It’s that time of year again, the promise of Spring is in the air in Australia and as I drive around Canberra I see the wattle trees beginning to bloom, so here is another poem from my book, I hope you enjoy.
The Gum and the Wattle
The gum tree and the wattle,
Standing side by side
With fragrance and with colour,
They stand with Aussie pride,
The gum tree feeds koalas,
Is home for many birds,
It turns the mountains hazy blue
Makes shade for cattle herds;
The wattle flowers golden
In springtime’s early sun,
Brings joy with early messages
That winter’s almost done,
The gum tree and the wattle,
Standing side by side,
Both beautiful Australians
Filled with Aussie pride.
From Laughter, Tears and Coffee – Helene Jermolajew – balboapress.com
Black wood, yellow render,
One side slightly closed,
Opposite, a barred, Antiguan arched window;
Life passes along the cobblestones
Rattling and squeaking noisily,
People walk carefully,
Baskets on heads,
Dogs on leads,
Tuk Tuks belch smoke,
Scooters roar to announce their presence,
And an old man passes silently on a bicycle,
Through a door of a Spanish restaurant.
Laughter, Tears and Coffee – an eclectic collection of my poetry covering half a lifetime of various experiences and touching moments. Births, deaths, travel, fun, celebrations, family. If it happens in life there is probably a poem about it here. Surprise, surprise the largest section is poetry inspired by some parts of my year of travelling. The print version is available from balboapress.com and look out for the e-book version which will soon hit the web. I have posted a couple of samples from the book in this blog previously, more to come. I hope you enjoy and relate to my experiences of life.
Another travel poem written while I was in Guatemala.
Where full moons shine on cobblestones
And sunshine bleaches Mayan bones
Volcanos stand so strong and tall
And often Fuego makes a call
With smoky signals from his crown,
Or, is that a Vulcan frown?
To let all those way down below
See his force and let them know
Just how temporary life can be
While he stands tall for all to see? Antigua, where bougainvillea flowers
And Jacarandas send purple showers
Where Mayans walk with grace and sway
Bearing baskets on heads all day,
Where churches fell so long ago
From Hades quakes so far below,
The ruins stand in memory
Reminders for all here to see
That any day or night or year
It could repeat and end right here,
Antigua could become Pompeii
With no-one left to clearly say
What really happened in this town
When lava flowed the whole way down,
But meanwhile, midst techtonic plates
People live, still tempting fate,
Mayans walk on cobblestones
And sunshine bleaches their old bones.
Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted my last travel story, life got in the way a little. Today I decided I’ve missed my writing so much and it will be a little while yet before I can post the next story. So…….to fill in the gap I’m going to post some of my travel poems instead. I wrote this first one while in Antigua Guatemala. I read C P Cevafy’s Ithaca. That wonderful poem struck a chord in me and I simply had to write one of my own. I wrote a few poems during my travels, all of them will be in my soon to be published (I hope) poetry collection. I hope you enjoy this temporary change of style.
(Inspired by the poem ‘Ithaca’ C P Cevafy)
My Ithaca, wherever she may be,
Distant or close
In time and space,
Beauteous or humble
With a shining face
As I travel
From birth through death
And back to birth,
From place to place,
My Ithaca waits.
My Ithaca waits
As I conquer gods of fear
And devils of depths,
Learn from every step,
Wipe away tears wept,
As I heal
Through sadness and joy,
Old and new,
To distant ports
Along smooth paths and cobblestones,
My Ithaca waits
At my journeys end,
Wherever she may be.
Helene Jermolajew Monday 6 January 2014 La Antigua
The flight from Santorini to Athens is a short one, so it wasn’t long after I waved goodbye to that beautiful island that I was back on another Aegean airlines flight heading towards Istanbul. Aegean airlines was becoming a favourite and this time I was flying business class, believe it or not it was cheaper than economy the day I booked. So, there I was winging my way back over the sparkling blue Aegean Sea towards my new destination.
I had met Selin in the Hedonist Hostel in Belgrade (yes, that wonderful hostel where I made so many good friends), a delightful young lady from Istanbul who invited me to come over so she could show me around her city. Once I had made the decision to go to Santorini I thought that would be a good opportunity to accept Selin’s invitation to Istanbul while I was in the area, I’m so glad I did.
I arrived safe and sound in Istanbul airport, the queue for visa purchase and passport control alone took one and a half hours to get through, so after landing at 3.00pm I didn’t get to my room till 6pm! Luckily I had booked the airport transfer from the Orient Hostel, it cost 25 euros but it was worth it seeing as I had no idea where I was going and it was getting late.
Finally I met up with Selin and she took me on my night time orientation of Istanbul. By the time we’d finished dinner my sense of humour was returning properly- it had been a challenge hanging on to it through the airport procedures and the less than impressive hostel, but hang on I did, just by the skin of my teeth.
We had a traditional dish for dinner (I wish I could remember the name of it) and then started the night sightseeing at the port.
The port is full of restaurants cafes and bars, all lit up in neon which reflects beautifully in the water. Along the pier you can buy street food and tea, but we’d already eaten so I wasn’t tempted. From the port we went to Istiklal Avenue, the 1.4 kilometre pedestrian street. At the southern end is the world’s second oldest subway train and the oldest in Istanbul. It began service in 1875.
The train, known locally as The Tünel, meant that diplomats and businessmen could travel between their harbour side offices in Karaköy (Galata) on the Golden Horn and their hilltop residences in Beyoğlu in 11/2 minutes on steam-powered, gas-lit, cable-drawn cars. So of course it is a must to travel on, even if it is for only one station.
Out of the train we headed up Istiklal Avenue towards
past boutiques, bookstores, cafes, night clubs, street musicians and seafood sellers who would withdraw into the shadows if they saw police (apparently they are not supposed to sell fresh seafood there). The crowds were incredible, of course this was August and Istanbul is a popular city.
We finally reached Taksim Square and the Monument of the Republic commemorating the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The monument was created by the Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica. The people portrayed in the sculpture are the founders of the Turkish Republic.
It was difficult to believe that only 2 months earlier this area was the place of so much violence and protest. Reportedly it started with protests against the proposed urban development of Gezi Park and escalated into so much more. I am not going to go into any detail here, there is plenty of information online about this massive event in May/June 2013. A few weeks earlier during my stay in Berlin I had met a young backpacker who was working in a hostel at Taksim Square during the uprising, he said it was quite an experience.
Oh, and what day did I choose to arrive in Istanbul? Victory day! A national holiday hence the massive crowds at the airport and everywhere else!
We walked back along the Avenue, dropped into a club for a beer before parting ways for a good night’s sleep before another day of exploration.
Day 2 – Bathing and an island trip
The next day was a nicely paced quietish day. We started with Selin introducing me to a traditional Hammam (Turkish bath). It is an interesting process, sauna (which I shouldn’t really do as I get badly heat affected, so only did 5 mins), cold pool (hate cold water so avoided that), steam room (same problem as sauna so spent even less time in there), lots of washes of water where many other ladies were also pouring water on themselves while waiting for their turn to be scrubbed. The scrub is very thorough with a loofah while lying on a marble slab, and was followed by a massage and a soapy wash. I’m sure that scrub took off about 5 layers of skin! I was expecting to have lost my tan when I came out, but no, it was still there. If you are planning on going to a Hammam make sure you do good research or go with a local as I did, I believe that not all baths are great and anyway it is such a different process that there is no way of guessing what the protocol is. Washed and scrubbed we were off for coffee and cake, a ferry to the large island, lots of walking, some Turkish ice cream and a very long ferry ride back.
There are islands to visit when you want to get away from the city. The Prince Islands (Adalar) are a must. We only went to Buyukada (the big island ) which was just a delight. I love boat travel of any sort and being on a ferry on the Bosporus was by itself something to make me smile, but then adding the destination made it all the more special. I had no idea what to expect, this was all new and exciting. First thing to notice is that there is no motorised transport there, just bikes, horse drawn carriages and electric golf carts, what a delight. Closer to the port is where you find the majority of restaurants, shops, road side sellers and ice cream vendors, all as colourful and interesting as any good novel with a good plot would have you expect.
We set off on foot to explore a little of the island. I was struck by the architecture of the houses so reminiscent of a past age. The gardens full of colour, at that time mainly bougainvillea and the blessed quietness. Yes there are the sounds of peoples’ voices and the clip clop of horses hooves, but that’s it! No cars, no horns, no motorbikes! It was a delight and truly a must to visit as an escape from the noise of the city. The ice cream vendors are a delight in colourful costume. Turkish ice cream has mastic as an ingredient and so it is very stretchy. This means that the vendors can put on quite a show stretching and pulling the ice cream, almost a circus performance.
We originally planned to see the Whirling Devishes but because the ferry trip was so long and Selin needed to go home it was too late, so we hoped that they would be doing their thing again the next night.
Day 3 – Spices and Church
Yet another massive day! First off a walk through the spice bazaar, I thought I’d gone to heaven – the beautiful aroma of coffee followed by, and mingling with, every spice you could possibly think of!
Then I even went to
church – well I went into a church and stayed there for quite some time but not for a normal Sunday service! There is a Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul that has the reputation for granting wishes.
On the first day of each month, Hundreds of people from all faiths flock to the Ayın Biri Church where they buy tiny silver keys to represent their deepest wishes and then attempt to unlock various icons in the two levels of the church. Meanwhile the priest is holding a service. Then the priest goes down stairs and sprays holy water on everyone and all that is followed by lining up again to get a personal blessing. It was quite an event, the best thing is that it’s all faiths all in together doing the same thing, I loved it! Yes, of course I got my personal blessing.
After the church service and blessings we had morning tea at the Dolmabahce Palace and then a tour through the palace. They even took us through the Harem area. The grand ceremonial hall is indescribably intricate and gorgeous I can recommend going on the tour.
Dolmahce Palace was first lived in in 1856 and was home to six Sultans until 1924 when the caliphate was abolished. The founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk used the palace as a Summer residence and spent the last days of his life there in 1938. Now it is managed by the Directorate of National Palaces and the only way to see it is with a guided tour.
Then more walking, more eating, a beer and then it was a farewell ferry ride, hugs goodbye and I went back to my hostel crossing the water alone. We didn’t make it to the Dervishes that night either. I am so grateful to Selin for entertaining me and showing me Istanbul in a way that most tourists don’t get to see. It helps to know a local.
Day 4 – Going solo in Istanbul
My last day in Istanbul was spent on my own, attempting to do the ‘touristy’ things. The day ended up quite differently to what I expected. I woke up rather late so had breakfast/lunch at the Dervish café on my way to the attractions. I found lamb chops!! cutlets really, but real grilled lamb! Yay! And coffee of course. I discovered that Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) is closed on Mondays so I missed out on that, the crowds at Topkapi palace were beyond my capabilities of handling so I thought I’d try to conquer the Turkish postal system and send some stuff home – FAIL!
Not to worry, I headed off to Sirkeci railway station instead to check on a sign I had noticed about a Whirling Dervish show. While doing that I discovered the original Orient Express restaurant. Now that was fun! When I first noticed the restaurant there was a gentleman sitting there just like one of Agatha Christie’s characters in white suit and hat. I went back, closer to show time, to have afternoon tea and take photos. At another table there were 3 lovely English ladies who were even more excited than I about finding the place and a gentleman from Sydney who’s wife had to go home to work after being at a wedding in Cyprus, he continued on to Turkey before heading home. They came over to say hello and ended up joining me. It seriously felt like an unfolding Agatha plot and I fully expected Poirot to appear at any moment. Do I sound a little excited about that discovery? You bet I am.
Whirling Dervishes are truly amazing. The band played for half an hour first, then accompanied the whirling which was very meditational. It is impossible to convey the process and the feelings evoked, you just have to be there. I discovered that Alex (the Aussie I met at the restaurant) was staying in a hotel not far from me so we both had someone to talk to on the way back. And so my whirlwind visit to Istanbul drew to a close, what a weekend that was! I will have to return and spend longer, three days was only an entrée.
3 Sept 2013
Groundhog Day! it’s 1:15pm and here I was at Athens airport again! Only difference is that this time I am waiting for my flight to Kalamata, bring it on – olives, yeah!
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. This is why it is essential to leave big spaces of unscheduled time in your travels. I found myself at Athens airport with a couple of hours to kill till next check-in and so there was time to think, wonder and be grateful for how my healing trip was working out.
I had no intention originally to be in Greece at all this trip (and yet I would find myself at Athens airport many times over the next couple of weeks), let alone going to my next stop – Santorini! I was loving this going with the flow thing. Plans for an unscheduled visit to St Petersburg from Sweden became way too hard so I threw all my ideas up in the air and what landed in my intuition was Santorini. Could I have chosen a place any further away? I began dreaming of some real chill out time, sunsets, Greek coffee and ocean. No alarm clocks (unless I decided to catch a sunrise or three) and after the Copenhagen experiences definitely no drunk backpackers waking me up. It was time for some ‘alone’ time in my own room. The thought crossed my mind ‘Who knows I may even find my inspiration and my poetry muse might return’ She had been absent while I was running around exploring.
I arrived in Santorini safely, so glad the pilot was obviously experienced, it’s a very sharp turn to line up for landing and a very short runway. It was after sunset when we landed. Driving up to Oia the twinkling lights of the various villages on the way were delightful and there was a traffic jam in Thira (to be expected I suppose).
You can’t drive within the actual village of Oia, it is all very narrow cobbled lanes winding between buildings and up and down steps, just delightful. So I was taken on foot to my hotel from the tourist office. The lane leading to my hotel is the main pedestrian thoroughfare to all the main places so, of course, it is full of jewellery shops, art galleries, souvenirs and wall to wall tourists. Everything is open late so after dumping my luggage I was off.
I thought the hotel had got up and moved by the time I’d gone out supermarket shopping and searching for a swimming costume – but no, it was there, I just kept walking past the narrow lane opening. After Scandinavia, prices on Santorini appeared reasonable, I got 2 whole Serbian salamis, 200g of Cretan cheese and a bottle of local wine for 14 euros, still expensive but less than I expected – that will last a few days (no, not the wine, that was guzzled as I was arguing with the wifi!).
I was wondering whether I should have emptied that bottle given the configuration of my room. My room number was 121, (interesting only because that was my house number back home) it had a green door, and needless to say the Green Door lyrics started, ‘what’s behind the green door’? Well let me tell you what was behind my green door. Firstly the entire floor was tiled, I understood why later when I realised that the humidity is so high that carpet would probably rot, and cleaning was easier. However, I became aware of certain safety issues. Firstly both the mirror and the fridge were down 4 tiled steps with no handrail, so I would need to be sure that my feet weren’t wet when going down there. Secondly the mezzanine bedroom was up six tiled semi-spiral steps, with no handrail, so I would need to make sure that if I had to go to the bathroom down stairs at night, to turn the light on and be fully awake! I’ve had way too many altercations with stairs in my life. Thirdly the ‘bedroom’ was in a replica cave with a curved ceiling (they have a love in Santorini of replicating the caves that people used to live in and there are many curves in Cycladic architecture) so even I (at 5 foot 2 inches) couldn’t stand up. After banging my head on that very hard ceiling several times I finally remembered that I had to slide out of bed first then keep my head bent. As a result I left my bag and all my clothes on the lower level. On the up side, the bed did have a railing so I was unlikely to fall out of bed onto the lower floor. And people worry about staying in hostels! Having said all of that it was a lovely hotel, the staff were really nice and the breakfast plentiful, it was just a matter of getting used to something very different and quite charming.
My first day dawned in time to have the included breakfast, so lovely sitting outside my door by the pool enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the warm morning air. And then I was off exploring.
My first daylight walk and I fell in love! Yes I know, that’s very fickle of me, after all I had loved so many places so far, but, funnily enough this country girl has an island heart and it seems that pieces of land surrounded by ocean just carry me away. Now I was torn between Capri and Santorini as favourite islands (I don’t include Venice in the comparison, it is in a love category all of its own), both Capri and Santorini are postcard perfect, but I guess as I was in Oia at the time it was Santorini all the way.
My camera was working overtime as I meandered along the cobbles and flagstones finding all sorts of places. It is impossible to take a bad photo in Oia. The winding lanes, the stunning Cycladic white houses with their soft curves and the blue domed churches, the bright pink and the subtler white Bougainvillea bursting with colour against the starkness of the white stone buildings. Then the caldera, sparkling blue in the bright Aegean sunlight, boats and yachts cutting through the water as they headed towards beaches or the volcano. I have seen some stunning sights, but this place took the prize.
I spent that first day also keeping an eye out for alternative places for watching the sunset. Even in the daytime it was obvious that the crowds would be horrific at the traditional viewing
spot, the Kastro, ruins of a mediaeval fortress built by the Venetians in the 1200s at the most northerly point of the village.
My first Santorini sunset
I just love how things get manifested in my life. I was walking past King Neptunes restaurant on my afternoon walk, wondering where to watch the sunset when I happened to stop and look at the menu (now you have to understand that I had no idea of compass points and hadn’t thought about it, just, for some reason, assumed that the sun would set over the caldera. I noticed that Neptunes restaurant had lamb on the menu (I had been dreaming of lamb since I left home) then I noticed that they had a rooftop terrace, so I wandered up. That’s when I discovered that west was not over the caldera at all! And the tables facing west were all reserved (of course). However, the owner said that in fact the perfect table WAS reserved but it was cancelled, needless to say I grabbed it. And what a delight it turned out to be, the meal was spectacular and the sunset just beautiful. As always interesting things happened. The next table had been booked by a young lady I’d noticed on the same flight. It turned out that she was a Ukrainian 21 year old medical student so she ended up joining me instead of us talking across tables and I got to learn a bit more about the world – Oh, I do love travel! Every day is a good day, because every day I learn something new. We have remained social media friends and so one day I will get to Ukraine to visit yet another friend in another new place. Dinner and the sunset over I went to see what happens at night in this beautiful place.
Day Two – The morning after the night before
Well that was an interesting night! I was in my room writing up my story for my Facebook friends when just as I realised that it was 1.30am and I should go to bed, the lights went out, literally. Having conveniently forgotten about islands, small towns and sudden blackouts I had to cast my mind to what to do. Then I remembered that my dear son Ginski, who, over the years has said many things both useful and unuseful, had given me a piece of backpacker advice, that was about to prove to be one of the most sensible things that he has ever said…..’you need a headlamp Mum’ he said to me at Lake Bled in Slovenia. He, having travelled for the previous 2 years was, of course, more experienced in these things. I bought one in Ljubljana and hadn’t had a lot of need for it but boy did it come in handy that night, as did my phone which I needed to find the lamp! It was fun crawling up those steps (which didn’t have a banister) to the bedroom in total darkness to find the phone! But at a least I knew where it was, unlike the headlamp which was buried in my bag.
After realising that the whole town of Oia was blacked out, not just the hotel, of course I had to go and find out what Santorinians do at these times. The lamp wasn’t needed outside, it was half moon so there was plenty of light. The restaurant across the lane was lit up like a Christmas tree and I could hear the hum of a generator. Earlier in the evening I had noticed a band playing in the church square so I went that way in case things were happening. Yes, I found the band still playing, people still dancing, dogs still wandering, and old men still smoking by the light of the moon. The caldera was dark and only faintly reflected the lights from cliff top villages that hadn’t been blacked out, obviously the problem was local. A little breeze played at the hem of my dress and brought just enough cool into the air. I finally decided I really ought to go to bed, I wanted to be up for sunrise and at 2.30 there was still no indication that the electricity was coming back. Sunrise? that’s another story, missed it by half an hour, forgot that my phone wasn’t set to Santorini time.
Seeing as I’d missed the sunrise day two was taken up with more exploring, more photos, more ducking in and out of art galleries and shops. The cluster of buildings that was Oia constantly amazed me. How on earth did they manage to build this place which was perched on a cliff? And how do they manage to renovate and maintain buildings with such tight access?
A walk to the Tourist office was a battle against the tide of tourists coming the other way. Most of them seemed to be Russian, that was pretty much the only language I could hear. I needed to see if I could book a sunset cruise (more on that later) and also to find the post office.
This is when I discovered an interesting aspect of Greek communication. I popped into the shop where I’d found a suitable swimming costume to ask directions to the Post Office (importantly, it was 2.45pm). The lovely lady gave me excellent directions and off I went. I found the Post Office quite easily and went in through the wide open door. I wasn’t prepared for the tirade that greeted me. Having asked for stamps the man in there started yelling at me that I should have come earlier. I asked why and he pointed at the door where there was a small sign which apparently said that they closed every day at 2pm. It seemed that he was only there because he was running late and was sorting mail. I realised that you have to know the answers to your questions before you ask them because you may not be given the extra information needed (a bit like going to a solicitor or doctor back home, you need both degrees in order to know what questions to ask). I struck this problem again later in my Greek travels but that is another story. The evening was spent at Neptunes again enjoying dinner and the sunset.
The manifestations and serendipities kept rolling in. I felt like I was being held up in a supportive hand and everything I wanted was happening, it was a great feeling of safety! I decided that as the lady from the travel agency was going to call to let me know if there was a mini bus running at the time I needed it to get to the super cheap basic cruise (which was the only one left, the rest were booked out), I wouldn’t bother going back to the office to check. Instead I thought I’d go for a walk in the other direction and explore the fortress ruins. As I walked out of my hotel I ran into the lady from the travel agency, who was passing by, who told me that someone had cancelled out of the better sunset cruise the next day and if I were to get down there the space might still be available. So I hot footed it down to the agency and got yet another surprise, the cruise company had decided that as there were so many requests for that cruise they would run two boats and the space was on the second one – the one they normally use for private cruises. Woo hoo! So, not only did I get to go on the cruise I wanted I also got the bonus of the top notch catamaran. I couldn’t wait for Day 3.
Day 3 – Sunrise
Finally, I managed to get up in time. Oia is not the best place for watching a sunrise you would be better located at one of the villages on the Eastern side of the island, but I didn’t have enough time to travel there, perhaps next time. However, Oia has its own sunrise mystique and beauty. The wall near the church square was going to be my vantage point.
The caldera was shrouded in morning mist when I arrived at the wall. I noticed that there was a homeless man asleep on the park bench and I was surprised, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of homelessness in such a tight knit community. As first light approached the mist started slowly clearing. I saw a young man approaching with a takeaway cup in his hand. He headed straight for the man on the bench, woke him up and gave him the cup of coffee and left. The mist kept clearing and soon I could see that sunlight was creeping over the cliffs to the east. The man on the bench finished his coffee, walked over to the wall, leaned over and pulled out a broom. He started to sweep the flagstones in front of the shops and cafes. I guess this was his way of paying for the coffee.
There is a certain light that envelopes the island at both sunrise and sunset a particular mix of pink and blue that is indescribable, the French call it crepuscule, the Italians crepuscolo and the closest inEnglish would be twilight. It appears briefly before the full brilliance of the sun melts it away in the morning or after the sun has set in the evening. As my gaze shifted between the mists and pastels of the caldera and the east, the sun started peeping further and further over the cliffs and as it did the mist cleared and revealed the pristine caldera in all its beauty.
It was time to meet the bus to be taken to the port for my sunset cruise. The bus drivers need to be good as the last bit of road to the port is very narrow and downhill so they need to reverse all the way down as there is nowhere to turn around.
The cruise was so much fun, the people on board with me were
friendly and easy to chat to. We headed into the caldera and stopped in various places for people to swim. One of these was the sulphur springs hear the volcano, you can see the yellow of the sulphur in the water and apparently it’s warm. I’m not a swimmer and I also have a sulphur allergy so there was no way I would be testing out the springs. Others went swimming and reported that it really was warm and pleasant. We also anchored not far from the black beach, the guys on the cat did warn people not to sit on the black sand as they would never get it out of their costumes. Yes, this was a time I wished I didn’t have my fear of deep water and that I could swim, never mind, it was fun watching everyone else frolicking around.
In the cliffs along the beach are doors. Behind these doors are the original caves where, according to our boat crew, local people used to live. They are now used mainly for storage.
The barbecue was ready by the time everyone returned and we had the nicest lamb barbecue ever! That done, we were off to position
ourselves for the open water sunset along with all the other boats. Oh! what a joy that was! I will let a few photos speak for me, words are just not enough.
There was a moment on that day when I thought that yes it would be nice to have someone traveling with me. Why? Two reasons, one obvious one is to share the beauty of that place (to paraphrase what one friend said on her travels ‘just to be able to look at a friend with a silly grin on your face and share the amazement’) and the other – so I would dare to hire a quad bike and go hooning! Yes, I know I could do it on my own but never having driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and never having ridden a quad bike I’d feel a little dorky and unsafe if anything went wrong, I’d be so much braver with another person. Yes, sometimes I’d like a friend with me.
It was a day of ‘lasts’ , and two firsts. Last night on Santorini, last walk along the tourist lane along the edge of the caldera, last amazing gelato from Lolita’s, first island gyros and first local beer and sadly my last Santorini sunset. I caught myself having conflicting thoughts on my way back to the hotel, while munching happily on 3 awesome gelato flavours…. one thought was that I hate the farewells to places I really like, and there had been many of those already in those first 4 months (and no doubt there would be many more) but then that is balanced by the excitement of what will I find in the next place. Then I was thinking that in a way this was part of what I needed to really ‘get’ during that trip, the letting go, the being OK with farewells, loosening up on the need to hang on to things – gosh, it sure wasn’t easy. In fact it’s almost as hard as the day I realised that I had to let go of being the ‘all knowing’ mother and talk with my kids as equal adults. But nowhere near as hard as letting go of Mum.
Next thought was that once I’m off the island I may stop feeling like one of those eccentric old English ladies in a broad brimmed hat that I used to read lots about in English novels – you know the ones where she would move to a Greek island and wander around in her hat being eccentric and having afternoon teas?
Time to say goodbye
Well, that was it, four fun filled days on an island I had fallen in love with. I woke up wishing I could stay on, but there were other places to go. It was time to pack and get down to the tourist office for the shuttle to the airport. There is always one, isn’t there? This time, it was two, and amazingly it was two men who were late and holding us up. One arrived half and hour late and said the other was off doing last minute shopping, oh dear! We just made it and were on the plane at 11.20. heading back towards Athens and an on to my next unscheduled, unplanned visit – Istanbul!
Copenhagen, a very pretty town full of history and beauty, so glad my unplanned trip took me there.
It is truly amazing what you can fit into two and a half short days in a city when you have too. That’s all the time I had, flights to other places were organised and so Copenhagen was a transit city this time. But seeing as I was here I wanted to see all I could in the time I had. Hopefully there will be a next time to see more.
I had arrived safe and sound in the Generator Hostel in Copenhagen, after a fantastic train journey. I loved the train from Stockholm, quiet, fast, comfortable, tables and power for the computer at every seat, a real treat. As if such a comfortable trip wasn’t enough, after Malmo (yes where Eurovision was held earlier that same year) there before me appeared the most amazing sight, the double decker Oresund Bridge over the Oresund strait. Eight kms of beautiful white bridge over blue water. Then the bridge turns into a tunnel for another 4 kms. A stunning piece of engineering. The motorway is the top level and the railway is the bottom level. Such a beautiful entrance to Copenhagen.
I caught a cab from the station to the hostel, better than dragging luggage around trying to find the place. The bits of the city I saw from the cab were delightful so I was looking forward to the next day of exploring. The hostel was pretty awesome, massive with its own bar, food and night time barbecues, so I knew I would survive. Remember that Scandinavian countries aren’t cheap so hostel prices reflect that (this isn’t the Balkans or Central America), do your research well and be prepared, most places are similar in price, nothing is cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but very worth it. I wasn’t exactly prepared for having a large group of drunk Swedes in the dormitory but, had I thought about it I would have expected it. It was hilarious watching one fellow trying to climb to his bunk and failing many times over. Eventually he gave up and fell asleep on the floor, oh the young ones!
First full day – 23 August 2013
It was still the middle of Summer but the temperatures at this latitude were very pleasant, nothing like the 40 degree temperatures of the Balkans in July, so walking around was going to be enjoyable. First I needed to find a spectacle shop to fix my glasses, the screw had started coming loose and a lens kept falling out, bad timing for this to start happening I still had 8 months of travel to go. Stroget the pedestrian shopping street is a delight. Really, European cities have got the concept of the central pedestrian shopping streets exactly right, we could learn a lot from them.
Having found a spectacle shop and had my glasses fixed at no charge I was on my way to find the Hop on Hop off bus. I have to say that by the end of the trip the guys running the buses there were the most disorganised I had ever experienced before and after Denmark. Everything was going well until one bus broke down then the replacement bus broke down. Instructions were confusing, people from the cruise ships were demanding their money back as they had no more time to wait for yet another bus, it was chaos for a while. Luckily it was at the very end of my tour so I didn’t care but I got a lot of amusement from watching what was going on. Before all the confusion and chaos though I’d had a wonderful trip. My main goals were Christiania and the Little Mermaid.
Christiania (Freetown Christiania)
I really enjoyed wandering around this unique place. Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous area. It has about 850 residents. It is a controversial neighbourhood and has had many ups and downs since it started as a squat back in 1971. The cannabis trade in the neighbourhood is once again tolerated by the Copenhagen authorities but beware, if you walk out of Christiania and have cannabis on you, you will be caught. Within the streets of the neighbourhood there are very strict rules about photography, it is NOT allowed and trust me sneaking one in is not worth it. I saw one fellow caught taking a photo and out of nowhere a guy on a pushbike whizzed over and made him delete the shot, after all no one wants their photo plastered all over the internet especially if they happen to be doing a deal, it is after all, illegal.
After all that cannabis talk a bit about the other side of Christiania that has nothing to do with drugs. The place is delightful, Freetown is a good name for it. It is full of artists, jewellery makers, musicians etc stalls are set up all over the place so there is a roaring trade in locally made souvenirs. T-shirts and clothing of all sorts, jewellery, paintings pretty much anything. Buildings are decorated by the resident street artists and all in all it’s a very chilled out place. Definitely worth a visit, it is unique. I would have liked to stay on but there was so much more of the tour to do.
Back on the bus and off to see the Little Mermaid. Yes she is little but perfectly formed. The poor thing has had quite a turbulent existence, decapitated twice, painted pink, blown off her rock and removed to Beijing for an exhibition just to name a few events. It was the wrong time of day for a good photo but at least I got some.
In the same area is the large and impressive Gefion fountain which depicts the mythical story of the creation of the island of Zealand on which Copenhagen is located. I had never realised that Denmark is actually made up of over 100 islands, a bit like Venice except this is a whole country.
Copenhagen is full of impressive sculptures and fountains. I’ve discovered that anyone taking photos for commercial use has to verify that the artist has been dead for 70 years before posting the photos or they have to get permission to use them, thankfully I’m not commercial. Seems that there are various versions of these copyright laws in every city in the world relating to public artworks, the things you learn when you travel. Copenhagen is full of sculptures and fountains, some of course are related to Hans Christian Andersen and his stories.
And so, last day in Copenhagen arrived, I thought I was up for a lot of walking judging by the map, but many things were closer than I thought. First stop Nyhavn. You know those pretty postcards of
colourful buildings in Copenhagen? Yes it is as pretty as the postcards make it look. Like all ports it had quite a reputation in its day, as the commentary on the bus said ‘ you wouldn’t tell your mother if you’d been there’. These days it’s full of restaurants and expensive apartments. Of course I had to stop for coffee. While enjoying my time there who should come along but a bunch of Morris men, yes, really, in Copenhagen!
The changing of the guard at Amalienborg was a must, I arrived a little early so off for some exploring close by. Not far from Amelienborg is the marble church which I also wanted to see, unfortunately there was a wedding on so I couldn’t get inside. A little further down the street is the Russian church but it was also locked. So it was back to catch the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace (the Winter residence of the royal family) quite a process as there are 4 Palaces exactly alike and they have to do the changing ceremony at each one.
This happens every day at 12 noon. There are four different versions of the watch depending which members of the royal household are present. We got the smallest version called the Palace Watch, this is when no royal members are in the palace, sadly no sign of Mary. However, it is still very impressive with the young men in their blue and white uniforms and bearskin hats marching in very strict order.
I’m so glad that I managed to see wonderful
Copenhagen, it is a pretty city and definitely worth a visit, backpackers beware though, it definitely isn’t cheap (even though the alcohol is supposedly cheaper here than in Sweden, but not by much) apparently it’s cheap enough for Swedes to come over here and have their weddings in the Swedish church and stay on for the reception, so that possibly explains the group in my dorm. And then it was farewell, I chickened out of singing ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen’, one of my mother’s favourite songs, so it remained a very annoying earworm with nowhere to go.
Packing finalised and off in the middle of the night to the airport. By bye Copenhagen I loved every minute of being there.
Finding decent coffee at 5am at Copenhagen airport proved impossible. I was totally confused when I asked a fellow at the only place open how to order a coffee and he went away and came back with a glass of liquid that looked like flat cola. After more questions I discovered that this was my coffee and I should go over to another counter to pay and get food. I have to say that was definitely the worst coffee I had ever experienced. So off I went in search of another place. The only other place opened by this time was a Starbucks, oh dear! I don’t do Starbucks and I should have known better than to even try, but try I did and as always was highly disappointed, in fact, this one was even worse than usual and did nothing to kill the first coffee.
Not to worry, I was off to the land of coffee – Greece!
Essential to have in your travelling kit – a quirky sense of humour! OF COURSE the minibus driver from Belgrade dropped me at the wrong hotel at Budapest airport! Sigh, do they never read things properly? OK, so both hotels start with the words Airport Hotel but the wrong one also stops with those words, the right one has several more words in its title AND I gave him the full address! Oh well, at least this time I could get a cab and it only cost 5 Euros to get the wrong hotel to take me to the right hotel. So I had a quick shower and went off to explore the ‘Budapest Airport Hotel Stacio Wellness & Konferencia’ –(How can anyone get that wrong?) and see if I was really saving 412 Euros on the internet deal.
A few words before I swing into my story. Those who have been following my blog know that mainly I am writing and hoping to inspire people of a ‘certain’ age (as well as anyone else of any age) to get out of their doors and go travelling solo (if they don’t have someone to travel with). The Sweden story is a bit different. Like Poland where I had a friend to visit and who showed me around, I had friends in Sweden. Now I have many more friends in Sweden.
Jen was a friend of my son Ginski in Sydney, we hit it off and stayed friends, Frida and Agnes I met at the Hedonist Hostel in Belgrade and also struck up a friendship. It is amazing how things work out, I was going to Uppsala to stay with Jen and wouldn’t you know it Frida and Agnes also lived there!
My point is that if you don’t want to travel totally solo, go visit some people. Those lucky enough to have friends in other places really need to make the effort. Having someone to show you around also gives you a different experience.
Day 1 – I Arrive in Uppsala
So it was Helloooo Uppsala! I arrived in Sweden, Land of the Vikings and crayfish, on Norwegian Air, a nice comfortable flight. Then to Jen’s place after the best train ride ever, from the airport. A very pleasant walk and lovely home made dinner with the Bermet spiced Serbian wine, and it was time to just chill – aahhhh! It was also the time to meet Bosse, Theresa’s (Jen’s sister’s) Pomeranian – oh what a character! There were to be many meetings with this little fellow.
Day 2 – Shopping and Crayfish
Food shopping was the name of the game before preparing for dinner, this is where I discovered the Swedish fetish not only for seafood but also for cheese. What an experience! Walls of cheese of all sorts and sizes. I was in cheese heaven. Blocks of many kilo weights and finally my search for Jahlsberg was at an end! There it was!
And so we move on to the evening. I knew that a Swedish crayfish party was being planned for my arrival but I had no idea what one of those was, well….. I soon found out!
Family and friends arrived with food and drinks, kilos of crayfish were cooked and off we went. Crazy Swedish crayfish songs (somewhere there is still an embarrassing video of me singing a solo after someone gave me a song sheet and said ‘sing this’!) Now, I don’t know a word of Swedish (except for the Swedish chef on the Muppets) nor do I have a good singing voice – it’s more a foghorn. Somehow I got through and at the end was greeted by looks of amazement as my friends said they even understood a few words in my attempt – trust me travellers, go to a Swedish crayfish party in midsummer time, they are such fun!
On top of that I found that this bunch of Swedes liked Gogol Bordello as much as I do! Who would have thought! So between the Crayfish party and Gogol Bordello songs the Swedes were winning the fun stakes. Thanks Jen and friends, and this was only day 2.
Day 3 – Raggare and Cars
I was reading the in-flight magazine on my way to Sweden and discovered that many Swede’s are car freaks, just like friends back home. They own and drive American 50s and 60s cars and indulge in good old rockabilly music and clothes. They are known as Raggare and they organise car shows all over the country, and that’s how day 3 was spent in Uppsala. Loved the crowd, masses of cars very well presented and their owners obviously passionate about their steeds. A live band pumping out rockabilly and stalls of the right fashions made for a very pleasant afternoon, thank you Swedes for liking the right sorts of cars. Of course, this meant that I met a whole lot more people including Jen’s Mum Yvonne. Later I also met other family members including gorgeous grandmother.
To quote Jen ‘So we survived the American car show. Cars, cars, cars, raggare, drunk raggare and then a quick visit to see my grandmother and my aunts. And my heart just melted when my grandmother told me to tell Helene to have a nice stay (my grandmother doesn’t speak english) at the same time as she was hugging her goodbye. My grandmother is the cutest’ Yes she is!
Day 4 – Rest Day
Sunday, chill day, after crayfish Friday, raggare Saturday, cars cars cars, rock and roll, masses of booze (oh that Fireball is a killer), lots of walking, meeting awesome new Swedes, Jen’s family and friends, especially Grandma, such a sweetheart. So this was the day to get around to cooking my rissoles and Ginski’s vegie recipe for dinner and taking life easy.
Day 5– Four Ladies Exploring
Massive day, Jen took me to just about every sight there is to see in Uppsala, we were joined by Frida and Agnes (the two lovely Uppsala girls I met in Belgrade) and off we went! Oh boy, that was a week’s walking in one day but we managed to cover the largest Cathedral I’ve seen so far (it is huuuuuge!) and if you stand in front of it and look up to the top of the spires it looks like it’s falling towards you – weird sensation. The cathedral has many notables interred there, just to mention a few; Emanuel Swedenborg, John III, Eric the Saint and Saint Bridget and many more.
Then we were off to the castle, the library, parks, Botanic gardens, sitting by the pretty river Fyris, playing with and climbing on all sorts of sculptures including the Warm Man – seriously, in winter they heat the metal statue of a recumbent naked man so you can sit on him and warm up, only in Sweden! All that was followed by shopping and cafes Wow! It was nice doing what essentially was a Sunday stroll through the town, on a Monday. I have no idea how many kilometres we covered on foot but it was a lot and time and distance went by quickly with fun company, a very nice way to spend a Monday.
Day 6 – Gamla Uppsala
This was the day for the original capital of Sweden visit, Gamla Uppsala about 5 kilometres out of Uppsala.
So much to learn, the displays were fascinating, everything from Viking paraphernalia, to costumes and jewellery, to boats, statues, explanations of the neighbouring burial mounds etc etc. Way too much to describe here, so you will just have to go and see for yourselves.
Gamla Uppsala kyrka (the church)
The current stone church was built over the site of a pagan temple
which honoured Thor, Odin and Freyr. The church dates from the early 12th century. Unfortunately, the present church is only a shadow of the original cathedral due to past fires .
Inside the church are wall paintings and the tomb of Celsius, yes the thermometer man and a great display of ancient bibles, I wish I
could have handled them, love such old books. Near the church is its impressive red, wooden belfry.
Royal burial mounds
The Royal Burial Mounds (Kungshögarna) although they look just like any other hill, are very interesting. There are three large burial mounds dating from the 5th and 6th centuries.
The Eastern Mound contained the grave of a woman (or a young man and a woman) with grave goods including carved bronze panels and a comb. A man was buried in the Western Mound, along with animals and luxurious weapons. I hope all the kings managed to get to Valhalla like they planned. There’s also an area where they have found remnants of buildings from the Iron Age and possibly earlier as well. I didn’t realise that this place is so old. If you go for a walk there are many other mounds to make you wonder, the area dates back several thousand years.
Disagården (Disa Farm)
This is a working farm set up the way a farm would have been in the 1800s. Essentially it is an open air museum where you can see how a farm and village would have looked and worked in the Uppland region. They grow grain, vegetables and fruit and tend various animals mainly native breeds. A fascinating place to visit. The estate is owned by Upplandsmuseet (Uppland County Museum). It was fun wandering around discovering all sorts of things like old wooden farm implements and a group of boys playing a traditional Swedish game.
I was amazed how much we covered in a short space of time. It was lunch time so the decision was made that the most Swedish thing to do was to have meatballs at Ikea. I’ve never been to Ikea anywhere so a lunch of Swedish meatballs and mash was it. Thank you Yvonne for driving us around and showing me places that otherwise we could not have got to easily.
Last Day -21 August
My bags are packed, I’m ready to go, the taxi (would be waiting soon) outside the door……… I’ve been singing this theme song ever since my days of working on Lord Howe Island for a season in 1971, it was brought back more recently at the Hedonist Hostel where so many would sing it on their way out – always leaving somewhere (note to
self, write an arriving song! because every time I leave one place I arrive in another). So yes folks it was time to move on again. It took me a full day of trying to figure out where to go next as well as when and how. Originally I was going to go to Stockholm and then on a cruise to St Petersburg (you can go there for up to 72 hours without a visa now, under certain conditions) but that was all too hard, it wasn’t falling into place. I had promised myself, at the beginning of the trip, to follow my intuition and if things seemed too hard then it would mean that it wasn’t the best idea, so, I reluctantly swapped St Petersburg for Santorini (of course I would choose almost the furthest place away from Uppsala to visit next!). However, everything quickly fell into place, first stop Copenhagen, although last minute accommodation was a little tricky (it’s a popular place!). So it was farewell to Uppsala, lovely town, farewell and a million thanks to Jen for looking after me (it’s so good having a Swedish ‘daughter’) and farewell and thank you to Therese and Yvonne for your friendship and taking me around places, introducing me to people and I can’t forget Bosse (even though you barked at me) you are still sooooo cute! So it was look out Copenhagen, I was finally going to get the chance to make a goose of myself and sing (or is that croak) ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen’ in Copenhagen, somewhere, and scare everyone! Maybe!