Showing posts with label Greek Islands. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek Islands. Show all posts

Friday, August 12, 2022

Booking it to Kalymnos Island

 'Charmian Clift!!' I exclaimed a bit too loudly when I saw the poster. 

My outburst managed to stop George Hatzismalis, head of the Kalymnos Municipal Tourist Office, in his tracks on a Saturday morning in June as he was setting up a poster announcing a special event honoring her.

'You know of Charmian Clift?' he asked in a somewhat skeptical tone, nodding to the poster he was putting up. 

'Yes,' I said, adding, 'you might say, she made me want to come here.' 

Here, being the island of Kalymnos, the Dodecanese Island off the coast of Turkey, known for its sponge diving history.

Dodecanese island group off Turkey's coastline

'Are you Greek or part Greek? he asked, still not quite believing I knew what I was talking about. 'No, not Greek, but we live here.' I answered, explaining we were American expats living in the Greek Peloponnese.

George, head of the island's tourism office

'But, yet, you know of Charmian Clift?' he responded, adding that many Greeks didn't even know of the Australian author who had lived on the island back in the mid-1950's. So, he seemed surprised that an American might have heard of her. Not only had I heard of her, but I had also sought out her books last year on learning they had been re-issued.

Her book, 'Mermaid Singing' is about the year she spent on Kalymnos with her author husband, George Johnston, and their two children.

I really had him when I said I was reading her book for the second time and had brought it with me on the trip. 

This was our second visit to the island this spring; our first had been to research for a piece I was writing for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine. It is in the August/September edition published a week ago. Her book sparked my interest in learning more about the sponge diving history of the island and of subsequently writing about it.

Opening page of my article on Kalymnos

It didn't take long for a combination of the island's ambiance and the warmth of welcome from its residents to make us vow to return after that first visit. So, when we found ourselves back in the Dodecanese islands a couple months later, we included another brief stop on Kalymnos. It was during that second visit we saw the posters for the upcoming event.

During both visits, we had based ourselves in the charming SpongkalyA apartments.  And as it turns out. . .

SpongkalyA apartments

. . .we were just around the corner from the place where Charmian and her family had lived on the harbor front in the 1950's.

Charmian's home, now a faded yellow, behind the tree

There's a gift shop on the street level of the rather faded building in which Charmian and her family lived during their year on the island. The harbor has been filled since their time here. Motorcycles in the photo are parked where the waves used to lap the shore. On our first visit we had to guess at the location of her former home, but this time George confirmed we'd found the place and noted that as part of the special event, an informational plaque was being placed on the building.

Clift's 1955 book was released in Greek

We had non-refundable hotel reservations on the next island so left the next morning, missing the event that evening - a gala affair to celebrate the launch the Greek edition of her 1955 book, 'Mermaid Singing'. Speakers included Nadia Wheatley, author and biographer of Charmian Clift as well as the Australian ambassador to Greece. The English language version of the book had been re-released in Sept. 2021.

Kalymnos Island

Her time on Kalymnos was brief, only a year. We sometimes find expat life challenging now even though we are surrounded by so many creature comforts - I can't imagine the challenges of living on an island in the mid-20th century. It was a place that didn't yet have roads; where you climbed foot paths to get to other areas.

Hyrdra - Charmian's home from 1955 - 1964

Following their Kalymnos stay, the family moved to the island of Hydra, where they lived from 1955 to 1964; a time when bohemian life reigned and they were the center of it. It was a gathering place for artists, writers, dreamers and other creative souls, the likes of which included Leonard Cohen.  Charmian wrote of that experience in her second memoir, 'Peel Me A Lotus'.

Life on Hydra Island

Charmian introduced me to Kalymnos and enhanced my view of Hydra. That is one of the best parts of reading about other people's real-life experiences.  I always say, Frances Mayes, planted the seeds for living an expat life in her book, 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. Of course, Peter Mayle added to that with his, 'Year in Provence'. David Mason is partially responsible for getting us to the Mani, where we now live, thanks to his book, 'News from the Village'.

Have any such books influenced you to travel or to take a step into expat life? Or where have such books taken you on your armchair travels? Send us an email or tell us about it in the comments below.  As always thanks for stopping by and spending a bit of time with us.  Hope to see you back again soon. . .and a big welcome to our new subscribers!!

Linking sometime soon with:

 Through My Lens

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Kos ~ Where we fell in love. . .

 In love, that is, with a small hotel and the island on which it was built.

Sunrise on the Aegean Sea

The sun was peeking over the horizon as the ferry approached Kos, a Greek island only a stone's throw from Turkey. It wasn't yet 7 a.m. and we'd set off from Athens some 12 hours before.  From the deck we spotted the little charmer that had brought us here: the Albergo Gelsomino.

Albergo Gelsomino sits on the waterfront of Kos Town

The first time we laid eyes on this waterfront was a year ago from another ferry's deck. That ferry, heading to Athens, made a brief stop here in the late evening when darkness made everything look a bit enchanting. It seemed that the waterfront was shared by the remains of an ancient castle, a more modern-looking castle, a church and an architecturally interesting building tucked in between them all. 

It was enough to put it on our 'future's list' and to do some research. We might even need to return to see if it was as charming as it had appeared during that brief stop.

Albergo Gelsomino as seen from the sea

The Scout went to work and found that the small building houses an eight-room hotel. It seemed to fit the description of  'our kind of place' and our trip was planned around a stay in this historic building. 

They need a sign reading, We love Kos.

Little  did we know that when we returned to Kos that we'd have a downright love affair with that small building and the island on which it was built.

Admittedly we've been to many wonderful Greek islands during our decade of travel in Greece, our adopted country. Each has charmed us. But it took less than a couple hours on the island of Kos, to send it to the top of our favorites list and there it has stayed. . .so much so, that we are returning to there to celebrate our upcoming anniversary.

The Albergo Gelsomino

Albergo Gelsomino built for Italian officials

Built in 1928 by the Italian architect Rodolfo Petracco it was originally a guest house for Italian officials. Kos, like most in the Dodecanese chain, has a lengthy history of conquest and occupation. The island belonged to Italy from 1912 until 1945.

Entry and reception area at Albergo Gelsomino

A restoration project some 90 years later and the Albergo opened as a small hotel on Kos Town's beach. Its waterfront location is an easy walk into Kos Town's historic area and to the ferry dock. It overlooks the  Aegean Sea.

Welcome drink at the Albergo

We arrived looking rather disheveled after disembarking the overnight ferry shortly before 7 a.m. Not quite the elegant entrance one might want to make, but staff members made us welcome by inviting us to enjoy the plush patio area. A welcome drink (fresh fruit juices and cherry soda, that tasted as good as it looked) was sipped while they readied our room.  

Albergo Gelsomino - Kos Island

My photos don't do justice to the hotel and its setting. We were in complete sensor overload. No place has so drenched us in 'Mediterranean ambiance' while offering a dash of  Great Gatsby-era  nostalgia. We were reminded of the words of a well- traveled and wise friend who once told us that 'the more you travel, the more it takes to impress you'. We often quote her when something falls short of our expectations, as well as when something 'knocks our socks off', as was the case with the Albergo Gelsomino.

An easy walk to and from the ferry

While singing the praises of the Albergo, I'd be remiss to not mention the food. Our room rate included breakfast. Each day began with a feast. So good was the breakfast that we tried dinner. Dinner was such a culinary joy that we ate there two of our three nights (we made ourselves try some place else one night). They often offer Michelin-starred guest chef dinners here, but frankly their own chef was so good, it felt like a Michelin-starred experience.

Honey-drenched French toast

Kos Island

Lonely Planet guidebook says it best when describing this island of some 33,000 people:

 'Kos is an island of endless surprises and varied treasures.. . .One moment you can be dining in a rustic mountain tavern, the next you find yourself in a busy cosmopolitan cafe - there really is something for everyone.'

More than a million visitors annually come to this island which sports a new airport serving 10 airlines. Ferry passengers arrive daily. While many visitors prefer the island's smaller towns or secluded beach resorts, we liked the city vibes of Kos Town, a city of about 14,000.

A beach - like so many on Kos - is white-sand perfect.

We explored the island by rented car one day and found that the guide book's claim of having some of the finest beaches found in the Dodecanese seemed accurate. The white sand beaches were stunning. But three nights on the island simply wasn't enough time to explore all its historic sites or to visit all of its wineries, and its beaches. We spent hours strolling the tree-lined streets of Old Kos Town, and its bustling harbor area but still have so many bits of history to explore there. We can see why visitors return time and time again.

Kos, a stone's throw from Bodrum

Tracing its history alone could fill several days. The island has been inhabited for so long that its history includes sending 30 ships to the Trojan War.

Hippocrates (460 - 377BC) was born and lived on this island.  A plateia (plaza) near our hotel is said to have been where he taught his students. After his death the Sanctuary of Asclepius and a medical school were built outside Kos Town. There his teachings continued. Today the site is a very popular tourist destination. . . one we didn't make it to during the first trip.  And another reason to return soon!

Morning view from our room at the Albergo

Summer has arrived in Greece - as have the tourists. COVID regulations have been relaxed, travel is much easier these days. So we will be setting off again soon for more island exploration, a return to Kos as well as visiting other Dodecanese islands.  I'll tell you about them in coming weeks - hope you will be back for more Greek 'ferry tales'. Until then safe travels to you and yours ~ and thanks for your time today.

Linking sometime soon with: 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Kastellorizo ~ Greek Island Magic!

Some claim it is the light on this small island of two names that makes it special. Others say it is the location, only a stone's throw from Turkey. For others, it is the history.

For us, it was simply everything! Its location, history, sunlight, architecture, food and filoxenia (hospitality) of the locals that made it special.

So special that I photographed and wrote about it for The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine's Aug./Sept. edition. And this week's post will be a short one because I want you to have time to look at the photos and read what I wrote about it there:

Click this link to open the article: Katellorizo/Megisti article

Travel during a time of Covid

Our ferry in Kastellorizo

Kastellorizo was our destination on this our first trip after Greece's six month COVID lockdown had been lifted in mid May. Admittedly, travel to any destination sounded good but this tiny island had been on the bucket list for some time.  And if Covid has taught us anything, it is to not put off into the future anything related to travel, especially those 'must visit' places, like Kastellorizo.

Few visitors here in May

Masks at that time -- and now -- are required in Greece to be worn on all public transportation, indoors in public places and businesses and when in crowded or congested outside areas. The rules haven't really changed that much since Covid changed our ways of living way back in early 2020, although we can go without masks outside now in non-congested places. Still it felt strange to go outside in an unfamiliar territory and not wear a mask. 

The face of travel on a Greek ferry in a time of Covid

Locals assured us that the entire island's population -- everyone  -- had been vaccinated back in February.  The only time we wore masks here was when visiting each of the island's two museums even though we, and the admission's desk clerk, were the only ones in each facility at the time we visited. We dined outside at seaside.

That's it for this week - if you skipped that blue link above, please go back and at least take a look at the photos.  This island is definitely worthy of your consideration as a future destination and the article should make a great armchair getaway!!  Until next week, our wishes for  safe travels to you and yours. Thanks for being with us for this chapter of our Greek 'ferry tales'. . .

Linking sometime soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, May 24, 2021

Writing A Greek Ferry Tale

Greece opened its doors to tourism (testing and/or vaccination requirements are still in place) on Saturday, May 15th.  And within hours of reopening, we were on the road again!  A week's adventure, a modern day 'ferry tale' was in the making.

Time to write a ferry tale!

The Scout put his months of lockdown to good use and had plotted out a trip that began with a luxurious night in Athens at the Grand Bretagne, (we used Bonvoy points), and then took us to the island of Kastelorizo, or by its Greek name, Megisti, a charming place only a stone's throw from the Turkish coast. We spent three nights there, then two on the island of Rhodes and then returned to Athens. All travel to and from Athens was by overnight ferry.

Our route to adventure

The ferry on which we traveled, the Blue Star Patmos, a newer vessel built in 2012, has a 2,000 passenger and 430 car capacity.  A small gift shop carried high end clothing and accessories, books and toiletries. The popular Greek Flocafe operated several coffee/snack/wine bars throughout the ship. A buffet dining room offered good selections of hot and cold food. 

Coffee, snacks and wine bar on board

As I've written before, Greek ferries, such as this one are much like cruise ships - large and luxurious.  

Our regular cabin outbound

Because our journey took 22 hours we had booked a regular cabin so we could stow our luggage and bags and also get a good night's sleep. The beds were comfortable, the linen of good quality and pressed, the cabin decor basic, as was the ensuite shower, toilet and sink. It had a flat screen television. If you look closely at the photo you will note four people could sleep in the room as two bunk beds are folded against the wall. As it was, two people made it crowded.

Our deluxe double topped any cruise room we've had.

So we chose on our return trip to upgrade to a deluxe double room which simply boggled the mind! It was more spacious than any cruise cabin we've experienced. The bed was one of the best we've found in our travels, the room also had a flat screen television. Slippers and a toiletry kit were provided as was a welcome fruit plate, and soft drinks and water in a small refrigerator. 

The ferry was pet-friendly with indoor kennels provided 

We loved that the ferry was pet-friendly, offering kennels in a protected room on the ship's 8th and top floor. There were a number of four-footed travelers with us in both directions.

The cost of the ferry journey isn't inexpensive and varies by destination and class of travel.  Our deluxe cost more than the regular room but the regular room cost more than just buying a seat.  I should note, many bought seats and chose to 'slump and sleep' on two chairs, booths or the tables as the journey progressed.

A Journey of Discovery

Arrivals and departures our favorite part of the journey

We've let far too many years slip past since we last explored by Greek ferry. When we first visited Greece - now more than a decade ago- we traveled by ferry. We were reminded again of one of our favorite things about ferry travel and that is the island hopping/sightseeing that comes along with the price of the ferry ticket.  

Many of our stops on this trip to and from the Dodecanese islands were at islands we've never heard of before. We now have a couple more 'must visits' on our list as a result of the quick look and subsequent research we have done.  For example, on our return from Rhodes our itinerary included:


Symi from the ship

We visited Symi many years ago and so our stop was a nostalgic one. A new ferry dock outside the harbor eases the loading and off-loading, but it used to be fun to go into the heart of the village to disembark. The harbor is bordered by colorful neoclassic buildings. A return visit will be in order one day.


Arriving Tilos

Beaches are predominant in the list of Top 10 things to do on this small island with a population of less than 1,000 persons. Located mid-way between Kos and Rhodes, it looked a bit too small for us as we aren't 'beach people'. BTW, that beautiful dog, pictured above, got off here and was wagging his tail as he accompanied his human out of sight.


Nisyros calls out for a visit

Nisyros has the youngest and still-active volcano in Greece. A population of just more than 1,000 people live on this circular-shaped island with a diameter of 8 kilometers. It offers a couple of picturesque villages, Mandraki and Nikia, both with traditional architecture and spectacular views.  This one may need a longer visit than a ferry stop.


Kos, another that calls out for a return

This island was the busiest with dozens of foot passengers embarking and disembarking. It is rich in Greek and Roman landmarks and also boasts a 15th century castle. Another one on our ' must return' list.

Kalymnos and Lipsi (Leipsoi) were two islands we missed as our stops were in the middle of the night.  It is difficult to think of catching a ferry sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. but I guess it is not much different than flying a 'red-eye'. You'd get used to it, if you lived on these islands.

We arrived in Athens Sunday morning about 8:30, ending this Greek ferry tale and ready for another one!  I will tell you about the enchanting Kastelorizo in the next post -- it is a little place with a huge history! Hope to see you back again.

For those wondering about travel in a time of COVID: we carried our U.S. CDC vaccination cards, as well as a medical certification written by our Greek doctor that said we had been vaccinated. We were required, as were all travelers, to fill out a health declaration and contact tracing type form which had to be submitted at time of boarding.  On it we declared we had been vaccinated.  We boarded three times during our week's travels and no one ever asked to see the vaccination cards.  As you can tell from the photos, masks were required when moving about on board and distancing was maintained.

So how about you? Are you traveling yet? Still in lockdown? Let us know in the comments or send us an email. We loved to hear from you!!

Linking up soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On Leonard Cohen's Hydra Island

'Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in the midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.'
--Leonard Cohen

Hydra - Leonard Cohen's home for a decade

We've just returned from Hydra (E-drah) island. It is the one getting a lot of attention these days thanks to this year's documentary, 'Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love'

Several of you have written us about
Nick Broomsfield's film that tells the story of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist who spent a decade living on this island in the Saronic Gulf, just off the coast of the Peloponnese. Marianne Ihlen, the ex-wife of Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen, (who also lived on Hydra back then) was Cohen's 'muse' and girlfriend during his time on the island.

Cohen died in 2016 at the age of 85, many long years after his time on Hydra. But still, if you've read his poetry or heard his music or watched the recent film, you can't help but think of this wordsmith when you visit Hydra. 

A home in Hydra

It takes only one visit to understand why Cohen's creative juices flowed while living here. And after several visits, your own creative juices seem to come to life as well. Even a short stay will refresh your senses.

If ever we were to live on a Greek island, we both say, Hydra would likely be the place. While it swells with tourists each summer, it remains for most of the year, a small charming place where you could lose yourself to your imagination, take an afternoon nap without apology or spend an hour or more at a harborside taverna sipping an icy Aperol Spritz. 

The road around Hydra - two- and four-footed traffic only

Even though you can buy trendy fashions at small boutiques and pricey baubles in tiny jewelry stores during the frenzied summer months, it still feels different; like you've stepped back in time on this island. Perhaps so, because Hydra doesn't allow motorized vehicles other than the small garbage truck that makes its rounds each day.  

Suitcases carried to the hotel and guests walked ahead

Horses, donkeys, and mules stand at harborside to take you or your suitcases where you need to go.  Human-powered hand carts are also available.  And generally you walk (or ride a horse or donkey) to where you need to go.  That part of the island is probably much like it was when Cohen began living there.

The port town where the majority of restaurants and tourist accommodations are clustered along narrow whitewashed pathways, is the largest one on the island. The last census - in 2011 - tallied 1,900 living in it and less than a few dozen residents in the nearby villages .  So there might be a few hundred more now, certainly not a place that is over-populated or 'over-touristed'.

Back in September of 1960, when Cohen was 26 years old, he purchased a three-story white washed home for $1,500US using a bequest of his recently deceased grandmother. The building had no electricity, plumbing or running water. He liked it that way.  In fact the story behind his famous, 'Bird on the Wire' is that he was inspired to write it as he watched his island being transformed with electric wires. He wasn't pleased, but one day he noticed a bird on the wire. . .

One of the yachts visiting Hydra during our stay

He'd likely be blown away now as he watched the summertime ferries disgorge hundreds of tourists each day. He'd also likely gasp at the size and number of yachts that moor each night in the tiny harbor. He'd probably be stunned at the many shops along the harbor catering to those visitors these days.

Fishing boat's arrival Sunday morning brought shoppers and cats

In the fall the boutiques, restaurants and accommodations begin shutting down for the season. There's always a few accommodations and restaurants that stay open year round, but  there are decidedly fewer options for travelers than during the warm weather months. 

A blustery wind and rain storm welcomed us to the island last November; the place so empty, it seemed our own private island. Hotel and restaurant choices were few. Another gusty, chilly wind greeted us in March just as the island was waking to 'the (tourist) season'.

Hydrofoil from Athens stops several times daily in Hydra in summer

Last week the place was teeming with ferries and yachts in the harbor and the town pulsating with visitors. The contrasts between seasons are vivid and each had its own special charm.
Overlooking an island village

With the summer wind much more welcoming (meaning, less fierce!) than the wind on our previous trips, we set off on foot to visit the nearby villages and were gobsmacked by the vast beauty the island has to offer

We understand why Cohen was inspired to write:

Days of Kindness

Greece is a good place
To look at the moon, isn't it
You can read by moonlight
You can read on the terrace
You can see a face
As you saw it when you were young
There was good light then
Oil lamps and candles
And those little flames
That floated on a cork in olive oil

(Those little floating corks in olive oil are still used in Greece!)

Off to another village in what seems another world - Hydra

That is it for this week. We thank you for your time with us and hope that if your travel plans ever bring you to Greece, that you include a night or two on Hydra. It's magic!

For those seeking information about Hydra (getting there, places to stay, etc.) visit: 
Hydra Direct 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


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