Travel

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Day 33: One Last Night in Paradise.

Today was our last full day here at Ikos Oceania, a bittersweet moment for us both. On the one hand it feels like we’ve been here for almost the entire holiday, this being the longest we’ve spent in any one location. But like all holidays it feels like we’ve been fast-forwarded up to this point, implanted with the memories of the days that have gone by. We had only one goal today: to go back to the town of Nea Moudania to look for a store that we could buy a few things from.

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We didn’t get around to doing that until mid-afternoon however, spending our morning in the usual fashion: breakfast, beach and then slowly deciding what should be next on our hit list. We went up to reception to ask about the shuttle service into the town (so we wouldn’t have to walk or worry about the bikes getting stolen) only to find out it would stop running not 10 minutes from when we arrived. This also coincided with many of the shops closing as well, although for what reason I couldn’t be sure.

Defeated we started to walk back down to our room but decided on the way to walk down there anyway. Lucky we did too as it turns out that most of the shops were still open, especially the few that we wanted to visit. We didn’t find what we were looking for though, unfortunately, but it was a good walk there regardless. We then made our way back home and again went our separate ways to read and nap.

The afternoon was spent in the usual fashion: spending some time at the indoor pool to cool off before hitting up the sauna and the heated chairs. We’d taken to bringing our books along with us making the time speed along even faster. Indeed this was the first time we had to be told that the place would be closing. In hindsight it was good that it did close then or else we would’ve likely missed our dinner appointment that night.

Our last dinner was spent at the Italian restaurant, the last of the four on-site places à la carte restaurants. Our meals were fantastic, the small portions being deceptively filling especially when they were combined with the nice Chianti I had selected. Tired and full we headed back to our hotel room, slowly drifting off into the night.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end. Originally I had intended to stay for 7 nights here however after we got the flights sorted I noticed the heinous time out of Athens: 6:30AM. This necessitated us spending a night at the airport so we didn’t have to get up at some other wordly time in order to make it. So tomorrow we’ll likely enjoy our last breakfast, head to Thessaloniki and then spend the night in the Athens airport hotel. After there we start our journey back home and a return to normalcy.

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Day 32: I Could Get Used to This.

The days are beginning to blur into each other; a combination of good food and a steady stream of alcohol putting a lovely haze over the day’s activities. Things are starting to become…routine, as if this is the life we had always led and would continue to do so until long into the future. That’s not the case of course but it was interesting to note just how quickly my mind shifted into that mode of thinking. It’s probably the first time since I started blogging this journey that I’m struggling to come up with a good explanation for what we did early in the day apart from “food, beach and a nap or two in there somewhere”.

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We did try to get ourselves some of the stand up paddle boards so we could meander around the ocean for a while. However we were told that we’d need to pay €20 for a lesson before they’d allow us to use them. After that however we’d be free to use them every day we were staying there, something which would’ve been useful to know early on. Instead we got ourselves one of the (free) canoes and paddled around for a while, although the lack of any destination meant that the 20 minute time limit they gave us didn’t feel like much of a constraint.

I then retired back to the hotel room, the heat starting to get to me. My wife stayed down on the beach, wanting to enjoy the ocean and open air. I believe we both read our books for some time until we fell asleep, waking some time before dinner. We ended up going back to the sauna area but I avoided the steam room this time around, not wanting a repeat of a previous night’s sinus debacle. We relaxed on the heated chairs until about an hour before our dinner appointment which we’d struggled to get a reservation at until this night.

It was easy to see why when we they got there; the restaurant was about half the size of the others. This was also the only time we were seated indoors as well, every other restaurant being able to seat us outside to enjoy the sunset and glorious night sea breeze. The meal was great, even if their interpretation of classic Asian dishes was a little off center (the dish pictured is Bulgogi Beef, although I’d class it as beef with bulgogi sauce). The cheeky waiter even ordered an additional desert for us, saying we didn’t know what we were missing out on, and to his credit it was the best of the lot. He did, however, neglect to get the bottle of wine sent down to our room successfully although I think it may have just ended up in the staff collection.

We finished off the night as we usually did: cuddling up with the laptop to watch Netflix whilst we slowly drifted off to sleep. Once again I’m sure tomorrow will be little different from today although I have planned to see if I can find a certain shop to get one of my family members a certain gift.

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Day 31: Adrift Without a Care.

The days have taken on a different cadence. The time once spent on planning and scheduling activities now spent appreciating food, wine and impressive coast of the Aegean Sea. I have lost most of my ambition to do any of the activities on offer, instead whiling the hours away with my face hidden behind my Kindle, my wife doing the same. It’s certainly not the same kind of experience we had back at Turtle Island but all the same have I found myself wanting to do not much more than sit down and watch the hours tick away.

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We headed out to the main pool area to check it out. We spent a few minutes there but after a short swim felt our time was probably best spent down at the beach. There’s no surf to speak of here so after milling about in the water, admiring the small sand fish that swamped our ankles, we headed back to our beach umbrella. Feeling the heat of the early afternoon sun starting to cook us we headed back to the room to clean up before heading to one of the restaurants for lunch.

Disappointingly it was basically the same buffet as we’d had at one of the others a day or two prior. It’s still good food, especially when its accompanied with as much beer as you could want, but a little variety wouldn’t go astray. Afterwards my wife returned to the beach to read her book whilst I holed myself up in the hotel room, eager to escape the unrelenting heat that soaked everything it touched.

From there the hours ticked away, some of them spent in a book others with my head resting unceremoniously on the cushion I was using to prop up my kindle. When the sun started to make its way below the horizon I thought I’d better go find my wife to make sure we could make our dinner reservation. Coincidentally I bumped into her on the way down to the beach, the resort staff only kicking her out as they were setting up beach front dinners for a few couples.

Our dinner at the French restaurant here was just as good as the previous experience we’d had at the Greek one. I choosing steamed mussels and a rack of lamb, my wife the cod croquettes and the beef bourguignon. I was halfway out of the restaurant with the unfinished bottle of red in my hands when the staff spotted me, only to give me a sly wink and a thumbs up as I made off to our room.

I will be surprised if tomorrow is much different.

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Day 30: Let’s Go Ride Bikes!

Waking up seems to be the hardest thing to do here, especially with nearly anything you could want a mere phone call away. We persevered however, managing to make breakfast at the leisurely time of 10AM. My wife really only had one goal for the day: ride her first bike in Europe, something that had gone unrequited the whole trip. So once we were fed and happy we went up to the equipment hire shed and procured ourselves 2 bikes to take on an adventure. The shed operator let us know of a few attractions nearby that we could cycle too and so we headed out to the first of them.

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The town of Nea Moudania was reminiscent of other rural coastal towns I’d been in before. Cafes lining the beach, odd shops dotted along behind them and from there a mix of residential and other commercial buildings. It did have a rather large harbor however and I’d hazard a guess that that’s where it derives the bulk of its income. At the top of one of its hills lies the church, a massive monument that towers over much of the region. We didn’t go inside, since they neglected to give us bike locks, but it was an impressive structure to see in such a small town. Satisfied we decided to head back down the other way.

It was a similar story as we made our way up north with cafes and residential buildings hugging the coast. We took a detour through the various apartment blocks to see if there was any shops we wanted to look in but it was mostly just small supermarkets. Again the poverty that Greece is struggling with was evident with numerous abandoned structures and others in varying states of disrepair. Still many of the cafes and bars along the coast seem to be doing an alright trade, surprising given their proximity to our resort.

The ride there and back had been relatively easy, thanks to the rather small changes in elevation, however the ride back up to the top of the resort quick took all our remaining energy away. The shop operator expressed his disbelief that we’d managed to make it to both of his suggestions in the time we’d be gone, saying it’d take him just as long to get to one. Turns out we hadn’t made it to his other suggestion: a small village that was a few more kilometers away from where we’d turned around. Ah well, we can always try again another time,

We then went down to the beach to cool off and try our hand at rock stacking again (it’s surprisingly relaxing). As the hours ticked away I mentioned that we should probably head back to get lunch but my wife suggested we just get something down there. Calling over one of the attendants we ordered ourselves a few drinks and some food. The drinks came quickly, necessitating that I get another beer (oh the horror), but the food took quite a while to make its way to us. Still its hard to complain when you’re lounging on a sun chair next to a lovely beach.

I then made my way back up to the room to spend an hour or two reading while my wife stayed at the beach. This proved to be something of a fools errand, the carbs and beer hitting me with a food coma of epic proportions. I think I managed a single chapter before my wife returned, my kindle lying in my lap when she knocked on the door. We then returned to the indoor pool and sauna area, spending an hour or so relaxing before we made our way to dinner.

We attempted to make reservations at one of the restaurants for dinner but they were all booked and so we headed back to the main buffet. The offerings there are always good, including their large wine list. They didn’t have the one I wanted but they had a similar region and style. Our waiter also got a little aggressive with serving it, telling me “You think I don’t see?”, pointing to the meager effort I had made in draining the bottle before pouring me a huge glass. I finished it of course, although that did make the walk home a lot harder than it needed to be.

On the way back my wife grabbed a DVD from their library to watch whilst I roamed around the resort, taking a few photos (one of which adorns this post). I was probably an hour or so late, the usual intense pink and orange hues dimmed significantly now that the sun had dropped below the horizon. I’ll likely try again tomorrow as the colors are quite spectacular and worthy of being captured.

I’ll hazard a guess tomorrow will bring more of the same, although I might avoid the bikes for a bit. Whilst it turns out that you never really forget how to ride it does seem your ass can forget and mine is none too happy about what I put it through.

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Day 29: How Time Flies.

Our suite might be in a prime position for uninterrupted ocean views, being in the closest building to the beach, but that does mean our trek up to the restaurants is something of an uphill battle. It was late in the morning as we made our way up to the breakfast buffet, a veritable feast of all kinds of foods and drinks. As we walked there was a constant din of children playing in the background; the reviews about this place being great for families seemingly taken to heart by many. After a leisurely breakfast we decided to make our way down to the beach to take in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea.

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We pottered around in the water for a bit, just enjoying the cool it provided. Around us were numerous other people enjoying (or trying to) other activities like paddle boating, stand up boarding or wind surfing. Once we’d had our fill of splashing around we decided to get some snorkeling gear to have a look around under the surface, something that proved to be much harder than you think it would be. Suffice to say we’ve figured out that most of the staff only really know their area and if you need to find something out you’re better placed asking reception.

The next hour was spent swimming around and checking out the marine life that makes its home here. Whilst there were no massive coral reefs or anything within a reasonable swimming distance I was surprised at the amount of sea creatures we were able to find. Once it became apparent that our sun screen was beginning to wear off we headed back into shore. We then spent far too long collecting various rocks from the beach (it’s a mixture of sand and pebbles) and then making rock stacks out of them.

It was highly relaxing though.

It was at this point, after we’d rinsed off back home and had a chance to relax a little, we checked the time only to find out that we had mere minutes before all the restaurants wouldn’t be serving lunch anymore. So we quickly dashed off to the closest restaurant and, thankfully, managed to secure a table. It was another buffet although with more French style dishes rather than the Greek of the main restaurant we’d been visiting. Once we’d had our fill we walked back to our suite and whiled away a few more hours reading, drinking and napping.

Not wanting to miss out on the sauna/spa again we made for it at 6PM, hoping to get a couple of hours of relaxation in before our dinner reservation that night. The sauna was pretty much as you’d expect however the steam room was far cooler than the one we’d used back at the Polar Bear Club. I wasn’t complaining about this though as that one was almost torturous when compared to this. What really set this one apart though was this kind of shower tunnel that walked you through different kinds of rinses, each of them getting slightly colder as you went through. They also had one of those Swedish Dousing Buckets in a separate room, a truly invigorating experience. To cap it off we sat in these heated reclined chairs for a good 45 minutes, the oh-so-right temperature being a perfect way to relax sore back muscles.

Our dinner was at the Greek restaurant and consisted of local seafood, Greek cuisine and a lovely Spanish Merlot. The sun was still setting for the majority of our meal, providing us with a lovely backdrop to cap off the day. It was after this we retired for the night, full and wonderfully tired.

I’m sure tomorrow will be much the same.

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Day 28: Ciao Roma, Χαίρετε Greece.

Back when I planned this trip I tried to make all travel days as leisurely as possible. The reality of modern flight however doesn’t always accommodate that, especially if you only rely on Google maps to get your travel information. So today we were saddled with a not-too-early flight time of 10:50AM but, of course, actually catching that flight meant losing at least 3 hours before it. So it is how we found ourselves this day, the alarm blaring early in the morning, signalling it was time for us to depart what had been our favorite city so far and make for our second to final destination: Ikos Oceania in Nea Moudania, Greece.

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Unlike the last flight we caught this one was far less stressful with everything from the taxi to check-in to getting to the flight going along with relative ease. We did have an odd moment when we realized both our seats were the same and saw that we’d both been given boarding passes for my wife. That and the fact that luggage wasn’t included in our ticket cost, something which cost us a cool €80 to remedy. Still both flights went by smoothly with the notable exception of our landing in Athens which was a lot bumpier than the prevailing winds would have suggested.

After getting mixed reports about how much a taxi would set us back to the resort I decided to book a transfer using an online company that had good reviews. After we got out of the airport we were greeted by a smiling man holding an iPad up high with my name displayed on it. He took my wife’s bags, showed us to the car and even gave us bottled water before we started our journey over. On the way he gave us a brief overview of the area of Thessaloniki. It was interesting to hear the parallels between here and back home, both places sharing a vibrant coffee culture and a large student population. He also pointed out Mount Olympus which is across the narrow sea from us although it was cloaked in haze to be much more than an outline.

What struck me however was the visible signs of poverty that were apparent nearly everywhere. At least half of the buildings had visible signs of disrepair, both residential and commercial. I’d estimate a good 20% of them were straight out abandoned as well, many of them covered in graffiti. This is, of course, due to Greece’s economy being in a downward spiral ever since the Global Financial Crisis hit back in 2008, it’s large debt levels and lack of control over its monetary policy slashing its GDP by an astonishing 25% over the past 8 years. This has left around 30% of the population in poverty, the numbers looking far worse for the younger generations. I didn’t have the heart to ask our driver about how the greater economic situation in Greece was affecting things here; it seemed like a question that would only bring sadness to us both.

We arrived not too long afterwards at our resort and were immediately greeted by some incredibly chipper people who showed us inside. Whilst it might not have been on the level of Turtle Island (nothing can really beat walking off, or if you’re my wife carried off by the staff, a sea plane onto a private island) it was still an order of magnitude above what we’d experienced anywhere so far. Our room might not be extravagant but the views are unbeatable and the included mini bar is a very nice touch.

After we got settled in we both thought it would be good to grab something to eat, the airplane food not satisfying either of us. It was 6:30PM however, just when dinner service was starting. So we resolved ourselves to have our first dinner right then and a second one, ordered from the room service menu, later on in the evening. The first dinner was a lovely buffet that included both local and foreign cuisine, a wide selection of wines and, my wife’s favorite, a well stocked desert bar full of various cheeses. Once we were full and happy we took a tour of the facilities, impressed with the breadth and scale of the resort.

We then retired to our room for the remainder of the night, myself indulging in a nice Chilean red they brought to our room and my wife in a hot chocolate. It was a very nice way to end a day of travel.

What happens tomorrow will be anyone’s guess. There’s a lot to do here, far more than any resort I’ve ever been to, but we’re in no rush to do anything. One thing is certain however: we’ll be eating and drinking our way through everything that this place has to offer.

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Day 27: The Vatican.

I sat in our bed, tapping away at my phone. The night before we agreed to meet for breakfast or brunch somewhere before heading out to the Vatican, thinking it’d be easier than trying to meet up at our destination. We hadn’t, however, agreed on a place to meet and so we were shooting messages back and forth trying to figure out where to go. As it turned out our travelling companions were doing the same, yesterday’s exertion taking as much of a toll on them as it did us. We soon agreed on a place to go and a time to meet, giving us all enough time to get ready in a most leisurely fashion.

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Our breakfast place was a trendy little spot, hidden well away from the main thoroughfare of Rome. The breakfast was generous for the price even if the coffee was still not up to the standard that I’d expect back home. Once we were done we realized we still had a decent amount of time before we were scheduled to get into the Vatican so we started looking for other things to do to fill the time. As it turns out there’s a (relatively) small castle along the way and so we decided to walk over rather than catching a cab as we’d previously planned to.

If yesterday was hot today was a dry sauna, the sun unrelenting in its quest to cook the outer layers of our skin. This was only exacerbated by the lack of any kind of breeze, even when we were close to the canal or anywhere else you’d expect at least a mild wind to take the edge off. Within eye-shot of the Vatican we quickly ducked into a small restaurant for a quick drink and to cool off, burning a few more minutes before our arrival time at the Vatican. My wife and I both got what amounted to a mint slushie that was so powerful it felt like I had just brushed my teeth for hours afterwards.

We trudged over towards what I now know was Saint Peter’s Square and not the entrance to the Vatican itself. Musing over the various signs we eventually found one that pointed around the corner but were still not sure where we needed to go. This is when we made the mistake of asking one the “tour guides” to help us who then proceeded to sell us all sorts of stories about when and where we could get in. Initially he told us we couldn’t get in without a guide, then that we’d need to upgrade our tickets to get into the basilica and, once he was done trying to bamboozle us more finally settled on the low low price of €20 per person (he originally said €10) for a full tour. Of course this all turned out to be false, if you reserve tickets on the Vatican website you get everything you have to pay for and the basilica is free for all, but at least his directions to the entrance were good.

The museums of the Vatican are almost incomprehensible in their scale with works in them dating back over 2000 years. The arrays of sculptures and busts to the numerous works of the painter Michelangelo that adorn numerous rooms of the Vatican are just a small fraction of what their archives contain. It’s quite overwhelming to be honest, especially when you find yourself in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, but definitely worth investing some time to go through it all and appreciate the history that is here (even if you don’t agree with the church itself, like me).

After our walk through of the Vatican Museum was complete we headed out again to make our way into Saint Peter’s Basilica. Like the numerous churches we’ve visited on this trip its scale is incomprehensible at first, especially given the time at which it was built. This one however was adorned by numerous more lavish embellishments than I had seen in others, with the center altar a massive tower looming over all who came to peer at it. We saw numerous groups of nuns making the pilgramage as well as what I can assume were church groups all gathered in prayer. For me, as someone who appreciates the architecture of such places, it was still very much worth the visit although, once again, I’m sure much of the awe that others were seeing was lost on me.

It was at this point that my feet decided to remind me we’d been walking for almost 6 hours straight and it was time to find a place to sit down for a spell. We found a bustling place nearby to sit down for a light “first dinner” so I could rest up before we decided on what to do next. We eventually settled on heading over to the Pantheon which, whilst a little out of the way if we were going back home, wasn’t too far away from our current position. After trying several times to get (and pay) the bill, we got on our way, my feet finally feeling normal again.

The Pantheon was very similar to the one we’d visited in France although its history was vastly different. Originally a Pagan monument it was forcibly converted to Christianity some time after its initial construction. Construction which, interestingly, was done without the aid of scaffolding. This meant that the bricks were laid by skilled rock cilmbers, a dizzying prospect given just how high the roof was.

After wandering semi-aimlessly for an hour or so we decided to head back to a street we’d seen filled with restaurants that looked appealing. Settling on a place that had its wood fired oven prominently displayed at the front we were soon served by an incredibly enthusiastic waiter to whom English was likely a third language. Still we managed to order and my dish, beef stewed in a sauce called barolo, reminded me of the stews my dad makes back at home. It was a fitting last meal with our friends, all of us satisfied and happy at the end of a long day.

On the way home we bid our friends farewell, knowing that we’d be seeing them again back home in no short order. My wife and I took the long route home, taking in our last night in Rome and fondly remembering the events of the past couple days. It was at this point I wanted to get some little souvenirs to remember these days by, grabbing a few of the cheap plastic replicas of the monuments we had visited. Sure I could get better elsewhere, but it’s these kinds of heat of the moment things that make things like this worth more than their sticker value.

Tomorrow we begin the final stage of our trip and, hopefully, the pinnacle of it: 6 nights at an all inclusive resort in Greece. This is what was missing from our last holiday some 6 years ago, a final week where our time is our own and all our wants are taken care of. It is my hope that this will give us the rest we need to come back to our normal lives rejuvenated rather than exhausted, the fresh perspective we’ve gained on this trip cemented by a week of not having to think.

Indeed last night I mentioned to my wife about how I’d realized I’d forgotten the “normal” feeling that I had at the start of this trip. It’s hard to explain (although I’m sure German or some other language has a word for it) but it’s the notion of what the routine at home is meant to feel like. When we returned from the USA I had this feeling that everything had returned to was foreign, like a vague memory of a life that someone else had led. I’m getting the same feelings now, the idea of what’s normal back home feeling like another life that I led even though I’ve barely been gone a month. It was disconcerting last time however now it’s enjoyable as it means I will have a new perspective when I finally return home and, if I’m lucky, a new appreciation for all that I have.

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Day 26: Pompeii.

Our curtains did little to soften the morning sunlight though that barely mattered, the streets of Rome shading us from the worst of it. The early morning air was already heavy with heat, the sun’s unrelenting heat apparent the second you stepped into the light. We were up early in order to get to Pompeii at a reasonable hour, our first train set to depart not long before 9AM. It was also a pre-booked trip so missing this train would ruin any further plans we’d have for the day so our breakfast and walk to Roma Termini were brisk.

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However upon arrival we found our train didn’t have a gate number mere minutes before it was due to arrive. Thankfully by the time we’d tracked someone down to ask about where it might be the platform popped up and we made our way over to the carriage. We were seated and waiting but we saw no signs of our friends. Slowly the minutes ticked by, the original departure time long since passed, and still we saw no sign of them. Thankfully the train was delayed and not too long afterwards they showed up. Apparently they had boarded another train to Naples and realized their mistake not too long after but had ventured through the dining cart to grab some breakfast before taking their seats.

Travelling to Pompeii was mostly uneventful save for the rather stark glance into Italy’s poorer suburbs that follow the train lines. I did not know that Italy had shanty towns, nor did I expect to see as many as I did on the train trip over. It appears that all of Italy isn’t as prosperous as its capitals, or even big city centers, would have tourists like us believe. No place is immune from poverty, of course, however the amount that I saw on our train journeys in and out of Rome is far beyond anything I’ve seen in Europe up until this point. I really must investigate as to why that is when I get the time.

The most grand thing about arriving in Pompeii is not the attraction itself but the large volcano of Mount Vesuvius that looms over the surrounding region. One of our friends informed us that it is classified as the most dangerous volcano in existence, due wholly to the fact that some 3 million people lie within its potential destruction path. Right now it appears like any peaceful mountain although there are the telltale signs that it’s summit is much more than it would appear to be on first glance.

Pompeii itself is an amazing snapshot of a city that thrived during the early first centuries AD. Whilst it is ruins, meaning it’s not a particularly picturesque place to visit, it is rich in history and information about the lives of the citizens who lived here thousands of years ago. Some of the larger areas, like the arena and amphitheater, are incredible examples of what the main attractions of cities would have been back in the day. It was also very interesting to see the breadth of the classes of citizens who lived there, from those just scraping to get by to the elite who had vast gardens and houses that would be large even by today’s standards.

Going in the height of summer did make the trip far more exhausting than it might have been otherwise, the unrelenting heat only abating slightly in the shade and a hair more so in the breeze. Thankfully the old aqueduct systems have been re-purposed for drinking water distribution, ensuring that you will at least not die of thirst on your adventures. We all managed to get away without sunburn, although I think numerous layers of dust rather than the sun screen might’ve been responsible for that.

Our trip back was a great way to wind down from the day, save for a small incident with a drunk on the regional metro (which my wife handled admirably). We had dinner at a place that came recommended to our friends by their hotel staff and I managed to convince both of them to share a glass of wine with me. I lucked out choosing a nice local Chianti that was incredibly smooth, very unlike the heavy reds we’re used to getting back at home.

Tomorrow, for our last day together, we make for Vatican City. Whilst we might all miss out on the awe that the more religious among us might gain from visiting such a holy sight I know there will be more than enough for someone like me to get out of it. Should we find more time after our visit we’ll probably see what else Rome has to offer as you really can’t go far here without tripping over something historic. My only hope is that the walking is a little easier this time around as Pompeii’s long ruined streets were not easy on the feet.

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Day 25: When in Rome.

Our friends weren’t due to arrive until later in the day so our morning was spent lazily rolling out of bed and indulging ourselves in the absolutely ridiculous breakfast buffet that the hotel provided. Over half of what was provided was deserts, ranging from icing covered croissants to cannelloni filled with coconut whilst the rest was a more traditional breakfast affair. After we’d had our fill we headed upstairs to wait around until we got the message that they’d arrived and were eager to grab an early lunch before heading out. We quickly met up at a local restaurant for some pizza and a quick catch up before we headed out to what’s arguably Rome’s biggest attractions: the Palatine, Roman Forums and the Colosseum.

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After elbowing our way through the crowds and various street peddlers (mostly selling frozen bottles of water and selfie sticks) we figured the lines for the Colosseum probably weren’t worth it at that point in time. Instead we got our tickets and headed over to the Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, figuring we could wander around there until the crowds died down.

This area proved to be almost as popular as crowds gathered at nearly everything we walked to. It was an amazing look into a time that had it roots in prehistory and had changed so much over the course of its life. However calling the area anything more than a ruin would be generous as much of what was built was either re-purposed, pillaged or simply destroyed. That’s pretty much inevitable though given how old everything here was, predating many of the other great buildings that we’ve visited on our trip.

We decided to head over to the Colosseum at 4PM in the hopes that the lines would be much more manageable. As far we could tell they were a little shorter but there was still a massive throng of people gathering at the entrance. Thankfully the wait in line wasn’t too long and we were in the Colosseum in short order. The building itself is an incredibly impressive structure, something that would’ve been awe inspiring back in its hey days. Even today it’s an impressive structure with the various catacombs exposed to show the complex labyrinth that made it such an amazing stage.

It was at this time however that the flight that our friends just got off of started to catch up with them and their energy levels dropped through the floor. We ambled our way out of the Colosseum in search of dinner, settling on a place that was not too far away. Our dinner was simple but highly enjoyable, even if our friends looked like they could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. We still managed to get ourselves some gelato on the way home however and I’m hopeful that the sugar rush was enough to get them home safe.

Tomorrow we’ll make for Pompeii, a trip that will likely take the whole day from us. All I’m hoping for is a train trip that’s air conditioned and a cool sea breeze as the temperature doesn’t look like it’ll go down any time soon. Not that I’m complaining mind, especially given the stories I’m hearing from back at home, but I’d prefer to come back medium-rare rather than well done.

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Day 24: Auf Wiedersehen Munich, Ciao Roma.

I spent the night before out flight out of Munich like I always do: fretting about making sure we’ve got everything lined up so we can get there on time. Initially we were doing well: getting up early, having a brisk breakfast and getting checked out on time. All in all we left a little later than I wanted to but this was more than made up for by a cab driver who had little respect for speed limits. We arrived at the airport almost exactly 2 hours before our departure time, the amount I had been told I’d need to make it through Munich airport.

But this is where the wheels started to come off.

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I routinely forget that the cabs here are mostly cash-only, meaning the meager amount of euros I carry around with me usually gets depleted by cab fares alone. This time was no different however the cab fair was, frankly, extortion, and the amount I had in my wallet wasn’t enough to cover it. So I darted out into the airport in search of an ATM, luckily being able to find one after 5 minutes of semi-panicked running about. However our little cash card said there wasn’t sufficient balance on it, forcing me to pull out the credit card (which will incur the dreadful day 1 interest rate slug). With the cab driver paid we lined up at the Air Berlin check-in counter which was moving painfully slow.

Worried that we wouldn’t get checked in on time I got on the wifi to do a web check-in. The website then helpfully informed me that the booking, made via Air Berlin, was being serviced by their partner airline Alitalia. Since we’d been in the line for about 20 minutes at this point I got a little worried and tracked down the information desk to figure out what the go was. As it turns out had I stayed in that line I might very well of not got on the flight as we couldn’t check in at the Air Berlin desk. Even more frustrating was the fact that our booking didn’t allow web check-in for some reason, making the wait in line a rather stressful affair.

Thankfully we managed to get checked in and everything was ok but it certainly wasn’t the way I was hoping to spend my morning. The flight over was your stock standard cut rate affair, although they did have a free snack service which was a nice touch. Once we landed it was a quick trip through the airport to get our bags and then out to a cab which would take us straight to the hotel.

What instantly struck me about Rome was the seemingly symbiotic combination of new and old work structures. We passed by many ancient bridges, towers and various other pieces of  Rome’s history that were living side by side with their modern equivalents. There are also numerous buildings that retain the old fascia of the ancient structure, only to be flagged on all sides by modern architecture built to hold it in place. It’s a fascinating contrast to many of the other historical places we’ve visited, nearly all of which preserve the entire structure in tact. I guess the population density has something to do with it, although a cursory search reveals it’s actually less dense than most of the other European capitals.

We had the rest of the afternoon free and so we decided to take a walk through the surrounding area. I found out that we weren’t too far from the Spanish Steps and figured they’d be worth a look. However they’re currently undergoing repairs so it wasn’t the photographic opportunity that I was hoping it would be. So we simply kept walking, following the large crowds to the various monuments and other attractions that were nearby. The highlight would be the little hole in the wall food shop that had these Italian shortbread biscuits that I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, something I was very much hoping to find when we got here.te

We capped off the night with a nice dinner at a restaurant close by and gelato from the place next door.

The next 3 days are likely to be filled with activity so we thought it best not to overdo it, turning in relatively early for the night. Tomorrow will bring with it our friends who just happened to be planning to go to Rome at the same time we were and likely a flurry of activity to follow. My wife and I both agree that travel with friends is always more fun and so we’re eagerly awaiting their arrival so the group shenanigans can begin.