Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

I’ve come to really enjoy travelogues. Of all sorts. This was another Goodreads recommendation, based on the books I have read and rated. The description had me hooked.

EmpiresofIndus

‘One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains and flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. It has been worshipped as a god, used as a tool of imperial expansion, and today is the cement of Pakistan’s fractious union. Alice Albinia follows the river upstream, through two thousand miles of geography and back to a time five thousand years ago when a string of sophisticated cities grew on its banks. “This turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative” (The Guardian) leads us from the ruins of elaborate metropolises, to the bitter divisions of today. Like Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Empires of the Indus is an engrossing personal journey and a deeply moving portrait of a river and its people.’ says the blurb, and I just had to get hold of it.

Albinia, a British journalist, fascinated by the River Indus, and the civilizations and religions that it spawned around it, travels up the river, from its delta in Sindh, to the place of its origin in Tibet. As she travels through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet, she also narrates history, and links it up to the present world and culture. The Sheedis in Pakistan, who could trace back their ancestors to Africa and to the first African disciple of Prophet Mohammed, the life, and hierarchy of Pakistani society after the Partition, the Aryans and India as it had been. The way of life in India a few centuries ago, when religions co-existed, peacefully. Fascinating tidbits and facts – both historical and contemporary ones. There is a lot more of Pakistan than India, in the book, but that is of course a given, since Indus is almost completely in Pakistan now, but she still manages to link the common history of the region with the mighty river flowing through it, really well. A wonderful mixture of history and culture with Indus as the ever-present protagonist. The river which is mighty, deep, mysterious, divine and a lifeline to those who live by it. For centuries, Indus was more than just a river. At one point in history, conquering the Indus was equivalent to conquering India. The books spans from the Vedic times to today’s world, touching upon Kargil, the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas amongst other important recent developments that impacted the subcontinent.

The author’s meticulous research is evident in the book. And her evident interest in her subject. Conversant in Urdu and Hindi, she is able to converse with the locals, and live like them, fasting during Ramzan, living in their houses during her travel, almost becoming one of them. The author’s enthusiasm, and zeal left me amazed. The journey that she undertook, couldn’t have been easy by any standards, through one of the world’s most volatile regions, potentially one of the most unsafe regions for a woman to travel alone, is one of the bravest things to do. A lot of travelogues have the authors being enraptured by the subject, in this case, she is utterly fascinated and yet objective, fascinated enough to have researched her subject thoroughly, and objective enough to analyze it all, so very well. I just did not want it to end. I wished she could go on and on, I wished I had learnt history reading books like these.

A totally recommended read for anyone who loves travelogues and history – such a marvelous combination, handled in such a wonderful manner! Another Goodreads recommendation, that I absolutely loved.

With my media space running out here, I was forced to think of other ways of doing my travel posts – which have the most pictures. After a lot of thought, I decided to section it off into a separate travel blog. Hoping though that I do end up traveling enough to justify the new blog 🙂

Any Excuse to Travel

After half a day of walking around in the Murano and Burano, we decided to head back to Venice. Do read the previous parts of the travelogue here and here if you haven’t read them yet.

We had a day trip planned to the hill towns of Veneto for the whole of the third and last day, so wanted to experience as much of Venice as we could that evening.

So I had read of the Bridge of Sighs in loads of books. Silly as I am, I hadn’t checked out how it looked. I had asked the receptionist at the hotel, where it was, and she had indicated it on the map. Now, Venice has just too many bridges, each one as pretty as the other. We couldn’t figure out which one was the Bridge of Sighs. We took pictures of every bridge – just in case, asked lots…

View original post 819 more words

Venice Day 2 – Part 1 Murano and Burano

We had a late, leisurely start on the second day in Venice.

We lazed around, had a nice huge breakfast. Did I mention the coffee in Venice? I must have, but delicious as it was, it is certainly worth mentioning again. Such delicious, flavour-full coffee!

The plan was to visit the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. There are tours from Venice but all the reviews and traveogues I read recommended using the public transport to get the real feel of the place. So we decided to use the public transport instead. We went back to the vaporetto station and took a 12 hour ticket which allowed us to use any water bus for 12 hours. Later we realized that we should have gone in for the 36 hour ticket – would have been far cheaper in the long run, but at that point, both of us missed it.

On route to the vaporetto station, we stopped at a church. Check out the ceiling!

We decided to go to Murano first. Murano is the island famous for the glass factories. The water bus that we took, actually felt like a ‘bus’ in the real sense. Check out the crowd. Clearly loads of tourists had read the same travelogues as me 🙂

The sights we passed enroute to Murano..

The wooden pilings apparently show the route that the waterbuses have to take. We saw these sort of pilings on the way from the airport as well. Apparently the whole of Venice stands on millions of pilings like these. The wood came from Slovenia, which now has barren regions because of all the wood that was cut and used to keep Venice afloat.

As soon as we landed on Murano, we were directed to the glass factory, which would close at noon. We hurried towards the factory, along with all the tourists from our water bus. In the factory, we were treated to a wonderful exhibition of glass blowing, and the art of making glass artifacts. He made a glass horse in minutes! It was breath-taking to watch.

And he blows it out!

Look at him fashioning a horse from molten glass!

And within minutes the horse is ready! What expertise!

After the session at the glass factory, we refused to get seduced by the charming salespeople at the glass exhibitions, and decided to walk the streets of Murano instead.

Fodder for the boats – a filling station for boat.

I loved the look of this boat, full of vegetables! I couldn’t help wonder if it were a vegetable shop or just the way the restaurants get their veggies delivered.

Murano has glass everywhere.. Glass Flowers..

Glass gardens…

As I browse through my pictures, I realize that we have loads of lovely pics, but all of them with us in them, so I’ll just skip ahead to our next destination – Burano. I found the way the Italians pronounced the word, so very charming! So off we went, back to the water bus station, and got on the water bus to Burano.

We saw some abandoned islands with ruins of houses on them.. Doesn’t it make you wonder who lived there, in the middle of the sea, all alone on an island? I’m not surprised that whoever lived there decided to abandon it..

Burano, I understood from what I had read was famous for it’s lace and its coloured houses. Here’s a picture that captured both.

Another thing that struck me about Burano was the greenery. It was the greenest among the islands we visited. May be it just was not as populated as the others..

The multi-coloured houses of Burano.

When daughter was little, she used to watch a programme on Cbeebies, and it had coloured houses(to teach the little ones colours), and the houses in Burano reminded me of that!

And soon it was food time. Hitchy, finally some food pics, that can be posted 🙂

That was one of the most delicious meal we had in Venice. The bread was oh-so-delicious! Dipped in Olive Oil – yum!

Grilled veggies – we polished off a few before we remembered to take pictures!

The pasta I fell in love with. I don’t remember the name, the menu was in Italian, all I knew while ordering was that it was a vegetarian spaghetti, but the taste! It was amazing! I think it was spaghetti in pesto. I came home and tried to replicate it with basil pesto, and the taste was quite similar. Delicious! The thought of it makes me drool!

And the pizza.

We also had a delicious dessert, a local biscuit and ice-cream, drenched with chocolate sauce! I can’t find any pictures of it. Clearly, both of us were more interested in attacking it rather than waste time taking pictures 🙂

Tummy satisfied, we walked around the little island. Colours everywhere! Such a lively, cheerful looking place it was!

The plan was to visit Murano, Burano and Torcello, but it was almost 3 in the afternoon by the time we were done with lunch, so we decided to skip Torcello and return to Venice. We had booked a day tour to the Hill Towns of Veneto for the third and final day in Venice, so we really wanted to experience more of Venice. Torcello seemed less attractive than Venice.

So off we went, back to Venice, and what we did there, shall be fodder for the next post 🙂

PS: Remember me moaning about not being able to select pics to post? Well, WP decided it for me – no more pics. Apparently I am the limits of my media capacity, so I had to delete all my headers, and ran to Hitchy in tears, thanks so much, Hitchy, for all your help 🙂 So has any of you faced this problem? Any option, apart from using Flickr?

Venice – Day 1

As usual, I had big plans of going completely prepared to Venice. This time, in my defence, I did read up, I did plan well.

I even had all our stuff packed in time. Husband arrived at 10 in the night from Glasgow, and everything was in place. Eat, sleep, wake up and fly was all we needed to do. Despite all the hoping and wishing, the weather forecast did forecast showers and thunderstorms. The weather here was not great either. It ensured that we got wet in the short walk from the taxi to the airport terminal.

After a long, long queue for the security checkin( we always seem to be in queues at airports), we managed to reach the gates, just in time for boarding. Flying a low cost airline  has in it’s disadvantages, the fact that no meals are served in flight. So, me being, super-planner for a change, had brought along lovely buttery croissants from Waitrose. Why worry about butter and fat, when on holiday, eh?

So we took off, even the cramped seating couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. Daughter insisted on reading the in-flight magazine end to end, while I tried to grab a nap.

And now the time for the mandatory, in the air pics. No matter how much I travel, I can’t stop behaving like a woman on her first flight 😦

If you look very closely, you’d see a green lake nestled between the mountains.

And finally after two hours in the air, we landed in Venice. It looked clear, and gorgeous! Daughter always complained that she never gets to see the blue sky in England, well, she certainly couldn’t complain here. Clear, gorgeous blue sky! Thunderstorms, rain showers seemed a lifetime away. Of course, none of this meant anything because the weather changes in Venice in minutes, guidebooks told us.

At the airport, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to take a printout of the map of where the hotel was. We went to an information desk, where we were told to take the water bus(vaporetto – doesn’t it sound wonderful? Everything sounds wonderful in an Italian accent, me thinks :)) get off at Fondamenta Nouve and then walk 10 mins to the hotel. Sounded easy enough. Couldn’t be more difficult than our trek in Greece, could it?

We were told the direction to follow to reach the water bus. There was a long tunnel like passage way, and we walked for about five minutes before we reached the water bus station. We were accosted by a young man, waving pamphlets and telling us that the water taxi would take us to our hotel in 20 minutes for 110 euros. For a minute, we were confused, but then realised that most people were walking towards the next stop. On checking realized that the water bus was the public transport, while the water taxi was like the taxi we use – private, and more than double the cost of the waterbus -both ways. So we decided to take a chance with the water bus. Most people seemed to make the same choice, which reassured us  and had us worried. After all, it’s called a bus! What if we have to stand all the way to Venice? Thankfully, we did not.

A water bus getting loaded with it’s passengers.

Finally after about 30 minutes, and some whining by daughter about how hot it was(she did not sleep on the flight, and was tired, sleepy and hungry by then), we reached our destination. Getting off, we checked at a trattoria, the directions to our hotel. The fragrance of food, made me long to just sit there and eat! We went the direction he told us to, only to get a confused and asked someone else. He directed us in another direction, and we went off again, in search of our hotel. Now, just to give you an idea, this is what that area looked like.

Now, Venice is a lot of islands(118, to be precise), connected by bridges. So each time you cross a bridge, you are crossing over to the next island. In search of our hotel, we ended up crossing about 10 bridges, until we finally found it. In reality, it was just 2 bridges away – 5 mins walk, at max, but we had to get lost! I read in some guides that the best way to see Venice is to get lost in Venice. Well, we started off doing that 🙂

I have to say, the happiness at reaching your destination is amplified when you have to go to such lengths to reach it. Husband had to haul our big suitcase over all those bridges. And all of us were very, very hungry. The hotel room was a huge relief. Although we had checked out the reviews in Expedia and Tripadvisor, we were not expecting very spacious rooms, because almost everybody mentioned how rooms are small in Venice. Ours was a  welcome change – nice, spacious, and such lovely staff! We checked in, and then ran out to grab some food.

There was this nice main street that we had passed, while searching for our hotel, and we went back there. We had the most delicious ravioli, and spinach and ricotta cannelloni. We practically inhaled it – hungry as we were. All we wanted after that was a nice nap. Bliss!

A nap was just what we needed. The hotel had a complimentary tea spread from 2pm onwards, and we did full justice to it. Well, not full, but we had the best coffee I have had in recent times. The spread of cakes, pastries and biscuits made us wish we had the space for it all 🙂 Never mind, we had 2 more days to try out everything on the buffet.

So off we went. To get lost again, but this time it was much more fun.

A Campo(square). Apparently, we went at a time when the mad rush of tourists hadn’t quite started.

The first sighting of the Grand Canal from under the Rialto Bridge.

Someone walking up the bridge for a better view.

And the view from up there…

And we meander through bridges, and squares and little lanes… watch gondoliers parked, waiting for their customers…

.. to finally reach San Marco, and the Campanile, from where we took these pics. We went up the Campanile, and had the most wonderful view of Venice.

Basilica San Marco, doesn’t it look gorgeous?

The Grand Canal adjacent to San Marco. Gondoloas, anybody?

The famous Bridge of Sighs! Yes, we did kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola 🙂

By then, our tummies were rumbling again. Walking is tough work, so is taking pictures of every single thing. We take way too many pictures! I’m having such a tough time selecting pictures. We got lost again, in search of food this time.

I can’t help wondering if these are houses, and who gets to live in them! Must be such a romantic existence!

Isn’t Venice gorgeous at night? I could live there forever! And eat in all those lovely trattorias every single day!

Food time again, delicious risotto and pizza this time. No pictures, because husband did not take pictures! He’s got us eating it, and no pictures of the actual food! Time to get back in bed, but not before we tasted some of the delicious chocolate mousse cake that was still waiting for us back at the hotel. Husband stuck to gelattos. He loves gelatto. Last time we were in Italy, he practically lived on gelatto, and he did not want to make an exception this time 🙂

The first day went off so well, with no sign of thunderstorms and rain showers – we couldn’t believe our luck! Needless to say with all the walking we did, we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows!

(to be continued..)

Venice – A Bird’s Eye View

So this is for all of you who wanted pictures -first installment 🙂 More about where we clicked all this – in the next post.

St Mark’s Clock Tower

Check out the Bell and the two figures on the top. The winged lion with the book is considered the symbol of the City of Venice.

The Doges Palace

The top of St Mark’s Basilica

The Grand Canal

Isola San Giorgio Maggiore

Piazza San Marco. There was a concert going on there.

Look at the restaurants dotting the square.

More to come in the next few days 🙂

Holiday Tales 1- Chester

*Warning : Long post ahead*

Even best laid plans could get unraveled, so the not to well laid going awry is not really surprising.

We had not made any proper plans for the Easter weekend. We couldn’t come to a decision on where to go. I wanted to go to Dorset to see this and this, and of course for the beaches. Then my friend mentioned that they were off there as well, so we decided to pile on. We used some of the points that husband has been hoarding up on his hotel stays in Glasgow, and booked a free(almost) holiday.

We were to set off on Friday – early morning. It is a 5 and a half hour drive from where we live, and we wanted to get there nice and early. I was in record form. Bags packed, everything sorted by the time husband returned from Glasgow. The weather was not the greatest, but at the very least, it wasn’t raining(or snowing), so we were all excited!  All we needed to do was have dinner and go to bed early. Daughter chose that exact moment to throw up everything she ate. And was also running a temperature. By the time, I got her sorted and went to bed, I was dead tired.

Woke up at 5:00 – as per schedule, only to realise that I had a terrible, throat pain, and I could barely open my eyes. Between daughter’s temperature and my feeling terribly ill, we decided to not travel. Much to all our disappointment, but it did not make any sense to travel to a coastal area and not even be in a position to get into the water, given that both of us were feeling so ill. So having informed our friends, we went back to sleep.

That extra sleep did seem to work wonders. We were feeling better, I was still not completely well. but daughter was back to normal. By mid day, we started wishing that we could go somewhere. It was too late to go to our original destination – we would not reach before night-time, and we would have to start back on Sunday, leaving us just one day there. So we started hunting around for places to go to. It did not help that the weather where we live was dismal. Cold, wet and miserable, and all places nearby seemed the same as well. It was funny how when you are desperate to go somewhere, you just can’t find one place worth visiting!

Finally, we decided on Chester. Chester Zoo is supposed to be one of the best zoos in the UK. We had been planning to go there since ages. Places close by, get pushed away, because we can go there anytime. Chester seemed perfect for this weekend. We could stay overnight, visit the zoo and be back by the next evening. We did not want to plan a longer holiday, just in case we felt ill again. The weather in Chester was not great, but it seemed manageable. Light rain was forecast, and we thought we could handle light rain. Since we had packed bags waiting, all we needed to do was have lunch(which was more of a brunch), and book a hotel and be off.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we set off.

This should give you an idea of the weather around here in the last week. The snow had melted in most places, but this was taken on one of England’s highest motorways.

First stop, Chester City. It was a cute, quaint town. Chester is supposed to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe. We have been on similar walls in other places like York, but the walls in Chester certainly seemed to be in much better condition. We did not do the full round, we did about three-fourths of it, and then got off to walk by the River Dee.

The iconic black and white buildings that seem to define Chester City Centre. Check out the building below, the black and white one in the middle, it seemed as if it were wider on the top than the bottom..

Check out these columns and column bases, apparently from Roman times.

The Roman walls overlooking the city centre..

And the clock on the wall..

View of the street from the wall.

Chester Cathedral – view from the walls..

and a little closer..

Walls circling the city..

By the river..

The Roman Amphitheater

We get all excited at Easter window displays..

Every single time, when I upload pictures, I realize that the best pictures have us in it 😦

After all that walking around, all we had energy for, was dinner. Dinner and sleep, were the only things we were capable of. The weather had not been too bad. It did rain a bit, but most of the heavier rain happened when we were having dinner, so we escaped most of it. So we concentrated on food, after all, we needed all the energy to walk around Chester Zoo.

…(to be continued – Holiday Tales 2 – Chester Zoo)

Holiday Tales Post 8 The Last Day

It’s been more than a month since we got back from Greece, and high time that I put an end to these holiday tales, don’t you think?

The last day was a lazy, lazy day. We had nothing on the agenda, apart from soaking in the atmosphere, eating good food, and lazing around. Starting with a delicious breakfast(it was a relief to not have to hunt for breakfast places), at a table with a view.

We had a great time at the windmill, but to be honest, I had a million mini heart attacks every time daughter moved around. I was constantly worried that she would fall down those stairs. So we had decided to ask our hotel manager if he could transfer us into one of the cave houses. After breakfast, the first thing we did was this, and he was so understanding, and showed us to our new accommodation, a traditional cave house. It might have helped that the windmill cost more than the cave house, but anyway!

The view from the cave house.. We planned to spend the evening watching the sunset from here..

The insides.. See the roof?

By the way, the place we stayed at also claims this – check out the little board. Too bad we came here 11 years too late 🙂

After settling in, we set off once again to walk the streets of Oia. One of the things I loved were the flowers everywhere.. Doesn’t this hibiscus transport you to India? And I love the colour!

And the Bougainvillea, it was everywhere, and it looked so gorgeous!

See those caves towards the right of the picture? I was told that all the caves looked like that before there were converted into houses.. I wonder if the people who first settled here, ever imagined that their adaptation to the environment, would result in a beautiful tourist destination in the years to come…

Some of the traditional blue domed churches that this place is famous for..

The little port, that we did not go down to. I told you, we were after a relaxing day. Going down might have been easy, but coming back up might have been a different story 🙂

The majestic cliffs that plunge down into the sea…

They do take good care of their buildings…

Aren’t these trees cute?

After all the walking around, our tummies called for lunch. After a huge lunch, at a restaurant with a view(it is impossible to find one, without :)), we headed back to our cave house. The rest of the afternoon, we planned to sit around, and wait for the sunset..

Of course, nothing goes as per plan. The sky that had been clear all morning suddenly had all the clouds in the world, crowding our view!

So what if there were clouds, we were determined to capture what we could.. and torture you guys by putting it up here 🙂

We could actually see the clouds moving. One minute our hopes would rise, that maybe the clouds would move away, in time for a perfect sunset, the next minute they would be dashed by the sun getting covered completely..

I love the way, we can see the rays of the sun filtering through the clouds…

One of the rising hopes moments…

If it looked like this with the clouds, I wonder how beautiful it would have been when the sky was clear?

With the sun gone, it’s time for some night time splendor.. Did I mention that our cave house was just below the windmill?

We ended the holiday with another delicious dinner.. Fitting end, don’t you think?

Holiday Tales Part 7 First Day in Oia

As I browsed through pictures, I realized that I had forgotten all about posting the last leg of our holiday.

After the our experience in the Ghost Town, we were braced for all eventualities. We had met an Indian family in Fira, who mentioned that Oia(where we were headed to), was very quiet in comparison to Fira. That was enough to get us worried. Then again, we decided that we are sure to find something to do there. We also decided to return our rental car before heading for Oia. We had to return the car in Fira, and we did not want to come back  to Fira, just for that. Our plan was to walk around Oia village and just relax, enjoy the sunset.. basically, do nothing.

After a heavy breakfast at a beach hotel, we got ready and checked out of our ghost hotel. This was one time when there was staff at the reception when we needed them. Guess they did not want us taking off with the keys!

We wanted to go to a beach, drop off the car, and then set off for Oia. We had slight change of schedule based on what our tour guide on the volcano trip told us. He recommended going to the other tip of Santorini, which had the light house. Given that we were close by, we decided to drive there first, and then head off to the beach.

The view on our way to the lighthouse. The islands in the middle are the volcanic islands, and the white bit on the other side is Oia – our final destination for the rest of the holiday. Santorini is crescent shaped.

Some ruins enroute..

And finally the lighthouse. There were other tourists like us, snapping away 🙂

Next stop, Monolithos beach. It was recommended to be a shallow beach, suitable for children. Most of the beaches in Santorini are quite deep, so quite scary for young children.  It was a nice beach, almost empty, as the season was almost over. No pictures, because we were too busy having fun 🙂 Just one picture that shows us where we were – on the other side of the mountain that was visible from our hotel.

Beach sorted, lunch sorted, we set off to Oia. Full of trepidation and worry. What if it were just like Perivolos? What if we landed up in another ghost town?

The drive to Oia was gorgeous, but we decided to just let our eyes and our minds capture the pictures, for a change. We had planned to call the hotel in advance, but we managed to forget in the middle of everything else.

Finally we reached Oia village. It was just like the pictures – gorgeous, cute and so very different. We had heard about some hotels being difficult to reach, with little steps and everything – but we were lucky, our hotel was easy to spot, and easy to reach from where the taxi left us.

The reception was locked, once again! But this time, there was a bell to be rung. Up bounded a warm, cheerful man, who was the manager, and he took us to our accommodation. Unlike our previous hotel manager/caretaker(or whatever he might have been), he was wonderful, and made us feel welcome.

That’s where we stayed – the windmill that is in the distance. I ought to mention here, that husband was super excited about living in the Windmill. He was the one who booked it. Normally, I do booking and stuff, but while we were doing the research, husband got fascinated by the idea of living in a windmill, and decided to book it. He couldn’t wait to get there.

It used to be a working windmill(used for grinding flour) some years ago. The wind speed near the windmill validates that. We could hear the roaring wind the whole time.It was a totally different experience. One that we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

It is converted into a 2 bedroom apartment. The Kitchenette. My heart sank when I saw those steps. Look at the size of them! And no railings! Husband loved the character features of the windmill – I did too, to be honest, it was just that I was a little worried about Daughter taking a tumble from those steps.

Look at the bedrooms!

And those tiny windows!

The view from our window..

And the view from our bed..

After settling in, we went off to explore the streets of Oia. Oia is famous for it’s gorgeous sunsets, and loads of tourists from the rest of the island come over, just to see the sunset. See the crowd of people at Oia Castle, waiting for the sunset? Unfortunately, we did not get to see a proper sunset that day – it was too cloudy.

The streets of Oia had a charm of their own..

Quaint shops selling all sorts of stuff.. From souvenirs to paintings to beads to pumice stones.

Oia at night time…

There was something about the place, that was magical. We walked around aimlessly, and yet did not get bored. After a delicious dinner, and finally exhausted, we retraced our steps back to our windmill house..

I had planned to complete the travelogue with this post, but that would make it unbearably long.. So the rest in the next 🙂

Holiday Tales Part 6 – Volcanic Islands

I love it when the Thursday Challenge is about something I wanted to write about. Two birds, one stone thingy, you know. Today’s challenge is (“HARD” (Rock, Ice, Brick, Steel, Cement,…).

Volcanic Rocks..boulders of lava…

Santorini, is what remains after a violent volcanic explosion, a long time ago.The island is the remnant of an volcanic cone, which had been blown off during one of the explosions in history. Apparently the island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. One of the popular theories claim that one of the eruptions here is the source of the legend of Atlantis.

The beaches of Santorini are all black in colour because of the volanic eruptions in the past.

The islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni are the remnants of the most recent explosions in this area. See the islands in the pic below. The two islands in the middle are the two kamenis. Apparently this is one of the most recent landmass formation in the Aegean Sea.

The day we got hold of our rental car( Do check out Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in case you missed them), we also figured out that there was a cruise to The volcano and the Hot springs.

The next day, we set off, to get on the cruise to the volcanic crater in Nea Kameni. Look how gorgeous the Caldera looks in the morning. This is the view from Fira.

Our cruise was from the Port of Fira. The cruise would take us to the volcanic crater, and then to the Hot Springs and return. We would be able to climb all the way to the top of the crater and have a swim in the Hot Springs. Husband was most delighted by the thought of the swim.

The port of Fira was a long trek down. There were donkeys taking tourists up and down.

We used these cable cars to go down(and up) to the port.

See the volcanic rock in the main Island of Santorini.

And look at the way they have built on top of it..

Finally the port..

The boat that we set sail in.

As we sailed away, we got to see wonderful views of the island. Look at these caves, and the cave houses, etched into the landscape…

And finally at the volcanic islands.

On our way up the crater.

As I upload pictures here, I realize that most of the best pictures have us in the frane! The view of Santorini from the island. I think this was Oia in the picture.

It is uninhabited island. The only people there are the tourists. Daughter refused to walk beyond a point. It was hot, sweltering hot, and walking up did seem difficult. So Husband went ahead.

Look at these rocks! Something majestic about them. Beats man made things, doesn’t it?

The view again..

Husband went ahead and this is what he saw. Look how the terrain changes…

Sulphur patches with a strong smell of sulphur- according to Husband. Later we got to know that Santorini does have a lot of sulphur in it’s environment due to volcano. These are actually called Sulphur vents.

Some of the equipment that is constantly measuring the volcanic activity here. The last time the volcano erupted was in 1950.

Husband said that the top of the crater was full of rocks stacked one upon the other.. Something may be the tourists did?

The crater..

While husband was away capturing pictures of sulphur vents, craters and rocks, daughter and I relaxed under an umbrella, and watched other tourists who had aborted their journey and stayed back.. I wish I could say I over heard their conversation, but their conversation was all in Chinese 😦

Once husband got back, we got back into the boat and set off for the Hot Springs. That was a bit of a disappointment, because, apparently it was not all that hot 🙂 Some people on our boat did jump in, and swam about, but most of us stayed put.

I am sure whoever reached this far, must be fed up of seeing only rocks, let me leave you with this…

and this.. Our last glimpse of the volcanic islands.. At least from this angle. We shifted to Oia, the next day, from where we got to see a whole different view..

Holiday Tales Part 5 Living in a ghost town

*Long post alert*

Some time back, during our trip to America, we had been to a ghost town. Well, we needn’t have bothered. We were to have an opportunity to live in one, not just visit one.

As I mentioned here, we decided on Greece based on a friend’s holiday pictures until then we had been debating between Turkey and Greece. So while planning it out, I spoke to my friend, and he advised us on the best places to stay. A beach and a sunset point. Two nights at each, we decided. Our first place of stay was near a beach. Our friend had said that we would not need to rent a car, there is enough to do in one place. So at the airport, we took a taxi to our hotel. Please note, we did not even bother asking the locals this time 🙂 We could not possibly handle lugging suitcases once more.

It was a scenic drive. Cliffs on one side, the sea on the other. Gorgeous! We could see those cute blue domed churches around us. Some of them had miniature replicas of themselves built near the road. I never managed to take a picture of them, though.

We reached the hotel within 20 minutes. Our taxi dropped us off, and drove off. It was only when we walked towards the entrance of the hotel that we realized that it was shut. We got a little confused. Were we at the wrong hotel?  Rechecked our booking, and it looked and sounded like the place we booked. I asked husband and daughter to wait while I walked around the building to figure out if I could find the staff. As I walked around, it just grew more eerie. Not a single soul around. All doors locked. It looked empty. Then I thought, may be everybody must be sunning themselves at the beach – it was a glorious, sunny day, when I reached the pool, which was drained! Oh my god! Did our booking get cancelled? Did we miss an email from them? Has the hotel shut shop? What were we going to do now?

I got back to where husband and daughter were waiting, worried, and tensed. I would have preferred lugging suitcases to being shut out of our hotel room anytime! Finally, we happened  to notice a paper with emergency contacts jotted down, stuck to the reception door. So we decided to call the mobile number that was mentioned there.

Thankfully someone picked up. He said he would be there when I mentioned that we had a booking at their hotel. He sounded as if it were a totally normal situation of hotel guests landing up at a shut down hotel, with not a soul in sight. And just to clarify, this was not a tiny B&B or a low-priced hotel. This was supposed to be a ‘Boutique and Spa’! And it looked grand too – only with no staff or guests.

As I said, 5 minutes meant more than 15 minutes here. Our guy here was no different. Finally he arrived with a lady. Turned out he did not know much English, nor was he very friendly. It almost felt as if he were resentful that we landed up here and spoiled his vacation. It was a change after all those wonderfully friendly Greeks we came across in Athens.

While we were waiting husband had made plans to spend the afternoon at the beach. It was a gorgeous day, just perfect to be at the beach. So as soon as our hotel manager(I assume, I still don’t know), turned up, husband was eager to know about the beach. The hotel had advertised a private beach, and we just wanted to get there.

As soon as we mentioned beach, he said, ‘Beach closed, No beach’.

‘Beach closed?’, we asked, ‘ You mean, the beach is closed? Why’?

‘Season finished’, came the answer!

‘If the season is ‘finished’, why on earth did you take our bookings??’, is what I wanted to ask, but was so flustered by this, that neither of us knew what to think or say.

‘You want car?’, he asked. We said no, because our friend had said that it wouldn’t be required.

‘Breakfast, yes or no’, he asked. I said no, because it was not included in the room tariff, and after what we had seen, I wasn’t too sure of what they would provide. He and his colleague spent about 15 minutes locating the room key. Finally he took us to our room, which was not too bad. It was quite good, to be honest. Although I could not locate a kettle, and by the time we tried to ask them, they had left the hotel – again. And we were the only guests in the hotel. Spooky, is what it felt. All alone in a big hotel with nobody else on the premises.

The view from our room.

As soon as we freshened up, we decided to step out for lunch. By then doubts and worry had started to set in. If the beach was ‘closed’, then what would we do here? And how on earth can a beach be ‘closed’? That too, when the weather was so gorgeous! We would be lucky to have such lovely weather in summer, in the UK!

We set off on the road, hoping to find a decent place to eat. We crossed a bakery, and a super market, and our hopes rose. I went into the super market and asked a lady where we could find a restaurant. She indicated the direction in which we should go. So we walked on. We found a few restaurants which had menus hung outside, but were closed. It looked weird to say the least. It was as if people had abandoned them abruptly. Some even had ‘Today’s Menu’ written in chalk, and closed. I wish I had taken pictures, but at that point in time, we just wanted to find a place to eat. It was hot, and tiring to walk down an empty road, in a place where beaches were closed. We kept going, and kept finding these abandoned restaurants. Finally, we decided to turn back and go to that bakery we saw. Hopefully we would get something in the form of lunch.

The bakery had some food. Some pies, and being extra hungry, we even bought some baklava, which were delicious, but a tad too sweet for me. The biggest bonus was the owner of the bakery who was such a wonderful person! He told us that the season was drawing to a close and most of the restaurants and hotels shut shop during this time. Apparently in November, all the hotels and restaurants in this area would shut shop. He told us to rent a car, as that would be the easiest mode of transportation. The local buses were hourly and would go only to the capital, Fira. The best thing he told us was that the beaches were most certainly not ‘closed’. In fact according to him, this is the best time to come to the beach, as it would not be jostling with tourists. Nice and peaceful – his words. Needless to say, we felt less disheartened now. All we needed was a car, and lunch, of course.

So we went back to the hotel, to relax and have our lunch. Daughter did not like the pie too much, but husband and I ate what we could. After lunch we decided to go and rent a car.

We had been told that rental cars are available, the agency was about 1km away.

So off we went, the three of us. The only people on the road was us! We craved to see one tourist. One little proof that we were not the only crazy ones 😦 Whoever said that it is nice to be away from touristy places, was certainly not us. I have never wanted to see people so much before this. People and open, functioning restaurants.

Every second shop on that road was a restaurant(closed, albeit with their menus out there, for us to see, and maybe come back to, in summer?) or a car rental place(again, closed). Oh, I forgot to mention that the hotel manager had given us pamphlets of car rentals, with their numbers on them, but none of them picked up the calls. All in hibernation, I guess.

Finally we walked, and walked until we reached the one shop that was open, and busy – the Tattoo shop! The lady in the tattoo shop had no idea if the car rentals next to her place would open or not. Nor did she have their numbers to try to call them. By then we had reached the beginning of the beach.

See that mountain? We were right there. The road ended at the mountain, and a little road led us to this beach. One thing that was in plenty were directions to the beach. All roads to the right( from the main road), apparently led to the beach.

Given that we were so close to the beach, we decided to make the most of it, and forget about cars and rentals, and just enjoy the beach. As you can see, finally, we managed to see some tourists 🙂 Most of the beach was empty, for us to relax and enjoy.

See the boarded up shops/restaurants..

Finally, we managed to find a few open restaurants, buzzing with activity, music and tourists further on the beach. We also managed to get the numbers of one car rental, that everybody said is open. It was such a relief to find people! I think it gave us a perspective of how it would be to be far away from civilization.

Getting a rental car, still took some time. The owner of the car rental told us he would be there in 10 mins, but as expected, it took him over half an hour – but we were just delighted to get our freedom 🙂 Now we could go somewhere, drive around, find a place to eat! Yay! Armed with the car, and a map, we set off! After ages, it was different driving around in an unknown place, without a GPS, but as our friend, the baker said, it was impossible to get lost there.

We stayed in our ghost hotel for another day, but it was much better because we managed to get away and explore the rest of the island. It was a little spooky coming back to an huge, empty hotel. I just hoped that no cats or bats would jump out to scare the wits out of us 🙂

We did have a tough time finding a place that was open for breakfast, but our trusty little bakery saved the day.

Thankfully, we had a fun time, despite the initial hiccups. It will be something that we will always remember. In a way, because it was so empty, we ended up driving around and seeing the rest of the island. I am quite sure that we would not have bothered had the place been buzzing with activity. Silver lining, and all that.. Certainly made sense to us that day!

Edited to add: Husband read this and reminded me of how he tried to spook me out. He wanted to tell me the story of the movie ‘The Shining’. I did not let him tell me though 🙂