Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Greece: A Winter’s Day ~ An ‘Errand’ Outing

Wisdom comes with winters.
    -- Oscar Wilde

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: now that we've been here for two winters, I can assure you that we do have winter in Greece.

This year has been a poster child for winter with snow falling throughout the northern half of Greece while the rest of us were bombarded by cold temperatures, hail that turned nearby beaches white and rain. Lots and lots of rain. . .and wind. Lots and lots of wind.

This country – a playground for sun and sand seekers – proved again that it can also a winter wonderland.

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A walk on a winter's day
As I wrote this post a week ago, snow was falling in northern Greece. It dusted our surrounding mountain tops but didn’t reach our home. The taller peaks of the Taygetos Mountains which border our Mani region are definitely snow covered while the lower hills look like they’ve been dusted with powdered sugar. For a few days our temperatures ranged from 4C to 8C (high 30’sF – mid-40’sF).

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The Stone House on the Hill sits below a dusted mountain range
With no snow on the ground we were able to get out and about to run errands or rendezvous with friends.  Sometimes we went to the local coffee shop for a cappuccino, sipped by their toasty fireplace. Many times we simply stay at home listening to the wind howl and watching the rain fall.

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Winters are wet at times in The Mani
It is those incredibly nasty days that make us appreciate the other winter days when Mother Nature  turns on her charm. On those days, temperatures shoot towards  60F’s. And it is on those days when we set off to run a most routine errand -- like depositing our garbage in the community bins or buying groceries -- that we can’t resist the temptation of what I call an ‘errand outing’.  

It is amazing how much fun an ‘errand outing’ -- almost a miniature staycation -- can be. And we probably should have done more of them in our Pacific Northwest when we lived there, but traffic congestion and windows of travel time always seemed to take the edge off such spontaneous outings.
Here, with no traffic and a new world to explore, we simply set off. . .like the day we drove around the bend to the village at the end of the road:

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On a winter's day in The Mani. . .

I’ve recently been reading of high-priced travel destinations designed so that the traveler can  ‘tune out and turn off'; simply disconnect for a bit of time. No cell phones, television or computers.  Lots of walks and time spent outside.  'Time to reconnect with yourself. Slowing down your pace,' are the marketing hooks used to lure guests.
 
If  those people signing up for those getaways read this blog, they’d know they could have the same experience by running errands in rural Greece. . .we leave the phone in the car, turn off the computer and don’t own a television: instant, easy and cheap disconnect!

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New paths to explore on an errand outing

On those spring-like winter days like the one that prompted us to take this outing, we’ve explored the villages around us. It is amazing what you can find in your ‘own backyard’ if you simply give yourself permission to get out and enjoy it instead of being tied to a self-created ‘to do’ list.

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What would we do with this place if we owned it?
The photos in this post come from an outing we took to a village, quite literally at the end of the road. It  is one of those almost-deserted villages that you read about in the mainstream media. The ones where the young people have left, leaving a couple dozen full-time residents most of the year and less than a dozen in winter. Families return for August summer vacations or other holidays – and then the place comes to life.  While many of the homes are sporting new paint and plants, some sit forlornly abandoned.

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Imaginations soar  in village settings. . .
We find our imaginations working overtime as we wander through the village on its narrow foot passageways that lead to and past ages-old stone homes; the towering gray stone structures typical of the architecture found in this area. We ponder the history of the village and wonder how it must have been back when the olive press was operating here. . .how many stores and restaurants did it have operating? Ships, we’ve read, used to sail from the small harbor here bound for Kalamata and other ports of call.

When we are lucky enough to happen upon a bench we do as A.A. Milne's famous quote says. . .

'Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits...' 


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Exploring our world includes sitting time

We ended this errand outing by sitting on the single bench that overlooks the town and harbor. The sun was warm on our flannel shirts, it was a reminder that winter will soon be drawing to a close. Spring can’t be far away.

Errand outings are easily accomplished. They can be a long or short as you want them to be and require no advance planning.   Now that I’ve planted the seed,  are tere some places near you that you’ve been thinking of exploring that would make for a perfect as an errand outing?

Let us know in the comments below or shoot us an email.  Where ever your travels take you ~ enjoy! Thanks so much for the time you spend with us here!  We’ll have a few more tales of our Arabian nights coming next week - hope you'll join us then!

Linking today with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Magic Carpet Ride ~ Through the Grand Mosque

It could have come from one of Scheherazade’s tales. . .dusk had turned the Mosque into a fairy tale structure. At one point we stepped out of the tide of humanity flowing through this enormous ediface, found ourselves a corner and took a moment to savor the overwhelming magic of this fanciful place.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi
On a late Friday afternoon we were among thousands inside Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest such place in the world. In my mind we’d just hopped aboard a magic carpet ride into a world far removed from the one in which we live.

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Reflecting pools at sunset - Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi
It is simply that kind of mind-boggling place. And to think we almost skipped it!

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Dusk gave a most exotic feel to the experience
We’d arrived in Abu Dhabi on a Thursday evening for our cruise departing on a Saturday. We planned to see as much as we could of this young and rapidly expanding city on the single day we’d given ourselves for exploration.

Friday, though, is a Holy Day in the Muslim world. The Mosque was closed to visitors until 4 p.m.  So we spent the day exploring other parts the city and almost decided against making the effort (a sizeable taxi ride from our downtown hotel and back) to visit the place.

We’d seen mosques before, right?
Wrong. We’d not seen anything like this before.

Luckily the travel gods gave us that unexplained nudge and we decided we couldn't miss the Mosque.  The taxi dropped us off at a far gate at 5 p.m. and by then the place was crawling with people – the faithful and the tourist had blended together to experience this holy site.

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Strict dress codes and behavior codes apply when visiting
At the entry The Scout was directed to the doorway for males while I entered through a door for women only. Dress code is strict. My exposed ankles and wrists got me herded into a walk-in closet (with many other women) for a complimentary abayas issued to those of us not covering enough of our bodies.  My abaya, I think would have been quite comfortable had I not had a full set of clothes on under it. And it was far too big (one size does not fit all). To be able to walk I hiked it up so that the same amount of ankle was showing as before.  While I certainly wasn't opposed to wearing it, I have to admit as I lifted the hood, I wondered how many others had worn this garment since it had last been washed.

Shoes are not to be worn by any visitor and pairs are left on massive shoe racks at the entry to the building. I always marvel that they are still there when we return.

So properly attired, we were off.  Hop aboard our magic carpet and I’ll tell you a bit of what we learned about the Grand Mosque:

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The inlaid marble floors of the courtyard were stunning
The massive structure was built at the direction of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.  Construction began in 1996 and it was finished in 2007.  The construction cost was 2.5 billion UAE dirham or 700 million US dollars.
Sheik Zayed, died in 2004 at age 86, and is buried here.

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More intricate inlaid work in the walls 
More than 3,000 workers and 38 contracting firms from around the world were involved in the project. Materials were imported from Pakistan Iran, Morocco, Germany and a host of other countries.

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Chandeliers were stunning
While the Mosque can accommodate 41,000, its main hall can accommodate 7,000. The visiting hordes of which we were a part, were not allowed on the carpet in the main hall; we walked to its side. It is the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world. It took 1,300 crafts persons two years to complete the work and then it took two months to transport it from Iran.

I should have taken photos of that magnificent carpet but it was the seven chandeliers which caught my eye and of which I couldn’t take enough photos.

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Chandelier Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
And I couldn’t decide which of them I liked best.

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This may have been my favorite chandelier
But then I turned and saw the stained glass . . .click, click, click went the camera shutter.

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Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi
And again found myself trying to decide which was more magnificent.

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Window overlooking a garden area - Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
There is nothing that compares with the call to prayer in a Muslim city. It wafts through the air in much the same manner as church bells ring out across our towns in Greece.  The echoing human voice just adds to the exotic feel. We were lucky enough to be visiting here at dusk when the call to prayer seemed to reverberate off the walls. It was a travel moment to remember!

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The Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi
It was a perfect way to end a whirlwind tour of the city and was a great introduction to other sites we'd be seeing after we set sail on the Persian Gulf. You'll have to come back next week for my next tale of Arabian adventure. It was pretty amazing to have Iran on our north and the Saudi Arabian peninsula to our south as we headed out!

See you next week and  thanks again for your time today. We look forward to hearing from you and having you with us. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

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