Jay, Mike, and I left Fira and took the local bus down the mountain to catch a ferry to sail to Paros. The port once again was very chaotic and we had to figure out how to buy tickets for the ferry. We found a boat that was about to leave, and got the company name. Jay went to buy tickets from the company while Mike and I waited in line. The line started boarding and Jay had texted us saying the ticket line wasn’t moving, so Mike and I stepped out of line to wait for him.
Next thing we see is Jay sprinting by with his backpack past the line and straight up to the boat. He was waving at us to follow, which we did, but we were confused at his rush because we were standing in the line that was boarding the ship. The port officials stopped him and he showed them the tickets, and they let him onto the ferry. Mike and I followed and got stopped by the port officials as well, but Jay had our tickets. We stood there yelling at Jay to come back with our tickets. It was a pretty funny series of events. We eventually made it onto the ferry and settled in for the ride. Jay told us that the people who sold him the tickets told him that if he wanted to make the ferry, he was going to have to sprint to the boat. They told him absolutely not to stand in line and to go straight past the port authorities, so that’s exactly what he did.
We arrived in Paros and looked for the van to our beach camping spot. We didn’t find it, but we met someone who knew the owner of the camping spot, and he called him to come pick us up. We had a quick gelato while we waited for the van. Then we arrived at the beach camping spot. We set up our tent and then headed into town to get some groceries. We also ended up finding a bike shop and we rented some mountain bikes for the next day.
After riding our bikes back to the camping spot, we put away our groceries and spent some time on the beach. I unfortunately made the mistake of sitting on the beach without bug spray and ended up with about a million mosquito bites.
I also discovered several side effects of scolpalamine patches (to prevent sea sickness) including severe cotton mouth, dilated pupils, and blurred vision close up. The effects eventually wore off once I took off the patch though. We turned in for the night and planned to get up early the next morning for our big bike adventure.
We headed out this morning to find some beaches. We hopped on the local bus and headed down the mountain to Perissa beach which is a black sand beach.
We took a quick swim in the Mediterranean Sea and then laid out on the beach. We ended up meeting up with one of Jay’s friends, Nick, from Albuquerque who is Greek. He brought us some spanakopita and beers and we had a great morning on the beach.
We then boarded a bus back up to the top of the mountain, to the town called Fira, to meet Jay’s other friend, Mike, who flew in from Switzerland. We had some lunch and spent some time by the pool at the hostel. It was a good time to relax before our big sunset hike that evening.
That evening, Mike, Jay, and I met up with Nick again and headed out on a 9 km hike from Fira to Oia to watch the sunset. We wanted to hike along the scenic pathway we did the day before, so we climbed the many steps to the top of the caldera. The sights from here are spectacular, and worth the climb in the heat. The pathway was familiar all the way to Three Bells Church which we had walked to the day before. After that, we found sporadic signs that showed us the way to Oia-La.
Since Mike didn’t know exactly how to pronounce the town, he started calling it Ooh-la-la which stuck and is what we called it for the trip. Nick, who spoke Greek, did tell us it was pronounced “e-ya.”
We had packed a bottle of ouzo and some beers and took a couple of breaks along the way to drink them. Unfortunately, Nick ended up heading back early to be with his dad. But, Jay, Mike, and I continued on. We had a great time walking along the ridge and saw the sunset from a church on top of a hill.
We continued on the the city of Oia, found a place to eat for dinner, and then caught the bus back to Fira.
We woke up at around 5:30am to catch a 7:00am ferry to Santorini. We got all of our stuff ready and headed out to the bus stop just in time to see our bus driving away. All transportation seems to leave early in Greece. No big deal, another bus would be there in 11 minutes. So we waited the 11 minutes and the next bus never came. After waiting a little bit longer, we decided we should just catch a cab to the port. We arrived in plenty of time, got our tickets for the ferry and hopped on the boat. We were two of only about a half-dozen people in our cabin, so the boat was fairly empty. However we weren’t allowed on the top deck because that was for first class passengers. We did sneak up there for just a minute before we left though.
We arrived in Santorini at around 1 o’clock. The port is confined by the large cliffs of Santorini and this made it a very small and chaotic area. Trying to accommodate the multiple ferries and cruise ships coming into the port was quite a task for the people working the port.
We were staying in a town called Fira which is on top of a very large cliff. Thus, we needed some type of transportation to the top. There was a local bus, but the many private companies who were excellent sales people got us to pay their steeper price for a van ride up the many hairpin turns of the cliff.
We were dropped off at our hostel, checked in, and headed out to the pool.
After some pool time and our first beer of the trip, we went out to explore the city. Santorini island was formed by the remnants of a volcanic caldera. When the volcano exploded, it left a sinkhole in the middle and the rim of the caldera is where Santorini sits. The city is picturesque with its whitewashed houses lining the sides of the caldera.
We spent a lot of time walking along the pathway at the top of the city. We eventually found Three Bells Church which was beautiful with its blue dome and whitewashed walls.
We finished up our walk and then headed back to our hostel for the night. We had a busy day planned tomorrow with some of Jay’s friends who were meeting us in Santorini.
Today was our big walking tour of Athens. Jay was still feeling sick, but he agreed to take some DayQuil so he started out feeling up to seeing the sights. Today was also the day we start taking our malaria pills as prophylaxis for when we get into Africa. We are calling it “Malaria Monday” so we remember to take our malaria pills every week. We ate a quick breakfast that we had packed the night before, popped our malaria pills, and headed out.
Our first stop was the temple of Zeus. We bought a pass here that allowed us to go into many of the ruins throughout the city without waiting in line for tickets at every stop. The temple of Zeus was the first set of Greek ruins we had seen, so they were very cool. However, there were a lot more ruins we would see through the day.
Next we headed to the Panathinakon Stadium which was originally built in the 6th century BC for the Panatheaic Games and was then redone by Herodes Atticus entirely out of marble. This stadium remains the only stadium in the world made entirely out of marble. Our passes didn’t allow us in here, but we were able to see the stadium from outside the gates.
The next stop was Zappeion Congress Hall. We weren’t allowed to go in because they had just painted the doors, but we snapped a couple quick photos. There was a lovely row of orange trees lining the side of the building as well.
We also wanted to see The Parliament building, so we took a stroll through the National Gardens and popped out on the other side.
This was great timing because the Changing of the Guard was happening. These Greek guards are called Evzones and they are members of the Presidential Guard outside of the Hellenic Parliament. They guard the grave of the unknown soldier. Their dress includes a pleated kilt, hat with a tassel and shoes with big balls on the toes. They did an elaborate march with kicks, toe points, and leg holds which was interesting to watch. I would have found it funny if it wasn’t such a serious ritual they were performing.
The highlight of the day was the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis. We climbed our way up the mountain and saw many many more ruins. You can see the Parthenon from almost anywhere in Athens, so it was awesome to see it up close.
The only drawback was that it was incredibly crowded. I think we hit the “before lunch” rush.
The stones leading up to the Parthenon were also very worn after so many years of walking that they were actually slick. So, I had to use my “advanced walking” skills and be carful not to fall on my butt.
After seeing all of the structures on top of the Acropolis, we got some pictures of the city and headed back down.
The city with its many houses and buildings encircles the Acropolis/Parthenon which makes an interesting juxtaposition of modern and ancient times.
By this time, Jay was feeling pretty crummy from his cold and needed to recharge, so we went and got some gyros for lunch. Then we headed to the Ancient Agora which was more ruins. But this place also had a long building with some artifacts nicely displayed inside.
Jay still wasn’t feeling good after his second dose of DayQuil, so he headed back to the room to take a nap. I headed out on my own to see the remainder of the sights that our tickets allowed us into. Navigating without my phone’s GPS is difficult for me, but Jay oriented me to the paper map, labeled all the places I was going, and put a big “x” for our AirB&B. After a quick check to see if I knew where I was going, Jay sent me off and he headed back to get some sleep. It did take me a couple of tries to find each of the three places I was going to, but I made it to all of them. The first was Keramikos which was the sight of an ancient cemetery and had many funerary relics. It was also the potters’ quarter of the city and is where the word “ceramic” comes from.
I also looked at Hadrian’s library and the Roman Agora which by this time were all just starting to look like the same ruins.
So, after completing the tour of the ruins, I headed back to our AirB&B. Jay was still asleep, so I took a shower after walking more than 12 miles and headed back out to get some food for dinner. I ended up with olives, bread, and cheese. We also had some cherries and oranges that we had bought earlier in the day.
When Jay woke up around 7:30pm, we commenced with our plan to hike up Filopappou Hill and watch the sunset. Although our original plan was to get some beers and dinner to take to the top, our timing just didn’t allow it. Jay actually got a bloody nose right before we left and it bled off and on until we got back. He just couldn’t catch a break. But, we watched the sunset and then headed back to pack our bags and get ready for an early ferry tomorrow to Santorini.
On the morning of the 23rd, our last day in Doha, we slept in. I think we were still adjusting to the time change. Plus, Jay has been battling a cold that has left him achy and tired. We were leaving for Athens at around 3 o’clock, so we packed the laundry we washed the night before, did some reading/internet surfing, and headed to the corner restaurant for lunch. A Qatari father and son duo wearing the traditional Arabic thawb and head dress were eating lunch there as well. Surprised to see westerners at this local restaurant, the father struck up a conversation with us and asked where we were staying and how we knew about the restaurant. He said he and his son had been eating here for years and it was the best food in town. He asked the restaurant owner to bring us over some more dipping sauces and side dishes to try. He and his son had since finished their meal. We heard him talking to the restaurant owner in Arabic and it looked like he paid for his meal and was ready to leave. That’s when he told us that he had paid for our meal. We were flattered by the kindness and thanked him for making us feel welcomed into their country. And with that we headed to the airport to fly to Athens.
We arrived 4 hours later, took the metro to our Air B&B and turned in for the night.
Today we set our alarm early because we were going “Dune Bashing.” Our car picked us up at 7:00am and we headed out into the desert. Our first stop was a camel ride. We pulled up in the car and the camels were brought out to us. They knelt down on command and we hopped on and took off on our ride.
After the ride we were given some tea and sat down in a carpeted tent.
After sitting for a short time, a gentleman came carrying a falcon. Jay had been looking for a falcon this entire trip and we finally got to hold one.
We got some great pictures, and then the family of the gentleman with the falcon invited us into his tent for dates and coffee. He told us he really liked Americans, but “Trump was rubbish.”
Next it was time for some Dune Bashing. We let the air out of the tires to 12 psi and our driver took off with us into the desert. We went up, down, and sideways on the dunes. We even went backward down some of the dunes. It was quite the ride.
After doing some sand surfing (using wooden boards to slide down the dunes) and a little beach time, we headed back to our house. It was definitely a tour worth the money!
For lunch, we took our couch surfer host out to lunch, and then headed to the Great Mosque.
We weren’t allowed inside the prayer room, but the security guards did let us look in from the doorway. By this time, we were melting from the heat again. Jay is also coming down with a cold, so we decided to call it a day and go home, relax, and do some laundry before we head to Greece tomorrow.
We set an alarm for 7:30am. After getting a good night’s rest, we felt much better. We ate breakfast at a restaurant around the corner from our house at the recommendation of our host. Jay’s mom made shakshouka for him over Christmas and he was excited to try the authentic version here. If you don’t know what shakshouka is, it’s basically like a tomato, egg, and vegetable casserole. We also got a special Karak tea (similar to chai tea) and some breakfast bread called poratta.
Then, we headed out to the National Museum of Qatar. However, Friday is a holy day in Qatar and we learned that the museum didn’t open until 1:30pm. So we rerouted our Uber to The Pearl.
The Pearl is an entirely man made island that is incredibly opulent. We spent some time walking along the beaches in front of a semi-circle of skyscraper condominiums.
We were shocked to see that no one was outside. We had the beach all to ourselves. Curious about the lack of people (perhaps the condos weren’t ready for rent yet), we asked the one resident we did see on the beach who told us most of the condos were rented out, but people just don’t seem to be outside much. He told us about another beach within walking distance that we could swim at. So we headed over to that beach. On the way, we walked through green grass and gardens the entire time.
We also found a part of The Pearl modeled after Venice with canals, pink and blue buildings, and all.
Then we headed to the beach. We almost didn’t get to go to the beach because we didn’t have a “beach card” that all the residents of The Pearl have. However, Jay cleverly said that we were visiting a friend in the condos down the way, and we were let in.
After a swim and a little beach time, we headed back home for lunch.
After lunch, our next stop was back to the National Museum of Qatar. It is a brand new museum which opened only one month ago. I have to say, it was impressive.
The outside is shaped like a desert rose which we learned was a gypsum sand formation.
The inside of the museum features multiple giant rooms that wind around the desert rose which tell the history of Qatar from prehistoric times to the present. The modern sections were not open yet, but the parts that we saw were quite spectacular.
From screens showing videos on entire walls, to fossils and full size replicas of ancient sea creatures, to display cases filled with ancient pottery, pearls, and clothing, it was one of the best museums I have been to!
After the museum, we walked back to the Souq Watif (market) area which was now open. The market has an entire section dedicated to falcons and falcon accessories (there is even a falcon hospital), so Jay was determined to find it. We did find a couple of shops with falcons, but we were disappointed to find that not many shop owners were interested in letting us play with the falcons. So we headed back to the water to watch the West Bay sky line light up at night. We ended up taking a boat (one of the wooden ones we saw in the marina earlier) out to the West Bay skyline and got some really nice views.
We decided to end our day here and headed back to the house to get some rest for the next day.
We arrived in Doha early Thursday morning and as expected, we were extremely jet lagged. But, with so little time here, we pushed through the tiredness and set out to see the city. After dropping off our bags at our couch surfer’s house, we headed out on the town. One of the first things we noticed walking around in Doha is its extreme heat. I guess this should have been obvious considering Qatar is a desert in the Middle East, but it definitely felt like an oven. Even at 8 o’clock in the morning, the temperatures were higher than 105 degrees F. The city also requires that women and men wear long pants and cover their shoulders, so there was no hope of losing layers to help cool down.
We did find some sprinklers in Al Bidda Park that we ran though a couple times which did help. And luckily, the ACs inside buildings and houses run constantly. Al Bidda park was beautiful. Everything was perfectly manicured – green grass, flowers and trees everywhere, and perfectly clean pathways. Interestingly, the only people enjoying the park at this time were ourselves and the people who were working to make it beautiful.
After enjoying the park, we continued our walk to the Dhow Boat Marina and saw many beautiful wooden ships. There were also around 30 mile an hour winds which the locals told us was good because it cooled the city down. We kept ourselves from being blown into the marina, and enjoyed the beautiful skyline of West Bay.
Walking around the town, we did start to notice that every cab driver and tour guide in a ten mile radius seemed to seek us out and honk at us for rides. I guess two Caucasian people walking around in 107 degree F heat was a signal that we needed a ride.
After the marina, we headed to the Museum of Islamic Art which had an amazing grand entrance with a waterfall cascading down some steps in front of the building. The local people who worked there were very inviting and excited to show us their library. The art was beautifully laid out on 3 different levels.
Although there were many nice displays of ancient rugs and pottery, the jet lag was starting to set in.
We did want to make one more stop at the Souq Watif (Souq=market) before we called it a day. The market was closed, but it was interesting to see the many shops with local pottery and clothes.
There was also a bird store which we were told had falcons, but we would have to return when it was open to see them.
It was interesting to see the market versus the lavish buildings near the museum. It was like old world and new world coming together. It was in the 1950s that oil was discovered in Qatar and the wealth from this oil is extremely apparent here.
We headed out of the market, bought some groceries for the next couple of days and headed back to the place we were staying. By this time the jet lag had really set in and we were no longer able to push through the tiredness. We met our couch surfer host, David, who was now home from work and chatted with him for awhile, but we eventually had to excuse ourselves and take a nap which turned into sleeping the entire night through.
Jess and I managed to pack all this equipment into two backpacks. If it weren’t for the mountaineering trek in Uganda we could have shaved a lot of weight, but it’s going to be worth it. My gear worked out to be 49 lbs and Jess’s pack weighed in at about 30 lbs. We both were disappointed.
10 countries in 3 months starts tonight at midnight!
I have been exchanging daily WhatsApp messages with someone from Dar Es Salaam I met on Couchsurfing. Said says he’ll be able to teach me Kiswahili. It’s been going slow, but I’m starting to learn a couple phases. It’s fun but daunting. And Google translate doesn’t always get things right.