November 7, 2008 – Friday – Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Before checking into our Cape Town hotel, Craig and Phineous take us up to Signal Hill. The views of Cape Town’s shoreline and the mountains (including Table Mountain, the Apostles, and the Lion) are spectacular (see above banner image). We then check into the Hollow on the Square Hotel, and I say goodbyes to our guide Craig and our driver Phineous.
One of my fellow solo travellers on the tour and I take the hotel shuttle (R10 each) to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. It is a happening place – the locals are obviously out for dinner on this Friday evening. We manage to get the last unreserved table at the Wang Thai restaurant. It is wonderful Thai food. I have prawns and stir-fried vegetables with steamed rice, a corn meal appetizer and a cappuccino to finish (200 Rand, US$24).
Useful information about Cape Town from our guide
The Red and Blue open-top buses offer good self-guided tours of Cape Town. Tickets cost 100 Rand (US$12) for the whole day. Buses run from 9am to 2pm. Buy tickets from the Clock Tower at Victoria & Albert dock. The Blue bus covers the beachfront area, and the Red bus covers the inland area (city & Table Mountain).
Robben Island boat tour is closed right now, but it is a 4 hour tour when operating.
If restaurants list “SQ” in place of the prices, ask for the price before you order, otherwise you will probably be in for a rude shock when the bill arrives.
The red Excite taxis offer the best rates and service in town. Call them on 021 448 4444.
April 14, 2006 – Friday – Athens, Greece -Milan-Toronto-Victoria, Canada
My alarm goes off at 3am and I am picked up by Jimmy (Paul’s alternate) at 4am. It is a bit confusing picking out Jimmy, since there are so many cabs going by. Exarhia is still going strong at this late hour! Jimmy and I have a nice chat on the way to the airport, and I pay him the €500 I owe Paul for the taxi services over the last week.
As I board my Alitalia flight to Milan, it is raining lightly at Athens airport. We taxi over the airport’s main access road on an overpass to get to our runway. As we takeoff, the rain is increasing. What luck I’ve had on this trip. At most we had some overcast in Venice, otherwise it has been sunny every day. We fly the length of Italy’s east coast south to north, and land on time in Milan. I end up only two gates away from where my group left Malpenza for Tripoli three weeks ago! This is the old part of the airport, and it is very crowded. Destinations for the four gates include: Prague, Bucharest, Tunisia, Timisora, Cairo, Istanbul, Krakow, Dublin, and (of course) Toronto – my flight.
The Tunisia flight seems to be popular with the Italians by the look of the passports. Lots of tired, squalling kids, and they all appear to be waiting for the Toronto flight. I observe two common types of passengers for Toronto: Indians with kids returning home (after already spending many hours in the air), and older Italians obviously going to visit their family in Toronto. We board Alitalia AZ652, a Boeing 767-33A (ER) about 20 minutes late, then once we are aboard, another 30 minute delay is announced due to ATC traffic congestion.
I take some nice photographs of Lago Maggiore and the Italian Alps, where my eclipse tour group stayed in Beligerate on our last night (just north of Milan). We are flying over Guernsey and the south coast of Wales while having dinner. I also spot several large ships in the Atlantic shipping lane off the coast of England. Flying over Newfoundland reveals endless frozen lakes and not a tree in sight. I think the Italian woman sitting beside me was impressed, and perhaps a little worried about finding the same thing in Toronto! Unfortunately she doesn’t speak English, so I can’t reassure her about Toronto’s milder climate.
I’ve noticed as we fly over the Atlantic that aircraft in the traffic lanes fly very close to each other – at times I could almost make out the aircraft markings. One of the female Alitalia cabin crew sees my digital SLR, and tells me I can’t use it in flight. This doesn’t make any sense – it’s normal to prohibit use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing, but not during flight. Alitalia’s own announcement states this, but I wasn’t going to argue the point with her so I put my camera away. Despite this warning, I took some great aerial shots all the way from Athens through to the St. Lawrence!
After 9.5 hours in the air, we finally arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Alitalia lands at a skyway equipped gate, but it is off in some remote area of the airport. Everyone has to get on a shuttle bus and go for a 20 minute ride to Terminal One. We then go through Canadian Immigration. There are a dozen officers, however two flights are being processed: ours from Italy, and one from China. The Chinese take a long time to be interviewed, since many don’t speak English, and it appears some haven’t filled in the form. Once I am finally interviewed by an officer, I breeze through in less than a minute. I also am lucky to find the correct luggage carousel and grab my bag right away. Customs decides they don’t want to talk with me, so that was easy!
I now have five hours to kill before my Air Canada direct flight to Victoria departs. I sip a Cappuccino Grande, which is my first cappuccino since we left Italy. While in Athens, I made coffee with my breakfast in the apartment. I really didn’t feel comfortable spending time in the numerous cafés in Athens for some reason – perhaps it was all the smoking that put me off.
Pearson International Airport is quite impressive, now that the expansion is completed. The new Terminal One is grand-looking, with soaring ceilings and glass, new car displays, bars, restaurants, coffee bars, duty free shops, bookstores and all sorts of other shops. Even the cleaning staff are impressive: they wear black and white suit-like uniforms complete with ties, and the airport is absolutely spotless.
While I’m waiting for my flight, I call home and let them know I’m in Toronto and the flight appears to be on-time, so they should plan to pick me up at 10:30pm. After this call, I watch a young Chinese guy try to use one of the pay telephones without success. He then asks me for help, and I see that the number he is calling is Ottawa (long distance). I coach him through the process of using a credit card, but the telephone rejects his Chinese card. I then offer to let him use my cellular telephone, which works fine. He is very grateful, shakes my hand, and runs off to the gate to board his flight.
I am extremely tired when I finally arrive at Victoria Airport. It takes me about five days to fully recover from the jet lag. The westward journey was certainly the killer. I wouldn’t let a travel agent talk me into a 30 hour elapsed time flight again…that’s for sure. I should have had an overnight stay in Toronto on the way back, as happened for the start of my trip.
April 13, 2006 – Thursday – Cape Sounio – Temple of Poseidon
Paul picks me up at 8am for our pre-arranged tour to Cape Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon. We drive along the Saronic Gulf coastal road through Glyfadha (close to Athens), Vouliagmeni (posh resorts), as well as Lagonisi and Anavyssos (beachfront towns).
The Temple of Poseidon site (€4 admission) is the southern most point of land for the isthmus where Athens is located, jutting out into the Aegean Sea. Even with the various stops for photos we made along the way, we arrive at 10am. The morning light is near perfect, so I get a nice dark blue sky to contrast with the temple’s marble columns. Needless to say, this site is dramatic. The temple is located at the top of the headland, which has steep cliffs to the sea hundreds of metres below. Spring flowers are in full bloom, and there is a fresh breeze blowing. I take advantage of the sparse crowds and photograph the temple and headlands from every angle.
I opt to return to Athens along the same coast road we just took because the alternative is to drive back down the middle of Mesoyia. Along the way Paul is called by one of his drivers to tell him there are three protests in full swing in Athens. He said he had parked the bus and was between police tear gas and the protesters Molotov cocktails! We change our plans, and divert to Markopoulo and drive on the expressway by the new airport to see the new Olympic Stadium.
Paul drops me off at the Irini metro station, since he won’t be able to drive into central Athens while the protests are on. I get back to Omonia station downtown within 15 minutes, and walk the few blocks back to the apartment. No sign of any protests.
I withdraw €500 from a bank machine, so I can pay Paul €490 for the two airport transfers, the full day tour to Corinth and the Peloponnese sites, and the half day tour to Cape Sounio. I’m very happy with Paul’s services, and although a significant expense, it is much cheaper as compared to the bus tours our group took in Italy.
I have a nap before going out to dinner at 8pm. Ayah again for my last dinner in Athens: Roca salad and rabbit in lemon sauce with roast potatoes and rice. The rabbit is delicious, but has small bones. They serve me a little dessert gratis: a small square pudding with citrus peal, currents and dusted with cinnamon.
Except for the odd beggar, nobody is alone in Athens. Folks are socializing in cafés, on the street, or having energetic conversations on their cellphones while they walk in the city or take the metro. Speaking of which, virtually everyone has a cellphone here. I passed one guy today sitting in the same seat in a café outside my apartment three times – at about 1pm, again at 4pm, and finally at 8pm!
April 7, 2006 – Friday – Milan, Italy to Athens, Greece & first day in Athens
My solar eclipse tour group returns to Toronto from Milan today, however I am going onward to Athens, staying for a week. We have a 5am wakeup call, and the bus arrives at 6:30am. We arrive at Milan’s Malpenza airport, where our airport guide takes us to the Alitalia check-in. He takes me to a different check-in, since I’m not going to Canada/US. After clearing security, I call Paul the Honest Greek taxi driver and confirm he will pick me up at Athens International airport upon my arrival there.
People watching in Malpenza airport:
Russian sports team – lots of hot looking, muscular young men
A woman with her Yorkshire terrier
A young Italian woman wearing sequined cowboy boots
A sports team from Tunis and another from Italy – young men & women – I thought the Turin Olympics were over?
Staff at an American Express booth stopping people to sign them up for the Alitalia gold card – a tough job
Several African men in traditional long robes and hats
The Alitalia flight to Athens offers scenic views of the Ionic and Aegean Seas through the mist (see banner image above). After arriving in Athens huge international airport, I walk directly to the Arrivals area – no entry formalities thanks to still being in the European Union. My prearranged driver Paul is holding a “Mr. Carr” sign, so he is easy to find. He drives me to Athens (30 minutes by car), and drops me off at Harry’s apartment. Harry meets me at the door and shows me his rental apartment. It’s very basic, but clean, and has a small kitchen, dining room, bathroom. Despite the place having 3 bedrooms, I have the apartment to myself.
Harry recommends a local restaurant run by Albanians for dinner this evening. It takes me awhile to find it, despite it only being a block away. It isn’t fancy, but the food is good, and it’s not too expensive. I see lots of locals stop in to pickup takeout for dinner – a good sign! I have salad, a pork & spinach main course, and a Coke for €10.50.