Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All Good Things Must Come To An End (or so they say)

Well after a couple of months of planning and thousands of miles of traveling I'm on my homeward leg. I got a 2:20am wake up call in our Athens Hotel to get a cab to the airport and a 5:20am flight back to Budapest. After a five hour wait here I fly to New York with at least a 4 hour wait there before my flight into Boston. I never slept one wink before my wake up call so I'm pretty tired and I don't sleep on planes(as many of you know that's the only place I don't sleep). I hope today will be different. Ricky is catching a direct flight from Athens to Philadelphia and on to Chicago. He leaves at 11:30am.

Athens has been an advanced history class. Fortunately I had a good teacher and despite miles of walking (and a lot of it up hill)I really enjoyed the sights. Seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon (although under renovations) is a totally awesome sight that I'll never forget.

Hadrian's Gate and the Temple of Zeus were also remarkable.

All in all Greece was an excellent experience. I really liked the food. The people for the most part were friendly and helpful. I never got used to not flushing (even toilet paper) anything in the toilet. There was shopping galore and much better quality stuff than in Croatia.

So to my traveling companions: Bill, Nancy, Ken, Eric and Rick thanks for a great time and a great memory.

I should be arriving in New York at 3:30pm today (Tuesday). I hope to pass the hours talking on my cell phone. If I don't call you, call me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Weary In Athens

We had a busy morning in Santorini seeing the final things we hadn't already seen. That included a climbing and walking tour of Ancient Thira. That is the ruins of the ancient capital dating back to 500BC. It was way way up at the tallest point on the island. Driving to it was treacherous. From that spot we had to hike up to the site. Any other fat old woman such as myself should be about dead right now. Fortunately I survived to almost die climbing up to the highest point in Athens. I think Ricky is trying to do away with me here at the last. Anyway I am very weary and tomorrow the prospect is no better. I have to climb up the Acropolis. I guess they say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I should feel real strong right now. Instead I'm going to bed and will give you a thorough entry when I have hours to kill in the Budapest airport Tuesday morning. By the way on our last morning in Santorini we found the best beach there. It was helped by very high winds and huge waves. It was a good thing we were scheduled to fly to Athens because the boats were grounded from leaving the island because of the high winds.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Coming To The End of Santorini

As most of you have read, we have been super impressed with Santorini. The caldera(deep hole left from the volcano eruption) marks this scene as so spectacular. I don't think Arthur Frommer (my best source of all travel information, even though he makes some mistakes) was wrong when he said Santorini, in his opinion, is the most beautiful island in the world. Yesterday we took our time going through the town of Oi. It was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1956 and they have taken decades to rebuild. They have been very true to the original and I think it is the prettiest town on the island. Most of the postcards and famous pictures come from here. Most of the dwellings are built right into the rock and it is a famous honeymoon location.

We drove down into the harbor from there to take a look. It is a long windy way down. It was worth it though. An older couple was at the bottom and hitched a ride back up with us. They had walked down and didn't know there was no way up but driving or walking and they had no transportation. We gladly gave them a ride. They were from Columbus, Ohio. On the way up an exhausted girl was also bumming a ride. She was from Manhattan and was here for a yoga convention. All three appreciated the lift.

From there we went all the way over to the other side of the island to have a look. When we got there out on a desserted road going to Red Beach another couple was begging a ride. We stopped and talked to them and they asked for a ride back to where we had just come from. They were a young Chinese couple on there honeymoon. They were swimming in Red Beach and she felt pain in her leg and her leg turned red and swollen from mid calf to mid thigh. It looked very tight. She said she had been swimming near a rock when it happened. It was painful too. Anyway we took them to the hospital and dropped them off. She had been teaching Chinese in Poland and are getting ready to go back to China. She lives about 200km from the earthquake. She knows a lot of people that have been affected. Anyway Red Beach is defined by tall red cliffs going down to the water. We went back later in the day to see it. Needless to say I didn't go swimming there. It was very pretty though.

Today we wanted to get out of town and out of the heat and headed to a couple of the outer islands. We stopped first at the volcano itself and Ricky took the hike up the mountain to see it. Quite amazing. i had never seen lava before and the whole island is covered with black rock. It last had a little eruption in 1960.

We then went to another small close island where 200 people live and had a picnic lunch together. I think food always tastes better at a picnic.

A few other things about Santorini. They don't have any fresh water sources. They have to import it all. They have a big desalination plant where they do something to the sea water. All the running water is from there. It still seems to be very salty to me. When you take a shower and taste it (just a little) it seems very salty. My hair never really seems clean to me. The people all seem very friendly and laid back. I don't see the poverty here that I saw in Crete. There doesn't seem to be much crime. The rental car company told us to drop our rental car at the airport, leave the door unlocked and the key under the mat.There seem to be very few giant villas for the very rich. They seem to tightly control the building. This is the nicest place we've seen and it has an absolutely awesome view.

We have seen nothing but a cloudless sky since we left Budapest last Sunday. And I mean not one cloud. It has been something. Today has been very windy, which is helpful for the heat. I guess it tends to be windy here.

Tonight we went to a great place to see the sunset and then we headed into the main town of Fira. I had eyed a little crepe shop there on Thursday night and I wanted to sample their wares. We both ate until our stomachs were content and boy were they good. They served them a little differently, kind of folded in fourths and standing up in a small cardboard container so you ate it like finger food. Too bad we don't have these available much at home. It was unlike the crepes that are common fare in Croatia. These were the full crepes that were stuffed full with either savoury or sweet. We fly from here tomorrow afternoon and get into Athens about 3:30pm. I'm sure we'll make the most of our limited time there. We do have wireless there so maybe I'll get two more posts out before this trip ends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just A Short One Tonite

I'm just writing a short one tonite. We've had a busy, hot day, but a great one and I just want to go to bed. I'll catch you up tomorrow night or Sunday morning on our time here in Santorini. I'll just share a couple of pictures until then. I knew this place was nice but I sure did under estimate it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Unforgetable Scene

We boarded the high speed catamaran in Crete this morning and headed for Santorini. By the way, Bill e-mailed me that I misspelled some words in my blog yesterday. He said I spelled definately wrong 3 times. At least I'm consistent. I guess it needs an i instead of an a. I have always spelled that word wrong I guess. When I asked Ricky how to spell it today he spelled it right and I didn't believe him. I just looked it up and he's right. Oh, well. Please excuse any other misspelled words I have on this blog. I'm on vacation.

We arrived in Santorini at 11:30 this morning (even though this picture was taken after sunset). I sat by a girl on the boat who is from Calgary but is living in Moscow. Her husband is a chemical engineer working for an oil company. They had come to Greece for a weeks vacation. It was interesting to hear about her opinions about living in Russia these days. She's pretty lonely.

I knew Santorini was going to be nice but I hadn't anticipated the magnitude of the experience. For those of you who don't know, Santorini is a Greek Isle that is approxiately 18 miles long. In 1450BC there was a volcano eruption here that left the island in the form it is in now. There are several outer islands, one that still houses an active volcano, water and then the mainland. You can clearly see the crater that was left. The cities are high up on the inner part of the island with volcanic rock forming high high plateaus. The harbor is at the bottom. The ride up in a bus was a breathless experience. From the other harbor where private boats and cruise ships tender their passengers in you have to go up by cable car or donkeys. If you look closely you can see the donkeys in this picture. I felt sorry for them on such a hot day.

Our hotel is on the far outer end of the island on a beach, or just a short alley walk from the beach. The beach was much needed today because the temperature was well over one hundred and it wasn't cool in the shade. The sand is kind of black because of the volcano. Even though the beach looks sandy, as soon as you get to the water's edge it is all rock ledge, not stones like in our previous beaches but smooth long ledges. The water was warmer than in Crete but still very refreshing. I have had it confirmed that Rick doesn't really like swimming in the ocean that much even though he goes in for short periods. I don't think really any of my kids love the ocean like I do. Too bad. Ricky is content to get sun while I paddle away. Anyway, I was a little afraid about our hotel because we paid just $140 for three nites. The pictures had looked good so I was hoping for the best. It turned out very well. The room is basic but clean. There is a nice pool, convenient to the beach, lots of beach restaurants around and free internet and air conditioning. As Bill would say "You can't beat that with a stick." There are also a lot of American guests. In this case it means a lot less smoking going on. Great.

We started exploring a couple of the prominent towns. The views are so breath taking a camera can't begin to do it justice. Shawn would have a field day here with his camera. I've got to figure out how to change the setting on my camera to do sunsets because there was an awesome one tonite.

I think I mentioned before that there seem to be a lot of dogs roaming around in Greece. That certainly is true here too. There were some huge ones around the beach. It was so hot that one of them even got up on a lounge chair under an umbrella and went to sleep. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at that time. Later I saw one sleeping on a ledge in town. they all seem friendly but Ricky won't let me pat one. I think I will have to anyway when I find the right one.

Ricky is studying the book right now trying to figure out what we're going to do tomorrow. I'm sure it will include awesome scenery. We are here until Sunday when we go back to Athens for a day and a half and then home on Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Today We Took The Road Most Traveled and Loved It

We had an early wake up call today. At least Rick did. He got up at 4:30am, took the computer down to the pool and listened to the Celtics game on ESPN radio. I got up at 5:30, heard that they were so far ahead and went back to bed. Rick woke me to come and listen to the last quarter with him. It was pretty exciting! After a somewhat tepid shower we were ready for the day and off. We headed in our little car west for about 85 miles. We passed some high mountains and it was a scenic ride.
We ended up in the seaside town of Chania around 11am. Already the temperature was close to 100. Chania was pretty much an undiscovered town until the 1980's when the tourists began coming. Bill and I always say there never has been a tourist trap made that we don't like. This was certainly no exception. It was totally awesome!! Pictures cannot do justice to the scene. There is an old town with an old harbor with a retaining wall and lighthouse dating back to the 1200's. There were the usual restaurants and shops dotting the landscape with boats and museums as well. I totally fell in love with the place.

After looking around for awhile we went into the Crete Naval Museum. They had stuff from their earliest settlement days up through World War II with a whole floor on WW2. I did my usual speed version of the place while Ricky, I think, read every printed word in the place. Fortuately I found a nice comfy chair in the midst of a good breeze and snoozed away the time. We were both happy. I did enjoy the blow by blow description of the fall of Crete to the Germans in 1941, interesting stuff.

Following the museum we had a great lunch at an outdoor cafe. We have eaten every meal in Crete in an outdoor restaurant overlooking water with a great view. You gotta love that.

We took a leisurely ride back to our hotel with a couple of side trips to a few beaches. We had a great swim in the beach two minutes walk from our hotel. I had a wonderful freshly made waffle with fresh strawberries and cream for supper. That was my first time to get anything like that on the trip. I'm having to hold myself back from going back there and having another one.

Anyway some random comments. The weather has been very hot but only when you're in the sun. If you get in the shade at all it's fine (and you all know how I hate the heat). There doesn't seem to be any humidity. The water temperature is definately cooler than I expected. The waiter in the restaurant said it was 22C. I think he was being generous. The water is definately warmer in the Carribbean, Florida, parts of the Cape etc. But because it is so hot outside the water is very refreshing and good. There are unfinished buildings all over the place. They seem to pour the concrete frames and just leave them (much like many we saw in Russia years ago). There are mostly Germans or Sweedish people in our hotel and where we were yesterday but today in Chania we saw mostly Americans. Crete was definately better than I anticipated. Tomorrow we catch the "Flying Cat"--high speed catamaran--to Santorini. We will arrive there at 11:30am. We will have wireless in our hotel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another Beautiful Day in Crete

For those of you who may not shine in geography Crete is the largest, southern most Greek Isle. It is 169 miles long and 37 miles wide at its widest point. It is very mountainous and has been settled for at least 5000 years. Its main economy seems to be olives and grapes as well as tourism of course. Its tallest mountains are 7000 feet and there is skiing on them.

Today Rick had the day all planned out and we sought to go where the average traveler doesn't always go. That certainly turned out to be true. We headed to the south of the island. We stopped at some ancient ruins and saw original writing from 500 BC. It was on a wall and listed all the rules of the village and marriages. It was amazing as well as other ruins there. Also in that site was the purported grave of Titus from the Bible. There was a church built on the site to commemorate him in the 3rd century. Below is a picture of that church. Imagine that!

A little farther down the road from there were ruins of temples to Zeuss and Apollos.

From there we wove our way over mountains and valleys to the coast. There were olive groves everywhere and I mean everywhere. I'd never really seen an olive tree before and had to investigate it to see the olives. Very interesting. They aren't ripe yet. I don't know when they will be or how they pick all those trees.

We eventually landed in Matala an absolutely gorgeous spot on the ocean. Apparently at that spot we were closer to Libia than Athens. That's about as close as I would wish to be. Matala's claim to fame are the caves that surround it. Apparently the caves were used by the Romans to bury their dead. In more modern time they were used by the Germans to store munitions during World War II. And in the sixties they were used by hippies who thought Matala was a great place to live. Ricky was interested in the caves and that's why we went there. We looked inside them and got a real feel of the situation. After that, with the temperature by then, almost 100, we went in swimming. The water temperature was very refreshing and we spent a lot of time in the water. Rick came out before me and I lingered for awhile. While I was lingering something came up and bit me in my thigh just above my knee. The teeth marks were very visible and it drew blood. My leg hasn't fallen off and I'm alive and kicking 8 hours later so I guess I'm no worse for it. Believe me I'll be in the water at another beach tomorrow.

After that beach we just took a peek at a couple other beaches that were also very pretty. The roads are absolutely treacherous in and out of those places. For those of you who were in Croatia, picture similar turns with poorer quality roads and totally no railing. Even I was afraid on some of those turns. And it was Rick driving not Bill. His speed is a little more fast paced. I was trying to be good but I did have to yell a few times.

Following that we headed in a totally different direction. Ricky had read about some plain that had an awesome view of who knows what and some other cave that was supposedly the birthplace of Zuess. He wanted to go there and I'm along for the ride. The problem was that you got there from the east and we were coming from the west with a whole mountain range seperating us from that plain. He saw a little road on the map that looked like it would go there from our direction. He thought it probably was a dirt road. I was not very optomistic about our chances of finding the road. We hunted and found a dirt road going in the direction we wanted to go. We started out and it soon became clear it was wrong but Rick persisted. The road was horrible, rocky, windy and in terrible condition. When we bottomed out (gently) he finally decided to turn around and go back (probably 4-5miles in). I think the road was a farmer's road to get to his olive trees. Thankfully we got out with our rental car still intact. We never did get to the plain. But we had fun anyway and nobody was upset.

In general Crete seems to be pretty poor. The villages are rough, very bare and people just sitting on the edge of the road in groups talking. It almost seems that the Romans had it better 5000 years ago than now. The road system is poor and directions even worse. There seem to be little chapels everywhere like every half mile or more. They are all the same. There are beautiful flowering bushes everywhere and a lot of morning glories. There are many dogs wandering around. In one village all the women were dressed in black including a black scarf on their heads.

I guess that's it for now. Rick is in planning for tomorrow and watching some soccer on TV. He couldn't do his own laundry last night. They do it for you and then you pick it up. They even ironed all his clothes. He liked everything except the price.
And to my wonderful husband of 35 years, I love you and miss you.