurants and high rise buildings. 

The tour was really fascinating and I wish I could remember everything he said. After the tour, Dan and I decided to go try our luck at getting bus tickets for the morrow - as we would already be leaving Tirana for Athens. We managed to find the bus company's office reasonably easily, and got 2 tickets for 3.30pm the next day for €30 each. This was a bit more than I was expecting so it came as a bit of a shock. We will get into Athens at about 6am the following day. 

After the tickets, we passed a supermarket and stocked up on some snacks for tomorrow. We got some cheese and chips and cookies (balanced meal!) and some weird green Fanta and a giant 1.5l plastic bottle of beer. We also grabbed some muesli as our breakie stocks were running low. 

We had promised our apartment manager that we would pop in for home made raki but the day was getting away from us. We returned back to the apartment to drop our things off and discovered our next planned activity would be closing at 4pm and so we had to hurry!

Next up was Bunkart 1. This is a restored giant nuclear bunker that had also been filled with info on the life in Albania as well as some art installations. But it's not so easy to get to. There's also Bunkart 2 in the middle of the city but everyone recommended number 1 so that's what we aimed for. We legged it to the bus station on the other side of the square. All we knew was the bus should be Blue and going to Porcelan. There were two blue buses there, one big and one little, neither saying anything useful. 

A man in a high vis vest came up to bus and said "Bunkart?" and pointed to the little bus. Ok. So we hopped on, even tho I was a bit worried - it said coach and charter on the side. Within minutes the large blue bus left and its sign said Porcelan. Damn. That was the one we needed. Not long after our bus took off and high vis walked around getting everyone's 40lek for the bus ticket. This continues for some time as the bus got more crowded. We stopped for a long time near a stop that said Bunkart 1, and just as the bus was about to leave high vis waves us to get off. Oh. I thought the bus was supposed to stop in front of the bunker?

We ended up having a bit of a walk uphill ahead of us as this bus took us close but not right to the site. A couple of Porcelan buses passed us...
Finally we saw a sign and made our way down a really interesting looking tunnel with cool light and muddy slippery floors. Out we popped on the other side and there was a ticket booth. The time was now about 2.30pm so hopefully we would have enough time. 

We grabbed our tickets and despite the sign, the lady said we could take photos inside. We had to walk up quite a large hill passing old rusty bench chairs and play equipment. 

Bunkart 1 displays the quarters where Hoxha and other officials would have stayed had there been an attack, as well as shows a lot (!) of rooms, most of which have been converted into a museum explaining the modern history of Albania and why they would want or need such an extensive bunker. Paranoia, mostly. 

We skipped over some of this as it went into a great amount of detail and we didn't have all that much time. A lot of this can be wikied later. Inside was also a large assembly hall now turned possible concert or lecture hall. Some of the art was quite thought provoking, one of my favourites being a closed pitch black room with a lantern in the middle - the only light, and the sound of guns and shell fire around you. 


We popped out a little bit before 4pm (it had been freezing down there so I was glad to get out into the 27c air!) near to here was the Dajti Ekspres cable car - the longest in the Balkans. After riding it - i dont doubt that! Tickets only cost €6 return and soon we were in the next car. This is a definite must do it you like beautiful scenery! The ride took about 15 minutes and the cable car swooped low into valleys and then climbed climbed climbed back up into the mountain. Each time you could see a peak you thought this would surely be the end but you'd keep going, into the next valley and up the next mountain. The scenery ahead was beautiful lush green with some ramshackle farms below. To our right was the city of Tirana growing painter and fainter into the distance. It was beautifully peaceful. 

When we reached the top we made our way to the edge to see the view. It was very hazy and while it was a lovely sunny day - the haze made it very hard to make out the city. We sat here for a while and then caught the cable car back down again watching as Tirana became more clear as we approached it. 

This time we caught the Porcelan bus back into the city without any dramas - it really did stop right near the bunkart. No dramas on this bus - we got a seat and it became very squashy later on - two tiny old local ladies squeezed on, were too far away from the ticket man and by the time he came past they squeezed off again - free ride!


We returned to our apartment to do some laundry, try our green Fanta (passionfruit flavour i think) and our giant beer, which was watery, and figure out dinner. We wanted to eat in the blloku area but I was having trouble finding specific places with good reviews. I found one which did local cuisine and so we decided to go there. It was called Restaurant Era. We ordered some wine (twice the price of the previous nights) and the mixed starter platter for two which was made up of a lot of local delicacies. We also order two local dishes, the names escape me. Honestly, the food the night before was A LOT better and A LOT cheaper. The starter platter here was amazing, and I may have found the rest of the food amazing if we hadn't have had similar dishes the night before (unknowingly!). So if you need somewhere to eat in Tirana, definitely go to Tek Zgara Tirones 2!

Almost the end of the night - we returned to our apartment, packed a little, put a load of washing in the dryer and it was soon time for bed. 

Til next time
xx

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Final Countdown. Day 14: Istanbul - Tirana

Today we left Turkey for Albania, and another new country for both of us!

Checking out of our hotel wasn't a problem - we are getting good at repacking. Getting to the ferry terminal wasn't a problem on the tram, and neither was buying the ferry ticket. In fact, everything just went smoothly. We got on the ferry, made our way across the Bosphorus, waved goodbye to Istanbul and got on the bus to the airport.

We had intended to grab the e11 to the airport instead of the e10 because it's less windy, but the e10 was sitting there and there were plenty of seats, so after being bother by a lady wanting us to buy water from her we decided to just jump on. Traffic was horrendous to begin with, but we had left loads of time so this wasn't a problem.

Our driver started off very tentative but his driving free ever more aggressive and we arrived at the airport a bit before we were supposed to. No hassles!

We knew what to expect of security this time and sailed through the first security check. Checkin and bag drop was also a breeze, no irritating questions. Through second security - again, nothing! And then we did the unthinkable and got Maccas again for lunch! I got something quite spicy Avila Tabuk burger (I don't know how to pronounce it) and Dan got the Daba Daba burger mostly because it sounded funny which turned out to be fish.

Nothing of interest to report for the wait in the airport or the flight. It wasn't full, so Dan and I got the row to ourselves as our neighbour moved to an empty row. Oh! When we were going through security a family had been pulled over ahead of us trying to take in there weird cylinders covered in paper and plastic, they had 3 or 4 of them and were saying they only hold 1L each. The security was trying to explain to them that they can only take in things less than 100ml and it should have gone in their checked luggage. The father kept trying to tell the security to "come with me come with me" to the gate and accompany him so he could take them with. God knows what they were filled with! We didn't see the conclusion of this argument.

After the flight we emerged through customs looking everywhere for a sign with our name. We couldn't see it. I did a few laps to see if we had missed it somehow. We were on the verge of turning out data on (at a charge) to contact our apartment when a man walked in holding a handwritten sign saying Daniel Garland. Phew! We followed him outside as he paid for his parking space and then into his taxi - which took us by surprise. No matter, we jumped in and were away.

Not long down the street and still inside the airport grounds our driver stopped and made us get out and get into another taxi. This was weird. This new taxi had his meter running Altho the guy was far cheerier than the one we had before.

He seemed to have a little command of English and so explained that there had been a mistake with the other driver. Also we were the first passengers in this car ever because it was brand new! We drove into Tirana through quite a traffic jam and emerged the other side.

We are staying in Choose Balkans Apartments which have Apartments all over the city. Ours is lovely, with a washing machine and drier (omg, clean clothes at last). Our hotel lady met us and took us inside, she was very young and lovely and had printed a map for us, and explained all the different points on the map. She then invited us to the office for tomorrow to try some home made raki (remember about a week ago in Turkey??) and we bid our farewells.

Clean clothes was the first order of the day, and as our apartment had a washing machine we threw a load on. Thankfully we had brought with us some washing detergent, and voila! Clean clothes on the morrow. I can't wait. Things were getting a little dire...

As we are in an apartment, we will make our own breakfasts and lunches to save money. Our first stop then needed to be a supermarket. Our first attempt turned out to be quite lacking so we returned to the apartment, googled again and found another. We found this one and it seems that they don't stick fresh fruit and vegetables! But we found bread and a few other supplies that would get us through breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, and deposited these back at our apartment.

Next stop: dinner. I had researched this already and had a short list of places to try. One was about 10 minutes walk from our accommodation called Tek Zgara Tirane II which was supposed to be a cheap eat, although technically everything in Albania is a cheap eat! On the way, we passed Tek Zgara Tirane I, but I insisted we keep going just in case.

As we walked, we passed what felt like 20 pharmacies, just lined up one after another. Another thing I noticed, and loved, as wall the children playing soccer in the streets. The streets themselves are generally really narrow, room for a car *just*, and hanging power lines everywhere. It's rough, but there's a charm to it. There's graffiti everywhere, but it seems to be positive affirmations, or proclamations of "We don't give a fuck".

We arrived at the restaurant and took our seat, our waiter speaking a bit of English. Looking at the menu, it luckily had pictures of all the dishes, but god only knows what they actually were. Wine we could decipher, and it was cheap, and so we ordered a half carafe for 300LEK (about €2.50) and asked if he had any recommendations on food. In the end we ordered his recommendations; the chicken wings and some amazing cheesy red meat thing that arrived sizzling

, and some steamed vegetables. The whole meal was delicious and Dan and I barely spoke as we devoured it. Once we were close to finishing, we ordered another carafe of red wine because it was tasty and so cheap.

Buzzing, it was time to return to the apartment and hang up our washing. And here I am, probably too drunk to be writing this and getting ready for bed - we will do a walking tour early in the morning so it's time to settle in.

Until next time
x

Friday, 13 April 2018

A useful post: Turkey

A summary of the experiences I had while in Turkey. Reviews of our accommodation, my favourite restaurants and the things to do and eat!

Accommodation

Istanbul

Istiklal Hostel New
We stayed in the Budget Double Room with shared bathroom for 6 nights in total (split across 2 visits) at roughly €20 per night. It was the cheapest we found in Istanbul. I recommend only staying here (in this room, in particular) if you are really watching your pennies, otherwise try another hostel. The bed was bad, the room was tiny with bad air, the bathrooms not amazing. However, the location is A+++.

Göreme

Angel Cave Suites
Absolutely stunning cave hotel right near to the main street, and only 10 minutes walk from Sunset point. As it is quite new, (only about 4 months old), we got a super amazing rate on the Double Cave Room, otherwise it is normally triple the price. If it is in your budget, I highly, highly recommend! The room was amazing, built into the cave which gave the room a very unique shape. Breakfast was delicious and fresh and the service by hotel manager Jay was second-to-none. It was like staying at a friend's place!

Selçuk

ANZ Hostel
Rather lovely hostel, bizarre bathroom but a small price to pay as this was our cheapest accommodation in Turkey. Breakfast was great, and it is probably the closest you'll get to Ephesus out of all the hostels. Not far from the main train station either.

Çanakkale

Anzac House Youth Hostel
Clean, cheap and basic hostel. Unfortunately the fluorescent lights outside shone right into our window and it always felt like daylight in there. Also very inexpensive.

Restaurants

Istanbul

Ortaklar Kebap Lahmacun
My rule for never returning to the same restaurant more than once was well and truly broken here - we went back three times. SO cheap for Istanbul (for 2 people you'll really only spend about €10), huge range of different foods and really friendly service. Complimentary bread, dip and tea.

Old Ottoman Cafe and Restaurant
A bit pricer, but their testi kebap is delicious and the service is very friendly. Complimentary bread, olives, tea and dessert.

Little man halfway between the Golden Horn Metro Bridge and Gallata Bridge
Simply sells balik ekmek out of his boat for 9TL. The bread is so fresh and soft, the fish is super fresh and tasty and he tries hard to get rid of as many bones as possible. We went back to him twice! I don't know if his boat has a name, but there's a big blue umbrella over his barbeque.

Göreme

Omurca Art Cave Cafe
Where to begin! This restaurant is run by a man straight out of his house and kitchen (to get to the toilet you have to go through his bedroom) and he cooks the meals specially for you. He makes his own wine too. Oh, and he really likes cats, so there are cats everywhere. Don't go if you don't like cats! Definitely go if you're a cat lover! We had three sleeping on us while we were dining on his excellent home made food and wine. Try the ravioli, it's amazing. Total bill came to approximately €20. Complimentary bread and cheese.

Selçuk

Selçuk Pidecisi
Another little family run restaurant with impeccable service. Complimentary bread, tea and dessert.

Things to do

Istanbul

  • Bosphorus Cruise with ferry company Sehir Hatlari. Their 2 hour tour is only 12TL, which is about €2.40. You don't get a running commentary of what you're passing, but it is still beautiful. 
  • Get the museum pass. With it you can enter at least the Topkapi Palace (and Harem) and the Hagia Sophia and you've got your money's worth.
  • Basilica Cistern
  • Try shisha
  • Visit the bazaars
    Spice Market (or Egyptian Bazaar) for an authentic, local experience. Cheaper, but super crazy!
    Grand Bazaar, very old, prices more for tourists (so don't buy here, or try to haggle!)
    Antique Bazaar, quieter, more space.
  • Hamam
    This can be done anywhere in Turkey but there's a lot of choice in Istanbul. 

Goreme

  • Balloon flight - with Butterfly Balloons
    I can't recommend Butterfly Balloons enough - with so many companies to choose from it was really hard to make a choice, and I definitely went with the right one! Everything about their package was second to none. They aren't the cheapest on the market but they aren't the most expensive either.
  • Hike the Red and Rose Valleys
  • Visit an Underground City. This can be done on the Green Tour or separately.
  • Go up to Sunset Point at both sunset and sunrise, watch the balloons fly over the town in the early morning.

Selçuk

  • Ephesus
    No matter what the taxi drivers say, you can probably walk to here from your accommodation! Amazingly preserved ruins. And loads of cats.


Çanakkale

  • Troy
    Çanakkale is actually the modern day Troy, located about 30km away from the site of the ruins. An excellent look back at ancient history/mythology, better with a tour guide who can point out what you're looking at. We used Hassle Free Tours.
  • Gallipoli
    A must do for all Aussies and Kiwis in Turkey, the Gallipoli peninsula is dotted with landmarks, memorials and cemeteries dedicated to those who lost their lives at Gallipoli in World War 1. We used Hassle Free Tours.

Things to eat and drink

  • Kunefe, baklava, and other sweet desserts
  • Sherbet, if you can find it (available at Old Ottomans Cafe)
  • Kebap (of course, in all and every variety)
  • Testi kebap, served out of a one-use-only clay pot
  • Gozleme
  • Pide
  • The bread
  • belik ekmek (fish sandwiches)
  • All tea - Turkish tea and apple tea in particular
  • Turkish coffee - you don't drink down to the bottom! It's unfiltered. Learnt this the hard way.
  • Kofte meatballs
  • Dondurma icecream!

And most of all - have fun!
xx