Athens The Almighty!

When the opportunity arose recently to come home from a trip via Athens for a dirt cheap price, this plucky tourist had to jump at the chance. For the record, let it be known that the flight with Scoot from Athens to the Gold Coast was only $471 all in. Bargain. The down side, and due to time constraints was that I only had 24 hours in Athens. Better than none I would suggest. Besides, it made for a nice taste test for a potential return at a later date.

The recorded history of Athens dates back almost 3,400 years which, when you think about it compared to other nations, is quite extraordinary. Today, Athens is home to almost 700,000 people and is among the top financial hubs in Europe. But what of the city as a tourist destination? Well, it’s more hot than miss but does have a number of floors. Let’s take a closer look shall we starting with your arrival at the airport.

The airport is reasonably small and, like all things in Greece, a little disorganised. Getting to the city is reasonably easy with a bus route that takes around 90 minutes depending on traffic and a metro service that runs every 15 minutes and takes only 35-40 minutes to the city. It’s an expensive metro ride though, coming in at 10 Euro’s. A return is slightly better at 18 Euro’s. The bus is just under half that price. They have wifi at the airport however, it’s perhaps one of the slowest wifi networks at any airport I have ever visited. A good reason to head straight to the city if ever there was one.

My accommodation was reasonable. I stayed at the Bed Box Hostel in the city centre for 21 Euro’s on the Saturday night. It was located in a quiet back street and the rooms were air conditioned, clean tidy and came with lockers. Not exactly a party hostel which suited my needs down to the ground. From here, the historical action and the bustling parts of Athens were only a short 10 minutes walk away. It’s a good idea to take a hearty water bottle with you because the sun is quite the stinger and Athens is one of those cities with lots on offer to explore. Being the historical nerd that I am, my first incentive was to visit the ancient relics and then head up to look around the wondrous site of the Acropolis and the Parthenon along with the original site of the first Olympics in 1896.

At every turn, there is culture and a rich history to embrace. Some parts of the city are a little worn down and smothered in tasteless graffiti which kills the charm a little. It’s a shame really but part of the modern world we live in. Also, another sad element with Athens is the large volume of homeless and destitute people living on the streets. More than 28 million people visit the city each year and you can’t help but wonder if there is a better way for the tourism dollars to help those less fortunate?

At a guess, I would suggest one could take 4 days or so before you really start to appreciate the beauty of Athens. I spent a good hour or so near the entry to the Acropolis taking in the wonder and beauty of the city that lay on the horizon before me. I ran out of time to pay the admission fee into the Acropolis itself as you would need at least 2-3 hours to explore, enjoy and appreciate things properly. A marvellous place to watch the sun set mind. The streets are full of life and colour though, with the fall of darkness, they became a little seedy and not the sort of place you would want to take your kids of loved ones. A few female travellers I spoke to at the airport the following day all advised me that they didn’t feel safe in Athens at night on their own due the countless men harassing them. A great shame that a great city has this problem.

Food is relatively cheap if you look around long enough and a cold beer can be enjoyed for a couple of Euro’s. There are a few small supermarkets around that meet your hostel budget well and no end of helpful locals to direct you to where you would like to be. Just be careful of the African gangs trying to sell you those daft “friendship bracelets” for a “couple of Euro’s” because, as is the case in Milan and Paris, once they get that bracelet around your wrist, 5-6 more will surround you demanding money.

I’m sure there are many more expensive ways to explore Athens though I can attest to you here and now that the city is very friendly towards budget travellers and is perhaps one of Europe’s major cities that can be seen and explored for a minimal outlay. It’s a city I am very much looking forward to returning to and one you should mark down on your must see lists if you have not been before.

You My Friend, Are Never Too Old!

Some 5 years ago now. May 2013 to be precise, I was enjoying some time in Barcelona when the penny dropped that I had never been to the Picasso Museum in town. It was still early and, a beautiful day outside so, off I went. My motive to set off early was to beat the rush. You know, the monumental Spring tourist crowds that flock to the places literally everyone wants to go to because well, everyone wants to go there. The Picasso Museum is located in the heart of the city on Carrer de Montcada and is surrounded by Tapas Bars, cake shops and bustling street market stalls nearby. Upon my arrival at around 10:20 am, the line up to get in was already massive.

Shortly after arriving, a museum staff member informed us that the wait time would be around 1.5 to 2 hours. A few people instantly left the line up including a few people in front of me. This instance led me to stand behind two American ladies, both around the age of 80 yet a spritely 80 if ever there was such a thing. We got chatting as a way of passing the time and it turned out that both had a remarkable story to share.

Only a couple of years prior, both their husbands had passed away with 6 months of each other. Both ladies had been life long friends from a young age and decided that, instead of selling up and moving into an aged care facility, they would start back packing around the world and keep going until they couldn’t support themselves any longer. Already, I felt as though I was playing part to a wonderful story.

They had set out in South America for 6 months before embarking on an African safari together which led them into south east Asia for a few weeks and now, well, now my friends, now they were backpacking around Europe. At this stage I had worked out in my head that they must have had a decent amount of spare change from the sale of their houses and such. Neither had left America before these recent travels so according them both, everything was an exciting experience. As it would be!

The one thing that did astound me was that they had been staying in hostels during their Spanish travels to save some money. Now, if you are like me at my princely age of 41, getting in and out of hostel dorm rooms night after night can be quite the challenge. So I could only imagine the challenges facing two ladies in their 80’s as they mucked in with the “kids” at each hostel. Just imagine it will you? By their own admission, they had a kind of celebrity status at each hostel they stayed simply because there was nobody else quite like them and to be honest, most of us don’t imagine still slugging it out with backpacks at that age.

The line had progressed somewhat and the hour or so waiting seemed barely longer than a few minutes because I was so utterly engrossed in the amazing woman before me. As our time together in line edged towards its end, I had thought of taking a photo together with them for prosperity sake but it kind of didn’t seem right to ask so, for once, I left my intrusive photo taking habit on the back burner. Either way, I had enjoyed a pleasurable experience and learned a valuable lesson in life.

You are never too old to enjoy life. And it’s never too late to start living regardless of the hand you have been dealt in life. I often think about those two American ladies and where they are now? Hopefully they are still having a ball! Oh, and yes, the Picasso Museum was sublime!

The Easy Rider: Changi Airport to Singapore

In Australia, we are used to paying extortionate fares when we head to or from major airports. Take Sydney for example. It will set you back almost $20 for a 10 minute ride from the domestic or international terminal into the city. Brisbane is similar, as to are Melbourne. The problem is, they are all run exclusively by private companies. Travelling the world, I have visited cities who provide cheap, efficient and effective airport/city transport for a fraction of the cost. Take Singapore for example.

On Monday, my flight arrived at 4 am and my connection wasn’t moving on until 11 pm later that night. I decided to enjoy breakfast at Changi airport and kill a few hours before jumping the metro into the city for the day. It’s a simple and cost effective process. The price? Well, in Sydney or Melbourne, you would be stumping up almost $40 for a return ticket. In Brisbane? Well over $40! Yet, in Singapore, a same day return ticket will only set you back $4.80. Yep, a small price to pay to use the MRT to and from the city.

To get into Singapore, all you need to do is select the type of ticket and your destination. Pop your cash into the machine and off you go. The metro runs frequently so you won’t have too much time to wait around before you board the green line to Tanah Merah which is just two stops. From there, you can cross over to the green line connection on the other side of the platform and make your way in air conditioned comfort to the city and jump out at any stop you require. I’d suggest jumping off at Raffles place as it is smack bang in the heart of the city and a stones throw from all the tourist attractions. The journey takes around 30 minutes all up.

The MRT system is a breeze to use and all underground stops are easy enough to spot.

It might not seem much however, for budget travellers and backpackers, the money saved on inexpensive transport networks is a life saver for the daily budget. It also makes Singapore even more enticing when you know you can enjoy a nice breakfast or dinner off the back of the money you saved on your transport to and from the city. Still, Singapore has lots more to offer so why not head there and experience the delights of a leading world city for yourself?

Fly Scoot? Why the hell not!

If, like myself, you travel lots, you are often trying to find the cheapest option to get from point A to B with minimal expenditure. This often leads to flights on not so desirable airlines in the competitive world of airline travel. For a long time now, I’ve heard nothing but horrible reviews of Scoot airlines, a budget subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. So when the option of a $400 flight from Athens to the Gold Coast popped up, I thought about the dastardly feedback previously offered up about them then thought twice. Fuck it, it said! It’s only $400 to get home and the other airlines were asking upwards of $2,000 for a one way option. Money I didn’t really have. So Scoot it was for this budget traveller.

I should say that I jagged a $700 one way flight over with China Airways who were, well, they were ok but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to fly them again. Now, to get to Athens, I booked a London to Prague flight with Ryanair for $65, a train from Prague to Krakow for $15 and then a $74 flight from Krakow to Athens. Five days, lots of adventure and I didn’t have to break a sweat financially to cover it all. Around $1,600 all in when a direct return flight to London would have cost well over $2,500 on the short notice I required.

As an added bonus with my $400 flight from Athens, I also got a bonus 18 hours in Singapore which allowed me to head out for the day and explore. Singapore’s Changi airport is world class which meant I was able to have a shower for $20 at the transit hotel inside Terminal 2.

So what are the catches to flying Scoot? Well, you have to buy your own food, blankets, headphones, drinks and there is no in flight entertainment for economy passengers but a well prepared traveller can cover most of those bases. The only hiccup I stumbled over was the food but I did find a delicious teriyaki chicken and rice meal with a can of coke for $15. The meal was sublime! So much better than what is offered on other major airlines. It was fresh, tasty and nice & hot. I’d highly recommend trying out Scoot’s food options. You can buy cheap water at the airport departure gate or fill up and empty water bottle or three like I did for both legs.

So what were the staff like I hear you say? Well, they couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. All the cabin crew went above and beyond for everyone on board for the entirety of both legs. I had flown Scoot once before in 2015 when I travelled from the Gold Coast to Singapore and both my experiences have been sublime. The airline strive hard to employ very friendly, thoughtful and courteous cabin crew. The “Scooties” as the cabin crew are known on board are up their with the best airline staff I have ever experienced in almost 20 years of constant travel. However, being a budget airline, I understand that this kind of travel is not for everyone though, rest assured, if you want to try something different then I can’t recommend Scoot enough. They now have a resume of exceptional destinations on their list and very affordable prices.

Will I fly with Scoot again anytime soon? My word I will!

Auschwitz: The Grim Reality

It’s not every day that I am left speechless. Those of you who know me well can vouch for that. However, a few days ago, I visited Auschwitz for the second time after my initial visit in early 2010. Both experiences were vastly different for varying reasons. The first time I went in solo whereas this time, I joined an English speaking tour group. Some 4 days on, I am still not quite sure what to make of things.

Firstly, it’s incredibly difficult to try and wrap your head around exactly what went on but, more importantly, how ruthless and utterly efficient the German’s were in how they set up all three camps within a small radius of each other. There is Auschwitz 1, Auschwitz 2: Birkenau and Auschwitz 3: Monowitz, which was a factory that the Nazi’s managed to destroy before the Soviet liberators arrived in the winter of 1945. Many survivors had to remain in the camps until the summer with Auschwitz 1 being turned into a makeshift hospital.

Along the way through camps 1 & 2, our tour guide informed us of multiple stories that rammed home just how horrific things were for not just the Jews held captive, but the political prisoners, gays, gypsies, blacks, disabled and social outcasts. One can read countless books on the camps and Nazi rule though it doesn’t really sink in until you walk the dark and eerily quiet surrounds of the camps. You see first hand and understand just how efficient the German’s were with their final solution. Interestingly, Hitler never visited any of the camps around Europe except for Dachau which is located just outside of Munich in Germany.

Upon arrival at camp 1, it is mandatory to join a tour group after 10 am due to the large numbers of visitors that attend. It took around 2.5 hours all up to buy a ticket. You have to submit your ID for registration these days due to problems in recent years with vandalism and theft of items from the camp. Sad but true. The entry fee is 50 Zloty which is only a few pounds with proceeds helping to maintain the camps and pay for other related costs. Once inside, you begin the slow walk where each point is explained in great detail.

Around 9 years ago now, the sign above the entrance to camp 1, “Arbeit Macht Frie” which translates to “Work Will Set You Free” was stolen and damaged, forcing a replacement to be constructed in its place. Currently, the infamous sign is being held at a storage base awaiting its future.

Over 1.3 MILLION people were channeled into Auschwitz with only around 200,000 surviving the camps by the time of liberation in January 1945. Camp commander, Rudolph Höss was executed by allied forces on site next to the camps crematorium on April 16 1947. Höss had previously attempted to return to a normal life as a farmer before his capture. Survivors were forced to burn anything they could get their hands on to keep warm during the remainder of the cold and harsh winter. Initial feelings from some survivors were to have both remaining camps completely destroyed however, it was later agreed that the camps should remain open as a reminder of why we can never allow this to happen again. Within two years of liberation, Auschwitz was opened up to the general public and now sees more than 2 million visitors annually.

One of the things that strikes you when walking through the camp is the potent smell that arises from particular buildings. Seeing the cramped confines and deplorable living conditions, you begin to imagine just how utterly hopeless and horrible life would have been for detainees over the 5 years that Auschwitz was opened. Some of the confined sleeping huts had over 1,000 people crammed into spaces that were built to accomodate only half those numbers. The winters were bitterly cold and summers stifled and hot.

Once you complete the tour of camp 1, a shuttle bus runs you to Birkenau or camp 2 as it is known. Things are far more open here with the camp being over three times the size of camp 1. The overcrowded trains would arrive here at Birkenau where the “selection process” would take place. From there, prisoners would be separated and sent off to their quarters or, in many cases, sent straight to the gas chambers for what they thought would be a shower and change of clothes. Many of the remaining prisoners would not see past a few weeks before also being exterminated.

Getting to Auschwitz can be done via train or bus from Krakow city centre with the first bus departing at 7 am and trains soon after. The bus runs direct to the camp and costs 14 Zloty each way taking just over an hour whilst the train is a more profound way to reach the camp costing 9 Zloty and taking just under 2 hours. If you do decide to take the train, it terminates at Osweicim and you can then walk to the camp in around 20 minutes.

If you travel to Europe or even live in Europe at any time in your life, make the effort to visit Auschwitz. It’s an important part of our history that should never be forgotten under any circumstances. In an age where we constantly moan and complain about insignificant problems in our lives, Auschwitz is a permanent reminder that, in actual fact, our problems aren’t really problems at all when you think of the 1.1 MILLION people that died within the confines of Auschwitz.

The Lure Of Prague

The city of Prague has existed since the 7th Century which, in turn, has left a rich cultural history of many twists and turns behind in its wake. Prague is a place that has always been on my to do list however, for various reasons, I have failed to get there until now. Admittedly, I only had some 12 hours there yet, it was more than enough time to get a taste of the delights on offer. Ideally, I think I would need three to four days here looking further ahead.

My flight from London Stansted was delayed by two hours which meant I didn’t arrive into the city until well after 11 pm on Wednesday night which left me with not much to do aside from being kept awake chatting to a Ukrainian student who was translating to a Russian lad in the room who couldn’t speak a word of English. He did give my Liverpool tattoos a firm smile and thumbs up mind. By 2 am, I was fit for bed so managed to knock up a few hours sleep before being out the door to explore at 6 am. The hostel was spacious, clean, modern and cheap too! Winning.

One of my favourite ways to explore a city is to simply wander on instinct and see what surprises I may find along the way. There is no better feeling as a traveller than turning a street corner only to find a magnificent sight waiting to greet you. Prague delivers many of these moments. The absolute highlight wasn’t the old town or The Charles Bridge. It was the Franz Kafka monument. Kafka was a former lawyer turned writer, passed away just one month shy of his 41st birthday on June 3 1924. He was unknown during his time on earth and rapidly rose to fame after his passing with a legacy of sublime journals and books that are still enjoyed to this day.

The monument stands at 11 meters with multiple panels rotating at different levels making it slightly tricky to catch Kafka’s full face at any given time. Thankfully, it was still only early in the morning when I was able to see the monument so there were no tourists around crowding the scene. That’s another benefit of getting out early. You avoid the heat as well as the crowds. Before this however, I had already wandered through the old town and Jewish quarter with minimal fuss. It was already quite warm by 7 am and there were quite a few bridal shoots going on as well as plenty of wannabe models posing in front of scenic backgrounds.

One girl surprisingly had another young lady snapping her on The Charles Bridge whereas all the other aspiring film and catwalk stars around were being snapped by seedy looking old men. I wonder exactly what it is these men promise these girls in the first place? The mind boggles! Still, if you are going to get snapped by a seedy old man running on viagra, what better place to do it then an incredibly stunning city like Prague?

Pretty much everything here is cheap. Accommodation, alcohol, food, transport and museum entries. I transferred £20 into 600 koruna’s which allowed me three meals, snacks, drinks, a numbers of beers and an airport transfer. In London alone, an airport transfer costs £14 so that’s a good indication that you won’t need a lot of money in Prague. Like all major European cities, Prague is full of dodgy “super markets” run by Asian families that charge extortionate amounts for basic supplies. It makes things hard if, like me, you want to steer away from rubbish food like McDonalds or Burger King late at night when the better eating spots have closed for the night.

With so much more to see, I’m hoping to return to Prague again with more time to fully explore the wonders on offer. Had I had just a couple more days here, I am certain it would have been non-stop fascination from strolling the many museums on offer or perhaps even taking in some live theatre or Opera. That’s the beauty of the lifestyle I lead. There will always be more opportunities for me to continue exploring and return to beautiful cities like Prague, one of the cultural capitals of Europe if not, the world!

Beer, beer, beer & erm, beer!

It’s not often that I drink but when I do, I enjoy a nice brew and when travelling on the train from Prague to Krakow, I was peering over the menu when I noticed that they were selling a range of beer for around 50 pence a bottle. Would Dave like a beer? Like fuck he would. Dave wants several beers to pass the time and for the princely sum £3.50, I’ve managed to nail no less than 7 beers as a coping mechanism for the atrocious heat that all passengers on board are battling!

To put things into perspective, £3.50 would barely get you a half decent pint in England and it wouldn’t even cover a pint in Australia unless it was a pint of that shitty XXXX tosh which, may I say, is the equivalent to drinking warm toilet water straight out of the loo bowl.

My short stay in Prague has been magnificent aside from the lack of late night eating options but hey, how good is cheap beer on a stifling hot summers day en route to Krakow?