David and Lili's World Tour

SOUTHERN EUROPE


October 2015 - Greece, Italy, Portugal

Kalimera! We island-hopped our way from Turkey to Italy via Greece... Regarding the scenery, we were most keen to see Santorini, the mega-volcano that exploded 3600 years ago, now a giant caldera at sea level and a truly magnificent site. The Santorini explosion and tsunami destroyed the Minoan civilization (and probably the city of Atlantis). Now Santorini is famous for the classic white-and-blue villages clinging to the cliffs above the caldera. We only stayed one night. Tourists!

The beauty of travelling independently is that whenever we don't like a place, we can always get on the next bus or ferry. It's not that we didn't like Santorini, but it's so expensive and crowded that we bailed. Also, we were in a hurry because our visas were about to expire. Backpackers in Europe used to be able to travel for years by going from country to country, but that changed in 1990 with the Shengen treaty; now travellers get 90 days maximum for the whole region (within a 180-day window). After touring Northern Europe, we left the Shengen zone to visit Turkey, but the minute we landed in Greece we were back on the clock. If not for this problem, we would have travelled more slowly because Greece is great!




Leaving Turkey we stopped first at Rhodes and then Crete, the largest island where we escaped the tourists by heading up the mountain (a short tour with a rent-a-car). In remote villages we found a conservative Christian culture with exceptional food (simple and fresh with amazing olive oil). We have eaten thousands of Greek salads over the years, but the ones in Crete were by far the best. And that's just the salad! The house specialty here is grilled lamb. Yeah. In the villages one does not have to order the raki (home-made alcohol) because the Cretians serve it freely after every meal. It's good, for people who like rocket fuel (smiley face). Next we discovered Matala Beach, a former hippie haven and a perfectly relaxing base for trekking excursions. We want to return to Crete with more time some day, if God wants.

We were excited to finally arrive in Athens, one of the world's great cities for exploring history. The Acropolis is magnificent, the rocky hilltop home to the great Pantheon temple. This small site has become overly touristy however because it's on everyone's bucket list, so we made sure to be the first visitors to enter in the morning. As the world gets smaller and as the population explodes, this pattern repeats. Now it's easy to travel by airplane to all the cool places, and everyone speaks English, and guide books explain all the logistics, and modern buses cruise the newly paved highways, and you can book it online. This is why we seek out real adventure, things like travelling from Indonesia to India by public bus. This is why we didn't go to Delphi on a tour, but instead stayed three nights in the cool mountain village on our way to Italy. Delphi rocks, and yes we found a great local restaurant just up the hill from the tourist street.

For the record, we do not own a selfie stick.





OK, Greece ... There's a lot going on. Simultaneous catastrophes are hitting hard, but not so much on the touristy islands. We saw the suffering especially in Athens, where everyone seemed affected by crisis in some way, even if only psychologically. We met Syrian and Afghanistan refugees, and wow, there's nothing like hearing first-hand accounts of escaping a war zone (and then surviving a journey with thieves, corrupt police, crappy boats, and worse). We also met Greek victims of the Big Banks' austerity mandate. Everyone we talked to about these problems had a different opinion, with controversial solutions provoking intense emotions. The only thing everyone agreed to was that the corruption and tax evasion in Greece needs reform, and... Why should Greece have to abide by soul-crushing austerity while the Big Banks do not have to change any rules, or forgive any debt, or even reduce borrowing costs? Shouldn't the rules for the Euro have to change too, to address the currency's systemic problems? Meanwhile, shouldn't the EU be granting free Billions to Greece to help deal with the refugees? Sigh. How did we get to a place where bankers dictate to sovereign countries how to run their economies, all so that the bankers can maximize their profits from debt re-payments? Surely there must be a better way to rule the world.




So Anyway, Athens is an amazing city that everyone should see not only for the ancient history, but also for the street cafes and the parks that serve as refugee meeting points, modern history in progress. We ask, what are YOU doing to help the refugees? Donating to a group such as UNICEF perhaps?

We found Athens to be fascinating despite the city's lack of cultural happiness, especially compared to Italy where we arrived to see fashion and color, with gregarious people speaking loudly in a language we almost understand. Great! We went straight to Napoli, the city in the world most threatened by an imminent volcanic explosion. Damn, this is a tough planet sometimes. Napoli was perfect for us however, with few tourists and lots of culture, essential Italy. We tested our bad Italian by ordering pizza and pasta...

Regarding our archaeological tour, we are happy that we saved Pompeii for last. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, and perhaps no natural disaster in human history has been of such benefit for future generations. The volcanic ash buried two cities, and there's nowhere else on Earth so perfectly frozen in time. This is where the science of archaeology was born. This is where one can see the vibrant middle class of zeroth-century Romans decorating their homes with cool artwork.





We visited friends in Roma and Lisboa before flying to Buenos Aires. Thanks Davide, Zezinho, Olga, and Aline! We like to visit Portugal to hear the funny accent (from a Brazilian perspective) because this makes us laugh. Crucially also, Lisbon was on our way to South America... By the way, our Plan A for this trip used to include West Africa (and France), but we must save this now for a future adventure (when we are fresh). We are keen to study French and visit West Africa, but we are more keen to visit friends and family in the Americas on our way to New Zealand eventually. Friends and family are good :) Aloha.








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