The Trip I Should Have Canceled

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Greetings Everyone:

Santorini, Greece

I am back from a weeklong excursion in three very different regions, and I am beyond exhausted.

I recently traversed thru Beijing, Istanbul and Greece.  Originally, my itinerary was supposed to take me thru Beijing for a quick stopover en route to Istanbul and Antalya, Turkey for a week of cultural exploration. Since the atmosphere in Turkey isn't the very best right now, I bypassed the area and went to Greece instead.

The weeks leading up to the trip were very stressful. I booked the trip with China Southern airlines, and boy were they a trip and a half. After 14, count 'em, FOURTEEN flight schedule changes, I finally felt comfortable enough to begin planning. The route would have me in Beijing on stop over for two whole days, instead of the original 14 hours, before heading to Istanbul. After back-to-back bombings in tourist areas, I booked a flight from IST to ATH that would depart the same day that I'd land in Turkey. Even though I'd axed Turkey from the itinerary, I still had to transit through since that's where I'd originally booked.

Apart of me really wanted to cancel the whole thing. I don't recall ever being this overwhelmed with planning a trip, and there were so many changes happening outside of my control that I became annoyed at the thought of having to go. With each change to my flight schedule, China Southern did offer a cancelation. But simple communication with them about small things such as choosing seats (my selections were canceled out every time they made a change) was such a major hassle that I decided to just go forward with it. I kept thinking of how I wanted so badly to see these locales, and how I really needed a vacation even more. I went back and forth with this for weeks. Reluctantly, the trip was on.

Beijing is an interesting place. As the capital of the mainland, things are extremely strict. I was allowed a 72 hour transit visa, which would give me time to explore some popular attractions. I was not able to access WiFi at anytime during my stay here. This wasn't so bad, until it was time for me to check-in my onward flights. That became a hassle and a half, as there is absolutely no access to Google, Gmail, or anything of the sort in the mainland. Whew. If you read about my trip to Hong Kong, you'll recall that I struggled with the food offerings. Same deal in Beijing. Straight struggle.

Nevertheless, I tried to make the best of my time there. At the very top of my list was a trip to The Great Wall of China. Depending on which side you venture to, the trip from Beijing to the Wall can take anywhere from 2-3 hours once you account for traffic (and the traffic in Beijing-OMG!! A whole other gripe).

I went to the Mutianyu side of The Great Wall since it's known to be less flooded with tourists. I was not disappointed.

TIP: take the cable car up (costs RMB100) and definitely make sure you toboggan back down!

Considering I went on a Saturday, in the middle of the day, I think we got a good deal. The weather was good, and we got a sunny, haze-free sky! I was able to get some unobstructed shots on The Wall, nearly unheard of.

Because I already knew what time it was coming out here.
I took no less than 10 pictures with locals.

I was also able to visit Beihai Park. Beihai is a gem in Beijing if it's not too crowded. I had asked the hotel to have the cab driver take me to Tiananmen Square to see the flag raising ceremony. Somehow we ended up at Beihai instead :-/ It was quite tranquil.

Sunrise at Beihai Park

Beihai Park

Blossoms at Beihai

I ended up skipping Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City; by the time I arrived (walking distance from Beihai) there were literally thousands of people there. My nerves could not deal.

Lines into the Forbidden City: nope.

Hello from the outside...of the palace museum.

From Beijing I headed to Turkey with plans to skip over to Greece. There was an 8 hour wait time between my arrival to Ataturk airport and my departure to Athens. This was THEE most miserable 8 hours of my life. I won't spend time harping on that, nor the terrible, terrible return trip (awful!). Suffice it to say, I'm glad I made it home alive.

Greece as a whole was absolutely wonderful!

The Acropolis
Closes early in low season so had to admire from afar.

Acropolis viewpoint in Athens.
Shady characters lurking around up there, be very careful.

Athens cityscape; view from Acropolis.

My travels would eventually take me on a day trip to the isles of Egina, Poros and Hydra. These were absolutely stunning!

A cathedral in Egina

The temple of Aphaia in Egina

The temple of Aphaia in Egina

Posted in Poros, Greece.
Lovely little city!

Hydra, Greece

Hey Hydra :-)

Hydra in low season

I set out for an early departure to Santorini. This place had been very high on my list of travels, so I was super excited to get to spend some time there. Let me tell you, Santorini did not disappoint!

Fira, Santorini

Fira, Santorini

Santorini is easily one of my favorite places now, and I have to figure out a way to get back there. The scenery is obviously gorgeous, but the people are very friendly, the food and drink are heavenly and the hotel I stayed in was an absolute bargain for all that I got. They take great care in the Greek isles!


You must try pistachio ice cream in Greece.
It's a one-of-a-kind staple there.
Taking it all in :-)

In room breakfast with a view every morning.
Very hard to leave!

Sunset view from my balcony.
The hotel; the service was wonderful.
Highly recommend.

Here is what I had in mind when I booked this trip: amazing price, AWESOME stopover plus time to spare, onward to a beautiful country with stunning sights and loads of culture!

The travel gods decided otherwise. This trip tested every bit of patience I embody.

As wonderful as Greece was, I do wish I'd gone with my gut and canceled this trip. Greece was high on my list and will always be there. But this trip and all the annoyances that happened along the way ended up being taxing. I'm a little sickly right now, and I'm attributing this to the stress involved with the mishaps I faced in Turkey and China: Ataturk Airport is among the worst I've been to. Their staff were extremely rude and inattentive, I saw questionable things go largely unchecked, I was haggled by odd men while waiting for my flight to depart, and just overall felt really uncomfortable being there. I had my heart set on seeing Istanbul and Antalya more in depth, but after my experience in Ataturk airport, it would be a hard sell to get me to go back there.

China was another monster. I'm going to go ahead and proclaim that if it involves China Southern airlines or a transit through any part of the mainland, I'm not with it. Two, unannounced stops in Urumqi, a hellish transit and near-missed flight back to Beijing en route to Seoul, pushing, shoving, cutting, and general lack of decorum left a horrible taste in my mouth about these two parts of China. I realize that the mainland is huge; other areas might be significantly better than Beijing and Urumqi. I'm curious about Dalian and Shanghai, but I'd live if I never saw them. I will NOT transit through China again. I'm pretty stubborn and tenacious. When I say things like this, 99.99% of the time my stance is unwavering. I will always have love for Hong Kong, but I absolutely cannot with the mainland. Not doing it. My eye is twitching just talking about it. WOOSAH!

Whew chile! I said I wasn't going to go in, but I had to let that lil' bit out. That's truly the short of it all. The whole experience left me wanting to stop traveling for a while. I know, I know, you can't base your existence on things like this but you can follow your instinct and I do wish I had trusted my gut. I did not want to go on this trip, and the series of unfortunate events that awaited me solidified that I shouldn't have. I endured. I made it home alive. I'm grateful for the ability to travel. But I think I'm gonna chill for a bit. We will see.

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  1. Wow! seems like it was a tough trip overall. I can understand your hatred for Ataturk :-). I hate passing through there, not enough seats. Last time l caught a stomach virus thanks to the sick man next to me. I was too exhausted and stubbornly stayed close while everyone moved. China has never been on my list really. Was in Athens and Poros many years ago and l want to go to Santorini. Glad it did not disappoint. Recharge your batteries, and you will be itching to travel again soon enough :-) .

  2. Looks amazing. Sorry for all your troubles. Love the photos

  3. WOW! Sorry that the first legs of your trip were terrible. I've always wanted to see the forbidden city but ummm I think I'll pass lol. Greece on the other looks absolutely like paradise and it's on my list!

  4. Oh my goodness! 1st - Santorini is HIGH on my list, so I'm happy to know you enjoyed your stay there. 2nd - OMG! There's nothing worse than planning an amazing trip that many only dream of, only to have such a travel nightmare. Sounds like you learned some valuable lessons, though. :)

  5. Greece is super high on my list! Loving these pics. Makes me want to go even more!

  6. I think seeing the Great Wall would be awesome, but Santorini is super high on my list. I need to get there ASAP. Love the pics you got some great captures.

  7. Yikes! I love to travel but even when it goes well it can be taxing. It sounds like you've definitely earned yourself some relaxation.

  8. Welp! I'm sorry you had such a taxing experience and I'm glad you made it back safely. Santori is on my list of places to visit and these pictures make me even more excited to visit.