Saturday, April 26, 2014

Greece: Cat ‘Tales’ from the Cyclades

We’ve been in Greece for a month now and while I’ve been trying to give you real time snapshots of our travels, it occurs to me that I’ve been remiss in writing about one of Greece’s most ubiquitous features:
 its cats.

peloponnese2014 167 

Being cat lovers, those furry felines make up some of our favorite memories. Take the foursome that lived in Hotel Vardia in Kardamili:  Owner, Voula, was as smitten with them as were we, and during our stay she was busy treating one for a cold and  attempting to ‘capture’ that wily white one (above) who kept avoiding her despite the fact he needed a bit of much needed medical work (Voula finally won out  - he was at the vet when we left). 

peloponnese2014 168 Of course, the smallest one immediately wrapped us around his little paw by running to greet us and following us to our room, much as a loyal puppy would do. It was difficult leaving him behind – he was my choice for a souvenir but then he was quite happy at his hotel home.

In each of our stops, the homeless furry ones have nearly caused us heart attacks as they nonchalantly crossed streets without concern for drivers or motorcyclists who came within inches of hitting them.

Then there was the trio, who lived at the Island House Hotel on Ios. Their ferocious cries and snarling made us think we were living below a huge, on-going cat fight as they spent their days and nights in the bougainvillea that framed  the slated roof of our deck.

mykonos2014 018 

It seemed two were always ‘picking’ on the third.  The Scout broke up a ‘fight’ one day and sent them on their way.  The next day we realized it had been simply a lover’s quarrel and they were back ‘together’ again, a menage a trois both literally and figuratively.

We arrived Friday in trendy, touristy Mykonos. Last night as we were munching on a gyro pita at an outdoor cafe  the quietest little cat showed up at the foot of the stool on which I sat.  I’d been people watching and didn’t notice from where it came.  Noiselessly it sat, its stare an intense one.  So compelling was it, that I slipped large portions of the pork  from my pita and would drop chunks when the owner of the place turned his head.

mykonos2014 004 

What a con artist was that one!  Dining done, it walked across the small walkway and jumped up onto his cushion to bathe -- outside the jewelry store where he obviously lives!

 mykonos2014 015 

And then once the beauty ritual was over it was time to hop on its chair and wait to be adored by nearly every passing tourist!

We walked past the store again this morning. . . breakfast, I believe, was about to be ice cream!

mykonos2014 054

Happy Travels to you all and thanks so much for being with us as we wind up our time in Greece. We’ve got one more island to visit before we are off to Istanbul.  We’ve appreciated the comments and emails our tales have prompted.

For you animal lovers out there:  there is a Greek Cat Welfare Society (with a Facebook page) and a Dutch Foundation operates a Greek Cat Rescue with a web page of the same name. Both offer donation options via the web.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ios Island: History, Homer and Easy Hikers

On the island of Ios, with its hilly, rocky landscape, a history that dates back some 500 million years and a population of less than 2,000, is where we find ourselves this week. 

 Ios2014 005 

Tucked away between the more well-known Mykonos and Santorini in the white-washed Cycladic Islands of Greece, this island has an ‘in-season’ reputation of being a rocking, late night party place – a magnet for young travelers. In this off-season time it is quiet here – many stores and restaurants have yet to open  and its narrow streets are relatively empty – making it a delightful place to explore.

loutrotoIos2014 200
The pathway to Homer's Tomb
Ios (pronounced EE-ohs) holds the distinction of  being Homer’s final resting place. His tomb is atop the wind-swept hill pictured above. He’s the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey back in the 8th Century, in case you’ve forgotten your Ancient Literature teachings. His resting place was documented by 5th Century writer  Heridotus, who traveled these lands and is considered ‘the father of history’. It is a ‘must visit’ on this island!

loutrotoIos2014 117
From Left: Thomas, Christos, Jackie, Marlys, Michael and Joel

We decided on a whim to come here last week and where pleased to learn that travel’s serendipity was bringing two of our long-time favorite France-based bloggers, Michael and Marlys Schuermann of Easy Hiker to the island at the same time.  As an added bonus we met blogger Thomas Dowson, also from France who writes Archaeology Travel.

  Ios2014 002

For at least two years I’ve read Easy Hiker and been inspired to take so many of their recommended hikes, but never in a million years did I think I would ever do one with them. . .well, until yesterday when they invited us to join them. They were headed up that hill pictured above to visit those churches. So off we went and what a wonderful hike  climb, it was:

Ios2014 022

Ios is known for its churches – there are 365 on this island, one for each day of the year (some speculate there are more). Half of them are open to the public but most are private chapels – as were these four – and are open by invitation only.  As the other three writers were guests of the municipality, the invitation had been extended to look inside. The pathway though is open to the public.

Ios2014 025

It was a series of paved steps that led up the hill and not as difficult as it had looked from below.

Ios2014 031

So we all did what any travel blogger/tourist would do: snapped photos like crazy and exclaimed over the stunning vistas:

Ios2014 032  
It was one of those travel days that we’ll file away in the extra special file because it was filled with the best that travel has to offer: new friends, old treasures and great adventures.

Ios2014 037

In case you are wondering, we did make it to the top, this photo is of the upper most church. The final portion of the climb was over open grass and dirt. . .

Thanks again to our fellow bloggers for including us on their outing. And thanks too, to Christos, who was the Municipality’s tourism representative who led us up the hill.  (He’s 72 years old, by the way!)
Linking up today with Budget Travelers Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.  As always the time you spend with us is most appreciated! Hope you join us this weekend when we will be. . .(check back to find out ;-)!)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It is Easter in Loutro, Crete

Easter arrived in the village on the south coast of Crete with much the same fanfare and celebration as it did when we were here last year. And that is one reason we returned to this special little place on the Libyan Sea this year.

loutroeaster2014 029 
Long recognized as the most important celebration of the year in the Greek Orthodox religion, the traditions surrounding Easter are  particularly special in the small places like Loutro.

loutroeaster2014 005
In the evening on  Good Friday, Megali Paraskieve,  (the Friday before Easter) the flower-covered bier (shown in the first photo) was carried in a processional through town to near the ferry dock where a brief ceremony was conducted by the village priest, Papa Geogious (Father George).  There are no vehicles here. The processional made its way along  ‘main street’, the sidewalk that bisects the dozen restaurants, hotels and stores that line the harbor.

The umbrellas were due to the inclement weather this year – the rainfall was heavy and it was such a chilly evening that we donned our long johns to keep us warm. . .in the restaurant and our room!
Holy Saturday, Megali Savato, dawned bright and sunny and by noon “Judas” had appeared on the beach to await his fate later in the evening. 

(We had a good chuckle during a morning hike outside the village when we encountered a tourist from a  neighboring hamlet. He was coming from Loutro and upon learning we were staying there, asked, “Say, did you notice the chap hanging from a noose on the beach?” We assured him it was Judas. . .)

loutroeaster2014 012

As Saturday afternoon arrived, so did the boats, water taxis and ferries bringing families and friends to the small village. Not as many, we noted, as last year but then Easter fell two weeks earlier this year and this sleepy little village has barely arisen from its winter’s hibernation. 

loutroeaster2014 027

At 8:30 p.m. the church bell began ringing and it was time to gather for there for the service that culminates with the priest announcing “Khristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen)!  We missed it last year as we expected it later in the evening, but like many of those similar ‘ midnight’ services throughout the world, it has been moved up to an earlier hour.

loutroeaster2014 034

The church in Loutro, sporting a new whitewash, is small as one might expect in a tiny hamlet. Its grounds are dirt and stone, a single bell hangs from the bell tower. The priest is elderly – very elderly – and very revered by locals and we outsiders alike.

loutroeaster2014 043

The next half hour was pure magic – and not all church services we’ve attended over the years on Easter could be described that way. The church and church yard filled with the faithful to hear the priest -- his voice sometimes halting with the cadence of age as he told the centuries old story of Easter.  And then the call, ‘defte lavata fos’ (light the candles):

loutroeaster2014 038 
Here it isn’t about chocolate bunnies and baskets filled after backyard hunts with Easter eggs (some plastic ones filled with coin) like back in the United States, here it is about celebrating Easter and its meaning while surrounded by family and friends.

loutroeaster2014 040

And as for Judas, as soon as the call went out, “Khristos Anesti” and the bell rang the news, (prompting much hugging, kissing and hand shaking) it was time to move to the beach. . .

loutroeaster2014 053

We hope where ever you are and if you are celebrating Easter that it is as memorable as ours has been.  We’ll tell you more about Loutro in a future post and tell you where we’re headed this week. (And we’ve just learned that a favorite fellow travel blogging duo will be there . . .so you will have to come back and see who it is and where we are!)  Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crete: A Road Trip to Remember

We’ve left our little ‘red wagon’ at the Athens airport, flown to Crete and picked up our new wheels. . .another teeny, tiny car, which, we’ve decided, is the best in which to travel the rural roads of Greece.  (And with gasoline nearly $8 a gallon – these teeny, tiny cars get great mileage.)

horasfakia2014 006

Our teeny tiny car came in handy today as we took one of our favorite road trips high up into the mountains behind the port town of  Chora Sfakia, where we are staying on Crete’s southern shore. We were headed to Anopoli, another small town, and then on to Aradena, a virtually abandoned township a couple of kilometers beyond it.  Come along for the ride, but buckle up – this isn’t for white knucklers:

horasfakia2014 029 

I took this photo at about midpoint of our journey, that’s our little town of Chora Sfakia towards the right side of the photo.  Because The Scout is also The Driver here (manual shift cars)  I had time to count the 38 turns, a mix of sharp hairpin spinners and to take photos of the animals that like to rest on those curves.

horasfakia2014 007

We were heading into the south coast’s rugged and beautiful interior country; a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

horasfakia2014 010

We limited our ‘hiking’ to a stroll through the olive groves that surround Anopoli,  – once such a bustling place that it minted its own coins – today, it  is a starting point for a number of hiking trips.  Two kilometers further down the narrow road we crossed the Vardinogiannis Bridge, a single span of wooden beams and steel frame some 138 meters, or 455 feet above the Aradena Gorge. Just wide enough for our teeny, tiny car!

horasfakia2014 015

Cars cross the bridge slowly, almost hesitantly, the majority are driven by tourists who venture here – either sightseeing or en route to do some hiking  into the gorge. The noise that reverberates throughout the area when a car crosses those beams sounds similar to a series of explosions re-echoing through the gorge.

horasfakia2014 016

The gorge is not only popular with hikers, but the bridge – according to the guidebooks – is a popular bungie jumping point – and holds the distinction of being the highest such point in Greece. (No thank you!)

horasfakia2014 019

Those two highlighted spots on the  right of the photo above are parts of the trail that leads into the gorge. I have to admit that once again we wish we had packed shoes suitable for hiking. . .as these gorges are far too inviting. (And for you ‘boomer’ travelers out there: a majority of the hikers we’ve seen here sport varying shades of gray or white hair so there really are no excuses for not hitting the trail!)

horasfakia2014 025

There’s a lone cafe to the side of the bridge and on its menu was “mountain tea with honey’. We’ve seen that in rural areas and finally gave in to curiosity. . .and now are hooked on this magnificent tea made from plants/herbs/flowers gathered from the upper reaches of the area’s White Mountains or Lefka Ori, It is served with a hearty dollop of locally made honey.

horasfakia2014 011
Crete's White Mountains

We’ll head a bit further west on this southern coast of Crete, overlooking the Libyan Sea when we hop the ferry on Friday to Loutro for Easter weekend. Sorry we’ve not had the time to tell you more about the places we’ve been but we are trying to keep you along in real time and we’ve been on the move for the last week.  I’ll fill in some of the gaps when we are back home and basking in the afterglow of the trip.

Hope you’ll stay with us as we move on after Easter to . . . well, we don’t know where we are going after the weekend.

horasfakia2014 012 
We’ve considered staying in Crete a bit longer, or heading to Thessoloniki in the north of Greece, or returning to The Mani or to Poros Island or perhaps Mykonos and Santorini. . . or perhaps, Egypt. No joke.  We are ‘sort of’ in the neighborhood . . .and we’d still have time for a few nights in Istanbul.

We don’t know where we are going.  If you are up for the suspense of traveling where the winds blow us, stay with us!

Map picture
Linking up today with Budget Travelers Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday in Galaxidi

We begin the Easter Week celebrations today in a small town of 1,300+ residents, called Galaxidi. We are in what is considered Central Greece, about 2 1/2 hours outside Athens. . .and a world away from its big city bustle.

patrasgalaxidi2014 109
Galaxidi, Greece

Charmed by this little town that until a few days ago had been nothing more than a word on a map, we are already contemplating a return to its serene little setting on the Corinth Gulf.

Last night as we sipped wine and watched the sunset behind the hills and mountains that encircle it, we listened to the church bells ring out across the town at precisely 6 p.m. – the loudest of which came from that big church you see towering over the town in the photo above, St. Nickolas, Agiou Nikolaos, one of five Greek Orthodox churches here.

patrasgalaxidi2014 131

This morning we woke to the melody of clanging church bells announcing Sunday services on this second most special Sunday of the Easter Season. Later while strolling through town, we decided to drop in on services.

patrasgalaxidi2014 132 

If you’ve not attended a Greek service when visiting this country, you are missing the opportunity to experience first-hand a bit of its history and tradition.  It is a moving experience –even not understanding a word that is spoken by the priest or by the male congregants chanting the ancient Greek litany; those same words that have been chanted throughout centuries.

An incense haze swirls through the nave. Small prayer candles, lit by congregants, flicker in small groupings. On this Sunday the church was decorated with palm fronds and baskets of laurel boughs.

patrasgalaxidi2014 133

As the service concluded, the congregants approached the altar to receive bread that had been blessed, similar to communion in our Christian churches. We sat and watched as the process concluded and members of the congregation took photos of their priest.

patrasgalaxidi2014 135 
One lady, after receiving her bread and blessing approached us and gave me her piece then went back and got one for Joel. I wonder if we Americans would be so kind to visitors in our churches?

I often remind myself how blessed we are to be able to travel and to be able to spend our days exploring this amazing country. 

Some days, like today, I don’t need to remind myself – others do it for me.

Map picture

Happy Easter week to you all. We head to Crete tomorrow – hope you’ll continue along with us there!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Patras to Nafpaktos ~ A Greek Road Trip

We spent last night  in the largest city in Greece’s Peloponnese: Patras. This city with a 3,000 year history is the port for ferries heading to Corfu and Italian port cities; a university town of some  200,000 residents.

peloponnese2014 046
"Highways' cut through towns in The Mani

The big city stay marked the end of our first two weeks in Greece; the first week spent travelling between small villages and the second in the village of Kardamili.
peloponnese2014 017
The town of Leonidio, Greek Peloponnese

We’ve been both spoiled  and smitten with those small villages as the result of our experiences there. The people we’ve met in the small towns both warmed our hearts and made us welcome.

peloponnese2014 097
A clever marker in the town of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) The Mani

Patras, was a shock to our slowed-down-small-town systems. “Pay me now” said the waitress at our hotel’s coffee shop as she served our afternoon cappuccinos.  Such words would never have been spoken in Kardamili and no eyebrows would have been raised had we sat for hours with those yet-to-be-paid-for coffees. 

peloponnese2014 013
The Scribe enjoys a cappuccino in the Leonidio village square
In visiting Patras, we finally found a place in Greece that didn’t capture our hearts.  In all fairness to the city,there was a country-wide strike occurring yesterday so many stores were closed.  University students filled the very hip, upscale coffee shops that line the streets.

The town does have perhaps the most beautiful Orthodox Church, St. Andrews, that we’ve ever seen and some stunning neo-classical buildings like the renovated Hotel Byzantion in which we stayed (and will tell you about in a future post), but the city has been marred with graffiti and that, mixed with some empty squares and storefronts, gave some parts of the city a shabby feel.

So we moved on today driving across the striking Rio-Andirio suspension bridge that connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese. We are now in Nafpaktos, a beautiful beach town that still has a stunning Venetian built harbor, castle and fortress.

We will be here for two nights then on the road again. . .back to Athens on Monday and off to Crete that afternoon.  Hope you’ll be with us!
peloponnese2014 074
Porto Kagio - a town of five residents and we were the only tourists (more on that later)
The photos I’ve used in this post were taken during our first two weeks.  Linking up today with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler’s Sandbox. We finally have some good internet connection so bear with me if I bombard you with another post in a day or two!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A ‘Raki’ Road Ahead

Fire water.
After dinner drink.
An acquired taste.
A favorite!
Crete2013 017
Raki served with dessert and usually both are complimentary
We might call these the Four Phases of Cretan Raki, also known by its longer and more formal name, tsikoudia.  In other parts of Greece, like the Peloponnese where we are this week, the clear liquid is known as tsipouro. Turkey’s version has a taste of anise seed.

I recall the first sip – now several years ago – reminded me of drinking medicinal rubbing alcohol, or a form of fire water.  Somehow we’ve moved to phase four: a favorite.

Crete2013 001
Knossos on Crete - ancient Minoan ruins

Its production and history is traced back some three centuries – some claim it dates back to Minoan and Mycenean times.

Basically it is a strong distilled spirit with about 37 percent alcohol that is made from the must –residue of the wine-press.

It is said the best raki is that which is home-made although we’ve had what we thought tasted quite good (especially by the time we got to the second or third little glass) at local restaurants.

horasfakia2013 030
Our waiter at Defini's in Chora Sfakia Crete joins The Scout in a raki toast, "Yammas"

While researching the beverage,I came across an article that says, “A few glasses of raki can make your head very clear, an effect which to my opinion is unique to it.  After you get to sleep it may happen you have special ‘raki dreams’ which can be more vivid than life; it feels like you are awake and very special things happen to you.”

greece2014 047
"Happy Hour" in Astros, a city in the Peloponnese

So far in this trip we’ve refrained from those tiny little glasses of liquid happiness. . .we will drink it when we get to Crete next week.  But I can assure you that we’ve consumed more than our fair share of Greek wine. . .wine like that shown above. It is table wine, sold in the half liter (above) and liter.  This indulgence cost us 2 to 3 euros, about $3 to $4US. It is some of the best wine to be had – Greeks have perfected ‘Happy Hour’. . .they just don’t call it that.

So until our next post, a toast to you - thanks for taking time to be with us today: “Yammas!”

We hope to link up today with Foodie Tuesday at Inside Journeys. Drop by there for other food and drink posts.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...