Posted on 26-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Elation) by admin

Wow! Sorry, for taking so long to write my next post. I’m actually working on this now in Rome at our second hostel here, but once again, no internet… So, who knows when I’ll be able to actually get this online.

I’ve been mulling over in my mind how it makes sense to catch my posts up since I have practically a week to make up on. I was thinking about making a bunch of little posts, but I’ve decided to just do it all in one long post; hopefully I’ll be able to remember the details as I go.

Anyway, Corfu was great! There is a famous hostel in Corfu called The Pink Palace, that we’d been hearing about from other backpackers, so we wanted to stay there. Unfortunately, when booking hostels for Corfu in Interlaken, there was no availability for the our first 2 nights in Corfu. So, instead, we booked 2 nights at Sunrock Hostel and 2 nights at the Pink Palace.

Sunrock turned out to be a little diamond in the ruff. We had a room with a balcony that overlooks the beach, and the hostel itself was a really friendly little place. It is run mainly by a woman and her husband, and they hire younger kids (our age) to work the place. Included with our room, which was just 26 Euro a night (already a pretty decent rate), was breakfast and dinner, which were both incredibly delicious.

The hostel is mostly outside, with an eating patio (on a cliff, looking over the beach), the closest thing to a reception desk outside, and a bar in a room with big open windows connected to the eating patio. The rooms are down an outside set of stairs, and feel like they’re sort of built into this mountain. Our days at Sunrock consisted of going from our room to the patio for breakfast, to the beach, to the eating patio for lunch, to the beach, to the patio for dinner, to the beach.

The beach, by the way, was fantastic. The sand was soft and white, and the water was bright blue, cool and the bottom of the sea was always visible. For some reason, the water stayed shallow for incredibly far, probably about 200 feet out. It was amazing to be so far from the beach, but still standing. On our second day, Mike and I revisited the childhood love, playing with sand and I started making a sweet sand-airplane, but when the tide started coming in and destroying its nose I called a quits. Later in the day though, we worked together on making a huge pool, and it slowly turned into a castle when a little Greek boy started helping us.

We had planned Corfu to be our vacation in the middle of a busy trip, and it had definitely been serving its purpose. The whole atmosphere at Sunrock was very relaxing and laid back. The owners had a cute son, who we found out was 7 although we pegged him to be around 4. We would always see him wandering around the patio with chocolate all over his face, either wearing a completely different outfit than the last time we saw him, or completely naked; he was living the life.

When we got to Sunrock originally, the woman who runs it gave us a better room because there was a group of Australians that had been in our room and they didn’t want to leave Corfu. Like most Australians, they were a crazy bunch, and we spent our last night at Sunrock playing drinking games with them. We’d been hoping to find some beer pong supplies and teach them what its all about, but never got around to leaving the beach, so that unfortunately didn’t happen.

Sunrock provides rides to and from the ferry port for their customers, so the next morning we checked out and one of their staff from Virginia drove us down. He told us that he came to study in Greece a few years ago and found the culture to be similar to the culture in the South. He came back in the Summer and got a job at Sunrock, and he’s been coming back since to work in the Summers. There’d been an amazing Graffiti festival going on down one particular road in Corfu, so he drove by it and showed it to us.

At one point, he asked if we already had tickets for the ferry, and we hesitantly told him we were actually staying in Corfu, but going to the Pink Palace. The Pink Palace is basically famous for its parties, and not necessarily its Greek authenticity, so I think it’s looked down upon by other hostels in the area (and I’m sure other hostel owners are jealous of its famous reputation/success the past 25 years). The guy from Virginia laughed, and told us that, “Sunrock has been known to run rescue missions in the past.”

We made it to Pink Palace by about 11:00 and started the check-in process… Which was certainly something different than Sunrock, where they just gave us a key. We sat around a table with a guy about our age who blazed through all the information about the place, A rooms, B rooms, pink passports, breakfast times, dinner times, club times, happy hours, laundry, checking-out, safaris, cruises… We ended up getting an “A room” which was a bit nicer, but further from the beach. We had to carry “pink passports” with us at all times, and also had to wear pink bracelets. Pink really isn’t my color, so I wasn’t real thrilled about all this…

Nevertheless, it did seem like the Pink Palace was a lively place that would be a lot of fun. We headed down to the beach soon after and ate lunch, which was pretty decent Greek food (I had Souvlaki), but nowhere near as good as Sunrock. The beach, too, was nice, but not quite as nice as Sunrock. We rented little floating rafts for a Euro and floated far out into the sea, which was great. There were no lifeguards to tell people how far to go out, but the water was always so calm that it didn’t seem to ever be necessary.

As we were floating around out there, the booze cruise came in. It was playing loud music and people seemed to be having a good time. I’d thought it would be the perfect thing to do on my birthday, the 23rd, but it only went out every other day, so it wouldn’t be possible. Instead, we planned to go on the ATV Safari through Corfu, which sounded equally awesome.

Anyway, after the beach, we sat in the Pink Palaces small pool for a bit and then headed to dinner at 8:30, which was included with our stay. The dining hall was amazing, and the only really nice building at the Pink Palace. It’s the second story, above the Pink Palace Club, Palladium, and has no walls, so there is a great view as the sunsets. Bright white columns with pink trim hold up the roof, and bamboo shades block the sun if it gets too bright.

We were seated together, but the tables held eight so other people were sat with us. That night, in particular, only 2 others did, though, a guy from Montreal and girl from California. We talked, shared travel stories, and ate the dinner, which was actually very good. The Greek salad was especially good, with amazing tomatoes, other fresh vegetables and tzatziki sauce.

After dinner, we went straight to Palladium. We drank cheap beer until midnight, when we toasted my birthday with a shot of tequila… In fact, the tequila kept flowing for much of the night, which, naturally, means the night involved some intense action on the dance floor. Mike and Hayley, wisely, headed back up to go to sleep, but I decided to hang around for awhile myself, and had a great time. Unlike Balmer’s in Interlaken, the other huge party hostel we stayed at, the Pink Palace was full of Italians and Spaniards, not Americans. I spent the rest of the night at the bar and on the dance floor meeting interesting people from all over Europe.

Though I missed breakfast, I surprisingly woke up in time to do the ATV Safari. We got tickets for 18 Euro and headed to the back of Pink Palace where they have about 30 ATVs and a small shack. At about 11:30, everyone was there and we began going through all the necessities… We got helmets and they suggested getting bandanas from them for 1 Euro because on the off-road tracks the dust from the other ATVs gets intense.

There were 26 of us, which, the guys running the operation said was a huge group, the most they’ll do at once. Because of this, getting setup took forever. One of the guys, “Brandini” (Who was Brandon before coming to Greece from California), went over the ground rules and bike operation. He also mentioned, that of all the people to have ever driven off a cliff, it has always been a girl, everytime… surprising.

All 26 people had to do a quick test lap in the parking lot to make sure we were good to ride, and by about 1:00 we were finally all ready, on our ATVs and ready to go. In Greece, ATVs are considered acceptable street traffic, so we just drove through the streets of Corfu. The beginning of the trip was pretty slow and through less-crowded streets to get us used to the the bikes. We headed up a mountain and did our first off-road portion on the hill.

The off-road trails were crazy; they were these long dusty trails of sand and rocks ranging from small to huge. The first off-road trail in particular was on the face of a mountain, so on one side was a rock wall and on the other a cliff… At first its nerve-wracking because the dust makes it so hard to see and it seems the terrain totally controls the ATV, but after getting used to it, this isn’t the case at all. It’s really incredible they are able to maneuver over such huge obstacles with such control and speed.

I’d done ATVing in Cancun before, with my parents & sister, so I was expecting an hour or so trip through an off-road course like that was. But, this was completely different; it lasted the entire day! The way it basically worked was, we would drive through the city streets up a mountain for about 30 minutes. During this time, we were going up winding switchback roads enjoying the scenary because the ATVs weren’t that great on uphills. Then we would make a stop at the top, before heading down. On the way down, the ATVs could go really fast, so we would basically ride with traffic on the edge of the road, until we got to an off-road trail, which would usually last about 10 minutes.

It was an incredible trip that took us almost entirely over Corfu… We ended up making it all the way to the Graffiti festival near Sunrock, which was really far from the Pink Palace. We also drove through a lot of small roads through Greek towns in Corfu, and being on ATVs, we could really take it all in. It wasn’t just an exciting thing to do, it was an excellent way to see Corfu, and the guides took us to a lot of the best lookout points, including the “WOW Spot”, where you can see all of Corfu. Wow!

We got back dirty and tired, so we rushed to the pool. We met a guy named Arthur, who was from Brazil but studying in the UK. He was a bit older than us but really talkative, funny and interesting. We found out that Balmer’s in Interlaken and the Pink Palace are actually part of an alliance of Europe’s best hostels (judged basically by their parties), which includes 12 hostels from different countries. He’d actually just graduated, so he’s been thinking taking a year off to travel to each of the 12 hostels and work in each one for a month. I suggested he write a book while he’s at it, and he liked the idea. After meeting Arthur, we started seeing him everywhere, talking to different people all the time, but he would always say hi and remembered all of our names; he was just one of those guys.

After dinner, there was a magic show at Palladium. It felt like I was 7 again; magic shows for my birthday! It wasn’t particularly good, and Mike, being into magic as a kid, debunked pretty much every trick the guy threw out. Aside from the magic, to be honest, the next night in Corfu was pretty similar to the one before it. We partied at the club for my birthday, and Hayley and I ended up staying out until the club shut off its lights at around 4. All in all, between the ATVing and partying, I had an awesome birthday.

We left the Pink Palace the next day… We actually missed the bus into town, so we got a ride from a woman we soon found out to be “Magna”, the owner of the Pink Palace. She didn’t have her car, so we drive in the van the Pink Palace uses to get groceries… Hayley sat up front, while Mike & I sat in the back of the van on a piece of plywood. At some point, Magna started talking to someone on her phone in Greek. Slowly, the conversation escalated from a mere discussion to a verbal war. She was screaming in Greek, and it was clear the person on the other end was too.

This went on for about 10 minutes, and, to be honest, sounded pretty amazing. When she got off the phone, she apologized and told us that her brother, who she recently signed over as co-owner as per family tradition, gave control of online bookings through hostelworld.com to his girlfriend. Apparently, his girlfriend would get overwhelmed/lazy, and list the Pink Palace as booked, when it was no where near. We asked if the Pink Palace had been booked Friday and Saturday, and she said it hadn’t been, so that exact thing happened to us! When she heard that, she asked Hayley too talk to her brother and tell her what happened. We were suddenly in the middle of this family feud between the owners of the famous Pink Palace Hostel… This is the awesome stuff that happens when you miss public buses!! She asked for our email address on the way out so she could get in contact with us if her brother gave her more problems, so we’ll see what happens.

We then began the long journey back to Italy, via ferry, and made it to Rome… I’m going to leave Rome for another post though, and see if I can’t go scour out some Internet now.

Ciao :)

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Posted on 25-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Elation) by admin

No worries! I am alive.

Our luck with the internet has really been terrible lately, though. Greece in particular was bad, but, now in Rome, I am sitting literally on the sidewalk to post this.

Anyway, Corfu was fantastic. My birthday was awesome, and things are pretty much going great. I, unfortunately, haven’t finished my post for Corfu, so I’m going to wait to post all the details… What I have been working on, though, is a neat little (actually kinda big) piece of code that let’s me easily associate words from my posts to images. It’s just about done, so hopefully it will be already to go by the time I post about Corfu.

Whenever I get good internet I’ll post up the millions of pictures I have too :)

Back in Italy, so.. Ciao!

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Posted on 20-07-2007
Filed Under (Greece, Languages, People) by admin

As I drifted awake the morning after we visted Capri, I became more and more aware of a conversation going on around me about Hayley suffering from a lot of back pain. Apparently, she was in the bathroom, her back started hurting her a great deal, and she could hardly move… Mike was doing what he could, and I woke up and gave her a bunch of Advil. She stayed in bed for awhile, and started feeling better about an hour later, but that pretty much exed out the possibilty of going to Pompei.

Instead, we got ready to leave the hostel and head to Greece. Getting to Corfu would require 3 trains and 2 ferries, and take about 22 hours (We left at 11am on the 19th, and arrived at about 9am on the 20th). The three of us headed towards the Via Liberta train station to get our day started, but I was carrying Hayleys backpack in addition to my own, to make sure she didn’t hurt it any more. Mike and I carried her stuff for most of the traveling until we arrived in Corfu.

From the Napoli train station, we took a train to Castreta. The ride was only about an hour, and, despite the heat of the train, was relatively uneventful. The bulk of the train ride would be on our Castreta to Bari leg. It was marked in our Eurail booklet as a train that needed reservation, but when Mike went to book our seats, the woman said we should just get on the train. We met two backpackers from Alabama in Castreta, and they were told the same thing.

Waiting on the platform, a train came in and a girl got off, asking us if she should get off here to go to Bari. We told her we too were going to Bari, so hopefully, yes. She turned out to be from an engineering town in Sweden, and we spoke to her for awhile while we waited for the train. She, too, was told that she didn’t need to make a reservation for the train to Bari. But, when the train finally arrived, there were absolutely no seats. We finally resigned to standing the entire ride in the front of a car, which wasn’t the greatest thing ever.

A ticket collector came soon after the train headed off, and he did not seem pleased that we didn’t have reservations. He violently said something in Italian to us, said something about paying the difference and then moved on. Two other backpackers, who we soon fond out were from Spain, also had no seats and were standing with us. They spoke a good amount of English, and Hayley and Mike spoke some Spanish, so the six of us, Hayley, Mike and I, the Swedish girl and the two Spanish backpackers, spent the 3 hour train ride standing with all our bags by the train doors talking about our different countries, our trips, and a variety of other things. We were all ultimately headed to Greece, but, while Hayley, Mike and I were going to Corfu, the rest were headed to Athens.

Eventually, a woman ticket collector came by, and told us she didn’t want to charge us or get us in trouble, but her boss was coming… So, she told us to move to the last car of the train, where he wouldn’t get to by the end of the ride. We did, and the conversation moved with us. We finally got off in Bari, where the six of us took a bus together to the port. We were taking a ferry from Bari to the island of Igomanista in Greece, and then another ferry to Corfu.

With our Eurail passes, we are given “free” ferry rides, but still have to pay all kinds of surcharges for gas and peak-season fees and so on… Also, the free ticket doesn’t include seats, just permission to get onto the ferry. We weren’t exactly sure what this meant, we pictured ourselves standing in the cargo area for 9 hours… So, we opted to put down a few more Euro and get real seats on the ferry. After getting to the port, we weren’t sure if we would be seeing our Spanish & Swedish friends any longer, since we were going to different places and had different types of tickets, so we exchanged some contact information and said our goodbyes just incase.

We got onto the ferry at 8:00 pm… It was so much more than we expected. The boat was really like a small cruise ship; it was nicely decorated, had  a swimming pool, a big room with our seats, decks outside and several eating choices. We ate at the “self-serve” restaurant, that had fairly good food, and we got a bottle of Greek white wine for 5 Euro. We sat and slowly ate, then just sat and talked for awhile… Actually, we only left because one of the staff told us we had to go get more food if we were going to keep sitting in the restaurant!

But, coincedentally, as we left, we saw our Swedish friend again, and followed her to the outside deck. Speaking to other backpackers here, we learned that the typical backpacker ferry-riding strategy was to either sleep outside on the deck, or go into the seating areas late at night and take seats that weren’t bought, or sleep on the ground inside. We didn’t really end up needing seats, but it worked out ok, and we know what to do next time.

We found our Spanish buddies soon after that, too, so the six of us were back together again. We had some rum that we’d been carrying around for awhile, so we got a some coke and started teaching them some American drinking games. We started with Kings, a card game where you pick cards that relate to different actions. Some of them require word games, which was interesting because there were so many different languages in play. We asked us if they had any drinking games to teach us, and they told us about a drinking game called “Duorito”, which is similar to “Quarters” that we play, where you try to bounce a quarter off the table into a cup. t was a lot of fun, we all just hung out, had a good time, misunderstood each others languages and so on.

It’s actually been really interesting that meeting other backpackers from the states isn’t particularly interesting, but as soon as we start conversations with backpacker’s from other European countries, we can keep interesting conversations going for hours. I think just figuring the languages out is exciting enough to keep conversations going and start new ones.

The ferry would be getting into port at 6am, so we all got to bed at around midnight. We woke up, moved around sleeping bodies on the ground to get our bags, and before we knew it we were in Greece. We still had one more ferry to take to get to Corfu, which we basically just slept through. We arrived at the port, and there was a van from our hostel right as we got off the boat… I don’t think anything yet has been that easy.

20 minutes later, we were eating Greek pancakes overlooking a bright blue, translucent beach. We’ve been chilling on the beach today, swimming, drinking cheap wine and eating gyros. I have a feeling not much will happen the next few days in Corfu, but my birthday is on the 23rd, so that should be interesting!

Back to the beach, Andio!

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