We send out lots of email while we travel. In fact, of
course, we send email much more often than we update the web. We can never
quite remember who we told what to, so this page is meant as a sort of
bulletin board for our most recent whereabouts, impressions, and comments
while we work more slowly and deliberately on the permanent web pages.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Last Ferry From
On Thursday we took a ferry from Kos to Bodrum, Turkey which
we could faintly see from Kos. Four years ago almost to the day we'd been
on the Turkish Datcha peninsula, which is south and east of Kos. Bodrum is
north of Datcha and north and east of Kos. We had a feeling of closing the
circle as we made the ferry trip.
That we got to ride the ferry we count as something of a
small miracle. When we decided to go from Greece to Turkey we did a little
research and found that we could take a ferry if the season was
right and they were running either from Rhodes or Kos to Marmaris or
Bodrum. In Rhodes we were assured there were ferries Kos-Bodrum and we
selected that route because we wanted to see Kos and because Bodrum was a
place we wanted to see and because it gave better access to our next
points of call.
Once in Kos we checked ferry schedules and availability from
our first morning. We immediately got conflicting answers: Yes, there was
a ferry every day at 5 pm. No, there wouldn't be a ferry for a few days.
We dropped the matter until Wednesday, the day before we wanted to leave.
That afternoon we went to an agent who told us that there would be a
Turkish ferry on Thursday but she didn't know the time; she could only
call later. That night Gerry went back to her and she called and told him
that it would leave at 4 p.m.
Thursday morning we got up and packed as if we were leaving.
Then after breakfast Gerry planned to go to the dock to check out the
schedule at the departure point. Near our hotel he passed another agent
and decided to check with him. That man telephone somebody and learned
that the ferry left not at 4 p.m. Thursday but 9 a.m. Friday. He was so
well informed that he said that the ferry was called Nissos Kos. Back to
the hotel Gerry went and told Jan. We decided to make a walk over to the
harbor to verify it once more. Well before we came to the international
departures and customs guess what: we found the Nissos Kos tied up on quai
being painted. It had a wooden clock on its front set to "9:00 a.m." and
the words "departures every day. It being 10:30 a.m. it was very obvious
the ferry had not departed this morning; if it had it would still be in
Bodrum or just starting back.
Five hundred meters further along we came to the internation
departure/arrival area (a string of words almost as big as the area) and
the accompanying immigration police station. What did we see? The arrival
of the Turkish ferry Turgut Reis, obvious just come from Bodrum. And just
as obviously it was carrying day-trippers who would be returning at around
4:00 p.m. We wanted to be on that ferry.
We waited for some passengers to come off to make sure that
our guess about Bodrum was correct. The first two were Israelis and
it turned out that 90% of them were. We quickly mgot the good news: they'd
be going back. One of them asked me where to rent a car. Later, just
before our departure, I asked him how the day went. He said he'd cut it
short something about a small accident. We quickly went back to the
Hotel Marie and checked out. It seemed that they were happy to have us go,
as we were paying a low, off season rate and the weekend was Easter where
they could have a higher-paying clientel.
We ate our lunch on the waterfront, and having two hours
left, went to make a more thorough visit than our first rushed one to the
old Greek-Roman Agora. That was a good idea because it is very impressive,
much larger than we'd thought at first. We took turns making the visit,
the other guarding our bags. At the agoras were about two dozen college
students "working" there. They were student architects from Bari, Italy.
They said theywere measuring things, Gerry couldn't get a clear idea of
how that would help their studies.
At 4:15 we went through emmigration and that answered a long
standing question: how much would Gerry be fined for overstaying my visa
in Greece? He (and technically Jan, although she has a British passport)
was allowed three months and left after six months and three weeks. In
late December we realized that three months was the limit and went to the
Greek immigration office to get an extension. There all the help we got
was to be told that leaving the country would fix everything up but that
seemed an unnecessary effort. The consequence was that we sweated,
wondering what the immigration officer would do, hoping the fine was a
fixed, small amount, and not per-day, as it was in Iran. (There Gerry ran
up a tab of thousands of dollars; why I never paid it is a long, long
story. Jan, learning from Gerry's problems managed to leave the country in
haste when her visa was about to expire.)
Gerry writes: At the departure point the Greek
officer first checked my passport for an entry stamp. I knew that he
wouldn't find one. I'd searched and searched and there isn't one. And the
officer at the Athens immigration office had searched and not found one;
maybe that's why he wouldn't give me an extension: there was nothing to
The Kos officer told me not only was there a three month
limit but that it applied as a total to the time allowed in all the
European countries in the Schengen agreement area. That meant if I had
spent a month in France I would only have two months in Greece. In fact, I
had spent two months in Germany and then three in France. When I left
France for England last July I had no problem. Then I had "reset" the
clock by going to Russia via Switzerland and back to England.
I didn't tell the Kos officer this. In fact, when he asked
me when I had come into the Schengen area I said I didn't know. He typed
my passport number into a terminal; I don't know what he learned from that
but presumably it did not display the date of my arrival at the Athens
airport. He then went from his booth to the next one, for EU citizens, and
had a short conversation. All this while Jan was standing at the rear of
the line waiting to be processed. She had her hopes too. He came back to
me and gave me the same help the man in Athens did: he said that I was
done and should leave the country. Goodbye.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Which Greek Island
If all goes according to our current plan we'll leave Greece
and the Greek Islands for Turkey on Thursday. So it's a good time to
summarize what we've seen and what we prefer among the islands.
In order, we've been to Aegina (in the Saronic Gulf, near
Athens), Syros, Mykonos/Delos, Naxos, Amorgos, Santorini (all in the
Cyclades), Crete, Rhodes, and Kos (the last two being in the Dodecanese).
In addition we've been in the harbors of Tinos, Paros, all of the
Micro-Cyclades, and Kasos, Karpathos, and Halki. We haven't been to the
Ionian islands - Corfu, Ithika, Zakynthos, which are world famous and many
others, particularly those closer to mainland Greece in the north.
Accessibility is not a problem. Every island has an airport
and you can fly into them. If you take ferries in the summer time there
are fast ferries and there are ferries with cabins. Peeking into the
cabins they look comfortable enough but compared to hotel rooms are pretty
We are pretty much in agreement in our evaluations.
Comparing only what we have visited, here are our joint conclusions:
The most interesting single town is the old town of Rhodes
followed by Hania (Crete), Sitia (Crete) and Mykonos Town. The best single
sight is Fira and the caldera on Santorini followed (not so far back) by
the approach road to Hora Sfakion, the harbors at Sitia, and Hania (all on
Crete) and the alleyways of Mykonos. The best island archeology is Delos
(accessed via Mykonos) and Knossos (Crete).
We have no idea about beaches; it has always been too cold
to go into the water. Nonetheless, the nicest combination of looks and
accessibility appeared to us to be St George's beach on Naxos and the
southernmost beaches on Kos, near the inland village of Kefalos. The
Santorini beaches are probably pretty good and the western Syros beaches
and harbor looked OK too. Mykonos beaches seem to have a good reputation;
they were nice to look at from a hill top but didn't seem sandy enough to
be a good place to sun yourself.
A really simple thing to do to get a feel for what a Greek
island is, is to take a day or two day trip from Athens to Aegina. It only
takes an hour on the boat and the island is pretty interesting. It has a
nice, quaint harbor with some good seafood restaurants and has one of the
best temples in Greece. You can stay on the eastern end and feel that you
are in a remote corner of the world.
If you want to do the islands quick and easy (and
expensively) there are plenty of 4-5 day trips that give you 4-5 hours in
a series of places; you sleep on the boat, traveling at night. The usual
route is Athens (Pireaus) - Mykonos - Patmos - Kusadasi (Turkey -
excursion to Ephesus) - Rhodes - Crete (Knossos only) - Santorini -
Athens. We talked to several different people making this trip.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Rhode(s) to Kos
Saturday, April 15 extending into the early hours of April
16 must have been the least expected day we've had in four years. We
started the day in Skala Kamirou, about 50 km south west of Rhodes City.
We'd gone there to be a in good position to see the ancient ruins at
Kamiros and then to continue counterclockwise around Rhodes island.
Although Skala Kamirou is the terminus for the ferry to
nearby Halki Island it is about as small as you can get: It has three
restaurants, two small pensions/hotels, and something too small to be
called a shop and just big enough to be bigger than a kiosk. In addition
three are a half dozen houses and about as many fishermen working boats
out of the port. We didn't know any of this when on Thursday we took the
daily bus from Rhodes City. We just trusted to luck and it almost ran out,
although at first it didn't seem that way:
The bus let us off in front of a hotel and we were rather
happy with its appearances, modern and near the sea. It was shock and awe,
however, to learn that it was filled. At that moment we didn't know there
was a second hotel; nonetheless we didn't worry. The second hotel, or
pension, was 300 m further along, almost at the pier. Jan went to
invesitage and came back reporting that it had a place for us, although
pretty small and without private bath. In the meantime the manager of the
first hotel came back and told Gerry he'd had a cancelation. Did we want
the room? We were torn. The first hotel had a bigger room and a private
bathroom but could only promise one night. The one near the pier had a
balcony with ocean view, no other guests to share the bathroom with and we
could stay as long as we liked. We opted for the view and balcony and
trundled our bags over.
The next day, Friday, we got to see not only Ancient Kamiros
but a Crusader castle, Kastellos, just south of Skala Kamirou. The first
was impressive for the high quality of the ruins; the second for its
castle perched on a crag surveying the coast. We were up early to some
light rain and took the first and only bus of the day back north to
Kamiros and had the site to ourselves our first hour there. As other
tourists started to arrive we were ending our visit. Our choice was to
hitchhike or wait two hours for the one daily bus back to Skala Kamirou.
We of course chose hitchhiking and waited only a short time to be picked
up; it was a Russian tourist with his daughter; we learned from him in
halting English interspersed with German that he had been a programmer
working in Munich for the last eight years. Jan was frustrated because he
wouldn't respond to her Russian in Russian. Gerry often speaks French and
finds his interlocutor seems to not comprehend that Gerry is speaking
French. Was a similar thing happening to Jan? Anyway, complaints weren't
in order as he was going to the Kastellos castle and we were very happy to
After our visit to Kastellos we walked back to Skala
Kamirou, about 2 km, and at the end of the day, with the light rain having
turned heavier, we had dinner at one of the three restaurants, where we
were the only customers, it was that dead. The friendly proprietor told us
that the next day, Saturday, there was no bus going further south. Second
awe and shock: we hadn't been careful in checking the bus timetable. There
was, however, a bus at 9:00 a.m. that would get us back to Rhodes City. So
the day this blog entry is meant to talk about, Saturday, we got up early
and were out at the bus stop at 8:00 trying to hitch 25 km south toward
Monolithos, the site of another castle on another, reportedly more
impressive crag. In the next hour about half a dozen pickups passed us,
all obviously locals, probably mostly fishermen. None stopped. At that
hour there weren't any private cars important because tourists and
Albanians and Bulgarians are much more likely to pick us up. The tourists
were all still in bed and the Albanians and Bulgarians were all probably
on Mykonos and Naxos.
At 9:00 a.m., therefore, we took the bus north to Rhodes
City and there, after an hour, started around the island clockwise,
towards Lindos, the site of a third giant Crusader castle, and underneath
it the ruins of an ancient Greek city. Just before getting on the Lindos
bus we met a young German, come to kite surf. In conversation he revealed
himself to have been a dope-head at 16; his parents had consequently sent
him off to a specialized boarding school in Burlington, Vt, where he spent
all of his time smoking pot and not learning English or anything else.
This day he wanted to get to Kattavia, about twice as far as Lindos, but
there was only a bus about 2/3 of the way, to Gennadi. Gerry proposed to
him that we share a rented car.
In Lindos we got off the bus and the guys went to look for
the car while Jan watched the bags. The bus stops on the highway and it is
a 500 m hike into the village of Lindos. Or what used to be the village of
Lindos, since it is now a giant tourist trap. If you know Mykonos and
Carcassone, you'll appreciate Gerry's horror when he describes it as three
Mykonoses wrapped inside a Carcassone. In other words, there was nothing
but restaurant and bar and bar and cafe lined up one after another along
narrow lanes that imitated what a Greek village used to be like and gave a
giant claustrophobic feeling. Indeed, sitting above it all, on another
crag-mesa was the magnificent Crusader castle. But that wasn't visible
from the village.
With difficulty Gerry found a rental-car office. But it was
closed and it turned out one did business with it by going to the Lindos
Taverna. So be it. There Gerry talked to the rental manager via cell
phone. Gerry apparently asked too many questions and was too price
resistant; the man told him that the cost of the cell phone call was
greater than his potential profit and that they should call it a day. In
other words, he didn't like Gerry and wouldn't rent him a car. We're happy
that Greeks are no longer so poor!
So as there were no hotels, pensions, or dolmatia (rooms to
rent) visible, and as Lonely Planet said that the ones that existed (if
invisible) were expensive and as it was raining enough that we didn't want
to drag our bags around we decided to go back to Rhodes City. We decided
to leave for Kos and not make any more attempt to go around the island:
We'd seen Lindos from afar and that was good enough. The beautiful Rhodes
landscape farther south probably didn't match Crete and so we wouldn't
really miss a lot by a precipitous departure.
When Gerry got back to Jan he found her talking to an
English couple from near Liverpool. They had concluded about the same
thing: their day trip away from the package hotel wasn't going to be a
success given the weather. While we all waited for the bus a taxi driver
proposed that he'd take the four of us to Rhodes City for slightly more
than the bus fare. We agreed and headed for town. The woman was an English
literature teacher and during the ride Jan and she continued a
conversation about books which Jan lapped up. The man sat in the front
seat and talked with the taxi driver, a Greek-Canadian young man, more
Canadian than Greek. He'd come to Greece on vacation and met a girl and
stayed. An hour later we were in town and had the driver drop us at the
ferry office just opposite the port.
There, to our pleasure, we learned that in 2.5 hours, at
18:00 a ferry would leave for Kos. We parked our bags on the terrace of
the non-descript cafe at the entrance to the docks. There Jan read her
current Russian book (White Guard by Bulgakov) while Gerry took a walk for
nearly two hours; then we got on the ferry. At 18:00 we didn't see a
flurry of activity: no ropes being cast off to release the ship; in fact,
in the 45 minutes we'd been on the ferry hardly anybody or any vehicle had
gotten on. At 18:15 we went to inquire. For unspecified reasons, possibly
because of bad weather or just because the port authorities wanted it that
way, we wouldn't be leaving until 21:00. There went our hopes of getting
to see in the daylight the passage past the Marmaris (Turkey) peninsula,
past Symi Island, and along the Dacha (Turkey) peninsula. In April, 2002
we'd been there and now wanted to appreciate them from the sea.
At 21:00, as now really expected, we again didn't see a
flurry of activity: no ropes being cast off to release the ship; in fact,
in the last 45 minutes hardly anybody or any vehicle had gotten on. More
inquiries and we were assured that we'd leave about 23:00 or 23:30. In
other words, we'd arrive in Kos at 3:00 a.m. Before we'd gone to the ferry
office we had agreed that if the ferry wasn't going to arrive in Kos at a
reasonable hour we would spend an extra night in Rhodes. We'd been
sandbagged. We were stuck. And so we stuck it out, at first sleeping in a
no-smoking lounge, but getting chased out by a party of Gypsies (Albanians
without cars) that smoked and made a great amount of noise. The food
service on the ferry was rotten and we'd emptied our usual stash of food
to lighten our travel load.
At 0:300 Sunday we arrived in Kos. There we were rescued by
a man who wanted to rent his hotel rooms. At first we wouldn't deal with
him because his English was so bad. But he was the only seller and we were
the only buyers and so in the end we made a deal. And as it turned out the
room was pretty good, the sheets were snowy white, the bed soft, and we
were soooo tired. By 4:00 a.m. we were in bed and we slept and slept.
Friday, April 13, 2006
Rhodes: 2400 Years And
We're just ending four days (and five nights) in the
medieval city of Rhodes, the biggest city by far on Rhodes island. We're
very nicely pleased by it and rate it the number-one town we've seen in
Greece. A great combination of quaintness and history. You might call it a
mini-Jerusalem, since it has walls around the city and some very old
Crusader buildings. In addition it has a nice harbor and, we've been able
to see snow covered mountains in Turkey, about 50 miles to the east.The
island is small enough (100 km long) that you can get around it real
easily in a few days in a rented car. We are about to set off to do just
that but by public transport rather than car.
Prices seem reasonable in spite of all the tourists but that
may have something to do with the season. Right now most of the tourists
in town seem to be retirees and groups of Greek high-school kids. We
actually saw people swimming yesterday but haven't drummed up the courage
to emulate them yet.
Our first day was spent walking all over the place getting
an overview of it. That took us through the old town, in and out of its
giant gates, through what we call the Turkish town but locals call the new
town, and into the tourist district and the shops, hotels, and restaurants
and bars that always go with flocks of tourists.
Rhodes town was founded about 408 B.C. by the consolidation
of three older Greek towns. Not a lot remains of that but we gave
ourselves a walking tour of what we could find. This includes the old
Acropolis that has a partially reconstructed temple of Apollo and a great
stadium. There are also some remants of the ancient city walls, bits of
Hellenic houses, and (which we didn't see) the Hellenic cemetery
Fast forward to about 1250 a.d. when Rhodes was taken over
by the Knights of St John. They built a "Crusader Castle" with fortress
walls, much of which remains. One day we toured the
highly-restored/rebuilt Grand Master's Palace and walked as much as
allowed along the walls; perhaps two-thirds of them. The next day we went
to the old Hospice which is a great building and now houses the archeology
museum. Nothing can compare to that of Athens, but they have a good
selection; enough to occupy us for three hours.
Around 1625 the Ottoman Empire took Rhodes away from the
Knights of St John. Many Turks came then and remained through Italian
posession (1912-1948). The new or Turkish town consists of a mixture of
Turkish styles, with old wooden second-story bay windows and Italian 1930s
modernism overlaid by 1960s and beyond growth. Fascinating for the eye
that cares about archetecture.
Sunday, April 9, 2006
Kamiros Rooms to Rent
We took a ten-hour ferry ride to get Rhodes from Crete,
leaving just after noon and sharing the boat with gobs and gobs of Greek
teenagers going on on a five-day jaunt. We don't know if there was
anything more special about the day than the fact they were away, and away
from parents, but an awful lot of fire crackers were tossed from the boat
as we left Sitia and at each of the four stops we made.
The ferry, the Ierapetra, was exactly the same one that had
taken us three weeks earlier from Santorini to Iraklion, Crete. This time
we knew that at least a few of our fellow passengers must have gotten on
in Santorini at 4:30 a.m.; we were glad that our departure was much more
civilized: we had gotten up late, packed leisurely, and trundled our bags
the 600 or so meters from hotel to dock.
The ride was pleasant, but the rockiest we've been on so
far. Several passengers had stomach troubles and threw up. Jan would have
preferred to remain on deck, but was forced below by the fumes from the
ferry's exhaust that periodically blanketed the deck. She went below to
make sure the fumes didn't make her queasy and found a seat with a clear
view of the horizon so that the motion of the boat wouldn't do it either.
Gerry, remaining on deck, felt a bit off for a few moments after eating a
snack but otherwise was fine. Visibility was pretty poor, with low
clouds/very thin fog most of the way. Toward the end of the trip, as night
had fallen, Gerry catnapped in the cafeteria, just as we had done going to
We arrived after 11 p.m. in Rhodes and this made the problem
of finding a place to stay worrisome. Near the end of the trip, we'd met
two Americans, young (25-30?) women who are teaching P.E. in England. They
had the same problem as us find a hotel so we walked off together. Our
hope was that just at the end of the ramp we'd find somebody touting his
hotel-pension and he'd drive us there; if we didn't find somebody then we
had a fairly long haul to drag our bags into the middle of the old city,
where our Lonely Planet sleeping choices were located. We'd been very
happy with the places in Mykonos and Naxos that we got this way. In fact,
it is to be expected that the very operators who go to the trouble of
going to the ferry are those who most likely want to build trade and give
good value. It is not always so (the pension in Santorini was not quite
such a good value)but often enough!
With this in mind and with 2/3 successes we were primed to
accept an offer. Unfortunately there was nobody at the end of the ramp
begging us for our custom. So the four of us walked the whole length of
the long dock. Then a man, Nicholas as we learned, approached us and asked
if we wanted a room. Our plan had been only to go with somebody who
answered all of our questions about price and quality in a
straight-forward fashion. We'd learned to our regret that people who
respond to "How much is it?" with "Come see, you'll like it." meant they
couldn't meet our price. Nicholas wasn't quite that bad but didn't speak
great English so it was hard to know how to interpret him. But there was
no-one else so we went with him without having quite fixed the price. One
always has to size up such people and to Gerry the vibrations were right.
Since there were four of us (including the two Americans) we
couldn't all get into his car. We crossed the city road from the dock and
went though a gate in the massive stone wall that surrounds old Rhodes.
Impressive, indeed. There we tried again to get a fixed price; we did and
the two girls decided to try for cheaper. Gerry went off with Nicholas to
check out the rooms he had to offer and left Jan behind to watch the bags.
Jan at first idly watched the locals as they wandered to and
from whatever restaurants and night-clubs they were frequenting this
Saturday midnight. After a little while she started to pay more attention
to the square in which she was sitting and noticed inspite of the low
light some big stones that sort of looked like millstones and then
realized they were column bases. Looking further she realized that the
square was actually a ruined church! It was so neat. The other neat thing
was that the air was warm. That might sound odd, but here in the southern
Mediterranean it can get quite chilly after dark in the winter months. For
months and months we've been looking forward to real spring and warm
nights. The balmy air at such a late hour was proof positive that spring
had arrived. Such are the things that first impressions are made of and
for Jan Rhodes made a great impression.
In an hour Gerry came back. He'd taken a room with Nicholas
at his Michelangelo Hotel. It was a pretty nice room, located in a
converted house. Our main objection was as is almost always the case
the curtains were so thin that the street light outside provided far too
much light. Engineer Gerry fixed up a combination of blankets, umbrellas,
and sofa cushions (the room had a sofa) and we slept well. Next morning,
first thing, before 8:00 a.m, we were out and looking for our first Lonely
Planet choice. It's easy to get lost in Rhodes' little streets and we got
lost. But we found it and were warmly welcomed by Francois, a French man
who runs the pension we were looking for. He even gave us a free liter of
milk since there was no place at the time where it could be bought. But
his rooms cost more, were smaller, and, very important, less airy, than
the one we were in. We quickly concluded we'd lucked into a pretty good
value and it was back to Nicholas and the Michalangelo without looking at
In fact, Nicholas has two places: the Michelangelo Hotel
(with six rooms) and the Kamiros Pension (with five). We looked over every
room in the Michelangelo and then (somewhat to Nicholas' exasperation)
went over and looked at the best room in Kamiros. It was twice the size of
our Michelango room and had its own terrace where we could sit out and eat
our breakfast and read. The drawback was that the quality was obviously
Not as nice furniture, not as nice a bathroom, and a handful
of flies to replace the one mosquito that we'd had overnight. We differed
on whether we should change places or stay where we were. A flip of a coin
and we changed. In the end, it was a good choice: some spray got rid of
the flies, the pension was in a quieter place, it was dark enough at
night, and we rather enjoyed our fresh-air breakfasts and sitting on the
terrace to read: Gerry was into Plutarch's "Lives" and Jan was struggling
with Bulgakov's ("White Guard") in Russian.
Saturday, April 8, 2006
Sitia: Last Stop in
After inquiring about ferries at various places in Crete we
decided that the best way to get to Rhodes from Crete was to make Sitia
our last stop. This is because we wanted to see it and at this season more
ferries leave, three a week, from Sitia than anyplace else.
We had wanted to go from Mires in south-central Crete (we'd
spent two nights in Mires after Speli as a base to visit Phaistos and
Gortyn) to Ierapetra, the largest town in south-east Crete and then go on
from there to Sitia; that way we could skip a return to Iraklio, which had
no further attaction for us. While in Mires we made inquires at a building
that was marked "Bus Station - Internet" but learned that it was neither
any longer. We learned this from a young Canadian-Greek woman who'd
returned to town to help run her parents cafe. She told us that she was
possibly going to Ierapetra, about 60 km east, later that day but we
declined the offer.
On Wednesday we left for Sitia. Our trip from Mires started
with a ride over the back of the island to Iraklio; after an hour wait we
were on our way along the north coast to Sitia. The journey took us
through the "Disneyland" of Crete, the long stretch of hotels around
Malia. Much more interesting to us was the dozen or so signs to ancient
sites that we passed; some we'd read about and others were new; Gerry
would have liked to visit all of them. The scenery was much better than
expected, with the road often edging a cliff.
In Sitia it was Jan's turn to find a hotel and she found a
very nice one: all the necessary comforts including especially both BBC
World and TV5 Monde and with a beautiful view of the harbor. After getting
settled we had a pleasant walk along the waterfront. There were plenty of
mostly open-air cafe's they were enclosed by a kind of plastic wall
but almost all were still shut down, waiting for the crowds of tourists to
arrive. The next morning we had the hotel's buffet breakfast and from then
on passed it up in favor of eating cereal and fruit on our balcony in the
cool morning air. We had a good view of the harbor; on the left we could
see the pier where we hoped (because in Greece you have to hope the
schedule will be followed) that we'd take the ferry on Saturday to Rhodes.
On Thursday Gerry set out for a hike without Jan, who didn't
want to get up at five in the morning and so opted for a day's rest (aka
peace and quiet). Of course she didn't get her first wish because she woke
up when Gerry got up and she didn't really get her second wish as you'll
find out below. So Gerry got up early and was at the bus station before
6:00 a.m., intending to take a bus to Zakros and walk down the 8 km canyon
to the sea. At the end, near the shore, is the fourth most important
archeological site in Crete, ancient Zakros. As Gerry approached the bus
station he saw through the open door a backpack on the bench. "Aha,
somebody else going to Zakros to hike! A walking companion." No and yes.
To Gerry's great surprise, it was Iain, with whom we'd shared the Imbros
Gorge (see March 29??). Iain had wandered his own way about the island and
ended up in Sitia. But he was going to walk to, not from Zakros: he'd
planned to go to Ziros and walk 11 km to Zakros and then if he felt like
it go on down the Zakros Gorge. "Come with me" he said. And Gerry readily
So at 6:00 a.m. they were off to Ziros. Twenty minutes later
they and their bus were stopped by the side of the road. Gerry had heard a
snap, but hadn't made much of it. After the bus had gone nowhere for 10-15
minutes and lots of noise had come from the rear Gerry climbed out the
driver's side and went to look. The driver had become mechanic: a fan belt
had broken and he was replacing it. Gerry became his assistant, holding
his flashlight and the job got done a bit faster.
Just before 8:00, not too long after daylight the bus was in
Ziros. Iain led the way to the start of the walk. He'd done it four years
earlier, but going the otherway, which is mostly uphill. Now he wanted a
more relaxed walk. He thought he knew the route, and it was theoretically
well marked, since surprise it was part of the E4 trail which winds
its way through the Imbos Gorge and other places we'd been. But Iain's
memory was not perfect and he had some hesitation leading us out of town.
But soon we found an E4 sign and were going up a gentle gully. About 3/4
km later we crested and what there was no E4 sign. We went left and that
soon was shown to be a mistake (Jan, sleeping peacefully was spared this
drama). We made a big circle back to intercept E4 and found it. In another
200 m it was clear that we were off it. This time we'd gone right when we
should have gone straight ahead. From the top of a rise we saw a distant
sign and cutting across country (the shrubs were too short and not prickly
enough to be cactus but they could be pretty prickly if they caught your
legs) to the E4.
From then on we never lost the trail and it just got more
and more attactive. Plenty of wild flowers and here and there a tumbledown
building. In Iain's first trip it was summer and almost unbearably hot;
this time it was pleasantly cool. In that first trip Iain had had to chase
goats from the few shady spots so that he could rest; in this trip we saw
just a few goats.
After three hours we caught sight of Zakros below us. In
another half hour, going down a series of switch backs, we reached the
village. There we passed through several grain mills that were once run by
wind and water; now they were museums. In the center we cooled off with a
soft drink and ate our lunches. Gerry pulled out his can of sardines; Iain
pulled out his sardines same brand, but tomato covered rather than olive
oil. Iains legs were hurting so he skipped the walk down the Zakros Gorge.
Instead he and Gerry rode back to Sitia where they suprised Jan as much as
Gerry had been that morning. All three of us had a drink Iain pulled out
his trusty teabag and we our electric kettle and chatted on our balcony.
Then suddenly Ian was gone, to catch a bus to his next hike. We are
unlikely to cross paths again in Greece but maybe some day in Australia.
We had a quiet Friday, giving Jan more peace and quiet.
Gerry started the day by buying a new, external mouse, to replace the
touch pad whose left key had given up the ghost. Then he spent a good part
of the day restoring his operating system and installing plenty of
software. Saturday morning our plan was to get up in a relaxed fashion,
pack, and move us over to the Ferry. We'd have lunch onboard after
Friday, April 7, 2006
Gerry feels almost as if he has a new PC. It's not really
new, its the same Sony Vaio K35(Pentium (R) 4 CPU 3.06GHz, 2.38 Ghz, 704
MB of RAM, DVD+_RW writer) that he bought in New Jersey in January, 2005,
but he has done a restore and given it back its virginity (now wouldn't
that be a money-making procedure). Doing a full restore to store-bought
condition is pretty drastic so you know that it wasn't done lightly. In
fact, he's been planning to do it for at least three months; finally a
moment came when he had the time and adrenilin and he acted.
In his own words "The K35 came with a 6-month version of
Norton Security pre-installed. When the period was up I was rarely on line
and wanted to de-install it because of annoying things it did. I couldn't,
because for security reasons you can't unless you have administrator
privileges. I did, but Norton wouldn't believe me. So I deleted the files
by hand. That was probably a big mistake because various things stopped
working; it seems highly unlikely it was just a coincidence.. My Encarta
would not display using the whole screen, but only showed articles in a
small window. And this could not be corrected by a dis-install,
re-install. Thus I lost the effective use of one of my favorite programs.
Windows Media Player ceased to work and re-installing did no good on it
either. No more listening to my MP3 library or looking at my own videos.
My CD-DVD writer, Sonic Record-Now, continued to work but annoyingly said
it needed Media Player.
Independently of all that the Search function in Windows
Explorer would not work. That I know I caused by trying to change the
default opening configuration. Why my changes caused that or how to
restore it I could never figure out. This was perhaps the biggest problem
of all because I could no longer find files I accidently moved.
Accidentally? Windows + my touch pad allow me to accidentally drag and
drop a file before I realize what is happening.
The hardware problem was on the touch pad: the left-button
gradually ceased to work. It was going just as I did my first restore. In
fact, just after the restore the button improved to working almost all of
the time so I thought miraculously it was a software problem. But then
while doing my re-installs the button ceased functioning entirely.
Figuring out how to do a restore without a mouse was a problem, but I did
it. All this happened while we were in small towns where even if I spoke
Greek there was no place to buy an external mouse. When I did finally find
it in Sitia, the new mouse sure made life better. Now I'm pretty much all
Sunday, April 2, 2006
Crete - South Central
From our outing in the far northwest of Crete we went off to
Hora Sfakion, on the west-south coast. We chose it because it was a good
starting point for a walk through the Imbros Gorge. On Crete the famous
walk is through the Samaria Gorge, but that was out because at 18 km it
would have killed us, if a flash-flood from melting winter snows hadn't.
In fact, for safety reasons, the gorge is closed until after the snows
Our two hour bus ride from Kisamou to Hora Sfakion first
gave us more fine north coast views, then we passed the Malmene airfield
again. As we returned to Rythimno we almost always had the snowy mountains
in view to the south of us. We had to change buses at Rythimno and were
temped to stay there a night just to visit the Fort. But we went on.
The road over the mountains first passes through a
high-pleateau valley and then descends very suddenly, about 600 m (2000
ft) to the coast. We were taken by the cascading views to the ocean. We
worried that the bus driver was too enamoured of them; we wanted his eyes
on the road. We saw several small villages below us and wondered which
might be Hora Sfakion. At the last moment before plunging forward into the
sea the bus turned right. For a minute or two all villages were out of
sight. And then we were just above Hora Sfakion. And were instantly
charmed. It sits on a small bay, with a jewel-green harbor and above it,
ampitheatre like, the town has grown. there are remarkable views
We got a nice "apartment": really a bedroom and a kitchen
with fantastic views of the village and the little harbor, it was really
picturesque. Too bad it is really still too cold to swim for us cold fish.
Up early the next morning as we waited in the pre-dawn for the bus to
Imbros we saw a series of headlights, appear and disappear, almost like
lighthouse lamps, as they wound they way down the next slope west toward
Just after 7:00 am our bus came and carried us back up the
600 m of switch-backs and beyond to 750 m high Imbros. There we
immediately started our 750 m descent and walk of 6 km or so down to the
coast. As we got off the bus we so did another fellow: we discovered that
he was to make the walk too so we set off as a three-some. That's how we
met Iain, as Australian and avid walker; he was in Crete for three weeks
of walking. In the high period there must be hundreds if not thousands of
people treking along in the gorge; there are several snack bars to serve
them. But this day we three were the only ones there and had much peace
and quiet, except our extensive conversation. Iain had done the Samaria
trip a few years earlier and told us this was much different. Here only a
very short part is narrow; in Samaria there is much more a walled-in
feeling. And Iain says the vegetation is much different. That must be
because the Imbros Gorge has a generally uniform descent whereas in the
Samaria Gorge there is a very rapid descent and then the rest is almost at
sea level. A bit under three hours of walking and suddenly it was over; we
were out. Then we had an encore: a walk along the coast back to Hora
We were really tempted to stay another and then another and
then another night until who knows how long. Gerry met a Norweigian couple
who'd come six months ago and spent most of the time since living in the
apartment below us and just mellowing out. Why don't we do that, Jan asks?
But instead we went on to Speli, an access point for the
Amari valley. Distances are not great in Crete; it is roughly half the
size of New Jersey or Israel. From Hora Sfakion to Speli is about 30 km in
a straight line, but there being many mountains and no direct buses, we
traveled about 65 km. There, as so often, we became the first guest of the
year, this time for a Cretan woman who could proudly bear the title of
Babushka. So round and so jolly and so dressed in black. And so willing to
speak a Greek to us that we didn't understand, leavened by a few words of
German. They helped.
After our night in Speli we set off for our now usual hike:
Amari valley, here we come, if we can get there. It's on the other side of
the mountain from where we were and there was no bus. If we walked up the
mountain it would be great but all our time and energy would be gone. We
walked through town to the turn-off to the road going to Gerikari, and
started to hitchhike. Before Gerry could take a picture of the road sign
we had a ride. It took us up the steep hill with great views of Speli town
and valley and then into a high plateau about 5 km across. The latter was
all green, so unexpected in Crete. And then we were in Gerikari, which
sits at the western end of the Amari valley and itself offers fine views.
From Gerikari we would have liked to do the 92 km circuit
described by our book on the Greek Islands. That was obviously out, but we
set out to walk to see what happened. We had many fine views of snowy
Psiloritis, the 2400 m peak. About an hour later we were in Kardaki and
because we came in the back way, after a diversion down to the small
river, we discovered a monument to the dead of that village: 19 Cretans
were killed without mercy by German occupiers because of resistance they
We decided to walk on a short distance, to Vyresses, visible
in the distance, while hitching back. Hardly had we stuck out our thumb
than we got a ride. But the man was going to Amari, which seemed like a
pleasant thing to do, so we went along. The guide book says it has the
best views of the valley and the mountain; in fact, they were superb. We
ate a simple lunch in the small village square. Sitting in the shade Jan
was faced with the usual problem: she was too cold, dressed as she was for
walking in the sun.
After lunch we set out for Myronas, from where we would
circle back to Gerikari and then Speli. Of course we were hitchhiking and
within a minute we had a ride again. It's good that Jan is not useless at
recognizing people, as Gerry is. She looked at the car and smiled, and
said hello. It was the same man who brought us to Amari. He went out of
his way to take us to Myronas. Along the way he picked up a stooped women
who looked 80 or more; if she understood our Greek she said that she was
85; in any case she seemed to be a bit rattled and we wondered who let her
wander the countryside alone. On the other hand you don't have to be old
to be rattled. Our driver had obviously been having a few drinks with his
friends. We rode with him because the cliffs were only baby size on that
part of the route. And because we valued our tender feet more than our
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Crete - North Coast
We've been our usual snail-selves: our original baseless
estimate was one week in Crete but there have been enough things to do
that we've just about to hit two and we're thinking we might need another
week or ten days before leaving for Rhodes. If we needed an excuse for
being here we could point out that the population and size of Crete
exceeds the total of all of the Cyclades islands and we managed to spend
four weeks in them. On the other hand, you don't need ferries to get
around in Crete and we haven't yet been hampered by a ferry strike. There
are, however, rumors that our departure for Rhodes might be delayed by a
It's not that Crete is fantastically exciting, but it is big
enough and has enough to see that even staying only two or three days in
each place quickly mounts up. There's lots of great looking landscapes, so
we enjoy walking about wherever we are and we enjoy the bus rides between
places. We like Crete scenery more than the smaller islands. It has more
variety to it and, compared to the Islands, the mountains are twice as
high. But we can't say the scenery is a whole lot different from the
Peloponnese, or in fact, of many coastal parts of Southern California. We
have enjoyed the generally high quality accommodation; it's clear that
these people are used to catering to German tourists except in one
respect: the showers are always tiny!
We reached sight of Crete about 7:00 a.m. coming from
Santorini. Since we had had a fitful night's sleep in preparation for
getting up in time to catch the 4:30 a.m. ferry departure we cat-napped in
the cafeteria-restaurant. When Gerry realized it was light outside and
went to see if Crete was in sight it was. And his jaw dropped: completely
unexpectedly, there, over the left (port?) railing was a very high
mountain ridge, and most astonishing, it was snow covered! He rushed over
to the right (starboard?) side and saw an even bigger range with more
snow. Excited he called Jan. Awakened from sleep she wasn't too excited
until she realized she had been looking at the lower, nearer mountains;
when she saw the size of the distant range and the amount of snow her jaw
dropped too. That was our introduction to the 2000m+ Lisithi and
We disembarked in Iraklio, the capital and big city of
Crete. We found a waterfront hotel and settled in i.e.caught up on sleep
before venturing out. Then we went to see the city, and were surprised,
after our month in tiny places, to have cars and people all rushing about
us. The highlights of our stay were our visit to the 3900-year old ruined
Minoan palace at Knossos and the National Archeological museum, which has
treasures from Knossos, Phaistos (which we will certainly visit), and
other sites. The rest of the city was just so-so, although we did enjoy an
evening walk along the ancient Venetian stone breakwater that forms the
old port; that harbor goes back almost to 120 a.d. and the remnants of the
old fortress wall are also impressive.
From Iraklio we set out to explore the northwest coast. We
rode into and out of Rythimno, number two city of the island, without even
getting off the bus. The Venetian fort looked possibly interesting, but we
went on to Hania (or Chania), which for several centuries was the capital
of Crete. It, as almost everywhere, has a Venetian harbor and some Ottoman
remnants. It is charming, unlike Iraklio; we might compare the first to a
tiny kid goat and the second to a mature billy. Anyway we had great digs
in a converted Venetian mansion. The archeological museum is smaller but
more charming than Iraklio's.
On the way to Hania we passed Malmene and its airfield. In
May, 1941 it was the sight of the world's first parachute-led invasion,
unfortunately by Nazi's attacking Crete for it's potential as an airbase
to attack points farther south in Africa. Bloody fighting ensued and
thousands were killed; we passed the German military cemetery which the
bus driver, hearing us speak in English, pointed out. We knew a bit about
it from visiting the History Museum in Iraklio (which has a good battle
exhibit but a much better one of Cretean folk costumes). In Hania we went
to the Naval museum and there they have an even better coverage of the
Battle of Crete. The naval models are also excellent and reminded us of
the fine ones we saw in Cartegena, Colombia.
What next? We though of going to the far south west of
Crete, but concluded that this early in the season (pre-season?) there
would be no buses nor hotels. Later we met an Australian, Iain, who
confirmed this. So we went to Kisamou-Kasteli because we wanted to make
the walk Polyrrinia - Kisamou, which seemed short enough for us and was
described as very beautiful. Kisamou sits on a beautiful bay but doesn't
hold a candle to Hania. After a night there we got up early and managed to
get to Polyrrinia, hitching 2/3 of the 7-8 km. Then we climbed (really
walked, but it was steeply uphill) to the peak that held old Polyrrinia.
It was founded about 700 BC by Dorians (and thus is not Minoan and only
three, not four millenia old) and taken over by all successive peoples;
most of the remains seem to be Roman. We enjoyed the views, especially the
view north to Kisamou's bay and east to the snowy mountains. "Prima" as
our German friends say. We walked all the way back enjoying the
countryside and the continuing views and the spring plants.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
When we were just setting out from Athens we asked Jennifer,
a friend of ours in the travel business who had conducted tours in Greece
where her tours went. In her response she mentioned Amorgos. Until then it
had been off our radar: not on any obvious route from Athens through Crete
and Rhodes to Turkey. We looked it up and found that it was among the more
rural islands with a pretty small population, especially in comparison to
its size, and that its most famous site was the Hozoviotissis Monastery,
which hangs on a cliff on the center of the east coast.
There was a convenient ferry, or so we thought, so we
elected to go to Amorgos. But in fact it left late and rather than
arriving at a decent hour we got there well after dark and at the mercy of
what we would find. The ferry itself was making what American's call a
milk-run: in the old days the local bus or train would wind in and out of
the countryside to pick up milk from farmers all over the place. In our
case, the ferry took us to every last one of the Micro Cyclades, five
small islands south and east of Naxos.
We bought tickets to Katapola, the port at the southwest,
closest to Hozoviotissis and after visiting the last of the Micros we
followed the remaining passengers as they got off at Amorgos. We were
about to walk away from the pier when we were approached and asked if we'd
like a room. We'd hoped for that but because we were already at the town
end of the pier thought it wasn't going to happen. Who was it? Jennifer's
friend, Irene, the owner of the Aegialis hotel. From Jennifer's
description we expected her hotel would be above our budget so hadn't
planned to stay there. But Irene convinced us to come and look. We should
have known better because we hadn't settled the price at the ferry. Once
we were in the hotel we were sort of at her mercy and paid her price
rather than going out in the middle of the night to look for something
else. When we left we had two more price-shocks. What we had thought was
free internet service (a reasonable assumption since no sign was posted
and many American hotels of this class give free access) turned out to be
the most expensive internet we'd had, ten euros for 1.5 hours. And we felt
we were charged overmuch for an average meal.
Fros and the owner just left the key in the door for us and
told us to pay at the grocery store. The store was closed so we paid at
the little restaurant nearby where we ate delicious home-made lentil soup
and "biftecki" while watching the heavens open and the street turn into a
We tried to visit the Hozoviotissis Monastery twice and sort
of failed both times. The first time we set out to walk there from
Aegialis. We thought it was about 5 km away and were surprised to learn it
was estimated as a 3.5 hour walk. Irene volunteered to drive us the one
kilometer from her hotel to the start of the walk above the nearby village
which we'd already eyed across the bay from the hotel baloney. On the
drive we asked why she named her hotel 'Aegialis' when it was in Katapola.
She responded that it was named after the town and bay, Aegialis. It took
us a moment to get the import of this: we were in Aegialis, the northern
port, and not in Katapola, the southern port. We'd gotten off the ferry at
the wrong place because we thought that particular ferry didn't stop at
Given where we were, we understood the estimate. We set off
and climbed through the charming village of Potamos above Aegialis and
then were in open country. After two hours we lost the trail and thought
we were not even halfway there . Perplexed, we didn't know what to do: How
much climging would it take to find the trail? Were we estimating right?
If we tried to abandon we could see the road far below
would we get ourselves stuck someplace where we'd have to come back up?
And once below, which way should we go? Was Aegialis or Katapola closer?
In the interests of healthy feet we abandoned and succeeded with only
minor problems in climbing down to the highway. It was deserted. Amorgos
has few people and none of them were going by. And then one did,
fortunately going toward Aegialis. The driver was an artist (a ceramics
maker) like so many other people we bumped into. Back in the comfort of
our room we hardly felt defeated: we loved the bit of the walk we did
having got some great views for our pains.
The second attempt was more successful. Very early in the
morning, after a very stormy night, we got up to clear weather at our 20
euro dolmatia and left. No checking out, nobody to say good bye to, and
took the school bus to Hora, the "capital" that sits on the backbone of
the mountain ridge that makes up Amorgos. We found a very gemutlich cafe
near the trailhead, had a welcome cup of hot chocolate, played a game of
backgammon, and, leaving our bags in the cafe, walked down the hillside
and then back up to the monastery. The sun came out while we were stepping
our way down the hillside and so the monastery looked quite fabulous when
we caught our first sight of it. The bad news was that they were doing
some kind of spring clean-up work, rebuilding steps and so weren't open to
the public that day. Such are the vagaries of winter travel in Greece!
Still, we got great views from the monastery steps and reamed out our
arteries as well, so we were quite happy with our lot.
Back we went to make our way from Hora to Katapola. In the
cafe a taxi driver wanted double the going rate; we declined so he, or the
waitress who was translating, came back to normal price. In ten minutes we
were in Katapola, in plenty of time to catch the 2:30 pm ferry. In fact
you should have expected this the 2:30 ferry did not show up or leave at
that time. Nor at the new time of 4:30. There was a Greek fellow there and
he, being able to speak the language, learned something that made him
disappear. We started looking at local pensions wondering which one we
were going to spend the night in.
In fact the ferry came at 6 pm and we had another milk run
run, this one all at night, back to Naxos. There Petros was waiting to
take us back to Oniro Studios. We'd telephoned in the morning saying we
were coming. From 5 p.m. on he or his wife went down to the harbor
everytime a ferry arrived to see if we were on it. Those guys are great.
Go stay with them!
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
After being trapped for what began to seem forever on Syros
ferries finally started running again to Mykonos. We had multiple chances
to go to Naxos but we wanted first to see Mykonos and more importantly its
adjacent Delos. Once we did get to Mykonos, however, It took us five days
before weather/circumstances allowed a ferry to take us to Delos, a great
We arrived on a Friday and from Saturday morning on we went
to the dock each day to ask if the ferry would be running. "Not today;
tomorrow." Or "The weather is bad today; tomorrow we'll see." All this
time there was a sign outside of a ferry office. It said, "Boats everyday
except Monday to Delos. Buy your ticket here." Actual inquiry showed they
did not sell tickets there and as we found out from the coast guard, there
was only a boat Tuesday and Sunday. Finally, fed up, Gerry noticed we were
passing City Hall and decided to go in and lodge a complaint. He got to
talk to what was the assistant mayor or the equivalent. That man did two
things: He mollified Gerry by giving him a free tourist kit, with a
history and guide book about Mykonos and another book of poems about
Mykonos. And he called the ferry agent; after the call he assured Gerry
the ferry would run the next day. And it did. The other ten or so tourists
who got to visit Delos that day may have Gerry to thank.
We found a pretty nice room on Mykonos which had no view but
did have a small balcony and simple cooking facilities. More interesting
to us was the woman who owned the place, Maria, about 45-50. She told us
how she and her husband and other relatives took their vacation in the
slow tourist month. Thus they were in Phuket at the time of the December,
2004 the tsunami. With some emotion she told us how they all experienced
and survived it. She said that there were no Greek casualties which she
put down to the fact that Greeks like to stay up late and sleep late. Her
room was on the fourth floor and so was not damaged. The real problem, as
she described it, was getting information and getting something to eat.
Somehow her group made it to the airport and after some long wait were
picked up by a plane sent by the Greek government.
During those four or five days we waited to get to Delos we
explored Mykonos town and the country side. The town itself is a warren of
little streets with no plan whatsoever. Only memory can get you someplace
and back. There are plenty of bars and shops, etc, but they are not wall
to wall; one has the feeling that people live there as opposed to sell
there. Our first excursion out of town was to Paradise Beach. That is not
a traditional Greek name and some locals dislike it. We walked there, or
at least to a hill over looking it where we had lunch. Going back we
caught a ride with an Albanian; he was a very nice guy going to pick up
his daughter to bring her home from school. Our second trip was to the
center of the island, to Ano Mera, which has a famed monastery. We walked
about 1/3 of the 7 km before catching a ride. The area around Ano Mera is
pretty countryside and gives some nice views of the northern beaches. In
that area there are plenty of holiday homes but they don't overwhelm the
countryside. The monastery was pleasant enough; its bell tower was very
impressive. We walked back about 1/2 way before catching a ride; this time
with the driver of a big concrete delivery truck.
The day we went to Delos and left Mykonos for Naxos was a
very long day. At 10:00 a.m. we caught the boat to Delos and had a look
around; we were there about 3 hours and would have liked five. To
accommodate the rush we left the museum to last; Jan had fifteen minutes
in it and Gerry about seven. It's amazing what you can see when you
concentrate. From Delos we took the ferry back to Mykonos and waited a
short while for the ferry to Syros. We had to pass through it to get to
Naxos. During our five-hour wait we ate a gyro on the water front; there
George Viakondias passed and we had a bit of a get together.
Because of the bad connection we got to Naxos just before
midnight. We'd reserved a room highly unusual so didn't worry about a
place to stay. When the woman manager wouldn't agree to meet us at the
dock and show us the way we should have guessed we weren't going to be in
accommodating company. But at the dock we were met by Petros, who tried to
get us to go to his place; Oniro Studios. We didn't want to break our word
so said no to him for that night but that we'd come over to look the next
day. Then we set off to walk to the Apollon. Petros followed us and
offered us a ride!
Our first day was coincidentally the first day of Carnival.
We were advised to go see how they practice it in a mountain village,
Apiranthos, about 17 km inland. We did that, taking a late morning bus.
Carnival, as with so many ancient customs, has become a festival for
school kids. It appears to be the local equivalent of halloween. But the
village did have character, including the local potter and local baker.
After a lunch on a church terrace we walked about 6-8 km back over the
mountain road to the larger town of Filoti. All of the Cycladic islands
are so close that you can see one from another; because of our height in
the mountains we had terrific views, including seeing Mykonos, Tinos,
Syros, Paros, Amorgos, and we think Santorini or Ios. Back in town we
checked out Oniro and quickly decided to move in. Then we went down to the
waterfront where we were luckly enough to catch an open-air spectacle of
stilt-walkers and fireworks celebrating Carnival.
Next morning we moved to Oniro (which means "dreams"). The
room turned out to be the most pleasing to us since we got to the Cycladic
islands. It has a nice sea view and, important to us, satellite TV with
channels that go up to 1078; there are at least 250 actual channels. They
include a dozen Italian ones, Al Jazira, Nile TV, and continuing to
languages we can understand, a half dozen Spanish language channels (TV
Espana, Venezula TV, etc), a sampling of German and Russian channels, as
well as CNN and BBC world. Jan is delighted because she has spent a lot of
time in Greece studying Russian reading a Russian book every month or
so. The Russian reception we get here is better than we got in Moscow.
Gerry is pleased to get some German practice. Over two nights we watched a
German-made movie, in German, about the bombing of Dresden in WWII. The
movie ends with a modern update: the September, 2005 ceremonies to
re-dedicate the rebuilt church. In addition we are both news addicts. One
night we watched a debate that took place in Dubai: "Resolved that the
West should recognize Hamas." We don't need to go back to work to be
The room has a refrigerator. Or it did the first two days.
Then it had a noise maker that made heat rather than cold. Happily the
owners are very friendly. We told them of the problem at 11:00 yesterday
morning and by 5pm there was a new refrigerator in the room. This happened
while we were out to dinner, where we shared some very good deep fried
squid and pork chop. And a great salad, called a Naxos salad, which is
distinguished by being covered in a cheese that is a cross between feta
and cottage cheese and then topped with capers mmmm!
Further celebrating Carnival we took an excursion along to
the northwest. We walked about 1/3 of the way to the village of Engares
and hitchhiked the rest of the and past, and walked down to the coast. We
ate a picnic along the shore; while we were there a couple came along
planning to fly their kite. This a traditional thing to do at carnival,
although we don't know why. They had plenty of problems with tangled
string. We tried to help but after a while bowed out. Then we walked and
hitchhiked back. More nice countryside.
One day, the weather gave the false appearance of being
warm. We took a walk down to St George's beach and Jan, being prepared,
walked in. After she got in as far as her thighs she decided it was too
cold. Gerry wisely waited for her to test the waters.
Monday we went to the Ferry office to ask if ferries would
be running normally when we wanted to leave Naxos. We were assured, yes,
no bad weather coming. Guess what: Monday's ferry didn't arrive because of
bad weather. In fact, a weather front arrived with very strong winds and
the temperature dropped 18F. Yesterday morning the rain was so strong
there was mild flooding and Jan got soaked going out. Then in the
afternoon the sky was wonderful followed by a very cold evening. So, we
wonder if we will leave Naxos when we want to.
We are still undecided if we go straight to Santorini or
make one stop in between, at Amorgos. Santorini is about 2.5-3.hours away.
We might stop at Ios or Amorgos. We think we'll go to Amorgos if a
convenient ferry runs.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Critical in Crete [
No, we are not in Crete, but we do hope to get there in our
lifetimes. We are still stuck in Syros. We got to Syros last Monday,
February 13, expecting to leave February 16. There was a two-day ferry
strike that extended our stay until 2/18; when we went to buy tickets we
learned that the strike would continue until 2/20, yesterday. But
yesterday we were told that it would go on until 2/22. And this morning,
hoping that maybe something had changed, Gerry went and was told maybe
yes, maybe no, ferries will resume 2/22. Later in the afternoon we went to
another ticket office and found a very talkative fellow there. He thinks
the strike will go on at least until Saturday, 2/25 So tomorrow, once
again, we will see.
What's the reference to Crete about? The strike is about, of
course, better things for ferry workers but is causing worse things for
other Greeks. In Crete there have been near riots by drivers of fruit and
vegetable trucks. They can't get their produce off the island and the
produce is being ruined. They are really unhappy.
If we have to be stuck someplace this is a pretty good place
to be stuck. The room is very nice and the town is pleasant. On top of
that we have great, free internet access, so we are catching up on
internet related things. And that explains why we've updated our blog so
much compared to last month and before. We've even had time to create a
web page with
photos of Ermoupolis.
While in the apartment in Athens we had only dial-up 56K
service (for about 60 cents/hour). We used internet cafes after leaving
the apartment on February 1 and they cost 3 euros/hr (admittedly with
broadband service) and were not easy to find compared to Latin America.
Besides being free, the service here is acceptably fast, being 384 Kb/s
A big negative about our hotel and Syros in general is that
we've had to go nearly cold-turkey on our news addiction. There are no
foreign newspapers and our in-room cable-TV has only Greek channel. Or,
that is what we thought until yesterday. Then we discovered there is an
all-Italian channel. Why Italian and not French or BBC or CNN we haven't
asked. We suppose that it is part of the basic cable package but that just
replaces one question with another. Anyway, we are giving ourselves a
crash course in Italian by trying to follow the news
Friday, February 17, 2006
Held Over in Syros
We post this from Syros Island, the heart of the Greek
Cyclades islands. Everything about Syros surprised us: that we came, that
we stayed so long, and that it had enough to keep us occupied.
We had intended to leave Athens on February 6 for a tour of
the Greek Islands. Our first island was to have been Andros Island because
it was the shortest ferry ride. But the required ferry left from Rafina, a
small town on the east side of the Attica pennisula and in the end we
concluded it was easier to leave from Piraeus because the bus to the port
was easier to catch and quicker to arrive. Consequently we settled on
Kythnos Island, it being the shortest ferry ride from Pireaus.
Our departure was
by three days because bad weather cancelled all ferry departures
from Pireaus for that period. Finally on February 13 we got up before dawn
had a chance to crack (5:00 a.m.) and got ourselves to Pireaus by 6:00
a.m. At the port we found a ticket agency and asked what time the Kythnos
ferry left. We'd asked numerous times over several weeks and knew the
answer: 7:35 a.m. "Just checking, boss." Imagine our surprise to be told
3:00 p.m., with arrival at 6:00 p.m!
That was not satisfactory at all! We didn't want to hang
around the port all day. "What time does the Mykonos boat leave?" "Ah,
7:30! That's much better. Except we wanted to island hop on the way to
Jan had the very clever in retrospect obvious idea to
ask "where does it stop on the way to Mykonos?" The first stop was in
Syros, which we had never heard of. But Syros is where we bought tickets
for, and Syros is where we went.
We got to Syros about 11:00 a.m and by 12:00 were
comfortably installed in the Ethrion
hotel. Well, not exactly comfortably. We'd had to carry our bags up 40
steps (about four floors) over three blocks and had got pretty sweaty and
out of breath. After we'd recovered from that we were comfortably
Skip over for a moment what we did here. We'd planned
initially (and arbitrarily) to stay three nights. We liked the room and
the island enough that we easily extended that to four nights. On
Wednesday we went to the ferry office to ask about departure times on
Friday. "None" we were told. "The ferry is on strike Thursday and Friday.
You can leave now or on Saturday. So we chose Saturday and had locked
ourselves in for a five-day stay.
Tuesday, February 12, 2006
Stuck in Athens
Back in Athens we have twice extended our stay. Our first
plan was to leave by ferry the morning after arrival. But we learned that
a package with computer dictionaries was awaiting Jan, so we stayed to go
to the post office. Having picked up the CDs sent from the USA we heard on
the news that because of rough seas ferries were not running. After that
happened two days in a row we threw in the towel and told our hotel that
we'd stay a week. Besides the rough seas the weather was markedly colder.
We concluded that we'd rather sit it out in a heated Athens room rather
than take our chance on what we would find on the islands.
With five days ahead of us in Athens we became real
tourists. That is, we no longer had an apartment and no longer had cooking
facilities. We were in Plaka, the heart of the tourist district and had to
learn how to fend for ourselves that is, to find restaurants!
We went to several sites that we had missed in our first
stay. You might ask, "How is that possible? After four months you'd missed
something?" But it's true. Now we went to the Jewish museum; we'd
originally missed it because it is shown on the map at the wrong spot.
Because it was a block from our hotel, the
Adonis, we found it by chance. We
went out of town to Elefsina to see the archeological site of Eleusis.
Lonely Planet had made it seem not worth the effort. In actual fact it was
terrific almost as good as Delphi. And we went back to the fantastic
National Archeological Museum, Gerry for the fourth time and Jan for the
third. This time it was for a careful study of the ceramics, which alone
take a slow visit. We also walked a lot, the longest or highest being
another visit to the top of Lycabetus. How our stay had changed things. We
looked out on a city we knew! We could point to so many things we had
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Out of Athens
We've been away from email for a week! It was a really busy
week and we didn't have any desire to try to do any real computer work. We
felt exhausted. Like we were on a tour!
In fact, we were. We rented a car and went (listing only the
major points) Athens - Delphi - Olympia - Temple of Apollo Epicurus -
Kalamatra - Sparta - Mystras - Athens. We drove mostly on backwoods roads,
sometimes hardly two lanes, sometimes through snow (which did for 5-6
kilometers reduce the road to one lane), and through some spectacular
gorges and passes.
The schedule of museums and the limited period for which we
took the rental car is what kept us so busy. Most sites and museums are
open 8:30 - 3:30. Consequently we adopted a schedule of "see in the
morning, drive in the afternoon."
At Delphi we finished our viewing at 1:30 and set off for
Olympia. It was a long drive and we got there at sunset, found a hotel,
had a meal, and went to bed. Next day we were up very early, saw Olympia
(grounds and museum) and then were off for a long drive to Kalamata (with
a stop at the spectacular Temple of Apollo). As noted, just like being
regimented on a group tour!
After Olympia we stopped in Kalamata because it was on the
way to Sparta and we didn't want to go all the way to Sparta. Thus the day
we left Kalamata we had a small change to the "see-drive" regime: In the
morning we first drove to Sparta, got a hotel, and then
visited Mystras (which is 7 km outside of Sparta). Then we actually
had an afternoon off.
After a night in Sparta we drove all the way back to Athens,
making some minor stops and driving a good part of over snowy mountain
roads. Our first stop was an ancient hellenistic watch tower, reached
after driving several kilometers on gravel track up the side of a high
hill. There were just a few stones there, but the view was good and it was
fun to imagine the lonely defenders being bored up there. Then we went on
through a sucession of small villages clinging to hill sides. Outside one
of them we stopped at a convent, obviously very moderized in the last few
years and a week-end destination for devout Greeks. We stopped at the
coast for a nice sea-food lunch and made a quick stop at Myceanae, which
was closed. That wasn't as important as elsewhere because from outside one
can appreciate the site and inside the ruins are pretty meager. Finally,
joining crowds of Athenians returning from a weekend away, we got into
town as darkness settled on us.
At Delphi, Olympia, and Mystras we were extremely fortunate
and had the places almost to ourselves. No summer crowds. It probably used
to be that you could skip the crowds by coming in the fall or spring but
nowadays as Dinah and Mick found, even late October is crowded at the main
sites. We arrived at the first two at 8:30 and were the first ones in. At
Delphi, in the two hours in the grounds we saw four other people. At
Olympia we saw a group and even crossed their path, but mostly were
unaware of the presence. In Mystras, which is a much larger site, we think
there were about 6-7 other people. We talked to a French woman who, with
her two children, was resting at the top of the Kastro (Castle) when we
We learned something new about the human body because of a
problem Jan had. While in Delphi the flesh above her right jaw axle
suddenly became swollen. It went up in 15-30 minutes and went down in a
couple of hours. Later we met by chance a doctor who specialized in
saliva! He told us it was probably a blocked saliva gland, with the
equivalent of a kidney stone that quickly was dissolved. Jan was extremely
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
It's not Cool to be
It's snowing in Athens! We were told it would, but could
hardly give credit to the prediction. Even though we'd seen snow on the
hills around Athens we didn't think it would descend into the city itself.
But this morning we woke up to find two inches of snow on our wicker
balcony chairs. The stone floor had enough retained heat to melt
everything on it. We went out and saw a bit of snow here and there. We saw
a fellow scraping snow off the top of a car, probably his, and throwing it
as snow balls at his friends. On TV we saw things much worse: cars
skidding on some of the major Athens streets. They must be a bit higher
than we are.
We stayed home because we heard that the buses weren't
running and because Jan didn't have any more layers of clothing that she
could add to what she wore yesterday to brave the cold for an excursion to
visit a museum. Then she wore seven layers on her upper body: thermal top,
shirt, cardigan, down vest, denim jacket, hooded fleece, and rain jacket,
and then of course had her woollen hat and neck fleece!
Sunday, January 22, 2006
No Acrophobia in
We went out of Athens on Sunday, only our third day-trip in
3.5 months. This trip shows what a difference there is between having your
own car and taking public transportation. What might have taken an hour in
a car took us almost four hours.
We went to see the old Greek and Roman ruins ouside the
modern town of Corinth. Corinth is about 50 miles (80 km) by road. The
ruins of the Roman town are in Old Corinth are another four miles (7 km)
and the most ancient ruins, Acrocornith, a mixture of Greek, Roman,
Byzantine, Turkish, and Venetian remains, are still are another three
miles (5 km) at the top of a 500 m (1700 ft) hill.
We took the local city bus from home and switched to another
bus to get to the train station. That little trip of 3-4 km took an hour.
There we waited nearly an hour for the train, which indeed only took 75
minutes to get to Corinth. In Corinth we waited another 45 minutes for a
bus to go the last four miles to the Roman ruins. We had wanted to go all
the way to the Acropolis, but the bus didn't go that far. Our lack of
Greek language skills meant that we missed the opportunity to go another
kilometer past what we incorrectly thought was the end of the line. So we
walked the last three miles (5 kilometers) uphill. That took us a bit over
When we set out from Old Corinth there was a light rain and
by the time we were to the top we were mostly in fog. From the top of
Acrocorinth there are supposed to be wonderful views but we could only see
200 meters at times, certainly not the blue sea that is out there. The
ruins themselves are not impressive now; we'll cover them and their
history later. After about an hour we walked down the +1500 ft we'd
ascended, in enough rain to get our feet quite wet.
Back in Old Corinth we visited the Roman ruins. They really
are impressive. The biggest item is the Temple of Apollo which dates to
the 5th century B.C. But most of the ruins date from after 50 BC when
under Julius Ceasar's government Corinth became the capital of Roman
Greece. The very cold weather drove us into the museum, which has lots and
lots of high quality statues and ceramics. Then hunger drove us to a
restaurant, almost next door.
Although a Greek restaurant the waitress was Polish. She
came, of course, because she could earn more money here than in Poland.
And she was valuable because she was very fluent in English. The menu
inside, the signs outside, and everything on the three neighboring
restaurants was in English. This was indeed a tourist destination. So much
changed since our trip here in December, 1985, when we couldn't find
anybody who spoke English.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Rushing after Russian: Three decades late.
Jan is still plugging away with Russian. She writes: I have just read my third detective novel, which I found in
a hole-in-the-wall shop here in Athens and got through at an average of
15+ pages a day. I have long had a CD dictionary but have been looking to
replace it for quite a while as it doesn't have any more words than my
paper Oxford. Well, I finally found a replacement: the Collins
Russian-English Talking Dictionary (
http://www.intense.co.uk/) is much
better, cost only $20 including shipping, and I'm so impressed I'm going
to buy the German and Spanish versions too. It comes with a couple of
exercises to help with the active part of language learning (i.e. managing
to go from English to Russian rather than vice-versa) and of course I'm an
absolute dud! But it's fun and at least keeps my self-evaluation in a more
realistic frame. Right now I think I'm about where I was at the end of my
first year at Bradford! And since I think it went downhill from there, you
can bet that I'm pretty pleased."
January 22, 2006
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Aphaia wasn't Invisible and was Great
On Tuesday we had our trial run for island hopping. We got
up at 5:30 to catch a 7:50 ferry to Aegina, the closest island to Athens.
We can even see it (I think I know where I'm looking) from the roof of our
apartment. The ferry was a big, comfortable thing, probably capable of
carrying more than 1,000 people and 100 cars. On our trip we were among
50-60 people. Winter quiet! Aegina's port and main town has about 14,000
people. There are two dozen waterfront restaurants and twice as many
souvenir shops. We started by taking the bus 7.5 miles to nearly the far
side of the island where we visited the temple of Aphaia. It is a
mini-version of the Parthenon, but about 50 years older (built 590 B.C.),
and apparently the best preserved island temple. It was magnificent. We
had it to ourselves, there being nobody else around but the guard/ticket
taker. We had to ask him to open the museum.
After visiting the temple we walked down from the high ridge
where it sits for about 20 minutes to the tiny town of Agia Marina (St.
Mary). In the summer it must be awash with tourists. On our visit
every-but-every restaurant was closed. If your engine runs on ouzo you
could get a refill. We took the bus back to Aegina town and ate a quite
fine meal on the waterfront. After that we walked out to the local
archeological site cum museum, but at 2:45 it was already past its 3:00
p.m. closing time.
Then it was a pleasant ferry ride back. That comforted Jan a
lot. After being on a very small boat crossing the Carribean to Cartegena,
Colombia and being very sea-sick Jan was dubious about getting on a boat
again. Now all systems seem go for our island itinerary.