Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



So as you probably gathered from the title of the e-mail I am now in Greece, it has been nice to take things a bit easier. Athens was quite nice, generally just another big city choked with pollution but there are also some nice bits such as the acropolis and other cultural aspects.

To start with I met up with some Australians, and we went to the National Archaeological Museum which is rather good. There are also some rather amusing statues and so forth and some of it is actually very informative. From there we accidentally stumbled across the tomb of the unknown soldier guarded by a couple of Greek soldiers in ceremonial dress which is pretty comical in itself (it involves tights, shoes with pom-poms on, a skirt and a kind of blue Santa hat). However when it came to the changing of the guard we weren't sure whether or not we were on candid camera as the marching seemed to be taken straight from Monty Python's ministry of silly walks. I must give full credit to these soldiers who managed to keep a straight face during this charade that included waving their feet at the gathered public. After that we walked around the Plaka which is the old bit of town and although a bit touristy, was not too bad. Afterwards we just went got something to eat, and drunk until the early hours.

The following day I decided to do the standard sights starting with the Agora (old market area) which had some nice ruins, but nothing too phenomenal and then onto the Acropolis. The Acropolis was nice despite having a fair amount of scaffolding holding it up and the quantity of tourists. Some of the temples and bits around were seemed much better actually and the museum was also not bad. I then went back to the hostel chilled and met some more folk, went drinking and got back some time in the morning.

Which was basically what happened in Athens.

From there I went onto Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle. Met up with a guy called Sven, which brought down accommodation costs etc. We went for a walk and a beer and saw a funeral procession which was interesting, it was a young guy (open casket) and there was a band leading the procession, it seemed like it could have been taken from the Godfather or something similar. Then we got several beers in for a change and chilled out. The following morning we went up to see the sight which I really liked, in part because of the setting. At the top of the mountain is a cool stadium, only problem being how narrow it is, must be a real bugger to turn a chariot in, especially at speed (have to use the handbrake I think), some of the other temples and treasuries were nice and the museum was interesting. Bonus was I got free entry for everything with my bogus student card. We then went onto Kalambaka after several buses. The reason for this being the Meteoras, in other words, monasteries perched on top of vertical fingers of rock. The reasons for them building these here are a little unclear, but probably due to a (drug induced) hallucination on the part of the original monks. Until recently the only practical way up or down was to be raised or lowered in a net whilst the monks winched you up several hundred metres. The monasteries were generally best viewed from a distance as when one gets closer some of the mystique could be removed. By the way for the bond fans Agia Triados was used in the bond film "For Your Eyes Only". We then went to Trikala hired a car which we will use to see a couple of the outer lying places around the North of Greece for the next five days and also as a kind of rolling hostel.


Still in Greece, but not for long now, seen a fair amount of this country (from Athens north anyway), and after doing the sights here in Thessaloniki, will be going back to Turkey. The tour of the north that Sven and I have done has been fun and full on. We have seen pretty much any sight worth seeing North of Athens (+ Athens), according to our assortment of guidebooks and tourist office literature.

Ioannina, where I last e-mailed from turned out to be a nice town, relaxed kind of place on a small peninsula in a lake. There is a nice Byzantine citadel there and a nice old town, with winding narrow roads etc. good fun driving in. From there we went on to Dodona site of a pre-Delphic oracle. A really nice place in the middle of nowhere, with a really nice huge, old theatre. From there we went to the Perama caves, just grottos, but good fun some of the stalagmites/stalactites have great names from Santa, the Turkey to no. 20 the Exit, which is coincidentally also the exit.

We decided it would be nice to see some of the Greek wildlife if possible, as the north west of the country is still home to some wolves and bears. To which end we headed to the Zagoria region. First stop being Monodendri at the start of the Vikos gorge. As Sven doesn't really like driving and I don't mind I was doing all the driving which gave me the opportunity to have some fun on the drive from Monodendri up to Oxya, where there is a great view of the gorge. The road is just loose grit and snakes about through the mountains a fair amount. My driving style was based on that necessary in "Colin McRae Rally" on the Playstation. I was having a ball, something you would not think possible in a Fiat Punto. The car kept together reasonably well considering some of the sideways manoeuvres I was putting it through. After playing around there a bit, we headed up to Papingo, at the other end of the gorge, when we asked some locals about finding bears and wolves (accompanied by appropriate sign language and noises) they merely laughed in our faces and told us where there were some nice walks but no bears or wolves. On the way down the mountain we met up with some Texans we had previously met in Ioannina who showed us some nice rock pools and added greater strength to my theory on Americans.

Not daunted by the lack of wildlife thus far (apart from a couple of foxes on the road), we decided to got to Konitsa, a town just on the edge of the reserve area for information and hopefully the Greek Grizzly Adams (probably called Hrizzly Hristos). As there did not appear to be much in the way of tourist infrastructure we decided that a hotel might know how we might be able to track down the elusive fauna. They were a little perplexed as to why we were looking for these things and just about to co-operate when Sven in a moment of sublime stupidity asked about lions as well. From that moment forth all they would recommend was a zoo, whilst giving us quizzical looks. This was our last chance and Sven cocked it by confusing the locals with a lion. Oh well, we gave up on it and decided to see other things.

First thing we decided to do was find Albania. This may sound easy but trust me it is not as easy as you think. We drove down to the border where a couple of Greek soldiers were enforcing their side of the border, but there wasn't even an Albanian in sight. After passing the village which constitutes this part of the border we found that the road conditions deteriorated pretty immediately and I was back in Rally mode. I tell you the both the best and worst thing about that bit of Albania was the roads. Once again I was having a blast and Colin McRae himself would have been proud of what I put that Punto through (several hedges and almost a couple of decrepit tractors being included in the mix). The roads didn't seem to lead anywhere proper so we headed back to Greece, when I noticed the signs that said we shouldn't be in that Restricted Area. After all that it seems I'd been doing my rally thing around what is most likely a minefield. Oh well, back to Greece and past the army boys (one of whom appeared to be sodomising the other behind their little sentry box). We didn't however feel our Albanian experience was really complete as we hadn't even seen a native. As we were heading vaguely in that direction we headed up to another border point near Kastoria. This was a proper crossing point, on both sides of the border. Well sort of. The Greek side was a standard border crossing, the Albanian side involved many toothless men who slap themselves and each other on the chest a lot. It seems at times that they may be using some kind of body percussion as opposed to talking, considering the amount of slapping going on (either that or they are the biggest fans of Bobby McFerrin known to man). The passport control Albanian side was great as opposed to having disabled access, it was more like disabling access. One had to jump at a wall that had a one inch ledge on it to be able to see and talk to the immigration folk sat behind windows about eight feet off the ground. Conversation with these people was rather limited. We got across the message that we were going for a walk in their fine country and then went off and did so. We then went back to Greece having only really seen more trucks than people, and fewer teeth than there were. Giving rise to the theory that perhaps they trade their teeth for trucks (you never know). We headed back to Kastoria, which was a bit pointless as although there are many Byzantine churches you can't get in unless you find Hristos the keymaster - kind of needle in a haystack going around a Greek town asking for Hristos. We did get in to a couple of places and although some of the frescoes were rather good, someone had taken it upon themselves to gouge out the faces (and eyes in particular) of the folk portrayed.

Having been a bit disappointed with this place we decided to go to F.Y.R.O.M. (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). This place was a much better set up than Albania, and the guys spoke better English than the Greeks which made things easier. The problem with all these places is dual fold. Firstly, they wouldn't let us take the car over so we had to walk about. Secondly, they have duty free shops that sell cigs at a ridiculously low price but the Greeks won't let you bring them in to the country. Anyway we went for a walk in Macedonia through some places with Cyrillic names, so I won't be writing them here. The local folk just looked at us a little curiously but basically non-plussed as we wandered through their smelly little village.

We decided that FYROM was a nicer place than Albania despite smelling worse and for some strange reason as one crosses the border the insect population seems to increase dramatically. These are however not very well rounded investigations into the two countries as you probably gathered, just a bit of fun deviation.

Next stop on the tour was Edessa, where there are some supposedly very nice waterfalls and some old ruins. The waterfalls were okay, but over run with local kids and over developed. The archaeological site was nothing much to look at either. So we headed off to Pella which was a really nice site with some great old floors. This was the capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. There was also a good museum there. All in all not a bad place.

Vergina, the next place was according to our assorted guidebooks not a great site as there isn't much to see there. It is where they found Phillip II of Macedonia's tumulus tomb. I actually thought it was possibly the best site I've seen in Greece. As the tomb was buried until very recently and preserved as a result, one can see how colourful the Greek buildings were (not just plain marble as many believe), quite gaudily painted with frescoes and the like. The museum around the tombs is excellent, displaying the tombs and their contents very well and with sombre lighting that really added to the ambience. Some of the treasures from the tomb are stunningly beautiful, particularly the gold chests that contained the deceased's bones. Phillip II was for those of you who don't know the king of Macedonia who managed to unite Greece. It is unlikely his son Alexander, would have been known as "the Great" if it were not for what his Dad managed to do. As you may have gathered I really liked Vergina.

From there we went onto Dion the site at the foot of Mt. Olympus (supposed home of the Greek pantheon). The site is set out like a park and takes some exploring and is quite fun, but really needs more work on its restoration.
Having seen most of what we set out to see and more besides we headed down to Platamonis to see the Frankish crusader castle built there. After driving up to the castle we decided it would be a good place to spend the night (in the car) so we went to the supermarket and filled the back up with beer and went back up to the castle and drank the night away. At night when the castle was lit up we decided to entertain the villages facing the castle with a shadow show on the main wall of the castle. It went from standard fare of hand birds and deer to shadow Karate and sword fights, using the lights to alter our shadows sizes so one of us would look like a giant. It may sound stupid but trust me it was stupid. It is a small wonder neither the police decided to visit nor the men in white. My only excuse is that 'I was rather drunk at the time'.

So today we took the car back a little early to Staros at the rental place and managed to squeeze some money out of him, despite not being entitled to it. When we arrived in Trikala after having used and abused this little Fiat worse than a two dollar whore during happy hour we expected the thing to just disintegrate around us in similar vain to the Blues Brothers Bluesmobile at the end of the film. Somehow the car saw us through, but it does now need a new gearbox, brakes and four new tyres. Still, that is what hire cars are for.


Just got back in a few hours ago after my Greek odyssey. The last couple of days in Greece were quite relaxed, most of the time not doing too much in and around Thessaloniki. Went and looked around the archaeological museum which was quite good but as much of the excellent stuff from Vergina has now been put in the museum there it lacks some of its former glory, but still not bad. Also went to the Agios Dimitriou Basilica, allegedly the largest church in Greece. This however is not such a feat as most of the churches are tiny shoe box affairs. This one was about the same size as many old parish churches in the UK or anywhere else. Unfortunately, there was a lot of damage done to the place in earthquakes so somewhere else that has lost a lot of its former grandeur, frescoes, mosaics etc.
Other than these sights, looked around at the other old stuff including the white tower (which isn't white), the Rotunda (old round church), old town fortifications and waterfront etc. There also seemed to be some political activity going on with protests and demonstrations going on all over the place. One interesting one was some kind of Macedonian thing involving a choir (allegedly no animals were harmed in the production of their "music", but I'm sure there was a whole menagerie howling in pain, at least that's what it sounded like.), guys dressed up in some old military uniform with black sheets tied around their heads and belts for bullets that appeared to be loaded with cigars. Although some of the subtleties may have escaped me, it was interesting to watch for a short while.

Last night I went to Lagadas to see some fire walking. Now here is the background to the thing:- Many years ago, a church caught fire and whilst it was burning down some of the congregants ran in through the flames etc. to rescue the religious icons contained within. These folk came out without any burns or damage and saw it as a holy sign of some sort. These folk then ran away with the icons to Bulgaria to escape the Nazis and persecution. Whilst there appear to have picked up some pagan attachments to their Greek Orthodoxy and now celebrate the anniversary of saving these icons by having two days of dancing and music making, live animal sacrifices, culminating in a bit where they run and dance around in hot coals whilst grasping the icons. The church sees the whole thing as too pagan and frowns on the affair trying to discourage it, and now the thing has split into rival factions as their was some falling out between some members of the community so the thing actually happens in two places (almost next door to each other) simultaneously. It was interesting to see, although a bit nutty, and unfortunately it has become to well known, and now many Greeks go along to watch the nutters do their thing.

From there I went back to Thessaloniki, got on a bus at 2.30 this morning and arrived this afternoon at about 4.30, now just had a wander and chilling.



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