Monday, September 28, 2009

Visiting Greece - Paralia Katerini and Corfu.

Each summer we are taking approximately 1 week leave from work, and spend it abroad relaxing somewhere on a beach :).
Last year we went to Paralia Katerini, and this summer to Corfu island. Since both locations are in Greece, we'll present them combined in this post, but with the focus on the latest one.

Most of the time, Andra takes care of the formalities while I simply present at the place of departure - ready for action :).
Just like in the previous year, the bus was the transportation method that we chose, mainly because of expenses reasons. Let me tell you that it won't happen again :).
Although we prefer limiting the expenses related to non essential or less relevant services, and invest more in the actual sightseeing experience, 20 hours in the bus - with some noisy traveling companions - can be really tiresome.
On a better note, if we hadn't taken the bus, we wouldn't have had the chance to meet a very nice couple (George and Smaranda), with whom we became friends and ended up spending together the whole vacation.

In both cases: Paralia and Corfu, it takes more than 18 hours to get there by bus, so one must take this into consideration before choosing between bus and airplane.

Comparison between these two locations.
- continental; offers flexibility in visiting the surroundings or other distant tourist attractions;
- cheap destination (accommodation, services, overall prices);
- wide variety of services and trips available. There are many local travel companies that offer the same services and compete with each other by lowering the prices (the consumer is at advantage in the end).
- less populated beaches near the resort itself (reachable by scooter/atv).
- clean water;
- crowded in the high season;
- can't be considered an extremely nice location to spend your holidays (not much to see beside water; for sight seeing you have to take short trips to other parts of Greece).

- small island, can be visited in 3-4 days with a rented car;
- lots of attractions, places that worth seeing;
- quiet place, less crowded with people;
- marine fauna that can be seen and enjoyed with a snorkeling equipment (Paleokastrita is one of the best locations for this activity);
- special trips with glass bottom boats;
- breathtaking scenery in some locations and beaches.
- a little more expensive than Paralia (especially the food);
- the whole island has just a few sandy beaches, while the rest are made of gravel. The advantage of gravel beaches is that more marine fauna can be seen there, comparing to the sandy ones where you can't find much in the water.
- lots of sea urchins! Special footwear (scuffs) have to be worn while in water in order to avoid getting stung (which leads to a 2-3 days inflammation and pain).
- lots of tall seaweed that hinders or can even limit the area in which one can swim.
- very small roads that make driving hard and tiresome (especially in the resorts where the parked cars can block an entire lane for hundreds of meters);
- very small, or non existent sidewalks;
- limited range of trips. While in Paralia you can take field trips and visit important locations relevant to Greece culture; Corfu can't offer the same because of the distance from mainland.

These information should suffice for anyone interested in either of the locations; now let's go back to our time spent there.
Upon arrival, we housed and then hurried to the beach to catch the 3-4 hours remaining from the day.
We had to cut short the relaxation as our local guide asked to keep an informal meeting which was supposed to be very useful for all of us. It was not.
In fact, the guide tried to motivate us buy all sorts of trips (probably to gather some rake-off from her deals with the travel agencies).
However, business is business, so we didn't judge her too hard :). Instead, having the experience from the previous year, we advised our new friends not to hurry to book trips, but better to make a visiting plan, organize ourselves and then look for the best price at the local agencies.

Here are some pictures from the first day - on the road and in Benitses, where we stayed.

The second day we went to Corfu Town (Kerkyra), which we visited twice during our time on the island. There we wondered the ruins of a citadel, the city itself with its Venetian aspect, took a trip with a glass bottom ship, bought some souvenirs and had something to eat (discovered a supermarket where they had the biggest olives we ever saw).

The next days we continued to explore and discover the entire area, relaxed in the water or on the beach (at night we played cards), rented a small car for two days (visited other beaches and passed through some nice villages), rented two ATVs and wondered to another resort nearby.

Here are some random pictures from the entire period. Details: us with the snorkeling equipment (which was worth every penny), photo with the shark at the Seashell Museum, George catching some crawfish (which we released afterward), playing with the ATVs :), in the Paxos-Antipaxos trip, underwater, and some other various moments.

There are still many things remaining untold from the 7 days spent in Corfu, but you probably got the main idea ;).
For us, Corfu was a good place to relax and disconnect entirely. Thanks to the trip from the previous year, we already had some knowledge about the Greece culture and we didn't feel hindered by Corfu's limitations.
However, for a new traveler who wishes to learn about Greece by sightseeing, Corfu might prove frustrating, while a mainland resort would be a far better choice.

In case you need advices, please feel free to drop us a line; we'll gladly share our knowledge with anyone interested.
Meanwhile we're making plans for other destinations waiting to be discovered :) - Croatia and Tunisia.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Visitig Italy - Venice

Just a few weeks after returning from Madrid, we had a flight booked for Venice.
The plan was to stay for 3 days in Venice, and in the two days left - we were going to have our first couchsurfing experience.

We were very excited about both: visiting Venice and meeting people from the CS network - for the first time.

Our flight landed this time in the late evening and we hurried to catch a bus before the transportation schedule ended. Since the airport was placed far from the city, we wanted to avoid getting a cab, as the long distance would have implied a pricey outcome.

With no accommodation arranged for the first three days, we asked the bus driver for suggestions about hostels or hotels near the city (Andra did the talking as she knows Italian pretty good).
The buss driver was good enough to drop us right in front of a nice hotel (Primavera, if I remember correctly). Took the bed and breakfast option which proved to be great, because we ate well in the morning and had plenty of energy for visiting afterwards.

Before this trip I finally managed to buy a new dslr camera - D80, after the D40 previously owned; so now it was a good occasion for me to test it properly, satisfy one of my hobbies and keep on stalking Andra with the camera :).

A few pictures from the 1st day:

We knew that Venice implied water, but we weren't expecting so much water (it was unexpected in a pleasant way).
Also, we'd seen Rome, so we knew what a small street looked like; but in Venice many streets were more like alleys that allowed two or three people to walk aligned, and others allowed only one person to walk conformable from one end to the other.
There are no automobiles of any kind allowed - nor present in the city, and it wouldn't be possible to drive there - to that matter.
The public transportation is done by water, in ships called "vaporeto". They are quite pricey compared to transportation in Rome or Madrid, for instance.
A taxi is a lot more expensive, similar to the gondola prices which float around 80 euros per 40 minutes trip.
Most of the locals have a boat of their own, and we saw many houses completely surrounded by water.

In our wondering through the city, we got lost from the crowd on the way to San Marco plaza. It was great; the tourists number was pretty high in that period, and all the main streets looked like an ants' nest. So, by getting lost, we actually ended up in a less transited area, with smaller alleys, nice, old architecture and fewer shops.

In the San Marco plaza one can have a very nice time by: feeding the pigeons (they eat from you hand), visiting the cathedral and climbing the tower, from where the whole city can be seen at 360 degrees.
There were lines of people gathered at these attractions, but they were worth the waiting time.

During the last day in Venice, we met with Andra's uncle and his family - established in Italy for a few years now.
While meeting family relatives is sometimes boring or routine, this time it was quite the opposite.
Vera, their young daughter, was adorable. Always talking and telling more funny things than a comedian :), she was the party spirit.

Last days - Caltrano city.
Andra's uncle helped a lot by driving us to Caltrano, where we met Raine and Emanuele.
They seemed very nice from the first moment we saw then, and after we started discussing on various subjects, everything turned to be very very interesting.
It was a unique occasion to learn about two cultures, as Raine is Estonian and Emanuele is Italian.
They had a lot of stories and previous experiences to share with us, and we are grateful for everything.
Emanuele even let me his car to drive around with Raine and Andra - when he was at work!
(Emanuele, when you'll visit us here, I will definitely share my motorcycle/car with you ;)..).

While at home with Raine, the girls cooked food together and we visited the surroundings (Caltrano is a nice city in a serene and beautiful area).

In the end we were wishing to have stayed a bit longer, to finish all the topics started.
We are glad to have met such an intelligent, generous and interesting couple - who offered us an unforgettable experience.